Who is in the Calgary Flames’ core?

Core, noun. “The central or most important part of something.”

To go further: “The part of something that is central to its existence or character. An important or unchanging group of people forming the central part of a larger body.” Thanks, Google!

It’s that last sentence there that’s most relevant to sports. In hockey, core players are particularly apparent: they’re the guys teams lock up and never let go of. Superstars changing teams is a rarity in the modern day NHL, often dealt huge contracts to keep them in the same team. And it’s usually the team they started with.

As a rebuilding team, the Flames’ core is only just now starting to form. Identifying who they are is important: these are the guys you’re going to be spending most of your money on, and the guys who will hopefully be leading you to the Cup. 

Subjectivity, but within reason

The only person whose opinions really matter on the core is Brad Treliving (Bob Hartley, too; Treliving supplies him the players, and Hartley determines who gets used when and where). 

That doesn’t mean we, as fans, can’t identify who we think the core is. Contractual status matters, to an extent. One would assume players with big, long contracts are core players, but that doesn’t mean all of them are. Was Dennis Wideman identified as a core player when he was first signed, and ended up being the Flames’ most expensive contract? Is Dougie Hamilton a core player now that he has that honour?

You get to decide who you think is most important to a team. The criteria can be pretty easy: Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are very young, and score a lot of goals. They made up the bulk of the team’s offence this past season. Therefore, they must be core players. Does that mean Jiri Hudler is one, too, even if he’s about a decade older?

Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie play huge minutes for this team. Does that make them core players? So do Wideman and Kris Russell. Are they core?

Is Lance Bouma a core player because he’s a heart and soul guy? If he is, does that mean David Jones is one, too? Paul Byron?

It spirals out of control pretty quickly, and you can end up naming pretty much every player you like as a core player. That goes against the very definition above, though: “An important or unchanging group of people forming the central part of a larger body.” Your entire team can’t be core. You have to pick and choose a nucleus.

Who was most valuable to the Flames last season?

Keeping in mind the idea that a team’s core is only a select group of players, and not “well they’re on my team so I like them and if I like them that means they are a core player”, then the Flames’ MVPs over the year were the top line, and top defence pairing. 

That’s about it. There were quality supporting players, sure: Russell, Mikael Backlund, the goalie tandem. But if we’re limiting ourselves to a select few, we’re going with the guys who played the biggest minutes, and put up most points. The guys who had the most tangible impacts on the Flames.

True, this excludes Wideman, but that’s where subjectivity comes in. There’s been suggestion all around to trade Wideman because he’s probably never going to have a better season, and he’s already 32 years old. Does that sound like someone who’s a core player? Remember when everyone hated him two seasons ago, but seemed just fine by him this past year (coincidentally, about the time when his shooting percentage went from 3.9% to 8.7%)? Remember, part of the core definition is to be unchanging, and that’s a pretty stark contrast of opinion to match his very different shooting percentages over just two seasons.

Monahan will be 21 to start next season; Gaudreau, 22. They’re two of the three highest scorers on the Flames, and in their early 20s. They don’t have big, long contracts, but they’re about to get them. It’d be hard to argue against them being core players.

Where then does that leave Hudler, 31? He was an integral part of the Flames’ top line, and the team’s highest scorer. He will also be a free agent after this upcoming season, and the Flames will be in a cap crunch. There’s no guarantee he comes back. It may be most prudent to trade him at the trade deadline. Is that something a rebuilding team does to a core player? (Can he even repeat his nearly point-per-game performance?)

Brodie wasn’t the highest scorer, but he’s now 25, and has been playing on the Flames’ top pairing since he was 23. Does that make him core? He scored 31 points that first year, and 41 most recently. He, too, had a Wideman-esque rise in shooting percentage, from 3.8% to 8.3%. Does he maintain his offence? Does that matter in regards to him, considering he’s seven years younger, and superior defensively? He’s already signed a five-year deal at a $4.65 million-and-change cap hit. Would that not establish him as core?

