The season is just about upon us. Stock up the beer, fire up the DVR, prep your TV remote for a few angry tosses across the room. It was long summer and in some ways it’s likely to be a long season as well. But we’re glad it’s here anyways.
As is our custom, FN writers got together and discussed a few of the team’s key issues heading into action. Christian, Ryan (Pike), Ryan (Lambert), Book of Loob and Justin Azevedo shared their thoughts on where the Flames will place in the standings, who the club’s goat will be and what the future holds as Calgary embarks on the rebuild.
1.) Might as well start with this first – Where do you figure the Flames finish in the West and with how many points?
Ryan Pike: The Flames should finish 14th in the West. They’ll get around 75 points, which would translate to around 30-35 wins.
Justin Azevedo: Well, in the new Pacific Division they’ll be hard pressed to do better than last, but in the Central Division Colorado (no real defence), Nashville (zero forward depth) and Winnipeg (the 3rd worst starter in the league) all have massive holes permeating their lineups. I’m going to say 74 points this season for 2nd or 3rd last in the West.
Book of Loob: Ugh. My guess is 12th or 13th. I think Winnipeg is going to be truly terrible, and I don’t like the look of the Coyotes, but the Flames will unfortunately be right there with them partying in the basement as if they’re all a bunch of bloggers. Of course, there’s no real surprise there, and you don’t rebuild without a few hard years, but man, when you take a hard look at it, it stings. I can’t see the Flames eclipsing 75 points. Ouch.
Ryan Lambert: They’re gonna be dead last and have somewhere between 55 and 60 points.
Christian Roatis: Unlike the masses, I don’t see the Flames being as bad as everyone says they’ll be. I wish they’d finish 30th (or 15th in the West), but I doubt it.
This will be a young, hardworking team that will show up each and every night – which could not be said for the teams of the recent past. They’ll battle, they’ll grind and they’ll win some games, there’s little doubt in my mind about that. Not enough to make the playoffs of course – not even close, but just enough to save them the trouble of getting a really good prospect. All this I think comes down to goaltending and if it’s a little better than last season, they aren’t finishing last. So having said that, I say they finish 12th in the West with 77 points.
(editor’s note: I think the Flames will be at around 79 points. Altogether, FN writers predict an (averaged) point total of 73 for Calgary this year)
2.) How would you grade the club’s activities this summer?
RP: They had a good draft and grabbed some interesting pieces in the off-season like Corban Knight and T.J. Galiardi. Feaster and his buddies unloaded some bad contracts and some guys that didn’t really seem to want to be here and opened up cap space and spots for new faces. In short: they did basically what they had to do.
JA: C+. They didn’t add any large contracts, developed young players, traded and signed guys like they should have – my only complaint is that they didn’t go for one or two guys on the open market who you could flip for 3rd or 2nd round picks at the deadline after playing them in showcase minutes. Overall, the path is better than it was 2 or three years ago, but the path is still average: hence the average score.
BoL: C+, I suppose. Call it Average+. The team was probably hampered by the public perception of just how bad they were going to be, so if they tried to go after any free agents, which we don’t really know if they did, they were probably politely declined. Isn’t that right, Mikhail Grabovski?
But there were good things and bad. Obviously getting Backlund and Brodie under contract was imperative, and they were a couple of responsible bridge deals as well, which, apparently, do still exist. Picking up guys like Knight and Jooris are interesting philosophically, and if preseason is anything to go off of, the trade for Kris Russell might be one of the most underrated moves of the summer. The search for a President of Hockey Operations, I think, was a very smart idea, and in doing so, it showed the team was assessing what has been historically a poor management structure and doing something wise to fix it. Whether or not they got the right guy remains to be seen, but I like that they identified that as an issue. And hey, getting the Saddledome repaired as fast as they did, everyone involved in that deserves a lot of praise, because it looks great.
I didn’t like the McGrattan deal (obviously), and I’d like to see the team (and league) evolve from this archaic viewpoint that values goonery. I like fighting, but man, this is not the way. The trade for David Jones and Shane O’Brien does not seem like a step forward to me. O’Brien is basically Sarich, and while Jones may be younger than Tanguay, that’s about the only real advantage he has as a forward.
