The dust has more or less settled entirely around the Calgary Flames, and now we’ve convened the FlamesNation crew for the traditional off-season roundtable!
Join Kent Wilson, Ari, myself, Mike Cadarette, Byron Bader, Beloch, Christian Roatis and Taylor McKee as we share our thoughts on the season – now that we’ve had time to decompress a bit from the rollercoaster ride. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!
1) The Flames won 45 games, made the playoffs, and won a round. What are your general thoughts on their performance over the past 93 games of ice hockey?
Kent: There’s been lots of pleasant surprises. Brodie coming into his own as a legit top pairing defender, the development of Monahan and Gaudreau, etc. As a team, though, the Flames have a lot of improvement left to do to be a legit contender.
Ari: They can easily be summed up as: “Haha, how the hell did that happen? Awesome.” After looking at game data night in and night out, so little pointed towards the Flames having any kind of success, and yet, they did. They found a way to make things work for them. Now, it’s about if they can repeat that, whether by hoping what happened this year repeats itself or through legitimate improvements most teams would make as they try to go from playoff team to Cup contender.
I thought the Flames were fun last season, and they were fun this season, too. This season was more fun because of the winning, though. Keep up the high tempo style, have a good off-season, and man, this could be an extraordinary team to watch in just a few years.
Ryan: The Flames turned out to be basically as “hard-working” as we thought they were, but a lot more talented in terms of their ability to play rope-a-dope hockey. Now, a good chunk of that was luck, but the “old Flames” (the veteran-laden teams of the past) likely would’ve squandered the opportunities they were given. These Flames? They didn’t look the gift horse in the mouth. They threw a saddle on him and rode him to a second round appearance in the playoffs. There’s a value in that, particularly in terms of giving first, second and third-year pros some big game experience.
Mike: Over the past 93 games, it’s hard to look back and fully comprehend what we all witnessed. Yes, the underlying numbers were dreadful and luck played a huge role in the season, but there’s an interesting take-away from all this: league recognition. League recognition for the first time in forever. We’re even starting to see media pundits (and maybe even other teams’ management) talking about the “Calgary Model” as a blueprint for a rebuild. It’s not an awful model to follow if you’re a bottom dwelling team and the Flames showed it can lead to surprising success if everyone buys in.
Byron: Really like what they’ve done over the past 93 games, maybe even the
past 130 games or so (since that turnaround in January 2014). The
underlying numbers are a touch concerning but I think that will improve
over time. The pieces they have in place of a bonafide offensive 1st
line, a top d pairing that could be the best pairing in the league, Sam
Bennett, Micheal Ferland and some really solid pieces coming, notably
Jon Gilles. To me, they’re an elite winger and another Brodie type
d-man from being a pretty good team rather than several pieces away from
ever making the playoffs again.
Beloch: The big story for the stat-heads is how massively the Flames exceeded
both expectations and their underlying possession stats. There’s some
funny stuff going on though. First, the Flames had a very high shooting
percentage this season, but that was driven mainly by Monahan, Hudler,
and Gaudreau. Whenever those three shot the puck, magic happened. The
top line got so much ice-time and shots that they skewed the entire
team’s shooting percentage significantly (it’s below league average
without them). Hudler has a high career shooting percentage, but can
Gaudreau and Monahan sustain theirs as well? Second, the Flames took a
higher proportion of shots from dangerous areas than some other teams,
such as the Oilers. For this reason, the Flames may not be as bad as
indicated by possession stats that do not account for shot quality.
All that aside, this team was just darned fun to watch all season. With
the nail-biting one-goal games and miraculous comebacks, this season
was packed full of drama. Random chance could easily have caused just a
few of those close games to go the other way, and the Flames would have
missed the playoffs. They’re not a cup contender yet. However, one
can’t help but feel that the foundations of a future powerhouse were
laid this season. All we can really ask for next season is that the
hockey will be as rewarding to watch as it was this season.
all the great winning experience, I think massive strides were taken by
every key young player on the roster, from the Monahans to the Gaudreaus
to the Brodies. Cinderella season indeed, but also a tremendous
Taylor: Uh, yeah, I’d say pretty damn good. Looking back at the preseason
roundtable, I see that I was one of the most pessimistic (see: wrong)
ones here so I would say that I am pleased. It defies description how
this team, with this roster, was able to do what they did this year but
it ended up being one of the most memorable seasons of my lifetime so
2) Now that the season is over, what do you feel is the number-one priority for general manager Brad Treliving?
Kent: Improving the blueline depth at all levels of the organization. Calgary needs probably 2 more top-4 guys to be really competitive moving forward. Beyond that, the Flames need better than average possession support players at all positions.
