The Calgary Flames had, by most standards, a very good 2018-2019 campaign. With a 50-25-7 record, they finished first in the Pacific Division and first in the Western Conference.
The Flames clinched their playoff berth in mid-March and their 50 wins put many in mind of the 1988-1989 edition of the franchise, with that Stanley Cup-winning squad scooping up 54 wins.
As good as the Flames were in the regular season, however, that success didn’t replicate in the post-season and Calgary lost to the Colorado Avalanche in a miserable five games.
Does that make the season a loss? In the minds of some, it does.
And believe me, the Flames see 2018-2019 as a great disappointment notwithstanding the strides made in the regular season. All those 50 wins amount to now is a blueprint for 2019-2020, a path to doing better when the rubber hits the road in the playoffs.
Offensively, the Flames did well. They scored 289 goals in the regular season, tying the Sharks for the lead in the Western Conference. But they were much stingier than San Jose on defence, allowing a paltry 227 goals against – generating a +62 goal differential in the process, enough to lead the conference by a long shot.
So the Flames were scoring and locking the door, no small feat as goalie Mike Smith often frustrated throughout the campaign. There were moments of doubt sprinkled throughout the regular season, as has been well-documented here, and the goaltending was not as consistent as it could have been.
Consider how dire things were looking in November, with the Flames sailing through a goaltending controversy that saw Smith holding a 3.66 goals against average after 11 starts. Not an auspicious way to start a season, especially given the number of low percentage shots he was letting in.
Smith is an unrestricted free agent after his second year with the Flames. News that he’s been speaking with the Edmonton Oilers is…interesting.
But back to the Flames and back to 2018-2019, a season mostly about how often the Flames were putting the puck in the net. Calgary boasted five skaters with over 20 goals and three skaters with over 30 goals.
Johnny Gaudreau led the way with 36 goals and a total of 99 points in 82 games, a career high for the 25-year-old. Things have been going very, very right for the winger.
Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk also had good years, each scoring 34. Elias Lindholm had 27 goals, while Mikael Backlund had 21. And Mark Giordano scooped a Norris Trophy for his performance in 2018-2019, scoring 17 goals and managing a total of 74 points in 78 games.
So how did this all go so wrong in the playoffs?
Simply put, the Flames had no answer for Colorado’s top line. They got off to a rapid pace to start the playoff series, but the Avalanche quickly figured things out. The series was closer than a five-game run would suggest, with Colorado outscoring Calgary 14-11.
Looking ahead, the Flames have the offence to put themselves in contention. This is a hungry, capable hockey club. But goaltending questions remain, which is why summer’s all about filling the crease.
Will Smith be back? Despite his inconsistency, he’s a decent, affordable choice to mentor David Rittich.
Or will Brad Treliving roll the dice and try to snag a big fish, like Sergei Bobrovsky? That’s not likely given the cap situation and what’s on the table.
Right now, we know that contracts are needed for Tkachuk and Rittich. How those situations unfold will have a lot to do with how Treliving and Co. proceed, which in turn will have a lot to do with what goes wrong – or right – next season.
(Lead photo credit: NHL.com)