The 2014-15 Calgary Flames season ended last night.
They lost in the second round of the playoffs. In the second year of their rebuild. In a season where many, including the majority of the voices on this website, felt they’d be toying with the draft lottery.
Everyone thought they’d be Edmonton Oilers Bad, but they…weren’t.
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to poke at the coprse of the 2014-15 Flames. We’ll try not to use the term “regression” too much, we swear. But as a general framing device, here’s a few things to take away from this year’s Flames.
League average goaltending was good enough.
The 2013-14 Flames were a decent team with pep, gumption, injuries, and just woeful goaltending (including Reto Berra and Joey MacDonald). The resurgence of Karri Ramo and the introduction of Flames fans to Jonas Hiller didn’t make the Flames a world-beater, but it gave them competent goaltending that kept them in games. That’s all they really needed.
Don’t expect the same amount of wild comebacks in 2015-16.
I hate the word “sustainable,” but a team simply cannot spot their opponents so many first goals and late game leads and win all the time. The Flames managed to, improbably, power through this adversity. This probably won’t happen next year, either because the team won’t be down early as often, or because other teams won’t be shocked by their late-game pushes.
But also don’t expect the team to be as fundamentally “bad.”
Sean Monahan is 20. Johnny Gaudreau is 21. Sam Bennett is 19. Josh Jooris is 24. Micheal Ferland is 23. Lance Bouma is 25. They’re all key pieces for the team, and they’re all pretty darn young. Heck, Mikael Backlund is 26. These guys will get better. Right now, the team is getting out-shot most games because they’re super-young, and most players are relatively bad at NHL hockey when they’ve barely played it. Improvement should be expected.
The team’s biggest hole is defense.
The team has two superb defenders in T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano. But beyond that? Kris Russell and a bunch of guys that were playing above their station. Heck, Russell is a #4, fundamentally. The majority of Calgary’s defensemen are 30+, or closing in on 30. For Calgary’s style to work long-term, they need fast, puck-moving defenders to take the weight off the top pairing. Russell’s a start, but he’s also 28. They need young legs.
But their number of forwards who can reliably score in the NHL is also not great.
To shut down the Calgary Flames, more often than not, you just need to shut down the Hudler, Monahan, Gaudreau line. Mikael Backlund has some flash to his game, but likely will end up as a #3 center on a good team. And Sam Bennett’s gonna be good, probably, but he’s just getting his feet wet. But in terms of reliable scoring threats, the team has Monahan, Hudler and Gaudreau. They need, ideally, two more lines of fairly reliable scoring before they can think about contending.