The 35th season of Calgary Flames hockey begins on Wednesday evening with a contest between the Flames and the Vancouver Canucks at the Scotiabank Saddledome! After five years outside of the playoffs, the Flames have a new general manager in Brad Treliving and hope to gradually pull themselves out of the muck and progress their rebuild. Odds are they’re looking at their sixth year on the outside of the post-season.
As part of our preview coverage this week (and to re-use my favourite image on the site), it’s time to convene another FlamesNation RoundTable. In this edition, join Kent Wilson, Rex Libris, Byron Bader, the Book of Loob, Justin Azevedo, Taylor McKee and myself as we discuss what exactly we expect from the 2014-15 edition of the Flames. Add your take in the comments!
Like last season, let’s get this out of the way right now: where do the Flames finish in the division and with how many points?
Kent: There’s isolated reasons to be excited about the Flames, but in aggregate this is a bottom basement club. I think they’ll come last in the 70-75 point range.
Rex: I’m going to stick with my earlier prediction and say the Flames finish 6th in the Pacific with somewhere in the range of 82 points. Overall, I think they fall somewhere between 26th and 22nd in the standings.
Byron: The bottom. Phoenix might give them a run for their money. Edmonton and Vancouver I see being better than last year though.
Book of Loob: In the division? Let’s be polite and say in the Top 7. There’s always a very good chance that they’ll finish ahead of the Oilers because sometimes the universe isn’t always unfair, but that’s about as high as they’ll get. I think they’ll be good enough to land somewhere in the 80 point range. (/thinks about bright future)
Justin: 6th in the Pacific with 79 points.
Taylor: I figure last in the Pacific with 70 points.
Ryan: Last in the division with about 75 points.
How would you evaluate new GM Brad Treliving’s performance so far? Did he have a good off-season?
Kent: Not enough data. The Flames only made moves around the edges and there’s no way we can evaluate Treliving’s draft at this point. We’ll see where this team is headed at this time next year to really get a grip on the new regime.
Rex: I’d give Treliving an average grade. The free-agency moves were mixed. Setoguchi is a good contract for the Flames as are the depth additions of Potter and Diaz. Hiller was a very solid addition as was Raymond. I know I’m going to sound like a broken record, but the Engelland contract is bad and while the cap hit may not hinder the team for the duration of the contract, it was premature and inflated. The Backlund/Brodie deals will be his real test. The draft was uninspiring when taken overall. Bennett was the right choice, but there are some question marks elsewhere. However, that can’t be directly tied to Treliving so I’ll leave it off his report card.
Byron: B+. The Raymond, Hiller and Setoguchi signings were great. The Engelland deal and Bollig deal look subject. Picked Sam Bennett (anyone would have in that spot) but wasn’t overly impressed with the draft after that. I’ve liked most of what’s gone on since his hire.
Book of Loob: He’s been, just above mediocre? Made some good pickups, knowing that his focus is on the long term and not this season. Made a lot of good moves, but also a lot of moves that reflect the archaic philosophy this team has employed for far too long. It’s been pretty paradoxical: Raymond, Hiller, those were nice pickups, while I don’t understand the Engelland contract, and Bollig…well let’s not talk about it. I like the infusion of some depth veteran additions like The Gooch, just to provide a bit more competition to some of the kids, I think it’s a gamble that’s going to pay off, and I think Diaz (assuming he gets a contract) might be the best PTO find ever. I just don’t really have a good read on where he’s going with this.
Justin: So far I’d give him a C-. The draft wasn’t that good, his trade was poor and the contracts he’s signed have ranged from horrific (Engelland, Potter) to why (Raymond, Setoguchi) to average (Hiller). The Flames have only one top-tier forward left and he can’t play both wings as well. The defense didn’t improve where it needed to (second pairing) and the improvement of the goalies (~16 goals better) is only going to result in 2-3 more wins.
Taylor: I think that the summer was pretty puzzling, with a couple solid moves and a few head-scratchers, but on the whole it was just fine – not even because of what he did but more because of what he avoided. Obviously the Engelland deal wasn’t great but it’s not the end of the world, the Hiller and Raymond signings were fairly respectable and the Diaz invite (signing?) was a good idea. So overall, outside of Engelland, which I don’t really understand, I think Treliving avoided making any huge mistakes and signing players for boat-loads of money that would have made a bad team only marginally better.