Ari: Deeeeefence defence defence defence. Can’t go into next season with Russell-Wideman as the second pairing. They did an admirable job for what was asked of them, but it was too much for them, especially when Gio went down. The Flames have one of the best pairings in the league, and after that, everything kind of turns into a mess. There are so few defence prospects that they pretty much have to make a good free agent signing if they want to maintain the image of competition in the near future. It’s fortunate that there are a number of good guys to choose from, and the cap situation really works in their favour. This off-season will be a failure if the Flames don’t pick up another top four guy, though.
Also, a right winger other than David Jones would probably be good, too. Not to speak ill of Jones, but when just one of your forwards is actually a righty, that’s a problem. Very little of the Flames’ offence came from the right side this past season, and that’s something that’s going to have to be addressed.
Ryan: The Flames need to continue to build depth and develop ways to give themselves flexibility. Their top priority is upgrading their defense at the NHL level, but they’ve also got to figure out how to sign guys like Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau long-term without putting themselves in, as Jay Feaster would say, “salary cap jail.”
Mike: Mr. Treliving has to prioritize quality defense for the future – something he’s already started in last year’s draft (Hickey looks awesome!) and snagging Kenney Morrison (promising puck mover). Grab at least a couple of defensemen with at least two of those four picks in the top-60 and trade from areas of immense depth (centres) to stock the cupboards with young defenders.
Byron: I can’t say one. He has a bunch. He has to sign Giordano and Backlund.
Full Stop. I’d also love to see him sign Franson or Petry in the
summer – a 4 or 5 year deal is very doable as the Flames have boat loads
of cash and they’ll guys like Wideman coming off the books in a few
years. I’d also love to see them make a splash and go after an elite
winger that can drive play. Hopefully on the right side of 30. Kessel,
for one, could work in the right circumstances.
Beloch: Same as last off-season: Find a #3D who can make the Flames second pair drive possession the right way.
Christian: A Top 6
forward and multiple Top 4 Ds. Basically the same as everyone else in
the NHL. Getting Brent Seabrook would be massive, but that’s unlikely.
If they come out of it all with no gruesome contracts, I’ll be pleased.
This isn’t the year to go crazy and “load up.”
Taylor: Well, let me start by joining
the chorus of hundreds who are clamoring for an expedient extension for
Backlund. Any talk that the Flames’ ‘centre depth’ has made Backlund
expendable is hogwash. There is no one on this team who can do what he
does, offensive production be damned.
next obvious priority is to try and upgrade the top-four on the back
end, a task easier stated than achieved. I am not crazy about the Flames
ponying up the kind of money that Franson or Green is going to command
so I am not sure high-priced free agents are the way to go. Perhaps if
they are able to clear Wideman’s contract off the books, then signing
Green or Franson for big bucks would make sense. Frankly, GMBT will have
to get creative if he is going to meaningfully upgrade the defense this
offseason which leads me to think that it probably won’t get done.
3) Bob Hartley received a two-year contract extension in December. Do you feel this was a prudent move, given the team’s performance under his guidance?
Kent: This remains to be seen. Hartley tailored his systems to the roster he was given and he’s done a pretty decent job with most of the youngsters, Sven Baertschi aside. We’ll see if he can move from the “collapse and block everything” strategy to something more proactive as the roster improves.
Ari: I’ll say this: the Flames have been legitimately fun to just watch under Hartley. I don’t think it’s him being the beneficiary of getting the rebuild years where there’s all this excitement and young talent, either; they’ve been just plain fun, and you almost never feel like they’re out of the game when they go down. Although they DID lose eight games in a row after extending him, so…
For now, you’ve gotta keep Hartley. After this season, it would make no sense to not have him behind the bench, and a two-year extension is actually a pretty perfect timeframe in regards to this sudden success. I don’t think he’s a saviour or anything, and there have been some incredible questionable decisions (top six forward Lance Bouma, top four defenceman Deryk Engelland, Joe Colborne getting leniency Sven Baertschi was never allowed), but the Flames have actually been fun to watch again. Considering how this is an entertainment business, that’s actually pretty important. If they can repeat this and build on this year’s unexpected success, then all the better.
Ryan: I think Hartley’s success with this group has earned him a little rope. Granted, he does have some strange tendencies – sitting kids in favour of veterans quite often, a lot of Brandon Bollig, Corey Potter and Deryk Engelland, and sometimes bizarre line composition decisions. On the other hand, he does seem to get the most out of the kids when they did get into the line-up, and his line deployments themselves are generally fairly logical.
And he did what Dave King, Pierre Page, Brian Sutter, Don Hay, Greg Gilbert, Jim Playfair, Mike Keenan and Brent Sutter couldn’t do: win a playoff round as a Flames head coach.
Mike: Does a bear crap in the woods?
Byron: I don’t mind it. He does some weird stuff. But overall I think he does
fine and the team, at least right now, seems to like playing for him.
