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Calgary Flames Emerge as a Top Cup Contender

Sean Monahan
Sean Monahan and the Flames are hoping to go deep in the NHL Playoffs. Photo by mark6mauno (flickr) [CC License]
  • The Calgary Flames are among the favorites to win the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals
  • Can the Flames overtake the Leafs and Lightning?
  • Is Calgary worth a wager with average odds of +1300?

For the first time in what feels like decades, there’s more than one Canadian team making headlines as a legitimate cup favorite. Of course, much of this talk has been generated by the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Winnipeg Jets, who are both bona fide contenders in their own right. However, it’s time for another Canadian contender who deserves to be in regarded in the same vein, and who belongs in the class of the NHL: the Calgary Flames.

Despite heading into the second quarter of the season as long shots, the Calgary Flames are now among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. How did Calgary vaunt themselves into being favorited to win it all after missing the playoffs last season? Is their incredible start a mirage, or is there reason to believe that they’re poised to go deep come the springtime? Read on to find out!

2019 Stanley Cup Odds

Which Team Will Win the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals? Bovada Odds (12/19/2018)
Tampa Bay Lightning +370
Toronto Maple Leafs +420
Nashville Predators +950
Calgary Flames +900
Winnipeg Jets +1000

The Flames Are Red Hot

Early season returns on Calgary have been nothing short of phenomenal. The Flames are 22-11-2, with a +27 goal differential. They’re comfortably leading their division, and are currently tied for second in the NHL. They have five players with over a point a game, and already have four players with more than 14 goals.

The Flames are 22-11-2, with a +27 goal differential and are currently tied for second in the NHL.

The top line of Gaudreau-Monahan-Lindholm is in indisputably one of the top 3 lines in the league, and on some nights they exhibit a dominance that rivals even that of Boston’s Pastrnak line and Colorado’s phenomenal Rantanen-Mackinnon-Landeskog trio.

This line has also been fantastic defensively, as Lindholm does much of the heavy lifting defensively that used to fall on Sean Monahan. Lindholm is excellent defensively and used to play center in Carolina, giving him and Monahan the unique advantage of divvying up defensive responsibilities. Lindholm’s right-hand shot is a perfect compliment to the Flames first unit powerplay, as well.

20-year-old Matthew Tkachuk has been brilliant on the second line and PP1, having put up 15 goals and 20 assists for 40 points through the first 35 games. Not only is he an elite pest, but he’s proving to be a legitimately elite scorer as well.

Calgary is second in the NHL in goals, having scored at 122 already for an average of 3.49 a game. The Flames boast a +28 goal differential in the third period, having scored 52 goals in the final frame alone. An ability to rally and push games out of each in the third indicates group a confident, flourishing group that’s coalesced well.

The Flames boast a +28 goal differential in the third period, having scored 52 goals in the final frame alone.

In the West, there’s no doubt that Winnipeg and Nashville are going to give Calgary a run for their money, but Calgary should absolutely be regarded as a legitimate threat to come out of the West. They’ve proven their mettle. Just look at how deep their roster is. It’s telling how well a team is doing when no one is complaining that James Neal, who inked a five-year, $28.75 million dollar contract with the Flames in the summer, has 7 points while playing third line minutes.

Calgary Flames (Healthy) Depth Chart

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Johnny Gaudreau Sean Monahan Elias Lindholm
Matthew Tkachuk Mikael Backlund Austin Czarnik
Michael Frolik Sam Bennett James Neal
Alan Quine/Derek Ryan Mark Jankowski Garnet Hathaway
Left Defense Right Defense
Mark Giordano T.J. Brodie
Noah Hanafin Travis Hamonic
Oliver Kylington Rasmus Andersson

Calgary Could, Quite Conceivably, Get Even Better

Yes, this is relatively hard to imagine, given that Calgary is at the top of the league. However, Calgary’s team save percentage is only .904, which puts them in the bottom third of the league. Their PDO (a metric that combines shot percentage and save percentage, purporting to measure a team’s luck) is 99.8, again in the bottom of the league.

If Calgary starts to get a few more saves and their PDO inches even slightly towards the mean, Calgary’s performance will likely get even stronger. This isn’t out of the realm of possibility, as Mike Smith is currently riding a six game win streak and has churned out several impressive performances after a frankly disastrous start to the season.

The Calgary Flames’ Offseason: Treliving’s Genius

Despite an impressive offseason that bolstered an already solid roster on paper, many were skeptical of the Flames’ chances to finally ascend to contender status. The Calgary Flames surprised everyone in 2015, making the playoffs against all expectations, but they’ve been mired in mediocrity ever since. They missed the playoffs in 2016, were swept by the Ducks in 2017, and missed the playoffs last season.

