On August 1, the National Hockey League will return to playing games in Toronto and Edmonton. The top four teams in each conference will play for seeding while the fifth through twelfth place teams will be battling to get into the playoffs altogether. Those series are known as the Qualifying Round. The New Jersey Devils were worse than that at the time of the NHL Pause back in March. Therefore, they will not be returning to play. They did not even qualify for the Qualifying Round. While the New Jersey Devils are not involved in these games, there are plenty of reasons to pay attention to them all beyond just having any kind of professional hockey in North America (and literally being on all day for at least four days). Since there are eight weekdays until the start of the Qualifying Round and there are eight series, I will be giving you a Devils fan-centric rooting guide for each one.
This the final series this guide will cover. It is the one series in the Western Conference with minimal stakes for the Devils. It is the one series between two Canadian teams. It is a match-up between two teams that could be argued that they should have done better than they did in 2019-20. This is the series between the Calgary Flames and the Winnipeg Jets. Read on to learn more about this one.
The Series Information
What you need to know about the series in general.
The Records: The Calgary Flames (36-27-7, 56.4% Point%, 8th in West) vs. Winnipeg Jets (37-28-6, 56.3% Point%, 9th in West)
The Pre-Pause Season Series: The Flames and Jets only played each other one time in 2019-20. It was on a fairly large stage. Specifically, the 2019 Heritage Classic.
Game 1: October 26, 2019 - Jets 2, Flames 1 (OT) in Regina, Saskatchewan
Elias Lindholm opened the game’s scoring with a PPG with just over five minutes left in the second period. It took a bit over twenty minutes of game action before Josh Morrissey scored his first of the season on a power play to tie it up. Just over three minutes into overtime, Bryan Little scored his first of the season to give Winnipeg the win.
The Broadcast Schedule: From NHL.com:
Game 1: Jets vs. Flames, August 1, 10:30 PM ET - NBCSN, NHL.TV, CBC, SN
Game 2: Jets vs. Flames, August 3, 2:30 PM ET - NHLN, NHL.TV, SN
Game 3: Flames vs. Jets, August 4, 4:45 PM ET - NHLN, NHL.TV, SN
Game 4: Flames vs. Jets, August 6, TBD
Game 5: Jets vs. Flames, August 8, TBD
The first day of hockey that counts returning to action will end with the first game of this series. If staying up is too much, then do not fret. The other two games are at more reasonable times of the day.
A Quick Analysis: Do you like defense? Because you may not see a whole lot of it in this series.
Let us begin with the team 5-on-5 stats at Natural Stat Trick. Both Calgary and Winnipeg have allowed high rates of shooting attempts, shots, and scoring chances in 5-on-5 situations in the season. Both teams have allowed rates of over 57 attempts per-sixty minutes. Both teams allowed over 31.6 shots per sixty minutes, which places both among the bottom ten in that stat. Both teams allowed over 27.3 chances per sixty minutes, where Winnipeg is within the bottom ten and Calgary is just outside of it. Both teams have allowed a lot in the run of play. The exception among rate stats against each team are with high-danger chances. Calgary has done quite well in this sense; their 9.97 HDCA/60 was the seventh lowest such rate in the NHL. Winnipeg’s HDCA/60 of 12.89 is the second highest in the league. We can conclude that Winnipeg is worse off when it comes to defending. Having the third highest xGA/60, 2.58, in the NHL further supports that assertion.
This is the further supported by the state of Winnipeg’s penalty kill. It was not very good in 2019-20. Their success rate of 77.6% ranked 22nd in the NHL with 39 goals allowed in 174 opportunities per NHL.com. The good news is that the Jets suffered the second fewest shorthanded situations in the entire NHL. The bad news is that the Jets have some of the highest rates of allowing shots, attempts, and chances in shorthanded situations within the entire NHL per Natural Stat Trick. Hellebuyck’s 87.5% save percentage in shorthanded situations is quite good but eventually all that volume catches up to a team. Calgary has had better goaltending in these situations and allow fewer opportunities, which both contribute to the eighth best penalty killing success rate in the NHL at 82.1%.
However, Winnipeg does have an advantage to mitigate these concerns that Calgary does not. The advantage is named Connor Hellebuyck. Winnipeg’s goaltenders put up the ninth-best save percentage in 5-on-5 hockey in 2019-20 at 92.42%. Hellebuyck drove that percentage in the right direciton with a 92.9% save percentage in 5-on-5 play. He is a big reason why the Jets’ actual GA/60 of 2.42 is superior than what the model suggests and was the tenth lowest rate in the league for that stat. I would not be surprised if Hellebuyck ends up winning the Vezina. Cam Talbot and David Rittich were not bad and Talbot has done very well as the team’s #2 goalie this season. But neither were on Hellebuyck’s level. Winnipeg is going to need him to be at that level to push forward.