Then there’s Giordano: captain, leader, should-be-two-time-Norris-winner. What separates him from Monahan, Gaudreau, and Brodie is that he’ll be 32 years old to start the season. What separates him from Hudler and Wideman is there’s a clear emphasis in place on keeping him. While Hudler’s future with the team remains uncertain, and Wideman is probably never going to get as big a contract ever again, Giordano is in line for a followup to his own Brodie-like contract. 

Who will be most valuable for the Flames next season?

Again, we can probably immediately point towards the suspects from this past season: Brodie, Gaudreau, Giordano, Hudler, and Monahan.

That’s already five on a 23-man roster, though, and there will be some new challengers this upcoming year: Sam Bennett, Michael Frolik, and Dougie Hamilton. And eight core players seems a little much.

All three players are, as of yet, unproven in the Flames’ system. Bennett had a good playoffs, but he’s also never played a full year in the NHL. Frolik has had an established career to date, but we don’t yet know how he’s going to be used, even if he’s now the most expensive forward. Hamilton is the most expensive player on this team now, but like Frolik, he has as of yet been untested in the Flames’ system.

That said, Bennett and Hamilton fit in with Gaudreau and Monahan: they’re only 19 and 22. If they fit in, then combined with Brodie, that’s a five-player core all 25 years and younger: a pretty good core age for a rebuilding team.

Hudler could be a loss; Frolik could replace him, but Frolik has yet to score a 70-point season. It’s hard to see either player as core guys right now.

But if Giordano does get that big contract extension to remain a Flame, then even though he’s much older than the rest of the group, he’s a core player. He’s one of the best defencemen in the NHL, after all, not to mention the team’s captain. How could he not be?

That leaves six guys – four established, two probables – looking like they’re the Flames’ core group. (You have six players in a starting lineup; since the Flames don’t exactly have a core goalie at the moment, it fits.)

But of course, it’s all subjective. 

If the Flames are ever going to win, though, they’ll have a strong cast of supporting players – and the core guys at the helm.

  • DestroDertell

    I have to say, if Hudler is traded instead of extended we will regret it. In his eight year career, he only dropped once below 1.9points/60 at ES in his career and he had a respectable 1.7points/60 in spite of an abnormally low (for him) 8.3% shooting percentage. He does get a good chunk of o-zone starts but he makes up for it, with being well in the blue at possession (relative).

    He IS getting older, but I don’t see him falling apart super quickly. After his performance last season, Gaudreau and Monahan getting better and the whole team boosting their possession numbers meaning, more offensive zone starts, I could see him having a similar season.

    • The issue with Hudler will be cost. If he’s a 60+ point player again, the question will be if the Flames can afford to tie up 5-6M a year in a winger who is over 31 (when they have Gaudreau, Giordano and Bennett to re-sign).

      • DestroDertell

        Recently I checked out if the flames were near this kind of cap crunch and thanks to Treliving being awesome with contracts, it’s not that bad. Assuming…

        1) We can’t trade away bad contracts (Smid,Raymond,Engelland & co.)

        2) Gio gets 9M$ AAV

        3) Monahan and Gaudreau both gets 6.25M$ AAV, Bennett gets 6.5M$ AAV

        4) The RFAs get paid slightly more than expected (Bouma 1.75M$ 3yrs, Byron 1M$ 2yrs & Ferland 1.15M$ 2 yrs)

        5) Hudler settles for 6M$

        6) The cap increases by a mere 1.785 M$ and 1.829M$ in the next two years.

        Everything will be fine as long as BT buy out Smid’s and Raymond’s last year and replace the old, mediocre & expensive players with prospects or other cheaper player of similar caliber.

        In other words, there’s no way we can’t fit him in.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    It starts with being part of “the core”, what’s next is entitlement……(See Oilers).

    No thanks, if you want to be part of this great ride you need to work your rear end off and earn your place on this team and playing time…

    WW

    • GriffinJeff

      I disagree that Sven Baertschi is a part of the core – or did you mean Sam Bennett?

      On that note, I had to laugh when I read the following this morning:

      “THE PROVINCE: Limited cap space could make it difficult for the Vancouver Canucks to get RFA forward Sven Baertschi under contract. The Canucks currently have less than $2 million in cap space, while Baertschi’s cap number for last season was $1.425 million. Baertschi was acquired in a trade last season with the Calgary Flames.”

