In a league where teams’ perceived windows of Stanley Cup victorys are often short and far in between, poor playoff performance and outright failure to make the playoffs can often be the trigger for a rebuild. So, when the Calgary Flames seemed to struggle making headway after their lengthy rebuild, it was looking as though the admittedly young team would take more time than expected to break through. However, after failing to make the playoffs in the 2017-18 campaign, Calgary is currently leading the Pacific division by six points with a game in hand, and is showing no signs of slowing down, sporting a 3-game win streak before heading into the All-Star Break. What has been the cause of such a sudden turnaround? And, are the Calgary Flames a team that other GMs can look to emulate moving forward?
To analyze success, you first have to look at the failures of the Calgary Flames. In goal, the Flames have had little change in regard to performance, touting mostly mediocre goaltending throughout the past three years, as well as this year (so far). While David Rittich has looked impressive at times in his 27 starts this season, his .918 save percentage is by no means otherworldly. Really, in their prior three seasons, the Achilles heel for the team has always boiled down to a lack of high-end scoring. Outside of perennial All-Star Johnny Gaudreau, only one other player on the roster has managed to tally over 60 points in a season, forward Sean Monahan who did so in the 15-16 and 17-18 seasons. Beyond this, in all three of the past seasons, in only one did the team have more than two 50+ point scorers. Currently, with 31 games remaining in the season, the Calgary Flames have five, although it is unlikely that any other players reach this milestone prior to the end of the season.
The team has managed to achieve success through two primary avenues thus far: quality drafting, and a little bit of luck. Four of the team’s five top scorers are homegrown, with Gaudreau, Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk all being 25 years old or younger. The luck aspect comes through one of the many blockbuster trades last offseason, where the team acquired 22-year-old defenseman Noah Hanifin and 24-year-old forward Elias Lindholm from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for defenseman Dougie Hamilton, forward Michael Ferland, and young prospect Adam Fox. A trade loaded with young talent that all sat relatively unproven could prove disastrous for either side, and while no player involved has look outright bad, Hamilton and Ferland have looked underwhelming in Carolina. Lindholm, on the other hand, has been on fire so far this season. Despite boasting a career high of just 45 points in a season, Lindholm has broken through the ceiling tallying, 58 points so far this year, which is over a point-per-game pace.
So, to answer the question on how to best emulate the success of the Calgary Flames, GMs should look to draft well, give their prospects plenty of time to develop, and maybe luck into a few All-Star Talents along the way.
Collin has been a lifelong hockey and sports fan rooting on Philadelphia for as long as he can remember. He is currently enrolled at the University of Maryland, College Park studying communications.