Well, the dust has settled on another hockey year, only this time the season lasted far longer than anybody at the start of the season predicted. There were few who thought the Flames would remotely contend for a playoff spot. If by some miracle they made it, certainly nobody thought they’d come out of the first round. The overachievers exceeded all expectations largely because of the performance of relative unknowns. The rookies outperformed, the vets stacked up points as they should’ve, and sophomores outperformed, the defence scored more than anybody thought was possible, goaltending was above average, and so on.
Here are some thoughts on the team as a whole, but some blanket assessments on players.
Let’s start with the coaching staff. Most who’ve known Bob Hartely for any length of time noted the change in his style. The coach moved from a hardnose approach to a teaching style better suited for a young team. His work paid off in spades as players showed progression throughout the season, but most importantly, the team as a whole bought into what Hartley was selling. The moniker, “always earned, never given,” was largely upheld throughout the season which paved the way for many rookies and unknowns coming out of seemingly nowhere and making a surprising impact. He was resigned during the season to an extension, and we can expect that his complement of coaching staff will be back as well.
Moving further up the management chain, the GM completed his first full season and his stamp on the team will largely take root this coming draft. What we saw in terms of young players coming up through the organization this year was the work of previous GM Jay Feaster. The only additions that were worth mentioning that Brad Treviling had to offer was the the signings in last year’s off-season. Deryk Engelland, Raph Diaz, Jonas HIller, waiver pickup David Schlemko, and Brandon Bollig, were the additions. Engelland played a bigger roll later in the season with the absence of Giordano, but apart from Jonas Hiller in goal, his work was subpar. The next two seasons will really be the measure to his success with both the drafts and also how he balances the books with looming contracts and capspace.
To the players, starting in goal.
Kari Ramo and Jonas Hiller shared duties in net with Hiller taking the bulk of work. He was lights out at the beginnings of the season, but the team generally rode the hot hand all the way to the playoffs. Hiller started to show his streakiness late in the season, and eventually lost out the starting position in the post-season after Ramo closed out the Vancouver series and came in in relief Game 1 vs. the Ducks. Ramo is now an unrestricted free agent (or officially on July 1) and the Flames have minor league rookie goalie Joni Ortio on a one way contract for next year. They can’t hold three goalies so either Ramo isn’t resigned, or Hiller is traded. It’s really a matter of preference for fans. Some think Hiller’s time is done, other’s think Ramo isn’t a bonafide #1.
In terms of their workload and the numbers they put up, both get a ‘B’.
On defence the Captain lead the way for most of the season. The torrid scoring pace for the entire defensive corps never pittered out. There was a strong possibility that Mark Giordano what what away with the Norris trophy this year if it weren’t for his untimely injury late in the season. Giordano lead the way and TJ Brodie grew in leaves and bounds. Reciting him to a multiyear contract is one of Treviling’s early success. Brodie is a stud on D and is still young.
Wideman and Russell rounded out the 3rd and 4th spots on D and both exceeded expectations. Surprisingly Wideman is currently the highest paid player on the team. In the first week of the season he was the whipping boy, but quickly turned it around and outpaced all expectations and stats column. The amount of lifetime this pair put up late in the season and in the playoffs usually how are around the 30 minute mark. With Wideman’s offence and Russell breaking the NHL record for block shots in a single season, the Flames had the necessary 1-2 punch you find on contending teams.
But after the top four defencemen the the quality falls off a cliff. Starting the season was Deryk Engelland and Smid on D. Diaz was the 7th man. Engelland was an easy target given his salary and lumbering posture on the ice. Smid went down mid-season with a neck injury after taking a few blows to the head with checks that didn’t even go to review by the league. Engelland stepped up with Giordano out and faired well with the extra ice time. If there’s one place the team lacks considerable depth it’s on the blue line. Without any noticeable telling ready to make that jump into the NHL next year, look for Calgary to jump into the free-agent pool this off-season and shore up the blueline.
