The Calgary Flames did not win the 2022 Stanley Cup.
In fact, they were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. In the strictest terms, their season could be considered a failure. But in terms of making progress as an organization and potentially laying the groundwork for future success, there were positives to be found.
At the very least, the 2021-22 season should be considered a “successful failure”.
They had success as a team
The Flames have had success as a team in the past. It was the fifth time in eight seasons with Brad Treliving as general manager that the team qualified for the playoffs. It was the second time in eight years – and the second time in four seasons – that they had won a regular season division title. Considering they started the season with the 19th-best Stanley Cup odds — they were a 40-to-1 underdog — winning their division and winning a set is a great achievement.
The difference between this season’s success and 2019’s success is that the 2019 team was a high-octane offensive team that couldn’t throttle teams with defensive structure or check the way the current Flames have. The 2019 team felt like an overshoot, the product of a team that could only win a few ways and couldn’t adapt.
Heck, Darryl Sutter derisively noted that previous teams could only win by beating the other team. This year’s club learned different ways to win. Even the strength game was better in all three zones. Their transition game was better. Their numerical advantage was good. Their penalty kill was good. Their success seems more repeatable and sustainable than that of 2019.
They had individual success
From top to bottom, there are all kinds of fun individual stories worth celebrating about the Flames.
Rookie backup goaltender Daniel Vladar had one of the best seasons by a Flames backup in years – and that rarely played behind Jacob Markstrom, a Vezina Trophy finalist who played 63 games.
After leading the team out of training camp as the seventh defender – the team started the season with eight – Oliver Kylington was given the chance to play regular minutes as a stopgap after Nikita Zadorov struggled in his first matches alongside Chris Tanev. Kylington thrived in an offensive-oriented second pair role, and playing with Tanev (and working with the coaching staff during the season) helped take some wildness out of his game – the same wildness that had prevented him from being an NHL regular earlier. In January 2021, Kylington allowed waivers; at Thanksgiving, he was one of the top four defenders on a good team.
Further up the blue line, Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin had career years and made big strides after Mark Giordano left Seattle in the expansion draft. Further down, Erik Gudbranson has found a niche as a penalty killer and specialist in closing the defensive zone. (He also scored an odd number of key late-season goals.)
In the forward ranks, we’ve seen career offensive seasons from Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane and Matthew Tkachuk. Heck, Gaudreau earned the Hart Trophy, Lindholm is a Selke Trophy runner-up, and Tkachuk has undoubtedly received league all-star votes.
We have already seen outstanding seasons of Flames players. Typically, they’ve involved players enjoying the “Backlund Bump” – the team’s best two-way player doing the heavy lifting for them – or knowing shooting percentages way beyond what they’ve seen the previous seasons. This season, the individual breakouts look more like players making progress in their progression rather than good individual seasons before an inevitable lull.
The team culture has (probably) changed
The media aren’t in the dressing room this season, so we’re relying on what we hear in the regular press conferences we get rather than more one-on-one player interactions. But it certainly feels like the Flames have changed from previous seasons in terms of their attitudes and approach to things.
Sutter expressed it as the difference between hoping you will win and expecting you to win. The 2021-22 Flames seemed to be less congratulating themselves on the things they’ve accomplished and more focused on the next challenge. It’s probably the product of changes to the coaching staff and the players they’ve brought in from previous Championship sides elsewhere, but it really seemed to creep into the interview ways of virtually everyone in the game. ‘crew.
If that attitude is here to stay, it seems unlikely the Flames will back down significantly in 2022-23 – even with seemingly inevitable personnel changes this summer.
The season was a failure in that the Flames fell short of their ultimate goal. They felt they had a team capable of fighting for a championship, and their season ended in the second round of the playoffs at the hands of their most hated rival. In that sense, they take the L here.
But a lot of good things have happened for the club, good things that look like they can be replicated in the future and provide a foundation for future success. Considering how uneven this team’s progress has been over the past decade, it’s a development worth celebrating.
Looking to improve your fantasy hockey game? DailyFaceoff has the tools you need for daily and season-long fantasy leagues, including a lineup optimizer, daily screenings, and more. Sign up for DailyFaceoff tools here.