The first half of 2014-15 is officially in the books. We laughed, we cried, we marvelled at about 25 of games of incredible shooting percentage assisted results. No, the Flames haven’t become a post-rebuild Chicago Blackhawks type super power (yet) but there are encouraging signs emanating from the newly formed post-Iginla era. Rookies are playing regular minutes, Flames players are in the conversation for major awards and the org actually re-signed a coach (instead of firing him) for a change.
With all this in mind I gathered together FN regulars Book of Loob, Ryan Pike, Taylor McKee, Byron Bader and Beloch to talk about what was in 2014 and what’s to come in 2015.
1.) Flames slowed down after a hot start but nevertheless exceeded all possible expectations in the first half. Can they continue to do that for the rest of the season?
Book of Loob: I think so, but generally speaking that’s probably going to keep them out of the playoffs. They’re a little better than .500 right now, and if they continue that pace, I expect to see them land somewhere in the range of 92 points. That’s probably going to be just on the outside looking in.
Ryan Pike: Possession-wise, the Flames are a bottom-five team. “Hard work” and bounces-wise, they’re a top-ten team. I figure they split the difference and continue to slightly over-perform their expectations. I see them finishing a tiny bit out of the playoff pack.
Byron Bader: I think they’ll continue to exceed our expectations and not finish in the bottom 5 but honestly their playoff hopes might be dead. They’ve fallen out of a spot and they’re now trying to claw their way back in in the West. Also, Colorado, Dallas and Minnesota are ramping up and coming up behind the Flames. I’m hopeful that they can get back in there but I just don’t see it happening.
Beloch: With a high-impact player like Backlund back in the lineup, and red-hot to boot, there’s every reason to expect that the Flames’ underlying numbers should improve a bit. Those numbers suggest the Flames are lucky to have had the record they have had so far, but there’s room to argue that they haven’t been as lucky as one might think. That’s a topic for another day. Even if you do believe the Flames have been fortunate, many of the Flames’ crucial players are rookies who aren’t the same players that they were at the start of the season. I am therefore more optimistic than the numbers strictly warrant. I think this team will be in the bubble for a playoff spot.
Taylor McKee: Well, I checked back at my expectations for the Flames this year and I believe I was the most dour of the lot when the season started. Suffice to say that I have some serious egg on my face for how well the Flames have done this season. However, I would think that the Flames will continue to slide down the standings in the upcoming months of the season and towards an uncomfortable position between the playoffs and the lottery.
2.) Which player was the biggest surprise through the first half for you?
Book of Loob: Johnny Hockey to some extent. I knew he was going to be good, but he’s exceeded my expectations. I guess the player that has truly surprised me has been Josh Jooris, because while he is definitely riding the wave of some high percentages right now, no one ever expected him to be even in the conversation for making the team before training camp opened, and now he’s positioned himself as one of Hartley’s more versatile forward options. I really hope it lasts, I’m a fan of this kid.
Ryan Pike: I never expected Sean Monahan to progress from being sheltered and still struggling possession-wise to being a pretty solid NHL center. Granted, a lot of it was him being thrown to the wolves in the first half with all the injuries, but Monahan really dove into the role with gusto and has been a great surprise.
Byron Bader: I’d say Gaudreau but he’s almost a pleasant confirmation of what the FN crew and readers thought he would be. I’ll say Jooris. He’s slowed down significantly but nobody even saw him playing this year. But he’s got 9 goals and is here to stay for the year.
Beloch: Monahan. I wasn’t expecting Jooris to look as good as he has, but “Hudreau effect” has probably made him look better than he really is. After watching the men’s world cup last season, I was convinced Johnny was the real thing, so he’s been as expected. It’s Monahan stepping up to become a monster two-way player at just 20 that’s surprised me. He does not look like a 20 year old kid on the ice at all. Monahan is going to be a beast.
Taylor McKee: His recent struggle to score goals notwithstanding, I would have to say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the development of Sean Monahan given the situations he has been used in. As was mentioned in the broadcast against Vancouver, a lot of the talk around Gaudreau has made some forget just how young Monahan is how difficult it is for someone his age at his position. If he can become a dependable tough-minutes centre for the Flames, then they are in a much, much better position moving forward in this rebuild. I have also not hated David Jones this season in a limited role. So I suppose that is a surprise of sorts.
3.) Who was the biggest disappointment?
Book of Loob: There has been a lot. Engelland, Bollig, Smid, Setoguchi (that was a low risk gamble at least), even Mason Raymond, though I suspect he’s better than he’s been. For me it might be Rafa Diaz. He was never going to be a saviour on the blueline, but I thought when they signed him he had the potential to add some stability to the third pairing that they looked like they were desperately going to need (and have proven they do). I actually thought he might have been good enough to be on the second pairing.
Ryan Pike: Mason Raymond. Between his injury early-on and his wildly unspectacular play since, he hasn’t been what everyone had hoped he’d be. And it’s frustrating, because on paper, he’s almost ideally suited to the style of play the Flames seem to want to play. It just hasn’t materialized.