Giordano this year A-
TJ Brodie A-
Offence was something that most thought the Flames would struggle with. Although the power play never really seem to click, scoring wasn’t an issue finishing 8th in NHL team scoring.
Not a single Flames played all 82 games this season. Some could’ve, like Monahan, but he was sat out the last game of the season. here’s a recap of forward from the top point getters all the way down, for players with at least 20 games played.
Chalk up the Calgary Flames’ season success to Jiri Hudler and the top line that included Monahan and Gaudreau. Hudler had a career year anchoring the youngsters. He found his place both as top point getter and also as mentor to the talented linemates. With 76 points by season’s end, his game was much improved and now Flames fans expect a similar production for the upcoming season. The post-season results weren’t as dominant, and his size posses problems for a team that wants to get bigger, but we can expect another stellar year from him in 2015-16. A+
Johnny Gaudreau, well, the eventual rookie of the year and Calder Cup trophy winner (I’m going out on a small limb here) shocked everyone. The talk before the season, and even during the season, was how his size would diminish his contributions. The learning curve was huge for him as he entered the season. After a slow start Johnny ‘Hockey’ eventually figured out the game and how to survive to the tune of second place in team scoring. His 24 goals and 40 points lead rookies. Despite his size, a thicker Johnny next year is sure to put up even more points and that’s exciting. A+
Sean Monahan was slated to suffer from the sophomore blues. Of course, pundits had everybody on the Flames tanking, and just like they got everything wrong, they got Monahan wrong as well. Skipping the minor leagues to go straight to the big game two seasons ago, Monahan came into camp bigger, stronger, and ready to dominate. Quietly, he anchored the top line and improved his two way game. He increased his point production and was the other 30+ goal scorer on the team. The only issue is his meanness, which may never be a part of his game, but he needs to assert himself on the ice. His face-off skills need vast improvement as well. The only knock on his game was his playoff performance; he seemed to disappear in th epost-season despite apparently not suffering from any ill-effects from injuries. If he can round out his game, and he will, the third year will be even better for the eventual 21 year old–yes, he’s still 20. A for regular season; C+ for playoff performance.
Wideman and Giordano were 4-5 on team scoring, then Brodie and Russell.
The next highest point producer on offence was Lance ‘Plan the Parade’ Bouma. How did he produce 34 points and how on earth is he the 4th highest scoring forward on the team. Kudos to lance for putting in a career season in a contract year. But his production is also indicative of the lack of scoring depth on the team as a whole. Can Bouma be counted on for 15+ goals a year? I don’t think he can and am willing to be proven wrong. He’s a solid PK man with grit, heart, and soul. He’s not a second line LW, IMO. He deserves to be re-signed as a RFA and we’ll see how he does over a couple more seasons. The Flames are lucky to have over production on his part, but jury is still out on whether it can be sustained. A- because exceeded everybody’s expectations.
David Jones was often hurt and out of the lineup. The popular whipping boy from the Jay Feaster era pulls in a hefty salary for his point production, but he increased his contributions this year. On a team without many right handed shots, Jones when he’s on his game and using his size is a solid addition. But overall, he’s underperformed from expectations, but then again, maybe those were too high to begin with. Another year at 4 million and then we can move on. He’ll hopefully continue to produce at about what we saw this year and we’ll benefit from his defensive zone play as he’s usually on the ice versus opposing top lines. B-
Joe Colborne was looking to improve on his season totals and become the centreman that the organization brought him in to be. His size was the main draw for then temp-GM Brian Burke who pulled him from Toronto. The local boy suffered from a wrist injury late in the season and played little down the middle. His contributions going into the future are up in the air given the talent coming up from the minors. Although he has flashes of assertiveness, his overall game puts him at best on the third line. This coming year will be his time to show that he can carve out a consistent spot on roster. Can he exceed 28 points? If he plays like he did in the playoffs, throwing his weight around, but without the stupid penalties, he may still have some positive growth to his game. B-
Mikael Backlund. A pre-season injury that flared up kept Backlund out of the lineup until Winter. He only suited up for 52 games this season and his in a contract year as a RFA. Everybody is speaking highly of Backlund, however, after his playoff performance. His offensive production numbers have suffered and one has to wonder what a full season from Backlund will look like? Or rather, can he stay healthy for a full season? Championship teams are built on players like Backlund who can win possession stats over other team’s top players. Although he may not be a prolific scorer like Monahan, he can improve on his offensive numbers. Look for him to be re-signed to at least 3 years before the Summer. B because of his limited season.
