The Calgary Flames’ 2021-22 season was a successful failure
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike8 months ago
The Calgary Flames did not win the 2022 Stanley Cup.
In fact, they were eliminated in the second round of the post-season. In the strictest terms, their season could be deemed a failure. But in terms of the progress made as an organization and potentially laying a foundation for future success, there were positives to be found.
If nothing else, the 2021-22 season should be thought of as a “successful failure.”
They had team success
The Flames have had team success in the past. This was the fifth time in eight seasons with Brad Treliving as general manager that the team has qualified for the playoffs. It was the second time in eight years – and second time in four seasons – that they won a regular season division title. Considering they began the season with the 19th-best odds at the Stanley Cup – they were a 40-to-1 underdog – winning their division and winning a round is a big achievement.
The difference between this season’s success and 2019’s is that the 2019 team was a high-octane offensive team that couldn’t throttle teams with defensive structure or checking the way the current Flames have. The 2019 team felt like an over-achievement, a product of a team that could only win a handful of ways and couldn’t adapt.
Heck, Darryl Sutter derisively noted that previous teams could only win by out-scoring the other team. This year’s club learned different ways to win. Even strength play was better in all three zones. Their transition game was better. Their power play was good. Their penalty kill was good. Their success feels more replicable and sustainable than 2019’s.
They had individual success
Top to bottom, there’s all sorts of fun individual stories worth celebrating on the Flames.
Newbie backup goalie Daniel Vladar posted one of the better seasons by a Flames backup in years – and that was playing infrequently behind Jacob Markstrom, a Vezina Trophy finalist who played 63 games.
After making the team out of training camp as the seventh defender – the team began the season carrying eight – Oliver Kylington got a chance to play regular minutes as a stop-gap after Nikita Zadorov struggled in his first few games alongside Chris Tanev. Kylington thrived in an offensive-oriented second pairing role, and playing with Tanev (and working with the coaching staff during the season) helped take some wildness out of his game – the same wildness that had kept him from being an NHL regular sooner. In January 2021, Kylington cleared waivers; by Thanksgiving, he was a top four defender on a good team.
Higher up on the blueline, both Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin had career years and took big steps after the departure of Mark Giordano to Seattle in the expansion draft. Lower down, Erik Gudbranson found a niche as a penalty killer and defensive zone shutdown specialist. (He also scored a weird amount of key goals late in the season.)
Up on the forward ranks, we saw career offensive seasons from Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane and Matthew Tkachuk. Heck, Gaudreau earned Hart Trophy consideration, Lindholm is a finalist for the Selke Trophy, and Tkachuk undoubtedly received votes for the league’s all-star teams.
We’ve seen breakout seasons from Flames players before. Typically, they’ve involved players enjoying the “Backlund Bump” – having the team’s best two-way player doing the heavy lifting for them – or experiencing shooting percentage heaters well beyond what they had seen in previous seasons. This season, the individual breakouts seem more like players taking steps forward in their progression rather than just having good single seasons before an inevitable lull.
The team culture has (probably) changed
Media aren’t in locker rooms this season, so we’re basing this on what we’re hearing the regular media conferences we get rather than any more individualized player interactions. But it certainly feels like the Flames have changed from previous seasons in terms of their attitudes and approach to things.
Sutter phrased it as the difference between hoping you’ll win and expecting you’ll win. The 2021-22 Flames seemed less about patting themselves on the back for things they accomplished and more about focusing on the next challenge. It’s likely a product of the changes in the coaching staff and the players they’ve brought in from previous championship teams elsewhere, but it really has seemed to creep into the interview mannerisms of basically everybody on the team.
If that attitude is here to stay, it seems unlikely that the Flames will backslide significantly in 2022-23 – even with seemingly inevitable personnel changes this summer.
The season was a failure in the sense that the Flames didn’t achieve their ultimate goal. They felt that they had a team that was capable of contending for a championship, and their season ended in the second round of the playoffs at the hands of their most hated rival. In that sense, they’re taking the L here.
But a lot of good things happened for the club, good things that seem like they can be replicated in the future and provide a basis for future success. Considering how uneven the progression of this team has been over the past decade, that is a development well worth celebrating.
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