RL: Like a C-plus? They were fine. A few of the trades were fairly judicious and cost the team relatively little. The real interesting transactions won’t come for another six months or so.
CR: A-. Yeah, I guess I’m Mr. Optimism at FN but there really was a lot to like about this offseason in Calgary. Starting with the draft, which I liked a lot – and even more now that we know Kanzig isn’t 100% coke machine – the Flames mixed in safe picks (Monahan, Klimchuck) with boom or bust, off the board type selections (Poirier, Kanzig) to come away with a very nice prospect haul. They also didn’t do anything stupid – which around these parts is definitely a plus.
They then stayed out of the atrociously bad free agent pool and made relatively good trades such as trading Cory Sarich for a younger version of himself along with Alex Tanguay for David Jones – who I think will have a better season than Tangs in 13/14, for instance. They also brought in Kris Russell on the blueline which was a move I liked a lot, not because Kris Russell is the second coming of Bobby Orr, but rather because it allows them to season the Wotherspoon’s and Cundari’s without an itch to bring them up to the show earlier than they should. The other deals made were also the low risk, high reward type, which is exactly what the franchise needs right now.
The beefing up of the Hockey Ops department with Brian Burke is also a positive for the team, in my opinion (more on that later).
There was nothing spectacular or mind blowing so it can’t be an A+, but a number of good smart moves combined with the absence of a gut wrenching transaction adds up to a pretty good offseason for a rebuilding team in my books.
3.) Brian Burke hire – yay or nay?
RP: Way too early to tell.
JA: Eh, his dinosaur approach to analytics and offer sheets bothers me but if it means that Ken King has less overall influence, then that’s great. We know how bad both Brian Burke and Ken King can be and, likewise, how good they can be. Ken King on his best day running a hockey team is about equal to Brian Burke working with a 3-day hangover.
BoL: We’ll wait and see. I like the idea of the new position, I like any increased distance Ken King has in the operations of this hockey team, I like that Jay Feaster has someone he needs to prove he can do this GM thing to, and I think having hockey minds in the organization is a very smart idea.
But I’m not sure I’m sold on Burke as the guy. I feel like the team is moving forward in a new direction, and Burke does not strike me as a progressive hockey mind. He’s as gung ho, it seems, on "being hard to play against" (read: GRITCHART read: COLTON ORR) for me to be totally sold on his hiring, but maybe he can be effective if he truly does not intend to be running the ship like he says. For the record, I believe him when he says he’s going to be the background guy, but good lord do I hope he has some classic Burke temper tantrums during his time here, because those are right up there with Tortorella freakouts, and they’re fun to watch. I hope I never see a done up tie ever again.
RL: Honestly, if it’s just someone to make sure Feaster doesn’t screw up, then that’s great. If he overreaches that role, I’d start to be a little nervous. I would suspect, if that’s the case, the amount of fighters on this team is going to skyrocket.
CR: I like it. It gives the team somewhat of an identity and you can never have enough good hockey minds in your Hockey Ops department. I may reevaluate my answer later in the year when Burke acquires Kessel for a generation of first round picks, but for now I like it.
4.) Iginla’s gone, so who do you think ends up leading the team in scoring?
RP: Curtis Glencross.
JA: I would say Cammalleri if I was sure he was going to stick around the whole season, but he’s obviously not. Thus, I’m going to say Curtis Glencross. He’s basically a 2W on every team in the league (which is odd to think about) and you know management won’t be getting rid of him.
BoL: Probably still Iginla somehow. If not him, you gotta think it’s going to be one of Curtis Glencross or Lee Stempniak. It seems like they’re destined to be the 1st line guys and will be responsible for the bulk of the offense up front. Mike Cammalleri has a shot as well if he stays the year in Calgary, but it’s a smart bet to assume he won’t be.
And, honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dennis Wideman challenges for the scoring lead as well. Yeah, get ready for THAT.
RL: Matt Stajan.
CR: Curtis Glencross. He’ll be here all year and is arguably the teams best forward.
