1. House cleaning
So the Calgary Flames season ended up being just like the last four: Without the playoffs. Five years without a postseason appearance, and it’s starting to look like that five-year stretch in which they did make it, under Darryl Sutter and Jim Playfair and Mike Keenan, was the aberration.
But with that having been said, this is perhaps the first time in a while the Flames actually have some amount of hope for the future. I’m not going to be one of those guys who thinks their performance since January is in any way indicative of the team’s chances next year — and certainly I don’t think this “speeds up the rebuild” or whatever similar claptrap people have been pushing for the last little while — but nonetheless, this was a season that had a lot of positives on the individual level. Even as the team was largely bereft of them collectively.
So because all I ever hear from the commenters here is crying about how I’m so negative (you know, because there’s a lot of great stuff to talk about from a team that’s picking in the top-6 at the draft for the second year in a row), I figured I’d outline the ways in which certain Flames players have been impressive to me this season, even as the team as a whole, again, was indefensibly awful.
2. Mark Giordano
This is the obvious place to start because Giordano was nothing short of spectacular in this, his first year as captain. The ongoing issue is that he’ll be 31 by the time next season starts, and thus building any plans more than two or three years in the future around his continued effectiveness is an iffy prospect. But for now, wow, what a season.
If I had a PHWA vote, he would have been second in my Norris balloting behind only Zdeno Chara, and that’s mainly because he only played 64 games. Maybe with a full season he’s not as effective, but what we saw in the three-quarters of it he played was excellent. For anyone to drive play on this Flames team was rare, but for him to do it considering the usage Bob Hartley demanded of him is just remarkable. In much the same way that Chara was often held back from winning more Norris Trophies because Nicklas Lidstrom was the second-best defenseman of all time, Giordano’s very legitimate candidacy is restrained by Chara’s continued excellence; when all’s said and done, Boston’s big man will likely be one of the six or seven greatest defensemen of all time, so there’s no shame for Giordano in coming up short.
Would that he’d been healthier, from a personal perspective, but his injury helped the Flames finish as low as they did, and that’s valuable too.
3. TJ Brodie
You can’t mention Giordano’s play without mentioning Brodie’s because both were fantastic this year, together. That’s the amazing thing in all this: Though they didn’t spend much time apart (Brodie played 765 minutes without Giordano, and Giordano 360 without Brodie), they were both pretty awful when separated.
Brodie’s corsi% dropped to 46.7, and Giordano’s to 47.4. Together, though, they demolished the competition for a 56.2 percent corsi share, and the Flames scored 55.2 percent of the goals when they were on the ice together.
It really says a lot about what both bring to the table, and what Brodie’s doing at his young age to get there. I’m not sure you can pencil him in as a present and future No. 1 defenseman, but a few more years patrolling the blue line this effectively with Giordano would obviously convince everyone.
The issue with Brodie is the contract, of course. He’s an RFA next summer but is obviously up to be extended this July, and Brian Burke (or the next GM) would do well to make him priority No. 1. Get him locked up long-term, for as big money as he wants — because hey, you’re nowhere near the ceiling any time soon anyway — and don’t let it drag out. “Calgary Flame for life TJ Brodie” has a ring to it that this team would be foolish to ignore.
4. Jiri Hudler
Obviously I was dubious when the Flames signed this contract because it was a symbol, at the time, of everything the team was doing wrong. Here was “going for it,” here was “overspending on free agents with dubious individual value,” here was “passing off mediocre signings as big ones.”
In the two years since, it seems Hudler is exactly the player Jay Feaster thought he was getting, and while that contract isn’t a value, it’s not a burden either. We can debate whether they should have signed him at all (they shouldn’t have) but there’s no room for discussion on what he’s brought to the team. He has, simply, been very good. Leading scorer on the team this year, probably would have pushed for that title if he’d been healthy last year. One of my primary concerns when they signed him was that his PDO was through the roof, but he’s proven that, like Alex Tanguay before him, he’s just the kind of player who makes that kind of thing happen when he’s on the ice. They’re not common, but they exist.
Yes, he’s given some pretty choice usage, but he also got the chance to shepherd some good young centers on this team into better positions than originally thought. For example, the guy he played with most frequently was Mikael Backlund, who was just great this year in pretty much every way, and is another guy who needs to be locked up way, way, way long-term for as much money as he wants. The guy he played with second-most?
5. Sean Monahan
No, he shouldn’t have been in the NHL this season. It was a waste of an RFA year by any consideration, and therefore poor asset management, for the cynical premise of “selling hope” (which essentially means “getting fans to keep paying to watch an awful team”).
With that having been said, though, Monahan was a pretty pleasant surprise in terms of what he brought to the table. He was a negative possession player, because of course he was, and that’s despite some easy zone starts and soft competition. But even after that ridiculous hot start, he kept scoring pretty steadily (22 times, in fact). Yeah he had an unsustainable shooting percentage and yeah he’ll probably regress in that regard next season, but by the end of this year he didn’t look out of place, which I guess is all you can ask for from a guy who shouldn’t have been in the league at all this season.
It will be interesting to see what he does next year, especially with whomever the Flames get at No. 4 — who you’d have to think they’ll also try to hurry along into the NHL — but for this season, the team should have been expecting a disaster and got a semi-competent NHLer who scored 22 times instead. That’s a big positive, and probably bodes well for the future.