Can you feel it in the air? The brand new NHL season is only one sleep away! The Calgary Flames enter the season in year #2 (is that official?) of their rebuild plans. So what can we expect from the team this year? Will they be worse off? Better? Will they slip to #30 in hopes of winning the draft lottery?
If we use last year as a barometer of the expected overall success of this team I would have to go against most pundits and suggest the Flames won’t be slipping to #30. They probably won’t even challenge for the top pick. No, I’m not suggesting this is a playoff team, but all things being equal, with no major injuries, the Flames shouldn’t be worse than last year and the roster proves that.
This year’s Calgary Flames HAVE lost scoring, yet improve in all other areas. With that in mind I predict 84 points, finishing ahead of Edmonton yet again, for 25th in the league. A fantastic ‘best case’ scenario the Flames finish with 88 points and 23rd. The worst case scenario, 29th and 77 points.
Let’s look at every position and get an idea of where the Flames stack compared to last year.
Starting in goal, the Flames made an obvious improvement. Adding Jonas Hiller, who’s a proven #1, to the fold makes the team much better. Ramo’s play late last year will likely continue, so Calgary has a solid foundation of a 1A and 1B goaltending solution.
On defence we can expect more of the same, or rather, a slight improvement. You can’t tell me a healthy Mark Giordano doesn’t make this team better. Another year of improvement under TJ Brodie’s belt. Smid will be Smid, Diaz is a good #7, I’ve been a fan of Wideman and expect he’ll have a great year assuming no injuries, Russel will be himself, with Engelland being the weakest link. Calgary’s D didn’t get worse, they got better, albeit marginally.
On the LW the Flames have suffered the biggest setback with the likes of Cammalleri gone. Who will pick up his points? I don’t think the Flames have found the answer to replace his points. Albeit, the addition of Mason Raymond helps, and everyone will be buying tickets just to see Jon Gaudreau play. Glencross at full health and a 4th line plugger round it out. So again, in committee the Flames may be OK, but it’s not a complete wash.
On RW, where the Flames lack the most, we get some question marks. A couple of centermen will be pushed to RW be it Jow Colbourne, who’s added weight this season, or Paul Byron. Hudler and David Jones return. Jones healthy can’t be worse than Jones not playing, so that’s a bonus (but for how long?) This could be the last season for Brian McGrattan depending on how the Toronto experiment goes (with them dropping all of their one dimensional players, otherwise known as ‘goons’). Devin Setoguchi is the wild card. Nobody is really expecting him to exceed expectations, but he may play well enough to warrant a last-season trade. That will free up spots for some of the young players who had great camps but were caught in a numbers game.
At the C position Calgary returns with the same group, albeit with some more size. All eyes will be on Sean Monahan and whether he can kick the sophomore jinx. He’s added size like Colbourne and that could mean a more dominant game. How well he improves this season will dictate the state of Calgary’s rebuild for years to come. Matt Stajan will operate in a defensive shutdown mode, Backlund will be the question mark, if he can stay healthy and improve on last season then we have a winner.
So that about sums up the Flames. A couple of chances for young players that will maintain some excitement (can’t see Bennett sticking around past 9 games) for fans. No real huge changes other than dropping the likes of Cammalleri (big change), and Galiardi (no change). The Flames are bigger, our rookies have a bit more experience, and our defence is good. Not a playoff contender without bonafide forwards, but certainly not worse than last year.
Go Flames Go! Should be an exciting year, at least at the start.