The Flames have reached the halfway point of the season and we decided it was time for a Writer’s Roundtable to discuss what’s happened so far in the season. The Flames are currently 21-16-4 and find themselves 1 game out of the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. Like the Flames, we’ve got a lot in front of us so let’s dig in!
1. What are your impressions on the Flames so far this season?
MGMacGillivray: The Flames have been playing really well over the last month or so, even if the results weren’t showing up. Perhaps that balances out the first month of the season when they weren’t playing great but the results were magically appearing. I think that if the Flames can maintain their current level of play down the stretch, they will be a playoff team.
MarkParkinson14: It’s really been a mixed bag so far for the Flames this season. Some nights they look like a team that could go somewhere in the playoffs and other nights they look like, well, a team that won’t go far in the regular season. And I think that may be what this team offers. Glen Gulutzan flipped on the team Friday and practice and maybe that will be this year’s version of the “train ride” and get them going. The schedule is getting harder and every point counts, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Flames are the team that took down Chicago, LA and Anaheim or the team that lost 3 straight to Edmonton, Philly and Toronto.
Raminashlah: Yeah it’s been mixed for me too. They’ve had great games, but they’ve also had horrible games. I will say that they aren’t as good as I anticipated them to be with the talent they have on their roster. I thought they’ve been playing great since the start of December, they just weren’t getting rewarded a lot. They really need to work on their powerplay, specifically getting cleaner zone entries during the PP to actually be able and set up. Their last seven games have been one-goal games and a powerplay goal here and there will help that.
2. Calgary has gotten some major contributions from their Stockton call ups. Will they keep it up?
MGMacGillivray: I don’t know if anybody saw six Stockton Heat graduating to the Flames this season and it still remains to be seen if they stick, but they’ve all looked good. More importantly I don’t see why each player can’t continue to contribute at their current rate. Each callup has improved the Flames and all deserve lineup spots in my opinion.
MarkParkinson14: Good lord I hope so. Who saw the Flames having a line of Sam Bennett, Mark Jankowski and Garnet Hathaway back in October? Bennett isn’t a call up, but he was struggling. Jankowski deserved to be there since camp and who knew Garnet Hathaway could score and play the way he has? Those 2 call ups really set the Flames up for success and Andrew Mangiapane hasn’t looked lost on the ice either. And not to be forgotten has been the play the Flames have gotten out of David Rittich between the pipes. Calgary now has a legit backup goalie to give Mike Smith some days off. Stockton has really helped Calgary out this season and continuing to give them big time minutes will only make them better down the road.
Raminashlah: I think Mark Jankowski, Brett Kulak, and David Rittich will be the for sure players that will continue to improve. It’s hard to tell about Andrew Mangiapane, but I’ve loved what I’ve seen from him in the couple games he’s played. He’s good on the forecheck and he’s good at winning puck battles. I am pleasantly surprised with Garnet Hathaway so far. I wasn’t too thrilled when he was first called to be completely honest since, at that time, the Flames biggest issue was secondary scoring. But he’s been a good third liner. I think he’s in his prime now, there isn’t a whole lot of room for improvement for him. But there’s room for Kulak, Janko, Rittich, and Mangiapane in my opinion. Especially Rittich. In the last decade, the highest amount of wins one of Kiprusoff’s backups ever had in a season was four. Rittich’s already at three in just four starts. I hope he stays, he’s a good NHL backup and deserves more starts than just back-to-back games.
3. Jagr: Good, Bad, Indifferent so far?
MGMacGillivray: Put me under indifferent. I was excited when they signed him, and he looked decent before his recurring groin injury. He’s definitely not a top six forward, maybe not even top nine, but he’s better than other players the Flames regularly dress. If he retired tomorrow, I think the Flames wouldn’t skip a beat on the ice, but would lose a big locker-room presence.
MarkParkinson14: Bad. And yes, it’s hard to slag a 45 year old NHL legend, but he hasn’t looked good at all IMO. Jagr didn’t have a training camp because he signed late and let’s face it, he’s 45 freaking years old. He’s played in only 22 games with the Flames and has 7 points. Last year in Florida he cranked out 46 points in 82 games. 82! He’s lucky if he gets to 42 games with the Flames this season and if Elliotte Friedman is correct, he won’t. I wasn’t on board with this signing when it happened and I wanted a young player to get his ice time. Looks like I might be getting my preseason wish sooner than later. It’s weird to not want an NHL legend on the team you cover, but logically I didn’t think this move would work, maybe I wasn’t so far off.
Raminashlah: I like him. Even when he wasn’t contributing so much himself, he’s been an asset in other ways. In every game, you see him either talking to Johnny Gaudreau or Sam Bennett on the bench. During practice, he’s always talking to one of the players and giving tips. I’ve also noticed that this season, Gaudreau was barely having any giveaways when Jagr was in the lineup compared to the last couple of seasons and I think it’s probably due to some coaching from Jagr. Even on the ice, offensively he’s not giving a lot, but he's incredible with the puck, I’m amazed every game at how good he is at winning puck battles and how strong he is on the boards. He’s not as fast anymore, but I’ve liked what he’s brought when he’s been healthy.
4. Who is your team MVP so far?
MGMacGillivray: Matthew Tkachuk - Sometimes I forget that he’s only in his second year. He’s putting up the points this season and continues to be a great agitator, although I’d like to see him cut back on the suspensions. He continually brings energy to the Flames, especially in games where the vets seem to be dragging.
MarkParkinson14: Michael presents a great case for Tkachuk and it’s hard to argue with everything he does on the ice. I, however, am going with Mike Smith. Yeah, he’s had a few stinkers as of late, but his early play this season kept the Flames alive and when they go through scoring droughts, he’s what keeps them afloat. Smith was a guy I was luke warm on just because of his #s in Arizona, but he’s been more than advertised. The Flames haven’t had a goalie that can go out there and handle the workload of a true #1 since Miikka Kiprusoff walked away and they’ve found that in Smith. Yes, he’s 35 and this may be a short run for him in Calgary, but the Flames would be dead in the water without Smith.
Raminashlah: This is kind of a hard question. It wouldn’t be so hard if some of the players were a little more consistent. I think I’d have to agree with Mark and go with Mike Smith. The difference between this season and last season is that the Flames last season needed a few weeks to get sorted out and Brian Elliott wasn’t there to back them up. This season, Smith was there for the Flames to figure things out and that’s why they’re not as bad as they could have been. He came into the season with fans having low expectations from him since he’s older and supposedly didn’t do that well in Arizona. However, looking into his numbers, his even-strength save-percentage was actually quite good with the Coyotes, it was his overall sv%, aka his sv% on the penalty-kill that was bringing his numbers down, but that could easily be attributed to the Coyotes poor penalty-killing as well. I think he’s been a solid starter and I’m not as worried when he’s in net than I was with Elliott or Chad Johnson or Kari Ramo or Jonas Hiller.