2014/15 Season Preview – Calgary Flames

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/77/Mark_Giordano.JPG/640px-Mark_Giordano.JPG

2013/14 Season Record – 13th in Western Conference, 6th in Pacific Division

W

L OT PTS GOAL DIFF.
 35 40 7 77 -32

2013/14 Season Recap

W

hile the 2013/14 season was a success from the perspective that the Flames once again finished above the Edmonton Oilers, it was one of the worst seasons in franchise history in terms of actual success.  A reasonable October (5-5-2) gave way to a horrible November (4-8-2), and things barely improved from there until March, when the team crawled to their first winning month of the season, going 9-7-0, and closing relatively well in April (4-3-0).  Too little, too late.

The Flames were not set up to do well from the outset, having lost longtime star goalie Miikka Kiprusoff to retirement, moved underrated workhorse defender Jay Bouwmeester to better days in St Louis, shifted impact offensive veteran Alex Tanguay to Colorado, and traded face-of-the-franchise Jarome Iginla to Pittsburgh, with little in return from any move that would impact the franchise in the short-term.  No moves were made to replace these players, most of their hopes being placed (in typical Alberta fashion) in an 18 year old fresh out of junior.

The lowlight of the season occurred on a now infamous January evening. Fresh off a franchise record seventh consecutive loss, head coach Bob Hartley made the decision to ice what can only be described as a murderers row of NHL thuggery as his starting lineup versus Vancouver. Inevitably, a line brawl erupted, culminating in the highlight of John Tortorella’s all-too-brief career as a Canuck when he tried to enter the Flames’ dressing room to confront those responsible.

The highlight? Well, I think it has to be the team’s 8-1 victory over Edmonton in March. The result was the largest margin of victory in an away game versus their longtime rivals, and not only saw former Oiler Curtis Glencross score a hat-trick, but also had Matt Stajan scoring his first goal since the death of his new-born son, an emotional moment for all involved.

Projected Roster

LW C RW
Curtis Glencross Sean Monahan Jiri Hudler
Johnny Gaudreau Mikael Backlund Mason Raymond
 Paul Byron Matt Stajan Devin Setoguchi
 Brian McGrattan  Joe Colbourne  David Jones
LD RD
 Mark Giordano TJ Brodie
 Ladislav Smid Kris Russell
 Dennis Wideman Deryk Engelland
G
Jonas Hiller
 Karri Ramo
EXTRAS
Brandon Bollig
 Lance Bouma

Top Call-Up Options

Forward Sven Baertschi (currently injured), Markus Granlund (currently injured), Corban Knight, Max Reinhart
Defense Corey Potter, Mark Cundari,
Goal Joni Ortio

Top Prospects

  1. Sam Bennett
  2. Johnny Gaudreau
  3. Sven Baertschi

Key Additions

  • Mason Raymond
  • Jonas Hiller
  • Deryk Engelland
  • Devin Setoguchi
  • Corey Potter
  • Brandon Bollig

Key Subtractions

  • Shane O’Brien
  • Mike Cammalleri
  • Ben Street
  • Blair Jones
  • Joey MacDonald
  • Chris Butler
  • Derek Smith
  • TJ Galiardi

Roster Thoughts

The Flames roster is a funny ol’ thing. On the one hand, they have some useful veteran players, and a couple of promising young stars. Bubbling under, they also have some excellent prospects at the forward position. On the other hand, they have some extraordinary gaps at vital positions, little support for the younger skaters, older players badly sliding, and a distinct lack of starpower.

The useful vets? Glencross, Hudler, Raymond, Backlund and Stajan. The former two are capable offensive performers and Glencross in particular has proven to be a heart and soul player for the Flames. Stajan is a capable bottom six performer and will be relied upon as a leader on the team. Hudler had a nice season for the team, scoring 54 points to lead the team, and will be looked upon to provide at least the same this season. Backlund is a young veteran, and despite criticism for his lack of offense is a brilliant possession player capable of taking on the tough competition.

The promising young stars? Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Monahan scored 22 goals last season, though much of that came in the first quarter of the season and he struggled big time defensively. He will likely be an excellent NHLer, but the Flames really have to shelter his minutes and give him strong linemates. Gaudreau had a college career for the ages, and already has an NHL goal to his name. While his tiny size won’t help him, he is dazzlingly talented and could be an impact NHLer if all goes well.

The excellent prospects: Sven Baertschi, Sam Bennett, Corban Knight, Max Reinhart, Markus Granlund, Emile Poirier and Mark Jankowski. A stunning mix of top-end offensive talent and two-way skill, not all of these guys will make it but the team’s amateur scouting department has gathered a nice group of players here, including potentially the team’s number one center of the future in Sam Bennett (whom I think will rightfully spend another year in junior).

The sliding older players: Ladislav Smid, Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland. Smid was an excellent top 4 defender for the Oilers for several years, a slick skater and physical presence combined with strong defensive ability, and he was incredibly popular to boot. It looks like, however, the Oilers were right to move him, as his play has slid considerably over the last year. He’s young enough to recover at 28, but it’s not as if Calgary can shelter him to help him find his game.

Dennis Wideman was the team’s premier free agent signing a couple of years back, and he hasn’t been awful, but he’s been disappointing, not being the elite puck-mover they hoped for. Engelland… well, I’m not sure he’s getting worse or if he’s just always been bad (actually, I do know the answer to that), but he’s monstrously overpaid for what little NHL-level talent he brings.

The starpower comes in the form of Mark Giordano and, to a lesser extent, TJ Brodie. Giordano has developed into one of the league’s top blueliners, piling up points and playing excellent defense while taking on tough opposition on an awful team. His pairing with Brodie was elite last year. Brodie is likely carried by “Gio” to an extent, but he held up his end of the bargain at both ends of the ice and will be a key piece for this team moving forward.

The team also receives a massive boost in net as they signed Jonas Hiller, a nice move. Hiller is no world-beater, but he’s proven to be capable of fulfilling the starter’s role. He’ll get a lot more work in Calgary than Anaheim, so it will be interesting to see how he fares, but he was as good an option as any out there this summer to fill the role.

Key Player

Mark Giordano will be expected to shoulder the lion’s load this season, once again. At 30 years old, he’s not getting any younger, and beyond Brodie has little support around him, though his mind will be more at ease with Hiller in net this season. If he goes down to injury, or doesn’t perform, this team is S-C-R-E-W-E-D. No bones about it. And it’s not like this team is a Cup contender to begin with…

2014/15 Expectations

This is not a playoff team.  This is not a playoff bubble team. This is a lottery team, in the old-school sense of the term.  As I said, there are some nice pieces here and there, but the overall lack of quality, particularly on the blueline, will sink this team.  They’re probably not last-place bad, but they’re pretty freakin’ bad.  Playing the likes of McGratton and Engelland on a regular basis is not good business, but it looks like an inevitability from here, at least with Engelland.

I don’t think the Flames’ rebuild is going to be as hellish as that found 3 hours further north in Edmonton, given some of the potential they already have in the system – though their defensive pipeline looks fairly thin – but it will still take some savvy moves on the part of new GM Brad Treliving to flush the flotsam and jetsam while bringing in genuinely useful pieces, a process that has already begun with the acquisitions of Hiller and Raymond and to a lesser extent, Setoguchi.

It’s likely to be a long year in Calgary, but hey, it’ll be worth it in the end… right?

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