Ryan: He’s done a decent job finding stop-gaps for the next couple years and buying time for the accumulation of assets and for the organization’s prospects to marinate in the American Hockey League.
Mike Cammalleri, among others, is gone, and the Flames are without roughly a quarter of their goal-scorers from last season. Can the newcomers make up the gap offensively?
Kent: Maybe, since Cammalleri didn’t have the most productive season due to a drought and injury, but it really doesn’t matter too much given where the Flames are in their rebuild.
Rex: While I’m not opposed to diversifying a team’s offensive output, scoring by committee is usually the symptom of a poor roster. The Flames made chicken salad out of not-chicken-salad last season. Can the newcomers fill in the void? I suppose so. But planning on it is irresponsible.
Byron: It’ll be about the same. You lost a 30+ goal scorer in Cammalleri and a 20 goal scorer in Stempniak. I’m seeing Gaudreau on the team and contributing substantially (25 goals), Backlund improving (20 goals), Glencross less injured (15 goals) and Colborne, Byron and Setoguchi getting 15.
Book of Loob: Sure. A new season with improvements from Monahan and Colborne, and a full season of Backlund/Gio/Brodie being deployed correctly should bridge that gap. Does it equate to more wins? Is Brian McGrattan an effective deterrent on the ice? (The answer is no, dweebs.)
Justin: I doubt it. Raymond for Stempniak should be a wash, and there’s no way the rest of the team is able to magically find 30 goals unless Gaudreau goes crazy. Monahan, Backlund, Hudler, Glencross – I doubt any of them have that huge goal explosion needed to replace Squid.
Taylor: Short answer: no. But I am learning to resist the urge to assume expectations for Gaudreau should be tempered. I can’t wait to see what he can do now that the games count.
Ryan: I figure they score significantly less, but I reserve the right to be impressed if Gaudreau and Monahan have strong years.
Similarly, the Flames swapped out Chris Butler and Derek Smith for Deryk Engelland and Raphael Diaz. All other things being equal, will the Flames be appreciably better or worse defensively?
Kent: Unchanged. Butler played tougher minutes last year, but he got absolutely creamed in that role. The only way there’s a real difference this year is Dennis Wideman has a huge bounce back, which would effectively solidify the second pairing behind Giordano and Brodie. The collection of support 5-7 type defenders aren’t good enough to move the needle.
Rex: Better. Absolutely. Not balanced, and certainly a sub-par group, but they can populate the bottom four positions with Smid, Engelland, Russell and Wideman which at least gives them a fighting chance. The key component is Brodie and Giordano remaining healthy – which given that they are defensemen is kind of like the punchline of a joke. If the Flames lose one of those two for any extended amount of time, they’ll be in the hunt for one of the top three picks in June.
Byron: Slightly better. Butler was a liability in his own zone…enter Deryk Engelland. I see Diaz performing better than Smith offensively however so maybe there’s a few more goals in the defense’s future? And Brodie & Gio together for an entire year might boost things up as well.
Book of Loob: Better. Butler was garbage and Smith never played. Engelland is at least better than Smid, and that should push him down the depth chart, and Diaz I feel is immediately the 4th best d-man on the team. Hiller is an improvement over Berra/MacDonald (which is not saying much: Azevedo is better than Berra), so as long as Ramo plays anywhere near as good as he did during his peaks last season, which I believe he can if he stays healthy, there should be less goals being scored against.
Justin: Well, better, but that’s because they went from two sub-replacement level guys to bottom pairing guys. I am still stunned that Engelland was signed to that deal. But – there’s still only two legit top-4 defensemen (well, maybe three if Wideman can climb up that cliff a bit), meaning the hourglass shaped roster of a year ago returns.
Taylor: Probably the same, hence why I think the Flames will be very bad this season. I like Diaz just fine but I am not sure he is good enough to elevate whomever he is paired with to play well against tough competition.
Ryan: They’ve got three good defenders in Giordano, Brodie and Russell. And then they have some guys. How good the group performs depends on how much they can squeeze out of the top trio.
Do any rookies make a sizable impact on this club this season?
Kent: Best chance is Johnny Gaudreau, who already looks like a top-3 offensive player on this squad. If he plays the season in the NHL, I suspect he’ll be top-3 in scoring on the team.
Rex: Gaudreau probably does because the organization wants him to and will put him in as favourable a position to succeed as they are able. His impact may be akin to Monahan’s last year, notable by way of individual statistics and excitement for the fan base, but not so much so as to greatly impact the Flames’ position in the overall standings.