Winnipeg could also use Calgary’s relative lack of finishing to also return. As a 5-on-5 team, Calgary either generated more than their opponents or just a bit less. They are around decent in that respect, whereas Winnipeg was deeper below 50% in most categories. However, Calgary was outscored in 5-on-5. A big reason why was that their team converted their shots at just 7.64%, which was the ninth lowest shooting percentage in the league. Winnipeg was a little bit below league median at 8.05%. It does not seem like that big of a difference but it meant goals were hard to come by at times for the Flames. Combined with Rittich and Talbot being OK but not great, and you can see why the Flames are in the eighth seed and not any better. Should their sticks remain somewhat cold, they could have a harder time with Hellebuyck, who can present a massive challenge by himself. That does not bode well for the fans who see a forward group led by Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matt Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, and Mikael Backlund and think they can shred through a not-so-strong Winnipeg defense.
At least the Flames’ power play did not suffer that fate. Their shooting percentage of 14.09% was the twelfth best in the NHL in power play situations. Coincidentally, Calgary’s power play success rate was the twelfth highest in the NHL at 21.2%, where they scored 41 out of 193 opportunities. Again, Calgary can make Winnipeg’s somewhat-poor PK suffer. they should be wary about giving up shorthanded opportunities as they have allowed nine shorthanded goals, though. Winnipeg’s PP is not too shabby themselves, with a conversion rate of 20.5% (15th in the NHL) from scoring 42 goals out of 205 opportunities. But Calgary’s PK has performed well so this aspect favors the Flames. It is a shame their 5-on-5 offense did not follow the power play’s suit when it came to finishing shots.
And it will be a shame for Calgary if they cannot even slow down the big guns on the Jets. While as a team they were not good in 5-on-5 and their power play was decent, their top five scorers could put some fear into most defenses in the entire NHL. Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, and Nikolaj Ehlers each scored at least 30 goals (Connor scored 38, Schiefele had 29, Laine had 28) and 58 points (Ehlers had 58). The remainder of the Jets lineup does not have a lot of producers that stick out, but those five have carried a lot of offensive production and could continue to do so. As much as I like Calgary’s top six, they were not as productive in the season and I question how much they can get going on the same page. This is important as both teams are not likely to win with their defenses.
The way I see it, this series can go either way. Winnipeg needs Hellebuyck to continue to be great, their top five scorers to finish opportunities, and stay out of the box as much as possible. Calgary needs Rittich and Talbot to step up, their shooters to have some more puck luck (or create even more), and exercise their season superiority on special teams. It will likely be very entertaining to watch either way.
The SB Nation Blogs: For anything Flames related, you will want to visit Matchsticks & Gasoline, where flammable is palatable. For anything Jets related, you will want to visit Arctic Ice Hockey, where it is cool to be cold.
The Stakes at Hand for the Devils
We know these two teams are playing for a playoff spot. But what is in it for the Devils?
There is pretty much nothing in it for the Devils. The Devils’ draft picks are not impacted by the results in this series. Neither are in the Eastern Conference so either team succeeding will not be a hindrance for the Devils in the short term. There are even no former Devils on Winnipeg or Calgary, although Gaudreau is from the state of New Jersey. This series is not just potentially entertaining, but stress-free for the New Jersey fans to watch.
The Second NHL Draft Lottery Possibilities
We know that Alexis Lafreniere will be the top pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. That pick is owned by one of the eight losing teams from this Qualifying Round. So there will be a second lottery to determine it. How should we react if the loser of this series wins this one?
If the Flames win the Second Draft Lottery: I would be fine with this happening. From a purely a Devils perspective, Calgary winning the right to take Alexis Lafreniere would cause no issue. He would be in the opposite conference, much less outside of the Metropolitan Division. Whether or not Calgary becomes a contender with him would not impact the Devils’ aims in the near future. He would help in their cause, even though I think the organization has some other areas that would need to be addressed first (defense).
If the Jets win the Second Draft Lottery: I would also be fine with this happening. From a purely a Devils perspective, Winnipeg winning the right to take Alexis Lafreniere would cause no issue. He would be in the opposite conference, much less outside of the Metropolitan Division. Whether or not Winnipeg becomes a contender with him would not impact the Devils’ aims in the near future. He would help in their cause, even though I think the organization has some other areas that would need to be addressed first (seriously, defense).
Pending Free Agents to Look For
The Devils have a lot of cap space, a full-time GM, and a new head coach. Maybe they will spend in free agency this Fall. These games could be a real showcase for those looking to hit the market. These are some of the more notable potential unrestricted free agents in this series.
