The season's over, but there's still hockey to play. The postseason gets underway in just a few days. There's just one thing about it that feels so wrong: Mark Giordano, the team's leader in more ways than one, won't be participating.
It sucks. The team's heart, soul, and best player hasn't really ever had the chance to play in the NHL playoffs, and barring a miracle, he won't get that chance this year. And we all know how difficult it can be to make the playoffs; recent champions like the Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins are out. So it's no given when the Flames will make it back in, and when Giordano will get to play the truly big games for his team.
In the meantime, though, nobody can really dwell on that. This is still a (mostly) full functioning unit (playing five defencemen is not a good look, though), and they made it there without Gio. They'll just have to keep doing it.
Here's how things ended on the season:
- The Flames finished third in the Pacific Division, with 45 wins, 30 losses, and seven overtime losses. They swept the Arizona Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers, were one game away from sweeping both the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, and the only team they had a losing record to was the Anaheim Ducks.
- Their 241 goals for throughout the season was second best in the division, just one behind the first round opponent Vancouver Canucks. They were eighth in the league in goals, with two 30-goal scorers in Jiri Hudler and Sean Monahan. Johnny Gaudreau was a 20-goal scorer. Another eight players were 10-goal scorers.
- While they didn't play the entire season together, the top line combined for 86 goals and 202 points. Just based on age, Hudler will probably decline, but Monahan and Gaudreau should only get better. Get hype?
- Their 216 goals against was second best in the division, but tied for 14th in the league.
- Their +25 goal differential was best in the division, fourth best in the conference, and eighth best in the NHL.
- The Flames clocked in with an 18.8% powerplay, entering a three-way tie with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes for the NHL's 13th best powerplay. The penalty kill, meanwhile, finished at 80.6%, tied with the New Jersey Devils for 20th in the NHL.
- They spent 435:04 playing on the powerplay, 10th in the league, and scored 48 powerplay goals over that time, while giving up just three shorthanded. Meanwhile, the Flames only spent 311:56 shorthanded, the least in the NHL. They gave up 36 powerplay goals over that time, and scored six shorthanded goals of their own.
- Overall, the Flames spent 123:08 more minutes on the powerplay than on the penalty kill, by far the most in the league. Next most was the New York Islanders, with a +94:12 differential. Special teams have come up huge for the Flames this season; more specifically, simply never getting penalized is a big part of the reason they made the playoffs.
- At 5v5 even strength, the Flames shot at 8.9%: second only to Tampa. The team save percentage was 92.2%, 18th in the NHL.
- The Flames finished the season with a CF of 44.4% in 5v5 circumstances. The only teams they were better than were the Buffalo Sabres (37.5%), and the Colorado Avalanche (43.2%). The Toronto Maple Leafs were just 0.2% better than them.
- Calgary had a PDO of 101.9. Typically, this number regresses to 100 over the course of the season, so the puck went the Flames' way more often than not. Their PDO was tied for fourth in the league with the Nashville Predators.
How was all of this achieved? Well, via the players, of course, and the specific roles they all played. The defence switched to a more patchwork lineup with Giordano's absence, but claiming David Schlemko off of waivers helped out, big time. The top line became fully established, and as injuries continued to occur, the occasional prospect was able to step up and start playing a more regular role, in part auditioning for next season.
Here's what the Flames' player usage looked like during games 1-62:
And via War on Ice, here it is for games 63-82:
The Flames calling up a bunch of kids to play their first NHL games at the end of the season kind of skews things a bit, and that single-game data isn't very valuable. Here's what the chart looks like, a little less cluttered, with a minimum of 30 minutes played over the course of the final 20 games (with one quick note: look at how valuable Paul Byron can be!):
- Monahan, Gaudreau, and Hudler became firmly established as the Flames' top line. They were positive possession players relative to the team, but definitely had some help to reach that position. Counting on them to score, Hartley began starting them primarily in the offensive zone. They still faced opponent's top players, though, cementing themselves as a legitimate top scoring line in the NHL.
- With Giordano out, Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman became the de facto number one defence pairing. Only relative to the team they had meh possession numbers, and that was with the benefit of primarily offensive zone starts. Having them as the top pairing isn't ideal, but it's what the Flames have to work with now.
- That leaves pretty much every other major player in a defensive hole. TJ Brodie continues to start in his end more often than not, only playing with Deryk Engelland is a major downgrade; not only can he no longer face off against primarily top flight competition, but he's now a negative possession player relative to a negative possession team. Losing Giordano hurts pretty bad.
- Mikael Backlund spent most of this time on a line with Lance Bouma and David Jones, and the trio essentially acted as a shutdown line. While they played tough circumstances, like with Brodie and Engelland, they were in the red more often than not.
- Joe Colborne, Mason Raymond, and Josh Jooris spent more time together, with Jooris being the best of the three, albeit in more sheltered circumstances. Still, the variation in circumstances really isn't enough to account for the pretty noticeable difference in possession between the trio. Raymond isn't a good possession player, Colborne is meh, and Jooris has some strong potential.
- Matt Stajan, Drew Shore, and Michael Ferland spent a fair number of minutes together as a fourth line. Shore could have fared better, but the most exciting part about all this is Ferland, who could be ready for a full time NHL job as early as next season. The Flames are very, very close to being able to actually dress four functioning lines on the regular, and Ferland's growth this season is a very exciting part of that. He's progressed leaps and bounds over this season-ending stretch.
- Markus Granlund has shown flashes, but ultimately, hasn't looked NHL ready most of the year; that continued in the games he played down the stretch. It's fine though, since he's young and there's time yet. He isn't about to replace anybody any time soon, though.
- Rafa Diaz and Schlemko played pretty sheltered minutes, but for a third defence pairing, they were excellent, and could probably be afforded to play a little more. Depth is important, and while the Flames' blueline is thin, Diaz and Schlemko helped make it less of a disaster than it could have been. So if Diaz could come back any time now...
- Brandon Bollig wasn't a total trainwreck in his role, but he's the least valuable forward on the team.
- And Corey Potter requires extremely heavy sheltering, playing by far the weakest competition and starting in the offensive zone even more often than the top line. He doesn't really belong in the NHL.
To sum up, here's what the Flames looked like over the course of the entire 2014-15 regular season:
Some rookies skew the graph, like Tyler Wotherspoon starting heavily in the defensive zone in his one game played, while John Ramage and Brett Kulak required extreme sheltering.
The clearest standouts, from a glance? Russell and Wideman play too many minutes and in a role they aren't suited for.
And the Flames' top players over 2014-15 were, indisputably, Giordano, Brodie, Monahan, Gaudreau, and Hudler, with Backlund edging in to round things out. All were positive possession players relative to the Flames while playing primarily against difficult competition. The top line was a bit more sheltered zone start-wise, while the top defence pairing and Backlund helped shore things up from closer to their own net.
There's your core for this past season. It wasn't a bad one to have, and the good news is, they're all still relatively young.