The Calgary Flames need to react appropriately to 2022-23’s failure
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike1 month ago
Things did not go according to plan for the Calgary Flames during the 2022-23 season.
In terms of pure results – wins and losses, and goals scored and allowed – they weren’t up to snuff. But as the Flames inch towards the onset of the 2023-24 season, with a new general manager and a new head coach, it’s crucial that they take the correct lessons from the failures of 2022-23.
The short answer is: the Flames club has “good bones.” The shape of their game was very solid, but the details of their game was the reason they didn’t win consistently.
Here’s a snapshot of how the Flames progressed and performed on an underlying basis over Brad Treliving’s nine seasons as GM:
(xGF/60 = expected goals for per 60, xGA/60 = expected goals against per 60, xGF+A/60 = expected goals for and against per 60, xGF% = expected goals for percentage, PDO = percentage driven outcomes; all stats via Natural Stat Trick and are five-on-five.)
Under Treliving, there were several broad trends:
- Offensive potency, measured in xGF/60, trended up, peaking in 2022-23… without Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau.
- Defensive stinginess, measured in xGA/60, was generally pretty consistent, but had some year-to-year wobble.
- Broadly-speaking, the Flames carried play since 2017-18 and had a few seasons where they were borderline dominant from a possession standpoint.
- The Flames’ strong possession play was undercut by some tough performances in terms of shooting and save percentage.
- In 2016-17, the Flames shot 7.60%.
- In 2017-18, the Flames shot 6.85%.
- In 2019-20, the Flames shot 7.64%.
- In 2022-23, the Flames shot 7.95% and only saved 90.07%.
The Flames’ underlying numbers showed an upward trend over nine seasons, albeit not without some bumps in the road here and there. Their puck luck and ability to score key goals (or prevent key goals) led to wild swings in the team’s results.
In two seasons with Bob Hartley as coach, the Flames had a successful (goaltending-driven) season and then their luck tanked in 2015-16, the team missed the playoffs and Hartley was dismissed.
In two seasons with Glen Gulutzan as coach, the Flames had a successful (goaltending-driven) season and then their luck tanked in 2017-18, the team missed the playoffs and Gulutzan was dismissed.
In 1.5 seasons with Bill Peters as coach, the Flames had a successful (shooting-driven) season and the 2019-20 season saw the team regress (shooting 5.86% and saving 90.98%) before Peters’ resignation mid-season.
In 1.5 seasons with Geoff Ward as coach, the Flames had a strong (goaltending-driven) finish to the 2019-20 season under Ward after he took over for Peters, but the team’s underlyings regressed (despite strong shooting and save percentages) in 2020-21 and he was replaced mid-season.
In 2.5 seasons with Darryl Sutter as coach, the Flames had a decent finish to the 2020-21 season, then had a strong 2021-22 season (driven by both shooting and goaltending), before crashing back down to earth in 2022-23.
This is a long way of saying that the Flames weren’t as good as they appeared in 2021-22 (or 2018-19 or 2014-15); their play was probably augmented by the new coach bump, which manifested itself in strong percentage outcomes (which were likely a result of the team being amped up after a coaching change). But the Flames weren’t as bad as they appeared in 2022-23 (or any of their other non-playoff seasons) because their results were probably dragged down by what we call the “second year drift,” when the team’s heard all of their new coach’s speeches and tactics and their percentages likely dip as a result.
The 2022-23 Flames were a really good possession team. So what went wrong? In our view, four big things:
- They played high-event hockey: After having a combined expected goals for and against of 5.08 in 2022-23, the Flames’ increase in offensive potency was combined with them becoming a bit more defensively porous. As a result, the Flames were in games with a combined 5.42 expected goals for and against, reflecting a much more high-event, run and gun style than they played previously.
- The power play wasn’t good: They converted on 19.8% of their advantages, good for 19th overall.
- Their shooters were cold at key moments: The Flames were 23rd in five-on-five shooting percentage.
- Their goaltending was cold at key moments: The Flames were 31st in five-on-five save percentage.
Despite all this, the Flames missed the playoffs by just three points. They won just 18 of 48 one-goal games. The difference between them and a league-average power play was three goals, league-average shooting was 38 goals, and league-average goaltending was 17 goals.
If they fix one big thing about the 2022-23 Flames, and they’re comfortably in the playoffs.
Over the last decade, the Flames have put together a pretty decent hockey team. Are they a powerhouse? Nope. Are they a pushover? Nope. But after a disappointing season (and the departure of Tyler Toffoli via trade), the Flames remain a team with strong underlyings and good bones. If they can make a few tweaks to their playing style and team structure, and indications from new coach Ryan Huska suggest that should be expected, they might be closer to the playoffs than many expect.
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