It was bad. Real bad.
There was hardly anything good about it, in fact. Right out of the gate they stumbled, then they fumbled, then they kind of had life, and then they face planted….hard.
Welcome to the year in review of the Calgary Flames 2017-2018. Now that the dust has settled, there’s a chance to revisit the season and discuss what went wrong. Let’s start at the bottom and work our way to the top. Before I begin, let me just intro with what I’ll end with. The entire season got off to a bad start and it had nothing to do with the play. Ownership decided to get on the speaker and nail Calgarians with the ask for a new arena–for free. Taxpayers were to foot their vision for a new arena and development area. The City and the city balked, and for good reason. This town knows better then to give handouts to billionaires. ANyways, more on this later.
Mikael Backlund | B-
Backlund had an “off-year” as in he didn’t exceed last year’s point total. He did, however, cash in on a nice new pay cheque with his new contract. Centering the second ling, he was counted on to shutdown opposing teams top-lines. For this he was admirable. He consistently drives play. What he doesn’t do enough of, however is score. Increasing his point total and improving his face-off skills will be his off-season work.
Sam Bennett | C
The troubles with this year’s offence starts and ends with lines 3-4. Bennett was tapped for major improvement this year. Instead we got the same thing. He matched last year’s point total and didn’t seem to breakout. Starting the year at C and then moving to LW and then C and then top line and then third….well it doesn’t help his consistency. He definitely has talent, but he needs a better situation to excel. He also needs to elevate his game to seize opportunities. Right now he can’t be counted on to drive play or score goals. Is a trade likely? I doubt it, since the asking price is low.
Troy Brouwer | D
Brouwer’s career trajectory is diminishing. He had a career low in points. Maybe it didn’t help he played most of the year on the 4th line, but you get what you play for. He’s the fan favorite whipping boy, not because of his play, since he’s versatile especially on the PK, but because of his contract. In a perfect world he would make half as much and his contract would be done this year. Not the case. 2 more years at 4.5 million. I don’t blame him for that, blame management, but his play is tanking. Not great news for the team, but I guess he’s “great” in the locker room.
Micheal Ferland | B
Career year in points and goals. Playing mostly on the top line, Ferland put up 21 goals, which is a hard thing to do in this league. But whether you can stay at that production level–also called consistency–is the question. He fell off the map in the last 3 months. From Jan 12th to the season end he had a grand total of 3 goals. Ferland is a career 3rd-4th liner and has to bring energy every shift. If he can find his groove, he’ll be a necessary addition to answer the profound problems of secondary scoring on this team.
Michael Frolik | C+
Injuries didn’t help matters as Frolik posted career lows. Like his linemate Backlund, they struggled to produce offensively all year. Although the second line are among the league’s best for possession and defensive work, they don’t threaten offensively. One would expect a bounce back year from Frolik next season, but the ceiling is only so high.
Johnny Gaudreau | A
Would be A+ but Gaudreau still has problems on defence and needs to find ways to add some muscle mass. Otherwise, career numbers for the team’s top offensive threat. You can’t ask for much more than what he provided. Now he needs a bonafide winger on his line to make things complete.
Garnet Hathaway | C-
In a perfect world Hathaway would be a 7th forward, adding energy in the lineup when needed. Instead, he was somehow placed on the third line for half a season. He has a grand total of 4 goals all year. This is part reason why the Flames faltered. Their depth was terrible and Hathaway was looked upon to fill a void management created. He’s a RFA and I’m 50/50 on his resigning. He does bring energy which the team seems to lack on any given night.
Mark Jankowski | C+
Would be higher but he fell off the map when it came to crunch time. THen again, he’s a rookie who started the season in the minors, and after the Bennett experiment didn’t work out, benefited from the Jagr experiment for a month. He performed well for his first near full season. He is, however, the answer the Flames currently have to their 3rd line scoring woes. Expect better from him this coming season, but there are still lingering questions whether or not he’s the right answer to address what the team needs in secondary scoring.
Curtis Lazar | D-
Lazar is a good teammate but a management mistake. Another overpayment by Treliving. He posted career lows, even lower than his rookie year with Ottawa. Given ample opportunities, albeit mostly limited minutes, Lazar never capitalized. He may play a “good honest game” but that’s irrelevant in this league when you post 2 goals. Unsure where he fits moving forward, but he’s taking a place for someone else because his price tag was so high.
Sean Monahan | A
Monahan tapered off in the last 2 months and it turns out it was because he had three injuries that required surgery. Despite the problems and missing 8 games, he still posted career numbers. He’s the real deal, hitting 31 goals while wearing the ‘A’. He’s a quiet leader and will be key to leading the Flames into the post-season. Just need a bit of an edge to complement his game.
Nick Shore | N/A
He didn’t play much, but he’s likely a Matt Stajan replacement. That’s an upgrade.
Matt Stajan | F
Another great ‘locker room presence’ that underperformed on ice. The organization gave him his 1000 games and that was about it. He’s a solid contributor to the organization, just not on the ice this year. He won’t be back and the team will be better for it.
Matthew Tkachuk | A
The stars were our stars and Tkachuk is one of them. He had a career year in points, but most surprisingly found a scoring touch notching 24 before going down with injury. He didn’t play a full 82 games due to injury and suspension. When he cleans up his game he’s going to be a force. Check that. He IS a force in this league and the Flames’ better not squander another elite player. Let’s see if he can put on some muscle mass to continue leading the Flames in the area they sorrily lack–intensity.
Kris Versteeg | D+
Hurt most of the year, added PP expertise, but that was about it. He’s injury prone and shouldn’t be back.
