The roster is more or less set. The schedule is done. New divisions have been created and with them a new post-season cut-off format. It’s time to start guessing where the Flames will land next season.
Things to keep in mind
– Calgary was actually only mediocre by a lot of measures last year. The thing that sank them to the bottom of the league was NHL-worst goaltending.
with Karri Ramo coming in as the incumbent starter, it’s difficult to guess how much better the puck stopping will be for the Flames: merely bad? Middle of the road? Whatever happens, there’s a little chance it will be sub-.900 awful like it was for most of the lock-out shortened year.
– The Flames new division (the "Pacific") features the Oilers, Kings, Ducks, Coyotes, Sharks and Canucks. The Oilers, Coyotes and Ducks have some obvious faults, but both figure to be better than the Flames next year. Everyone else is at least a cut above. The top-3 teams in each division make the playoffs, while the next highest two finishers in each conference (regardless of division) round things out.
– The kids are going to get a lot of reps. There’s a good chance guys like Corban Knight, Sean Monahan, Sven Baertschi and Roman Horak will see a bunch of NHL time this year. Mark Cundari, Chris Breen could see time on the blueline as well. That’s not a bad thing per se, but it will mean suffering through some growing pains.
– Related, the Flames depth at all positions is fairly dreadful. A significant, long-term injury to any of the top-3 defenders (Brodie, Giordano, Wideman) and things get ugly in a hurry on the back-end. Up front, the team has maybe three guys who shift play in the Flames favor at even strength (Backlund, Glencross and Stempniak) and only three guys have scored more than 50 points in a season at some point in their career (Cammalleri, Hudler and Stempniak). Cammalleri is the only player to ever top 60 points and there’s a good chance he doesn’t last the entire season with Calgary.
– Related: Matt Stajan and Lee Stempniak are also good bets to be moved around the deadline. Jiri Hudler could go in the next 12 months as well, depending on his performance and appetite for enduring the rebuild. An already veteran thin roster may be completely decimated by the deadline this season.
– There will be next to no help from the Abbotsford Heat. All of the Flames noteworthy youngsters will either make the parent squad or are a year or two away from turning pro. Possible exceptions are Max Reinhart and Tyler Wotherspoon, both of whom strike me as guys who could become competent middle-tier players down the road, but will likely need to ripen on the vine.
Taken altogether, I think the Flames are decent bet to finish bottom-10 in the league. The big wildcard is obviously goaltending – if Ramo is competent and the Flames stay relatively healthy, they should at least be competitive. If he’s mediocre or worse, however, and if the Flames few capable vets get injured, it’s bottom-5 city for this club.
Whereas the previous incarnations of the Flames have been in the 7-10 range for the last few years, my guess is they settle into the 9-14 range (given the new 14-team wetsern conference) this season, particularly because I expect the club to shed ever more talent (like Cammalleri, Stajan and Stempniak) as the season progresses.
Share your thoughts in the comments.