The first big move in the offseason was doubtless the most important; Glen Gulutzan was fired, and Bill Peters was hired. Treliving went out on a limb here, taking a chance on the former Carolina Hurricanes bench boss and eschewing the names in coaching available in the offseason.

This is Treliving’s third coaching hire, having already fired Bob Hartley before Gulutzan, and it’s not often that General Managers are on the job long enough to see oversee more than three different coaches. It’s no secret that if this season was a bust for the Flames, Treliving wasn’t going to be returning.

However, this move has paid off immensely. Bill Peters has shown confidence to mix lines up on a period by period basis, ice rookie defense pairings, play struggling goaltenders off one another, and many other astute moves that have all paid off swimmingly thus far.

His tenure in Calgary has been nothing short of magisterial thus far. Gulutzan’s chief shortcoming, which was an overall lack of adaptability in both roster decision and in-game adjustments, is Peters’ strength, and thus far it’s been a perfect match for a roster composed in such a manner as Calgary’s.

Computer Boys Be Damned, Museum Boy Gets Shipped to Carolina

With the exception of the hiring of Bill Peters, Calgary’s best move was the biggest trade of the summer (okay, maybe the Karlsson deal was a bigger trade), and it’s having a positive effect that’s rippling far beyond merely just the roster players that were involved.

The deal sent Dougie Hamilton, Michael Ferland, and the highly touted defensive prospect Adam Fox to Carolina in exchange for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanafin. At first blush, this looked like a deal meant to simply provide the impetus for change, as both Calgary and Carolina’s rosters had been consistently underperforming expectations.

However, there was definitely more to it than appeared on the surface; this is the second time the Dougie Hamilton has been traded in his short career, which has raised eyebrows around the league. Its rare for top pairing defensemen to ever be traded, much less traded twice. The full story will likely never come out, but there’s no doubt that Hamilton wasn’t a fit in Alberta. Jon Shannon of Sportsnet infamously stated in the hours following the trade “the whole team would go for lunch at Moxies and Dougie Hamilton would go to the museum.”

We can only subsume that Calgary dispensed with the academically inclined Hamilton to acquire more Moxie bros, and Treliving went out on a limb to acquire two highly hyped former first rounders who have been slightly disappointing relative to their draft pedigree in Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanafin.

This trade wasn’t only divisive in Calgary, but in the hockey community at large. Hamilton is an analytics darling, and this trade serves as a fascinating locus of analysis for the analytics vs. eye test debate.

However, the most important aspect of this trade is debatably not the players who were exchanged, but the role it played in reinvigorating of the likely Norris Trophy winner this season, Mark Giordano.

Just look at these numbers:

Mark Giordano is three points behind last year’s total, and he still has 47 games left to play in the season. There’s been a lot of speculation that the Hamilton-Giordano pairing was deleterious to Giordano’s offensive capabilities, as he spent a lot of his time on ice trying to facilitate Hamilton’s offensive capabilities.

Mark Giordano is three points behind last year’s total, and he still has 47 games left to play in the season.

Further, TJ Brodie had a tough time playing away from his long-time partner in Giordano. With Hamilton out of the picture, Giordano has been freed up to once again dominate both ends of the ice, and TJ Brodie is having a great season next to him. Trading Hamilton has been addition by subtraction for the Flames.

Ferland Also Leaves, Lindholm and Hanafin Arrive

Calgary probably didn’t love parting with Michael Ferland, who added an element of grit to Calgary’s top line last season while posting a career-high 21 goals, but Carolina was apparently intransigent on him being included in the deal.

That being said, its difficult to imagine the trade working out better for the Flames. As mentioned earlier, Elias Lindholm has been nothing short of brilliant on Calgary’s top line, improving the line defensively while also being on pace for 90+ points.

Noah Hanafin has three goals and 12 assists, and he’s been a stalwart on PP2 and the PK, as well as eating some of the heavier matchup minutes. He’s fit in great with Travis Hamonic, and both defensemen are enjoying the best season of their careers on Calgary’s second pairing.

This bold blockbuster takes the reigns as the best of trade of the 2018-19 season, and Lindholm and Hanafin look to be instrumental in Calgary’s success in the long-term, too.

Are the Flames Worth a Wager?

The Flames average odds are +1300 at online sportsbooks. They’re definitely worth throwing a few bucks on, especially because it looks like this might be the longest odds they’ll have for the remainder of the season.

The Flames ultimately have all the constituent parts you want to see in a contender: a dominant top line, an elite player on the second line, depth scoring, a Norris candidate, and team cohesion. We’re almost halfway through the season, and that’s more than a large enough sample size to attest to the strength of the Flames.

Want to see how the 30 other NHL teams odds have ebbed and flowed throughout the season? Check out our NHL Stanley Cup Futures Tracker!

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