Beloch: Whether the Flames’ success this season was dumb luck or magical
coaching voodoo, to fire your coach after a season like this would be a
pretty bold move. The only possible reason to do this would be that
Treliving landed a white whale like Mike Babcock. Even then, you’d want
to keep Hartley in the system somehow. With only a few exceptions
(e.g. Baertschi, Wotherspoon) Hartley has done nothing but good things
for developing rookie talent. He also badly out-coached Desjardins in
the series against the Canucks. In a sports league where coaches often
seem to be largely interchangeable, Hartley appears to be a rare
Christian: I do.
Little moves that people disagree with does not cancel out all the
shrewd decisions he made, whether people want to give him credit for it
or not. Right now it’s working so you must keep him. If the message no longer gets through some time down the road, then changes can be made.
Taylor: Well, the Flames certainly made management look smart this season didn’t
they? That being said, I really don’t think it matters a whole lot when
it comes to coaching extensions. We have seen countless examples of
coaches being fired with plenty of years left on their deals so I just
don’t really think it matters a whole lot.
4) The Flames are slated to select 15th overall in the upcoming Entry Draft. Do you feel they should stand pat, trade up or trade down?
Kent: Trade up if possible, but otherwise stand pat.
Ari: I really, really, really want Ivan Provorov. I know Ivan Provorov is probably not going to happen, even if they trade up. That said, there’s quite a decent selection of good picks still around the halfway mark, so whoever’s still around at 15th should be able to both address an organizational need and actually be, you know, good. I don’t think they should trade up unless they can get into the top 10, and I don’t know if they can do that while keeping at least one of their three second rounders. With the number of picks they have, I wouldn’t trade down.
Standing pat may be the best move: you get a pretty decent pick at 15, and you get to choose another five guys before the next round is even over. That’s something to like.
Ryan: Like Ari, I really like Ivan Provorov. He’s like a Russian T.J. Brodie. But they won’t be able to trade up high enough to get him, so screw it, stand pat. And maybe try to trade some expensive veterans to get some depth picks in later rounds. If you’re going to try to amass a good haul at the draft, why not go all-out?
Mike: I feel Treliving should do whatever he has to do to draft the best player that fills a need in the organization. If it takes moving up to grab a stud defenseman, do it.
Byron: I’m a big believer in going after the guys with the sky-high
equivalencies as that gives you the best odds of something really really
good. This is a really deep draft so there will hopefully be enough
candy left on the table at 15 that we don’t have to select a ginormous
fella with little scoring but “tons of offensive upside for the NHL”
fairy dust but I would probably try to trade up with one of our seconds
to get in the Mitch Marner Dylan Strome conversation anyways.
Beloch: In the past, the Flames have made a point of drafting “the best player
available”. Well, they desperately need some blue-chip defensive
prospects now thanks to that policy, although right wingers wouldn’t
hurt either. If you look at the current prospect rankings, there are
defenders scattered throughout the first round
fairly evenly. I think the goal should be to draft the best one they
can without passing over too many of the “best players available” at the
time of their first round selection. That may
mean trading up or down. However, it would probably be unwise for the
Flames to blow all their second rounders just to improve their first round pick. Defenders tend to take significant steps after being drafted, so picking a couple in the second round is a good idea.
they can move up to get someone they absolutely love, I’d like them to
stand pat. It’ll cost a lot to move up and with such a deep draft, those
2nds and 3rds are more valuable than other years. Moving down almost
never seems to work out for this team, so just don’t.
Taylor: I will say up front that I’m no Christian Roatis but there are a lot of
names at 15 that intrigue the hell out of me. On the defensive side,
Kylington, Roy, and Chabot all seem like good bets and at least one of
them looks like they will be available at 15. Up front, names like
Meier, Svenchikov, Rantanen, and Zacha (god-willing) all seem like
dynamic talents with a bit of size. With regards to your question, I
figure the Flames should and will stand pat.
5) Finally, what are your expectations for the 2015-16 Flames, and has the team’s playoff performance changed those expectations?
Kent: I figure the team comes back down to earth a bit, even if all the kids take a step forward. Let’s say around the 85 point range.
Ari: I’m… honestly not sure. I spent the entire season, right up until the Oilers beat the Kings, saying the Flames were not going to make the playoffs. (Even then I still didn’t believe it until Hudler scored his empty netter.) I can see the Flames back in the playoffs as easily as I can see them bottoming out. I think they’ll be a bubble team, ultimately. Let’s do a quick run through:
Goaltending: I expect it’s going to be Hiller and Ortio, and I expect them to perform as well as Hiller and Ramo did this season. That’s league average, so goaltending probably won’t elevate them – barring some surprises from Ortio – but it won’t cost them, either.
