Photo credit:Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
The Flames’ approach to 2022-23 should focus on goals created and prevented
By Ryan Pike1 year ago
Friends, the Calgary Flames will most likely start the 2022-23 season with the prior season’s top two scorers playing on other teams. But despite these gigantic losses, there’s still probably a path that the Flames can follow that leads to a post-season berth.
To make the playoffs, the Flames will need to embrace the lessons of Moneyball and focus on goal creation and prevention when they look at roster and lineup construction.
If you’re unfamiliar, the book Moneyball (and the film adaptation) follow the Oakland Athletics as they embraced sabermetrics in an effort to stay competitive after they lost their best players in free agency to larger American markets.
(Sounds familiar, eh?)
During the early part of the film, Peter Brand (played by Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill) explains the basic philosophy that drove how the Athletics used sabermetrics: “Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players, your goal should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs.”
Replace “runs” with “goals,” and you have the challenge facing the 2022-23 Flames.
The 2021-22 Flames were the rare team that was pretty good at everything. They were top 10 in expected goals for (sixth) and against (fourth), overall goals for (sixth) and against (third), power play success (10th) and penalty kill success (sixth). They were a complete regular season team, good on both sides of the puck, on both sides of special teams, and in net.
What does losing Gaudreau and Tkachuk do? Well, as we discussed earlier this week on the site, it hurts the team’s ability to generate offence at even strength and on the power play. That’s a given, though it might be slightly muted by an expanded role for Andrew Mangiapane – and presumably a trade for Tkachuk will net the Flames a player of some offensive value.
But defensively, the Flames are essentially the same team that they were a year ago. In net, they have Vezina Trophy finalist Jacob Markstrom (a second-team all-star) and backup Daniel Vladar. On the blueline, five of six regulars from last season are returning. The lone departure was Erik Gudbranson to Columbus in free agency, which probably hurts their penalty kill a bit, but we have yet to see how Nicolas Meloche fits in that role.
The key stat to think about is goal differential: the difference between goals for and against. The Flames were second in the NHL in goal differential last season. Looking back at the past 10 full NHL seasons, a team’s overall rank and performance in goal differential is a great predictor of who makes the playoffs and who doesn’t. On average, the top 13 teams in goal differential make the playoffs, and a positive goal differential in the double digits (e.g., +10 or higher) usually gets a club into the post-season.
Will the Flames be a weaker team offensively in 2022-23 than in 2021-22? Yeah, that seems like a perfectly reasonable conclusion to reach when thinking about the departures of Gaudreau and Tkachuk. Even if Mangiapane takes a step in an expanded role and the Flames get somebody good back for Tkachuk, they probably will take a step back offensively – it’s yet to be seen how big of a step back.
But defensively? It’s still a Darryl Sutter-coached team. They’re bringing back most of the same goaltenders, defenders and penalty killers that they had last season. Defensively, they should be about as good as they were in 2021-22 – though they may spend a bit more time in their own zone defending than they did a year ago.
The key challenge for the Flames will be making the right additions before training camp and the ideal configurations during training camp to maximize their offensive and defensive outcomes. Put simply: the Flames will need to find a way to Moneyball their way into the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs.
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