Why Oilers Fans Should Cheer For the Flames In The Playoffs
Okay I can feel the death glares literally as I am typing this so I better explain myself fast.
The Edmonton Oilers are the team I write for, have a deep understanding of, and enjoy talking about the most, but I consider myself a fan of the game of hockey above and beyond a single team. During the regular season I will shake my fist at the Flames along with the rest of you, but through the playoffs I will be wishing our neighbours to the south the best of luck.
The reasoning is simple: The Calgary Flames were in a similar position that the Oilers find themselves in now, and a few good moves have helped turn them into the team they are today. I believe the Oilers can follow a similar path, look at how the Flames addressed their deficiencies, and turn things around for themselves. In turn the Flames current success can be Edmonton's next season.
Let's break it down.
Last year the Flames had two dominant players in Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan who both had career years, with Johnny going 24-60-84 and Sean 31-33-64. Michael Ferland chipped in 21 goals, proving to be a good complimentary player to Calgary's top two players and Tkachuk had a reasonable season with 49 points but scoring was an issue outside of that group.
The Flames finished the 2017/2018 season 11th in the West with 37 wins and a goal differential of -30.
Looking at the Oilers of this season, we can see some similarities. At this point we all know who tried to carry the Oilers through this season. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl finished the season with 116 and 105 points respectively, with Draisaitl also reaching the 50 goal plateau. Through the latter part of the season, Zack Kassian became a decent complimentary option on the top line with 14 goals, and Ryan Nugent Hopkins held his own on the second line with a career year of his own, going 28-41-69.
The Oilers finished this season 14th in the West with 35 wins and a goal differential of -42.
Both teams relied heavily on their top end players, and while Edmonton's best players contributed more than Calgary's... the Flames had superior help in their secondary.
This season, Edmonton's top three players combined for 119 goals and 290 points while the 17/18 Flames had 79 goals and 197 points.
Edmonton's next five players combined for 58 goals and 153 points. Calgary's next five had 69 goals and 200 points. The 17/18 Flames had 10 players who scored at least 10 goals...the Oilers this season have only 6. Treliving knew that his group needed to improve and Edmonton's had even further to go.
HOW DID THEY DO IT?
A few factors led to the Flames jumping from 11th in the West to 1st; the acquisition of Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin, the explosion of offense from Giordano, improvements from internal candidates like Bennett, Frolik, Jankowski, and Hathaway, and smart depth signings in players like Derek Ryan. Calgary was able to do all of this while lugging around a cap hit of 5.75 million in James Neal who did not produce close to expectations.
The Flames goaltending was a story all season this year, David Rittich had 42 starts finishing with a .911 SV% while Mike Smith had 40 starts and a paltry .898 SV%. The Calgary Flames as a whole however, finished 5th in EV goals against, allowing only 166 all season (as a comparison Edmonton allowed 202). The Flames allowed the fewest shots in the entire NHL with 2302 yet were also the second highest scoring team in the league.
CAN EDMONTON DO THE SAME?
It's unlikely to expect the likes of Klefbom and Nurse, the Oilers most productive defenders, to suddenly jump up and be point-per-game contributors. Once again a healthy Oscar Klefbom is the key on the Oilers backend.
Edmonton doesn't need a Noah Hanifin but they desperately need an Elias Lindholm, a player with strong underlying numbers, posed for a breakout with more offense minded players. Calgary was able to acquire this player by giving up Dougie Hamilton, a move that at the time felt like a mistake by the Flames but now looks like a win. The Oilers do not have a Dougie Hamilton to give up, and offering up a Ryan Nugent Hopkins or Oscar Klefbom in a deal will likely cause more issues than solutions due to the lack of depth. The most valuable chip the Oilers likely have right now is the 8th overall pick, something I believe should 100% be on the table.
Internal candidates, Edmonton has a few players it is reasonable to suggest will provide more next year. Sam Gagner came in and proved effective, scoring 5 goals in the 25 games he played with Edmonton. He could certainly be looked at as a 10-15 goal player in the middle six next season. Other options include Jesse Puljujarvi, Jujhar Khaira, Josh Currie, Gambardella, and Tyler Benson as more productive players.
Mikko Koskinen had a tumultuous end to the year in Edmonton, mostly due to being overworked. Edmonton should look for a free agent goaltender capable of player 30-40 games and run the two netminders as a tandem.
Lastly and perhaps most important for Edmonton will be looking for cheap contracts across the NHL for help. Tobias Rieder ultimately failed in Edmonton but players of a similar ilk; 2 million dollar and cheaper options capable of being 10 goal men.
The Flames recognized their core, and were able to add options to improve scoring without creating holes in other spots of their roster. A RNH for Torey Krug or Adam Larsson for Kasperi Kapanen kind of deal is not going to fix this team. I get the feuding and rivalry between Edmonton and Calgary fans, but fans in our province's capital have to tip their hats right now to their southern neighbors. The Flames made smart moves and are currently reaping the rewards for their success. Hopefully next season Edmonton can do the same and create a real rivalry between these teams once more.
Plus we can all agree the Canucks fans are the absolute worst.