Defence: I fully expect the defence to improve. It was their biggest problem this season, particularly when Giordano went down. Gio will be back and healthy, Brodie will also be healthy and reunited with his partner, the Flames should have a new-look second pairing, and they should have some good depth options for the third. Maybe they won’t score as much as this year’s defence did – probably not, really – but if the actual defending side is better, then they have a better chance.
Forwards: This time a year ago, the big question was, “Who’s going to score?” Halfway through the season, Monahan got put in between Gaudreau and Hudler, and that question was answered. Throw in Sam Bennett, throw in a healthy Mikael Backlund’s probable 40-50 points, maybe throw in a UFA and maybe someone like Emile Poirier at some point, and the scoring question might just be answered. They might not even have to shoot at 10.5% again. Though if the top line dries up, they’re probably screwed… but while Hudler may decline, Monahan and Gaudreau should only get even better. So…
One other point to make note of: with the top three in each division making it no matter what, if the Flames can replicate their performance against the Pacific Division, they’re in. They swept two teams, were two losses away from sweeping another two, tied a team, and only really lost to the Anaheim Ducks. Do that again and they’ll be just fine. Fall back to earth and the struggle will be that much harder.
Ryan: I figure the 2015-16 Flames will be slightly better in terms of talent, but there’s no way in Hell they’ll be as fortunate in terms of bounces, shooting percentages, late-game comebacks, or overtime records. So in terms of standings, I expect them to drift back to the mushy middle of the pack a little bit.
But hey, if they can somehow maintain their strong record against the Pacific Division, all bets are off.
Mike: Next season, my expectations remain the same as they were last fall: be competitive and push for a playoff spot. That’s it. As long as they’re in the mix in April, all’s good. Oh, and I wouldn’t mind they improved their possession numbers a bit more. The playoff run hasn’t changed my outlook for this team. It’s still a rebuilding club and April’s success shouldn’t alter our perception too much.
Byron: I see them being in the mix again. Maybe they won’t make the playoffs
but they’ll be right there with Colorado, Dallas and maybe LA again.
They had some of the worst possession stats of any team in the modern
era to make the playoffs so history suggests they’re going to dive off a
cliff. But these Flames have the pieces mentioned above (the teams
that drove off a cliff the next year almost always had a really bad
defensive core … the Flames isn’t great either but their top 2 are
VERY elite). They also don’t get shelled in shots like those other
teams did. The Flames have bad possession stats but it’s because they
don’t shoot enough at the other end. Their shot suppression is middle of
the road. Last thing, Gaudreau, Monahan and Hudler will play together
again next year, more than likely. All three are going to be career
high percentage shooters. So I’m not overly worried about the offense
drying up something fierce. Maybe they won’t get as much offense as
they did this year but in my eyes it won’t be a radical dip. I’ll say a
finish in the 6th to 10th range. Hopefully they acquire some really
good pieces in the summer and vastly outperform my expectations once
Beloch: Last summer, I was one of the oddballs who predicted the Flames would be
in the playoff bubble this season. Looking back at what had to happen
for the Flames to make the playoffs, I’m not sure I would have made the
same prediction now. An awful lot of things seemed to go the Flames’
way this season! Even though I think the Flames are slightly better
than their possession stats indicate, those stats are still very
troubling. The playoffs did allay my fears somewhat. Ferland emerged
as a difference maker. When you look at this kid’s story, everything
points towards him being a late bloomer. He could be an upgrade on
Bouma as early as next season. Bennett looked far more at home in NHL
playoff hockey than any 18-year old should be, let alone one coming
directly from junior after a major injury and a partial season. He’s
going to be a huge addition for the team next season.
being said, what Treliving does to improve the second pair this summer
is absolutely pivotal. The addition of Nakladal and Morrison will make
the third pair a free-for-all, but the Flames still need that #3D. Unlike last summer, Calgary is going to be at the top of a lot of UFA’s
lists this summer. The Flames might be able to get a second pairing
defender, like Andrej Sekera, signed to a decent contract (for a UFA).
Failing that, Treliving will need to make a trade. Even with the
Canucks in decline, the Pacific division is going to be brutal again
next season. If Treliving has a productive summer the Flames will
likely be in the bubble again, but more than that I can’t say.
Christian: I think
with a lack of injuries, the expected step forward from the kids and
some good free agent insulation, they could return to the dance in 2016.
But there are too many factors at this point to say one way or another.
In a perfect world, they absolutely do. But – as we’re reminded every
morning when we wake up for work – it’s not a perfect world.
Taylor: Yikes, this one is tough. I would say that barring substantive changes
in the Flames’ ability to out-shoot their opponents, it only seems
likely that they will not be able to replicate their success. That being
said, I am excited to see if another year brings improvements to the
young core of the team that will perhaps soften the seemingly inevitable
PDO bubble burst.