When the team doesn’t make the Playoffs, it prompts a whole host of questions.
There are questions about the streak of losses on the balance sheet, who is to blame for shortcomings and ultimately the harsh realities surface that need to be addressed.
While only 16 teams from the 32-strong franchise, can make it to the NHL Playoffs, why were the Calgary Flames not one of them this season?
A mere flicker?
At the time of writing (April 14 2023), the Calgary Flames sit on 37 – 27 – 17, with their last flick of the puck ending with a 3 – 1 victory on Wednesday night against the also eliminated San Jose Sharks.
Their performance this season is a mere flicker of last season’s success. The Flames managed 50 – 21 – 11 last season, making it to the Playoffs before being knocked out at the Conference Finals in a 4-game sweep by the Edmonton Oilers.
How did this season go?
While they opened the 2022/23 season with early wins, specifically against two Semi-finalists of last years’ Stanley Cup Finals, Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers, that momentum would skid during the middle of October with seven consecutive losses.
In the race to end 2022, the Flames would achieve some small streaks which resulted in equally long skids. Their New Year would be no different with a pattern of Win / Lose, Win / Lose where the Flames could just not fully ignite.
Their Playoff hopes were raised just before the crunch when they managed a 3 – 1 victory over Winnipeg Jets earlier in April but it just wasn’t enough and they’d be snuffed out of contention following a 3 – 2 defeat against the Nashville Predators.
So, there are a couple of reasons to speculate why the Flames just didn’t set their season ablaze.
Trade and Free Agency?
Arguably, the Flames never really recovered from their offseason departures, both forward and defence.
Johnny Gaudreau had had a productive 2021/22 season scoring 40 goals, 75 assists and reaching up 115 points, easily his best performing season in the NHL and with the Flames.
So, feeling like hot property and desiring a return home to the US, he became a Free Agent. Flames weren’t exactly thrilled by his decision especially how much notice it came with.
He’d end up getting snapped up by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Tkachuk was another key departure from the Forwards. He was truly at the peak of his performance with the Flames, picking up 42 goals, 62 assists and 104 points in the whole of the 21/22 season.
That’s in addition to an all-time high shooting percentage of 16.6%.
He moved to the Florida Panthers and has racked up similar stats.
Then you have the departure of depth from the defence in the shape of Erik Gudbranson who would go on to Columbus as a Free Agent.
Kylington is still with the Flames albeit in a very reduced role. He played 73 games, scored nine goals and racked up 31 points total.
Acquisitions not delivering?
While departures from the team could be argued to have hindered the team’s efforts, the team’s acquisitions also left much to be desired.
Huberdeau joined the Flames on a $84M eight-year contract in August last year, with the intention of bringing the scoring flair he’d shown in the Florida Panthers.
The impressive 30 goals and 115 points he’d ended the 21/22 season with was nowhere to be seen when he joined the regular Flames. By the time of elimination, Huberdeau had 15 goals and 55 points in 78 games.
The question is… was it just new team jitters? Did he get enough space to shine? If he’d managed a point-per-game would that have been enough for the Flames to have outweighed the one-goal losses of which there are quite a few.
Kadri joined Flames in August on a $49M seven-year contract, fresh off one of his best seasons with the Colorado Avalanche.
He racked up 24 goals and 56 points in 82 games with Flames, slightly less than the outlier season of 21/22 where he had 28 goals and 71 points in 71 games.
Again, was this just new team jitters or was the 21/22 season just a fluke given his performance since 2019. With Flames, he’s been on all three lines since the start of the season.
Weegar is the one that while expectations of his performance were not high, still has a lot to prove if he’s to make his eight-year $50M contract worth every penny. There’s next season…
Declines in the squad?
Mangiapane was exceptional in the 21/22 season. He scored 35 goals and racked up 55 points. It was an effective shooter with a percentage of around 19%. Last season was his peak progression following re-joining the Flames in 2019.
This season? Not so great… He scored 17 goals with 43 points. Maybe it’s just bad season for him or maybe he’ll be looking for a trade soon?
The defenceman has dropped slightly in terms of his stats from last season to this one. But, while he took fewer shots on goal, he did make some serious improvements in his role. He got more invested and blocked more shots.
His line-mate Rasmus Andersson was more offensive so Hanifin needs to be tougher in the next season.
Now, this is an interesting one. The goaltender has been exceptional… but only really in the last three games. But do his stats suggest him as one of the main reasons why the Flames didn’t make the Playoffs?
Markstrom was in goals for 59 games of this season compared to 63 of last season. The last nine games saw him with a .910 save percentage and a particularly high .948 save percentage in the last few games. However, in the previous 50 games he recorded a .889 SV%.
That gives him an .892 SV% for the season. Last season it was .922 SV%.
Below average? Well last season he was involved in 37 wins, recording 2.22 goals against average (GAA), nine shutouts and 26.1 goals saved (GSAA). This season he recorded a GAA of 2.92, 1 shutout, 23 wins and 21 losses.
Is it Sutter?
No nonsense coaches are not always a bad thing. Look at the legendary Herb Brooks and his ‘Miracle On Ice’ at the 1980 Olympics.
Sutter isn’t a Brooks and an adversarial relationship between the coach and players can’t last for long.
While Sutter did celebrate winning the Jack Adams Award for his first full season back with the Flames in 2021/22, this season there were suggestions of friction between Sutter and players.
There were post-game comments and rumours of problems between Sutter and players like Huberdeau and Kadri. Tyler Toffoli did go on to defend Sutter suggesting that there had been division in the dressing room.
Some pundits point to anecdotes suggesting that some players have previously felt intimidated by him and it’s best not to criticize Sutter’s approach.
If there is animosity towards Sutter, it must’ve translated into their performance this season, the pundits suggest. Losses to tanking teams like the Chicago Blackhawks suggest that the team has quit on Sutter.
Does that mean it’s time for Sutter to go?
Winning more One-goal games?
Would it have made a drastic difference to the Flames’ performance in the season if they’d won more of the overtime shootouts?
The NHL’s record is 18 overtime shootout losses and this season the Flames recorded 17.
So this could be a combination of both the losses of the likes of Gaudreau and Tkachuk but also weird decisions like not using Tyler Toffoli to score in the shootout against Nashville Predators (Game 81).
This situation could’ve been avoidable but Flames ended up with 18 games won on one goal and 30 others that they lost that way.
What must they do next?
So with that, there are a number of questions and approaches to consider going into the offseason and the start of the 23/24.
Does Calgary Flames need to ditch Sutter?
Should Markstrom stay on or should they keep Vladar?
Is it time for Brad Treliving to depart?