Byron Bader: Mason Raymond. Shows flashes of being a good support piece but disappears for massive stretches
Beloch: I’d be surprised if anyone picks someone other than the hooch. He came into the season as a 28 year old pro NHL player with 249 points in 459 NHL games. He played 12 games without putting up a single point and has been bumped to the AHL. Epic fail. Dishonorable mention goes to Diaz.
Taylor McKee: My eyes want to say Glencross, though it has been mentioned that his underlying numbers indicate that he is still an effective player. I would say that Backlund has been my biggest disappointment only because he hasn’t had a chance to play due to an unfortunate injury. Since his return, it should be clear to management that he is deserving of an extension. Like now please.
4.) Bob Hartley was re-signed as the Flames coach int he first half. Yay or nay?
Book of Loob: I suppose it’s good to prevent your coach from being a lame duck, but otherwise, eh, I don’t have a real solid opinion on this one way or the other. He’s been the right guy to lead this team, and has seemed to learn to shy away from playing players he shouldn’t (Bollig notwithstanding), but I’m not sure there aren’t others who couldn’t do the same job or better. The nice thing is it’s not a constant concern. Coach X could be the next Flames coach is a pretty annoying distraction, and it’s nice the Flames don’t have to worry about it, at least not yet.
Ryan Pike: Yay. I’m a big fan of Bob Hartley, at least in terms of his press conferences, but he’s also seemed to do a pretty strong job of figuring out which players are best suited to specific roles and, for the most part, using them in those roles.
Byron Bader: I don’t mind the re-signing. He does some strange things from time to time but overall I think he’s a pretty good coach and has the right attitude instilled in the team.
Beloch: Hell yay. Under Hartley the Flames have not had a winning record, but he’s gotten far more out of these players than anyone thought possible. The rookies are developing ahead of expectations and are picking up a work ethic that will serve them well throughout their careers. Hartley has been giving rookies important roles, but only ones they were ready for, while veterans have been forced to earn their place in the lineup. My only notable concern is how Baertschi has been handled, and that’s more Burke’s fault than anyone else’s.
Taylor McKee: Well, I don’t think it really matters that much. It has become pretty clear that NHL franchises have no qualms over canning coaches, extensions or not. Though I will have to say that Hartley’s recent comments about enforcers are heartening, even if they are about nine years late.
5.) The trade deadline is about a month and a half away. What would you do if you were Brad Treliving?
Book of Loob: Sell, not buy. If the Flames are in the hunt for a playoff spot, that’s great, but this year is still supposed to be a rebuild year, and the worst thing they could do is trade assets for a playoff rental. There are guys who are being made expendable for any number of reasons (Glencross, Stajan, Wideman) and you’re better off trying to build on that than sell it away. This year is a free pass. Everyone needs to remember that.
Ryan Pike: Strategic selling. Treliving has stated that the team is still in “asset accumulation” mode, which means that nothing should be off the table if he can get a good enough offer. I figure we’ll see a goalie, a defenseman and Curtis Glencross moved for picks or prospects.
Byron Bader: I like what he’s done so far. The Drew Shore move was a good one. He’s staying the course and not making too many hasty decisions. I’d like to see them move out Glencross. Better yet, I wouldn’t be opposed to them moving out Glencross and a mid-draft pick (3rd maybe) for a good 3/4 d-man. Yandle is a guy I would love if he was available. I’m looking for sort of a hybrid between making them better for the push this year but also making them better in the long-term.
Beloch: In interviews Treliving has given the impression that he still views the Flames as a rebuilding team, even if they are in the playoff bubble at the moment. This is absolutely correct and I hope he bloody well remembers it! The Flames need to make moves that prioritize the long-term.
The Flames’ farm system is packed with quality forward prospects, so trading for veteran forwards is not a good idea right now. A youngish #3 defender, on the other hand, would make the team better today and for several seasons to come. The Flames could move a non-essential veteran such as Stajan (who is being wasted on the fourth line) and should definitely think about moving Glencross if his contract expectations aren’t in line with those of Treliving. Aside from that #3D, Treliving should try to acquire high-end defensive prospects and picks.
Taylor McKee: Well, I suppose it depends on the standings, but I would absolutely look at moving Glencross. I believe that Burke made a serious error last season in not moving Cammalleri. Even a third rounder, though we did trade one of those for Bollig, is better than nothing. I hope that if the Flames are in a selling position Treliving does not make the same mistake.
6.) Finally, where do you see the Flames finishing in the standings and picking in the entry draft in June?
Book of Loob: I am afraid to answer this question. Let’s say 12th (in the West you mean? -ed.). That’s a nice number.
Ryan Pike: Just outside of the playoffs, drafting around 12th overall.
Byron Bader: I see them finishing pretty much exactly where they are (9th or 10th in the west … I hope to god I’m wrong). Right now it looks like they’d pick 11th or 12th which is right where I would peg them to finish.
Beloch: The Flames are going to be in the bubble and that bubble is likely going to be big and wild this season. The Flames best hope for an early draft pick is likely the new and improved “Oiler rules” lottery system. Kipper got worse teams than this into the playoffs, so I also wouldn’t be too surprised if some combination of Hiller, Ramo and Ortio does the same
Taylor McKee: I will say finishing 21st overall, picking at the end of the top ten.