5.) Which kid has the biggest impact this year? Baertschi, Monahan, Horak, Bouma, someone else?
RP: In terms of being an everyday player and chipping in, I’ll say Roman Horak. But I think Sean Monahan will impress a lot of people.
JA: I’m going to say Sven Baertschi. At this point, he’s the best player on the roster under the age of 23 and will likely get the most opportunity at the NHL level with PP time and a regular shift on, at worst, a 3W position. I’ve been saying for a couple years that Horak is a player, but I doubt he gets the same chances this year that Sven does. Monahan will go back to junior, Knight will likely spend a chunk of time in the AHL and Bouma will mostly be playing grinder minutes.
BoL: Oddly enough, it’s looking like it could be Monahan. While I think it’s a mistake, it’s obvious that he’s starting the year in Calgary, and if he plays past the nine game tryout, it’s because he’s been too good to send down. He will be given the opportunity to make waves in the league this year, and he looks like he’s good enough to actually do it, which is great to see. I really like how Horak and especially Bouma have handled camp this year, and I think they’ll be effective bottom 6 guys, which is great, but their impact is not going to be what Monahan’s can potentially be. Plus, dude, that hair.
Sven is a wild card. I think he’s going to be good, especially if Bob Hartley pairs him up with Backlund, I really like how those two play together. I just don’t know if maybe we’ve set the bar for him really high this year, and it might be tough for him to reach it.
RL: I think probably Baertschi, no matter what his production ends up looking like. If he comes around like everyone expects, then obviously that will be great. If not, then that’s going to result in some real concerning decisions that have to be made.
CR: Sven Baertschi. I know he’s been a little nicked up and by some accounts resides in the dog house of Bob Hartley, but the kid has undeniable skill and he showed at the end of last year he has what it takes to produce in this league. With a little confidence, I have no doubt Sven will take a step forward and make a considerable impact.
6.) It’s the first step of the rebuild. How long do you think this stretches for?
RP: Well, next year it’ll continue, but the possibility exists that Johnny Gaudreau, Kenny Agostino, Jon Gillies and Bill Arnold may all join the professional ranks. Presuming some of those guys turn into functional NHLers, the Flames start looking like an alright hockey club in 2015-16 and start emerging from the wilderness the year after.
JA: I think this team bottoms out next year (just in time for McDavid), so at least three more seasons. However, for me the worry is that the prospect stable may look good at this point, but I’m unconvinced it’s truly the top-10 system some think it is. There’s lots of depth, but depth is very easy to replace.
BoL: I’m an optimist, and I believe in 5 year plans. so 4 YEARS!
I don’t believe that a team can’t grow and be competitive while rebuilding. Not everyone is as terrible as the Edmonton Oilers. The team has a stronger prospect base than we give them credit for, and management seems to have a set philosophy onto how they’re going to build itself for the next few years. If they’re smart enough and flexible enough to let that philosophy adapt as times and needs change, it’ll only improve the future outlook. If Sven and Monahan develop like we’d hope, there’s a positive.
A few other top flight prospects into the mix (hello Connor McDavid) and some smart coaching and management acquisitions would really ramp up the team’s ability to be good. I’m not saying they’ll be contenders, but it’s steps in the right direction. I think the Flames have a better chance of being the next St. Louis Blues and not the next Oilers.
RL: Two years at least, but three-plus if they’re smart. They have a lot of work to do to restock the cupboards for both the NHL roster and farm system, because no worthwhile veterans are going to sign in Calgary for some time given everything that’s happened the last few years.
CR: I’d like to see the Flames be bad this year and next (because McDavid) and then contend in 2016. Unfortunately I don’t see that happening. I think they’ll be firmly in the rebuild mode this year and after that, Feaster and Burke will try and accelerate this thing through trade and free agency. Ideally, if they do this rebuild thing right, they’ll be back in playoff contention in 3-4 years, but it could be as early as the 2014/15 season.
7.) Are you confident in this management team to lead the club out of the desert?