The Flames: You, the Devils fan, want a reason to pay attention to this series? Calgary’s pending unrestricted free agents are a great one The forwards are not going to blow you away. Tobias Rieder could be a cost-effective winger for depth purposes. Zac Rinaldo should be avoided at all costs because he is Zac Rinaldo. But the defense. So many potential names could hit the market. 30-year old right-sided defenseman TJ Brodie could be hitting the market. 29-year old Travis Hamonic could be hitting the market (he’s not playing in this tourney, so you will not actually see him). Those two will be in demand should they hit free agency as they were key pieces for the Flames’ defense in recent seasons. If you want some more quality depth defenders, then check out left-sided defensemen Derek Forbort and Erik Gustafsson and right-sided defenseman Michael Stone. They may not be players you would give big minutes to, but they could be upgrades for the third pairing and potentially fit on a second pairing in a pinch. Then there is Cam Talbot. Talbot had a great season as a back-up to Rittich. If the 33-year old is fine with being a #1A/#2 goalie, then he could be a fine choice to back up Mackenzie Blackwood. Whether you want to see Fitzgerald spend big money or pick some cheaper options for depth on the back end of the lineup, the Flames have players to look for minus Hamonic.
With so many pending UFAs, Calgary will have a lot of cap space for next season. CapFriendly currently projects them to have about $16.9 million in space. Their pending RFAs will take a chunk out of that. Forward Andrew Mangiapane is already on their top two lines; I figure he will get a big raise. I also figure defenseman Oliver Kylington and forward Mark Jankowski will get some bumps in pay too. That should leave plenty of money to retain some of these pending UFAs. Seeing that five of their nine defensemen on the books could hit the market, I expect them to retain at least a couple of them. What this means is that, no, New Jersey is very unlikely really use their cap space to leverage Calgary for a deal.
The Jets: If you do not like those free agents, for some reason, then check out the Jets. They have even more players about to hit the market as a UFA in 2020. The forwards include Cody Eakin, Nick Shore, Logan Shaw, Mark Letestu, and Gabriel Bourque. Nobody is really high-end, but depth options are absolutely available from Winnipeg. On defense, 29-year old left-sided defenseman Dmitry Kulikov is the big name to look for. He played prime minutes for Winnipeg to some success. He could command quite a bit this offseason. And the Devils could use a left-sided defenseman. The other pending UFAs are more of the depth variety: Nathan Beaulieu, Dylan DeMelo, Luca Sbisa, and Anthony Bitetto. They are not defenders that will transform the blueline, but they could possibly provide some effective work on the third pairing. Backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit is also a pending UFA, although his work with Winnipeg this season was nothing to write home about. While he is 27, I think the Devils should look elsewhere for a backup goalie. Besides, if you see Brossoit against Calgary, then something likely went wrong with Hellebuyck and that is bad news for Winnipeg.
Winnipeg also has a number of pending RFAs to take care of. Among the sixteen teams in the Qualifying Round, Winnipeg likely has the most pending free agents of all of them. Their RFAs are Jack Roslovic, Jansen Harkins, Mason Appleton, and Sami Niku. While I do not expect either to get massive contracts, they will take a good part of the projected cap space Winnipeg has for next season. According to CapFriendly, that is just over $15.5 million. Similar to Calgary, I could see the Jets retain a couple of their pending UFAs such that they do not need to go out and spend their remaining space to fill large holes in their roster. Therefore, also similar to Calgary, I do not think this is a good team for the Devils to discuss a trade with the intent of leveraging their cap space.
My Choice & Your Turn
Since there are no real stakes for the Devils in this one, this is another series that is mostly worth watching for the entertainment purposes. As both teams were not strong on defense in the season, I expect a whole lot of offensive shifts being traded back and forth to see who can crack who first. As much as I could see Calgary winning this one, I think Winnipeg takes it on the strength of Connor Hellebuyck being great and Winnipeg’s top five scorers being rather productive and fearful to deal with. If it goes the other way, then I will not be too surprised.
However, that is how I see this matchup. I want to know what the People Who Matter think of this series; I want to know what you expect and hope for in this series. Please leave a comment as to how you see this series going down, who you would want to win and why, and who interests you within this series. Also, please vote in the poll just to answer who you think will win this series. This concludes the Devils fan rooting guide for the NHL Qualifying Round. The games that count will begin tomorrow at noon. We will have an open Gamethread for all discussion for what will be at least four days of over 12 hours of hockey. Thank you for reading this part of the guide and all other parts up until this one.
Who will win between the Calgary Flames and the Winnipeg Jets in this best of five series?
This poll is closed