Byron: Yes. Gaudreau. Bennett would probably make a decent dent (Monahan-like) but nearly certain that he’s going back.
Book of Loob: JOHNNY! Also if Granlund gets his shot, I’d expect something decent out of him.
Justin: Gaudreau, but I’m concerned the team will focus less on his on-ice play and more on perceived issues that don’t actually exist and that’ll lead to him spending far too much time in the press box or in the AHL.
Taylor: Well obviously Gaudreau is in the best position to make an impact on this roster as I trust he will get the best situations but I am optimistic that Granlund will get an opportunity at some point this year and he has produced every time he’s been given a chance.
Ryan: Gaudreau should be decent, at least.
Does team management need to make a decision on Bob Hartley’s future mid-season, or should they let him play out his deal and make a decision in the spring?
Kent: There’s no reason to make any decision on Hartley until the season is over. Then they can evaluate his efforts with the roster and see what other coaches are potentially available should he prove to not be the guy who can take the next step.
Rex: I’d keep Hartley for now. He hasn’t done anything wrong in terms of the results he has recorded with this group. Outside of some buffoonery in Vancouver last season he has carried himself very well. That being said, Dan Bylsma is sitting around somewhere and I’d bet there are several GMs just itching for a reason to hire him. If the Flames aren’t playing the way Treliving and Burke want them to, regardless of wins or losses, by December I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see him hired in Calgary.
Byron: They can wait it out until the Spring. They’re not going anywhere in the year and there’s little risk in allowing him to finish out the year. He’s inspired a hard work-ethic and that’s all that you can really expect from this club. If they compete but lose the majority of their games, it’s good in the long run.
Book of Loob: I’ve changed my opinion on Hartley since his hiring, and I think he’s done a great job shaping this team into something worth watching, but nothing is ever 100% in this game. He’s earned an extension at this point, but let’s make sure he doesn’t go off the rails here first. He could be the coach version of Roman Turek.
Justin: Hartley seems to be one of those ~20 interchangeable coaches. He’s fine, but you could do worse as well as better. Play out the season, see how he uses the players.
Taylor: I know Hartley has been essentially canonized after last season but I am still not sure if he is a good long-term solution for this team. However, there’s no denying that he did good work with a bad team last year though so I see no point in canning him mid-season, no matter what the start looks like.
Ryan: I like Hartley, but at some point the team will switch over from “rebuild mode” to attempting to move into the league’s mushy middle. How long that transition takes probably determines how long he’ll be around.
Put yourself in Brad Treliving’s shoes: which of your RFAs do you extend and in what order of importance? Do you attempt to extend any of your pending UFAs?
Kent: RFAs: 1.) TJ Brodie 2.) Mikael Backlund. Curtis Glencross is the only UFA they’ll likely have to make a decision about mid-season (I think they should shop him instead), though a good showing by Karri Ramo could force them to consider inking him to an extension as well.
Rex: Brodie. First and foremost. He’s a top-pairing defender and young enough to remember where he parked the car. The Flames need to sign him to a long-term contract at sub-Doughty numbers. Backlund would draw attention from around the league, but the team has depth there now. Bouma and Byron are RFAs you work on during the summer. Besides, if you lock Brodie up long-term you might be able to entice Giordano to sign a four or five year deal to stick around. There are no pending UFAs this year that I believe need to be extended.
Byron: Backlund, Brodie … at the same time. The others can wait until at least the summer. I imagine they’ll start talking to Monahan & Gaudreau early next year if not in the summer.
Book of Loob: I don’t think any GM in the league has a higher priority than Treliving does in making sure he gets Backlund and Brodie locked up long term. If he loses either of those two without replacing them with something better, not only should he be fired, but he should be placed in a grit cannon and fired into the cold, cavernous abyss of Planet Intangibles.
Justin: Brodie, Backlund, Baertschi. All of the RFAs should probably get new contracts except for Hanowski, Ramage and Van Brabant. I rate Ramo, so I would give him an extension. Every other UFA can scram, although hopefully Glencross is traded before or at the deadline.
Taylor: Priority 1: T.J Brodie. If you read this site you know what Kent and many others have written on this subject. Do it..like now. Then Backlund, who hopefully will stay healthy for a long period this season. Apart from that, I’m not sure that I am really convinced of the essential importance of any of them. Though I don’t really understand jerking Bouma around like they did this summer.