RP: Depends what constitutes "this management team." For all his faults, Feaster appears to have brought in a lot of smart people to run different things. Weisbrod’s drafting crew has put together a couple good drafts – amateur scouting itself has been solid since the 2010 draft. The big question is whether the team’s development staff can turn raw kids into NHLers, because what’s going to lead the team out of the desert is growing their own core via the draft and supplementing via trades and free agency. If we’re running by my timetable above, I doubt the entire management team survives intact through to 2016-17, but that’s also just how the hockey business operates.
JA: At this point, no. They’ve been better than Sutter in some respects, worse in others. I’m unconvinced anyone in the Hockey Operations department actually knows how to build a good team over the long-term. Jay Feaster, Brian Burke and John Weisbrod aren’t Tambo (although, sometimes they act like they are) but they’re also not Dougie Wilson or Dean Lombardi.
BoL: As I mentioned earlier, I like that management has a vision for the future, but I fear that their biggest undoing might be to stand TOO rigidly behind it and put the blinders on when the right opportunities become available for the team to get better. The Draft was a pretty classic example of that, when Hunter Shinkaruk was still available and the Flames Jankowski’d their pick on Emile Poirier. I feel better about that pick than I did initially, and maybe he becomes an effective NHLer, but in general I don’t think he was a better prospect than Shinkaruk (who by the way looks as if he’s might stick with the Canucks out of camp), though that remains to be seen.
The steadfast obsession with size and grit concerns me. I would just really feel better if they came out and said "SKILL" was also an asset they would be looking to identify in players when building this team. Again, they’ve made some good moves, but I’m worried about their ability to make the right ones, because I’m worried they can’t identify the right moves that don’t necessarily jive with their overall vision.
RL: Moreso now that they’ve actually committed to a rebuild than, say, four months ago. Intellectual honesty is something they seem to have taken to heart to some extent, but I’m going to need at least one more deadline and draft outta these guys to be 100 percent sure one way or the other.
CR: I am. I think every single person in the organization wants to win and everything they do, is for the team. No personal agendas or priorities. They’re all in to win. Feaster takes a lot of (in my opinion, unfair) criticism from fans and media for the moves he’s made but when you take a step back and look at it (http://flamesnation.ca/2013/8/6/defending-feaster-hear-me-out) he’s been proficient (if not good) on all fronts during his stay as GM. Weisbrod is a savy hockey mind and has helped bring in good talent in the organization and there’s no questioning Brian Burke’s desire to win. As of today, I’m more than confident this current management group can get the Calgary Flames through this rebuild and back into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
8.) Pick your Flames goat for the 2013-14 and explain why.
RP: If he’s on the team, Chris Butler. He’s a decent enough defender, but he’s prone to mistakes in his own zone.
JA: Man, I didn’t want to be obvious and go with Brian McGrattan so of course I’m going to go with Shane O’Brien. He’s going to be our new Cory Sarich, but somehow he’ll be even worse.
BoL: Well you know I’m going to be picking Brian McGrattan. An NHL roster spot is a coveted thing, and in this day and age they’re far too valuable to be wasting on players who provide no real value. McGrattan seems like a lock to make this team, somehow, and in doing so he’ll be hampering the competition amongst some of the young guys vying for what ends up being his roster spot, and his three minutes and ten penalty minutes will not help this team win any games. Go away Brian McGrattan.
RL: Karri Ramo. It turns out going to the KHL and being good for a few seasons doesn’t automatically make you an NHL starter. Go figure.
CR: It was originally going to be Derek Smith – because he’s just so bad and I can’t handle him – but now that the glorious decision to send him down has been made, I’ll have to go with Chris Butler. Both him and Smith remind me of a defence partner I had in my minor hockey days that would make such boneheaded plays (soft D to D passes at the offensive blue line leading to a breakaway against, passes in front of our net, etc) you wonder why they even play hockey. Both Smith and Butler I find, are unnoticeable all game, outside of two or three really bad decisions or reads and it drives me nuts.
It’s a shame because they were both actually pretty good when they first got to Calgary, but Smith hasn’t been the same since this leg injury and Butler was probably only decent because he was paired with Jay Bouwmeester.