Josh Jooris is a player who came out of nowhere, even from within the Flames’ system, never really produced with fanfare in any level, but pushed his way into the lineup. Jooris found 4th line time as the season wore on, and that’s probably where he’ll fit in in the upcoming season. Increasing his leg strength will be a his biggest addition this off-season. His rookie point production of 24 including 12 goals probably won’t increase next season. Although the ceiling his lower for Jooris, he may come out and surprise many given how relatively unknown he is. For his 60 games a B+
Mason Raymond was tapped to come in and pick up some of the scoring that left with Mike Cammalleri. He started off strong, but the local man fell into hard times after suffering an injury mid-season. When he returned he wasn’t the same and spent time in the pressbox late in the season, including some games in the playoffs. He still has time on his contract, but many are calling on the Flames to unload him. With the glut at LW it’s tough to say what will become of Raymond. C-
Paul Byron. In a team that wants to improve their size identity, the diminutive Byron doesn’t fit the bill. Although he’s an explosive player and helped in possession when he was healthy, ultimately his size will prevent him from sticking with the Flames. Although, in 2/3 of the season and 19 points, he’ll surely pick up somewhere. With Gaudreau, who ultimately took Baertschi’s place at LW, the small forward quota is full. B-
Markus Granlund is another rookie that came in when called upon and performed well. he will play another year in the AHL and hopefully dominate and improve his face-off stats. Although the team is suddenly deep at C he may have a place on the 4th sometime within two years. B
Matt Stajan. The roller coaster year that included some family time, Stajan was re-signed to an extension. He is the only piece left in the Dion Phaneuf debacle from year’s past, and as such his contract has always been subject to scrutiny. Re-signing him to a 3 year contract is indicative to his value on the ice as a vet to the up and coming talent. Players like Stajan are necessary for development and the Flames understand this. His experience paid off in spades in the post-season and he outperformed expectations and probably scored the goal of his career when he closed out Vancouver in Game 6. C- for his regular season play and B for playoffs.
Brandon Bollig somehow was signed for big bucks and ‘lured’ out of Chicago. He amassed a whopping 5 points including one goal. Because he put up some points in the playoffs some may forget how useless he was on the ice during the regular season. With Brian McGrattan gone, Bollig was kept around for size and fought when he had to. But fighting isn’t the need in the NHL anymore, although team toughness still lacks, one has to wonder how the team will bury Bollig this coming year. D for his regular season play.
Micheal Ferland surprisingly played 26 games during the regular season. He tied Bollig for points, but some are probably surprised he was around for as many games as he was. He was in the lineup late as the Flames lost a number of players, but everyone will remember him for his memorable playoff performance. His crash and bang style will put him on the 4th line come season start. C+
Honorable mention to Sam Bennett. After shoulder surgery he played a couple of months in junior and then back again with the Flames. Shockingly he was a wild card that played in the post-season, most of it on the wing. With 4 points in the post-season, a bigger Bennett will only make this team that much better. He was possible slated to be a #1 draft pick but his shoulder was the question. Well Flames fans will have him to add to the exciting mix for the 2015-16 season. The only question will be where will he play?
Well that wraps up this season’s review. There’s room for movement, players to waive, players to dump, room for a free-agent or two, especially on D, and also some key pieces to re-sign. What is certain, the Calgary Flames exceeded everyone’s expectations including their own, and the team will only get better next year. Will they regress and miss the playoffs? Well the bar has been set, and once you get a taste, you do everything you can to get back. Either way, next year will be as exciting, if not more, than this year’s success!