      I can’t think of a nicer team for it to happen to!

    • Parallex

      That group for me… probably to be followed by whichever one of Ortio/Gillies/McDonald establishes himself as the #1 goaltender.

      Those are the guys that we can presume will be here longterm, have a level of excellence that elevates them beyond “complementary player” and we can say with a reasonable degree of certainty will have both (High level of play for a long time).

      I’m sure some will put Gio in there but given his age we can presume that his play will at some point drop off such that he’ll become complementary rather then core.

  • Parallex

    For me I think of the concept of core as being where you get your strength from and with the Flames it begins with the leadership core. IMO the veterans of this team (Gio,Hudler, and a lesser extent Stajan) set the standard of work ethic and mental toughness that is needed to be a good team.(think of the stuff these guys have been through over the last couple of years) The Talent core of this team Monahan(bad jr team), Johnny(to small), Bennett(injury) and TJ(late pick) have had great mentorship and have overcome their own struggles. Guys like Dougie have to buy in and keep the trend going.

    I would suggest we can see this in other guys as Russell and Wides stepped up their game last year and a lot has to do with the other vets and the coaching staff.

    • Parallex

      Hudler & Stajan were excellent veterans last year for this young team but there really is only 1 player I see that was the true source of leadership, work ethic & excellence & that’s Gio. The best student last year was Brodie. That kid worked his royal butt off game after game. Up the ice creating offensive chances & one of the first guys back trying to prevent opposition chances. Gio & Brodie inspired the whole group & it became contagious. Those two guys would make any team in the league look good when they are on their games.

  • KH44

    A core should consist of 10 players, 3 centers, 2 wingers, 4 defencemen and a goalie, with no regard to contract whatsoever. Contracts, trades, those are how the player is acquired, not if they are part of the core.

    Center is the core of most teams, especially Cup-winning teams. Having players down the middle that control play, are responsible defensively and drive offence are tough to find. Having one is good, having two is better and having three means you control the ice. The Flames currently have 2 core centers – Monahan and Backlund – and three if they move Bennett to center. This is a strength, and one of the major parts of the core moving forward.

    Wingers are not as important as centers, which is why 3 out of the 4 centers are part of the core, but only 2 of the 8 wingers. A winger can be a crucial player, but they are less defensively responsible and are more easy to replace – I am not saying Johnny Gaudreau is replaceable, but Hudler is, as is Frolik, as is any other number of wingers in the league. The Flames have 1 core winger, Gaudreau. Hudler and Frolik can both fill the second position, but they can be replaced. If Bennett is a winger, he is the second core winger.

    Defence requires depth, which is why 4 defencemen are part of the core, even though there are only 6 on a team. Having a top pairing that can match up and shut down anyone, as well as drive play, contribute on the power play and penalty kill, and do that for nearly 30 minutes a night is a must for a team with Cup aspirations. Having 2 more defencemen who can also drive play, match up, play special teams, and do it for 20-25 minutes a night means you either have a dominant d-man on the ice the entire game (by splitting up your top four into 1-2, 3-6, 4-5) or have a dominant pairing on the ice for 50 minutes a game (1-2 28 minutes, 3-4 22 minutes, 5-6 10 minutes) or having one of the top two on the ice for the entire game (1-3/5, 2-4/6) paired with a 3-4, and swap in a 5-6 to spell the 3-4 occasionally. Having less than four core d-men doesn’t allow you to do any of this.

    The Flames have 3 core d – Giordano, Brodie and Hamilton. Ideally, adding one more top four player would allow Wideman and Russell to drop down to 5-6, which would be a great 5-6, but currently neither player can play at the level required to be a top four core player. As Chicago demonstrated, a 5-6 pairing isn’t necessary, if the top 4 are strong enough.

    The final core player is the starting goalie. Having a strong back up, or a 1A/1B, or a mediocre starter/ strong back up, none of those matter. A starting goalie is a core piece. A goalie that the team trusts, that can steal games, that means you are never truly out of a game, is a need in the NHL. Suspect goaltending wrecks a team. A strong defence core can help turn a mediocre goalie into an amazing one, but a combination of a core goalie and a strong defence is lethal.

