With the Calgary Flames having been officially eliminated from playoff contention, the frustrating season that was 2020-21 no longer has much, if any, meaning. It was an extremely disappointing year for a team many expected to be one of the better teams in the North Division and has resulted in many questions heading into the offseason.
It has been a pretty tumultuous season from the get-go. After a slow start resulted in the firing of Geoff Ward, who lasted just 24 games after getting his ‘interim’ tag removed, the team briefly appeared to have turned things around after the hiring of Darryl Sutter. However, that was very short-lived, and their inconsistencies soon came to the forefront once again. Now, here we are, with the Flames having been eliminated from the playoff race with four games to go. While there were too many reasons to count as to why they struggled this season, here are the three main factors.
Lack of Scoring
Aside from Elias Lindholm, this team has really struggled to put up offence this season. Sure, players like Andrew Mangiapane and even Milan Lucic have had ok seasons for what was expected from them, but for the most part, this forward core has been missing in action all year long.
While Johnny Gaudreau has had some good stints, he has been inconsistent, and his stat line shows that as he has just 42 points in 52 games. He is certainly capable of more. Then there’s Matthew Tkachuk and Sean Monahan, who haven’t been able to get anything going all season long and have combined for just 65 points in 102 games, which simply isn’t good enough.
Last but not least, there were players who were expected to provide secondary offence but failed to do so. Guys like Dillon Dube, Josh Leivo, and Derek Ryan struggled to do much of anything offensively and were unable to help out their big guns, who just didn’t have it this season.
With that being said, it’s no wonder the Flames currently find themselves 26thd place in the league scoring with just 137 goals this season. You need to score goals to win and this team, despite looking pretty good on paper, was unable to do that this year.
Recently, Sutter told media he was unhappy with how a number of his young defencemen had performed this season. Though he came out a few days later and claimed the statement didn’t include Rasmus Andersson, you have to question whether or not that was true given the fact that the 24-year-old Swede took a clear step backwards. He was expected to be a very dependable top four player on the back end this year but hasn’t been able to play like he had the past few seasons and currently owns a team-worst minus-10.
Then, there were guys like Juuso Valimaki and Oliver Kylington, who were expected to help contribute to the top six this season. For Kylington, he never truly got an opportunity after being placed on waivers before the season even began and has appeared in just seven games to this point. Valimaki, on the other hand, had some serious expectations placed on him, perhaps unfairly given that he had only played in 24 career NHL games heading into the year and had missed the entire prior season with a knee injury. Still, he struggled on many occasions and has caused for some questions as to whether or not he can be as good as this fan base had originally believed.
Then there are the veterans. Mark Giordano, at 37-years of age, is what he is at this point. He hasn’t been bad but is clearly not the defenceman he once was. In a more positive lighting, Noah Hanifin was having his best season as a Flame prior to going down with a season-ending shoulder injury, while free-agent signee Chris Tanev has likely been even better than management had imagined. There is a serious case to be made he has been the team’s best player this season. Unfortunately, he has been one of the very few bright spots on this team’s blue line.
Much like the lack of scoring from Flames’ forwards, their blue line hasn’t contributed a whole lot either. Leading the way offensively on the back end is Giordano, who has just 25 points in 52 games. Those numbers aren’t terrible but certainly aren’t as good as you’d see on the majority of teams who will be in the playoffs.
While Tanev has played at a high and consistent level all season long, the same cannot be said about Jacob Markstrom. The 31-year-old, who signed a massive deal with the Flames last offseason, came out of the gates hot to start. Through six games in January, he owned an impressive 2.18 goals-against average (GAA) along with a .929 save percentage (SV%) and appeared to be worth every dollar of the contract he had recently signed.
After the hot start in January, however, the following few months were quite opposite. February saw Markstrom put up a disappointing 3.37 GAA along with a .896 SV%. To cap things off, he was placed in the injured reserve near the end of the month following a collision with Vancouver Canucks’ forward Tanner Pearson. Though he was cleared to return shortly after, some questioned whether or not he was truly healthy as he struggled through March as well with a 3.01 GAA and a .890 SV%.
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Since the ugly two-month stretch, he has once again been able to pick up his play, but unfortunately, it has been too little too late for his team. The fact of the matter is, he has just a 2.66 GAA and a .905 SV% on the season, which is not good enough for a goalie with a cap hit of $6 million. He simply hasn’t been good enough this year and had little help from backup David Rittich, who had just a 2.90 GAA and .904 SV% with the Flames prior to being traded at the deadline.
Nothing has gone right for the Flames this season. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, given that they have some talented players, but haven’t been able to figure things out. Even with a coaching change, it hasn’t seemed to change the way they played, causing some to question whether or not this may be a culture problem.
Given their struggles this season, as well as their lack of playoff success in years past, it would come as a major surprise if some significant changes weren’t made this offseason. General manager Brad Treliving stuck with this core for as long as he could (perhaps too long) and has to make a big change or two now. While the 2020-21 season has been extremely disappointing for the Flames, it could result in a very exciting offseason for fans.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.