Calgary’s Identity Crisis

In the early going, Calgary doesn’t look ready to approach the expectations that come with making it to the second round of the playoffs last season and subsequently making a couple big additions over the summer.

The Flames’ success in 2014-15 was largely attributable to a team that jelled on the ice under head coach Bob Hartley. Hartley won the Jack Adams Award for the league’s top coach as he guided a Calgary squad that was seventh in the Pacific division in 2013-14 (35-40-7), to a third-place finish (45-30-7) last season. He had the team playing inspired hockey, and showing their resiliency by being among the league’s top teams in the third period.

The emersion of the Johnny Gaudreau–Sean Monahan–Jiri Hudler line was also integral for the Flames throughout the regular season and into the playoffs where Calgary beat the Vancouver Canucks in six games before eventually losing to the Anaheim Ducks in five.

Now Calgary is tied with Anaheim in points for bottom of the Pacific division. No team has fewer points than the Flames, although Columbus, also with four points, has played one more game. And Calgary’s -19 goal differential is tied for the worst in the league with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It’s a funny league when up until Anaheim’s three-goal first period Tuesday night against Dallas (Dallas wound up winning 4-3 in regulation), 43-year-old Jaromir Jagr was scoring goals at the same rate as the entire Ducks team.

Add defenceman Dougie Hamilton and right winger Michael Frolik to the picture, and a .286 win percentage isn’t what you expect from a second-round team. But it is a little more indicative of a team that was one of the worst puck possession teams in the league a year ago.

The sample size is small, and it can take some time for a roster to mesh, but with points at a premium Calgary can’t afford to spend much longer getting its game on track if it wants to return to the postseason this spring. Slow starts can be fatal when so few points usually separate a decent playoff seed from a 10th or 11th-place finish. This was evidenced John Tortorella replacing Todd Richards as head coach of the Blue Jackets.

Of course Calgary’s play will tighten, and its win percentage will improve. They’re not this bad of a team. (Patrick Allen wrote  earlier on about the impact some early-season injuries and slow starts for some individuals have affected the team.) But the sample so far makes the Flames look like a team that is going to do what the advanced stats from last season suggested, and regress. So far in October, the Flames are projected to be more of a replica of the prior season’s Colorado Avalanche than a Flames team that would see their puck possession numbers improve due to improvement of their youngsters and the infusion of more talent. Gaudreau’s avoided a sophomore slump so far, producing a goal and nine assists in just nine games, but the team as a whole needs to figure out who they are. Are they a team about to fall back to earth, or a team ready to transform into a Western Conference force? If the Flames hope to be the latter, they’d better turn things around soon.