Flames’ Deep Roster Matched By Few in West Playoff Picture

The Calgary Flames were relatively quiet on trade deadline day, making one change to their roster by adding Ryan Carpenter from the Chicago Blackhawks. That looked to be a replacement move after losing Brad Richardson on waivers to the Vancouver Canucks. To be fair, the team had already made its most significant trades well before deadline day, getting Tyler Toffoli from the Montreal Canadiens and Calle Jarkrok from the Seattle Kraken.

The Flames now look to have one of the deeper rosters in the Western Conference, as their top nine are very versatile, and head coach Darryl Sutter has already started trying out different lineups in recent games. The team could’ve made some more moves to shuffle up their depth, but at the end of the day, they seem to be happy with the roster that they have.

Related: Flames News & Rumors: Jarnkrok, Carpenter, Richardson & More

The team is currently playing some of the best hockey fans have seen in many seasons, with several players on pace to break career highs in points. Some have already surpassed them, like Rasmus Andersson, who is up to 39 points in 63 games. Jacob Markstrom is also playing some of his best hockey sitting top-five in the NHL in goals-against average (GAA), save percentage (SV%), and shutouts (SO). Stacking up against the rest of the Western Conference, the Flames have a deep roster and have a real chance to make a run in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Flames’ Forwards are Deep and Interchangeable

Aside from the Colorado Avalanche, the Flames have one of the best forward groups in their Conference, and the fact that their top nine can be a “plug-and-play” type situation makes them even more dangerous. The team’s top line has been a dominant force all season long, however, in the past couple of games Sutter has tried out Toffoli in Matthew Tkachuk’s spot. It was successful in the game against Vancouver, when the former Canuck made a great pass from his knees to set up Elias Lindholm.

Calgary’s second line of Mikael Backlund, Andrew Mangiapane, and Blake Coleman has also been extremely successful dominating both ends of the ice and shutting down the opponent’s top lines. In recent weeks Trevor Lewis has been in Mangiapane’s place seemingly to “spread the wealth” among the forward group, but that variation of that line hasn’t been quite as good. The line with Mangiapane has an expected goals for percentage (xGF%) of 63.6% while the one with Lewis has a 54.5 xGF%. Come playoff time, Mangiapane should be put back on that line to give the Flames a solid one-two punch.

The team’s third line is where things get interesting, as there have been many different variations, and the addition of Jarnkrok gives the team more depth and versatility in that spot. The team’s current variation of Mangiapane, Jarnkrok, and Coleman has been solid with an 80 xGF% and a 66% Corsi for (CF%), however, that is only in 19 minutes of ice time together. If Sutter goes with his regular first and second line, the third line of Dube, Jarnkrok, and Toffoli could be a sneaky-good line that would have some speed, defensiveness and could add very timely secondary scoring.

The fourth line has been a struggle this season, which has seen Sean Monahan on it for most of the season, along with Milan Lucic and a cast of right-wingers. The pair hasn’t been exceptional in the last few weeks, and that led to Monahan becoming a healthy scratch for the first time in six seasons. Carpenter may be an upgrade over Richardson, and as a defensive forward, could help bring some stability to the fourth line. Sutter will have to find the right fourth-line combination in the final month to really solidify the team’s forward group.

Flames’ Defence Solid, Heavy and Set in Stone

Since October, Calgary’s defence corps was essentially set other than Nikita Zadorov and Jusso Valimaki swapping places on the third pair. Once Valimaki was sent down to the Stockton Heat to get more playing time, Zadorov has fit beautifully on the back end for the Flames. After that move the defence was set, as no player has changed pairings, and the only time Michael Stone got into a game recently was when Oliver Kylington was injured.

Nikita Zadorov Calgary Flames
Nikita Zadorov, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The team’s defence has been solid all season long, both defensively and recently offensively. Four of them have reached career highs in points, and Zadorov and Noah Hanifin are still on pace to break theirs. All three pairs have gelled well together, and are all top-15 in the NHL in terms of minutes played together. Only New York Rangers K’andre Miller and Jacob Trouba have played more minutes than Hanifin and Andersson. The team’s third pairing of Zadorov and Erik Gudbranson has been a welcome surprise, as they have become a tough and heavy pair to play against.

The Flames’ only trouble on defence is their depth, which many thought they might try to solve at the deadline. Stone has only played in three games this season and if the team has an injury, he will have to step right in and get up to speed. So far though, the team has been lucky with injuries as only Kylington has missed a couple of games.

Flames’ Goaltending has been a Breathe of Fresh air

As many Flames fans know, since the departure of Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary’s goaltending carousel has been filled with many ups and downs. This season has been a stark contrast from seasons past, as the team is getting Vezina-calibre goaltending from Markstrom, and solid backup starts from newcomer Dan Vladar.

Markstrom, after a tough year in 2020-21 in the first year of his six-year deal, has done a complete 180 and is playing some of the best hockey in his career. He had eight total shutouts in 315 career games, but this season he leads the league with nine shutouts in 49 games. He needs just two more to pass Kiprusoff’s franchise record of 10 shutouts in a season. This season he will likely pass his career-high games played of 60 and he is on pace to smash his old save percentage (SV%) record of .918 as he currently sits at .927 SV%.

Jacob Markstrom Calgary Flames
Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Vladar had played in just five NHL games when the Flames made the trade for him in the offseason. He was a guy that the team’s goalie department thought highly of and, that could have high potential in the league. He’s collected nine wins in his first season as a backup, and has had some impressive outings, including a 4-3 overtime win on the road in Colorado. He went a month without playing a full game from Jan. 7 to Feb. 15 when he started against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and got the win.

Both Markstrom and Vladar have given the players in front of them confidence each night that they know their goalie has their back in each game. Although Vladar won’t see much playoff action, if at all, he can be confident he could help the team win if Markstrom were to go down.

Flames Stack up Well Against the Rest of the West

Calgary currently sits first in the Pacific Division by a decent margin, and is 11 points behind Colorado for best in the West. The Flames don’t have as much high-powered offence as the Avalanche, but they have shown they can play with some of the best teams in the league. Calgary currently has a record of 10-7-1 against Pacific teams and 7-3-2 against Central Division teams this season.

Calgary Flames Celebrate
Calgary Flames Celebrate (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Within the Pacific, the Flames have the most versatile roster outside of the Vegas Golden Knights who, if fully healthy, are loaded with talent. Teams like the Avalanche and Minnesota Wild are well balanced at all three positions, and are suited to make a run in this year’s playoffs. In the Pacific, the Edmonton Oilers have a great offence, but not as deep while the young Los Angeles Kings. The Kings have been a huge surprise this season, and are sitting in second in the division with just over 15 games to go. But it is the Flames who look like they can come out of the Pacific and face the winner of the Central. The last time Calgary lost consecutive games was from Jan. 4 to Jan. 13 when they lost four games in a row.

There are still 17 games to go, and the West playoff picture could still look much different than it does today. Still, if the Flames continue playing the way they have been lately, they should finish first. Once the playoffs start, it is a new season, and it’s anyone’s guess as to who the Flames will be playing. If the team shows up as they have for the last two-and-a-half months, their deep and talented roster should be able to take on any team in the Western Conference and win a seven-game series.