Not mentioned were the likes of Tanner Glass (need I say why?) or the call-ups like Lomberg and Foo. Foo may make the jump next year, but we can’t rely too heavily on rookie faces to address the deeper problems on offence. I point to management for the problems. There was NO plan for a top line RW, unless that plan was Brouwer, and then Ferland, (maybe Lazar????). There was little depth. There were no plans for 3rd line RW. First it was Versteeg, then it was Brouwer (again), then it the backup plan Jaromir Jagr. That was fun while it lasted, but it ended with bitter disappointment. Hathaway was the 4th choice, and the Flames tanked as a result.
TJ Brodie | C+
Brodie was used beyond his capabilities. Despite increased ice-time he dropped in offensive production, but more importantly, was lacklustre on D. I think if you play him on his proper side, and without the additional responsibilities, he works better. But the season was off to a rocky start with his new role and new D partner. Something tells me the rumors may be true that he’s going to be traded this off-season.
Mark Giordano | B
The team’s highest paid player, but wasn’t used properly early in the season (See above). Giordano needs to play the most minutes and work towards controlling play more. there’s still some offensive upside to him, but he is now getting up there in years. Ultimately, as the captain, he lost the room during the stretch. Not saying the room was at odds, but the on-ice product deteriorated as the team didn’t pick up from his example of all-out every shift.
Dougie Hamilton | A
It took 3/4 of the season to put him on the power-play. TJ Brodie started there if you recall. The result? He racked up points. Led all defencemen in the league with goals, and is only 25. He can improve his defensive game, and if he does, he will be a leading force in the league. Once he decides he wants to dominate, things are only looking up for his career.
Travis Hamonic | B-
Another management gaff. A huge price paid for Hamonic who didn’t deliver the results. I think NYI knew what they were getting rid of when they traded him. Hamonic’s game as declined, or perhaps it was never as high as anybody thought it was (at least here). It took half a season for him to get used to the system. When he did he became a steady D man. But I think the team was looking for something more than just steady. He’ll have a chance to prove himself this coming season.
Brett Kulak | B
Started the year on the bench, but when given the chance he seized it and remained the number 6 D man for the rest of the season. Developed in the system, the future looks bright as Kulak looks to take increased responsibilities and ice-time.
Michael Stone | B-
A lot of people like to rag on Stone, but I think he provided what we expected, albeit with fewer goals. If you can get a good return for him maybe you trade during the off-season. But he wasn’t the problems that Flames faced this year (but didn’t dominate either).
Not included was Rasmus Andersson, but he should make the jump next year as I suspect one major D-man will be traded to address the gaps up front. I’m also looking for Wotherspoon to finally make the jump next year in place of Tank Commander Bartkowski.
In goal there was one option–Mike Smith. Let’s give him an ‘A’. He was the biggest unknown, but out of the gate was the team MVP. He was played nightly, and whether or not he was overworked, when it went down with injury, the team tanked too. The backup situation seemed to find some answers with David Rittich. However, when the team needed answers down the stretch they couldn’t find any in the system, including Rittich. Next year will likely include the same goalie tandem. Let’s just say the Flames problems are up front, not in goal.
Coaching | C-
This week the Glen Gulutzan, along with his two assistants, were fired. It was a bit of a surprise to me. I didn’t think GG was the problem. I think he had huge issues in player selection (TJ Brodie), and the powerplay was just awful. But he was also given essentially half a team. There was no useful pieces on the 3rd and 4 line to build from. That makes winning hard. So although the team had glimpses, ultimately their play dictated their results. GG couldn’t get the players totally onboard and lost them down the stretch. It was painful to watch the last two months as the wheels came off. Although the analytics in some places look good, ultimately the team regressed as a whole. That with improved goaltending and technically a better D. But you just can’t win if you can’t score so hopefully GG’s replacement isn’t cut from the same cloth.
Management | D
Firing GG was probably a tough call because he was BT’s man. Now BT knows that if the team falters in the next two years he’s out. There are no more excuses. The overpayment for the likes of Brouwer handcuffs the team for 4 years on the 4th line. The overpayment for Hamonic hand-cuffs the team for assets and potential trades. The overpayment for Lazar was stupid. This is the year where we’ll see if there are some hockey moves for BT to make. Although he’s a masterful negotiator of contracts, he hasn’t built a winning team despite some star power.
Ownernship | F
Out of the gate the ownership group tried to influence a civic election with their non-sense for a new arena. It left a bad taste in the mouths of everyone. It also left a lingering cloud over the team and the fan base the entire year.
You don’t hear much from the owners themselves. You do hear from their mouthpiece in Ken King. Or at least you used to. Haven’t heard a noise from the head office since Calgarians overwhelmingly rejected their attempt at a tax payer funded arena build. In business, usually, when a new direction or idea falls flat on its face the CEO takes the fall. Ken King wasn’t fired, but have you heard a peep from him since his public thrashing in October? Not one. The ownership group is licking its wounds and likely already have another plan in place for their new arena. There are opportunities to redevelop the Victoria Park area, but they don’t want to pay their fair share. That’s why it’s entirely possible at some point in the next year they’ll be springing a team move. The city will wave goodbye, I know I will, even though it will be hard to watch.
All in all next year’s Flames need some key pieces, mostly at the forward position. 2-3 new RW’s will help push things along. There are potential pieces from the minors, but ultimately some major player moves are warranted to address lack of scoring and mental collapses.
How did you think the season went? Leave your comment here and your thoughts on off-season moves.