Ryan: Brodie and Backlund are the top priorities. Everyone else can probably be evaluated from there on a case-by-case basis, especially depending on how the youth progresses.
Fill in the blank: the Calgary Flames’ single biggest organizational deficiency is ____.
Kent: Established, elite talent. Calgary has some underrated core players and a nice collection of kids who may turn into difference makers, but right now they are a collection of hopefuls and mid-range support players outside of Backlund, Brodie and Giordano.
Rex: Their amateur scouting department. For years now they’ve failed to find value at the draft outside of depth players like Boyd, Pardy, Nystrom, Prust and a few significant finds in Backlund and Brodie. Going back to 2005, nearly a decade, and it is virtually a wasteland of 4th line guys and blown 1st rounders for five years up to 2011 when some creativity is injected into the draft board. Go back five years before that, to 1999, and the best players the Flames found are, again, for the most part depth players, but many didn’t find what success they have had in Flames’ colours. That the foundation built around Iginla and co. lasted as long as it did was a credit to those core players, but also a damning indictment of organizational mismanagement during that period to properly outfit the rest of the roster. We’re a year out from making a call on the 2011 draft so maybe things improve but history is not on their side.
Byron: Right shooting natural RW & defensive depth.
Book of Loob: Identifying appreciable skill within the organization over less important hockey characteristics in lesser hockey players.
Justin: I feel like a lot of people are going to say defence, but I’m going to say goaltending. I’m bullish on Ortio but I don’t think he’s starter-level. Gilles could be good but Hiller and Ramo are both going to be gone soon. MacDonald… eh.
Taylor: Unequivocally it is defence, from spots 3-6 ( as in, outside of Brodie and Giordano). I think a lot of fans are hoping we see some growth this year from Wotherspoon but defence is a glaring problem for this team and a large reason they were as bad as they were last year and will likely continue to be this year.
Ryan: High-end prospect depth. They have Sam Bennett, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. After that, there’s a bunch of guys that could be something but aren’t quite yet. What’s Jon Gillies? Where are strong defensemen, at all? They have three guys, two of which are already in the NHL. They need a lot more.
Fill in the blank: Calgary’s biggest organizational strength is ____.
Kent: Flexibility I guess. Calgary’s got next to no toxic assets on the books (outside of Wideman and maybe Engelland), lots and lots of cap space and no expectations to do anything but draft high for the next season or two. For this year, all the organization has to do is re-sign Brodie and Backlund, develop some kids at the NHL level and keep their eyes out for a beneficial trade or two. That’s the sort of freedom one wants to see in a club at the onset of their rebuild (though not during its maturity).
Rex: The Flames’ largest organizational strength is probably the fan base. Like the Oilers, Canadiens and, in a different sense, the Leafs, the Flames have a loyal, informed and devoted following that will help financially support a team as it transitions through a rebuilding phase. The Leafs have been losing since Canada’s last centennial (I love that irony and like to repeat it often) and don’t appear to be in any hurry to break with tradition. MLSE will probably run short of money ten minutes after the world ends, but haven’t seen fit to actively undergo a committed rebuilding process, curiously enough on account of their rabid fan base. The Canadiens and Oilers are in relatively smaller markets than the Leafs but have a fan base that would donate organs if they thought it would bring a Stanley Cup to their fair cities. Flames fans are noted, throughout the North American sporting world, and probably across the pond as well, for the Red Mile and the C of Red that are the emblem of the Flames fans. Those are strengths that have allowed all four organizations to struggle through downturns without suffering financially.
Byron: Left side skilled youth & first defensive pairing.
Book of Loob: The Flames have done an incredible job of filling the cupboard with decent to good looking prospects, which is incredible if you remember the days of calling Greg Nemisz and Ryan Howse prospects.
Justin: Centre depth, which is hilarious to write because for how many years has Calgary’s centre depth been just garbage? Certainly, it’s been a while since the Flames had four players in the middle that were all quality.
Taylor: I would say, with some hesitance, youth. I believe that there are some pieces in place now that have the potential to be impact players in the NHL. However, this is by no means a sure thing and Flames fans are fortunate to have the constant reminder of how bad things can go when too much is asked of young players in the northern puppy-mill of a franchise called the Oilers.
Ryan: At the risk of sounding like a cop-out, I’m going to reiterate Justin’s answer. This organization hasn’t had a glut of good centers around town in years, to the point where they have natural centers playing out-of-position just to get a better shot at the NHL. The farm team will also be quite good this season.