    Hiller has been one in the past, and his numbers are close, but he currently does not fit as a core player.

    This means the Flames, currently, have 2 centers, 1 winger, and whatever Bennett becomes, meaning 1 forward position needs to be filled. Between Frolik and Hudler, and Bennett as the 2nd line center, the Flames could have their forward core sorted out.

    The Flames have 3 of the 4 core d-man, Gio, Brodie and Hamilton, and two capable no. 5 defencemen that are a little over their heads in Wideman and Russell. The team could use one more, although the addition of Hamilton from out of nowhere has really solidified the back end.

    The Flames lack a core goalie. They have several promising ones in development, but so far, nothing.

    The end result is 7 of the 10 core positions are filled, potentially 8. For a team just a few years into the rebuild, this is impressive.

    For example, the Oilers have 2 of 3 centers, McDavid and Nugent Hopkins, 2 wingers in Hall and Eberle, no core defencemen and no core goalie. No wonder that rebuild is taking forever.

    Toronto, who has just started their rebuild, has no core centers, although Kadri could become one, 1 core winger (JVR), 1 core defenceman (Phaneuf is a top four, miscast as a no. 1) and no core goalie.

    The Flames have an impressive core, especially considering their age, and are looking good to finish up the core and become a perpetual playoff team

    • The Oilers have Draisaitl, Nurse and Reinhart I would say as part of their core.

      As for the Flames back end, I think Kylington could possibly emerge as that #4 spot behind TJB, DH, and Gio in a couple of years.

      • KH44

        I’ll give you Draisaitl, as he and Bennett both have not played a full NHL season and both have a similar pedigree, although Bennett’s playoffs were a lot more impressive than Draisaitl’s NHL turn at the beginning if the season.

        Nurse and Reinhart could be core members down the road, as they are both highly touted prospects, but both have done nothing at the NHL level so far, and I can’t put a player in the core who has done nothing, especially a defenseman, which is such a hard position to learn.

        A second round defenceman from this year’s draft is not even in consideration for the core. Kylington could be 4,5,6 years away from being an NHL player. The Flames do not currently have a player that can fit in the defensive top 4 core in the system, unless Russell gets better fast.

        • KH44

          Klefbom is a terrific defenceman already at just 21 years old. Still lots of time to develop as well. He is definitely a good piece to have on the back end. No, nurse isn’t there yet. However, I saw him at development camp and he is exceptional.

    • KH44

      If one’s third defensive pairing is good enough does that not make a team even better. Russell and Wides play after Gio’s injury being forced to play in the 1/2 spot would look very good as the 5/6 spot. Let’s assume we keep Gio and Brodie together you have that elite pairing you are talking about. Find Hamilton a partner that does not drag him down like Eng did to Brodie and then you don’t have an issue. The other alternative is to play the big 3 in a revolving cycle and alternate russell and wides between them. Chicago seemed to do that with Keith, Seabrook and Kharmilson and Odouya being the extra guy at times.

      • KH44

        Oh, absolutely, having a strong 3rd pairing makes your team great. That doesn’t make them part of the core, though. Russell and Wideman are good at what they do, provided they are a fifth or sixth defensemen, not a top four. It is a sliding scale. They are poor top two defenders, acceptable top four defenders, good top six defenders. So where do you want to play them? A core defenceman needs to be good-to-great at a top four role. While they can play there, they are not good-to-great, but merely adequate.

  • @Parallex

    Exactly. We can expect all 5 of those players to be playing together for the next 6+ years. We will know soon enough which goalie to invite into this group and then it’s just about providing support roles and veteran influence where/when necessary and drafting to improve this group.

  • KH44

    Great post. The comments here about which good young player or great older player should be our team’s core are delightful to read, and so are the comments over at Lambert’s Canucks Army post.

    • TheoForever

      Ohh, goody, Lambert is setting his sights on tormenting Canuck fans now.

      However, it looks like Lambert has a hard time letting go of Flames, as half of that article is about bushing Flames.

      He calls, Jankowski a bust and still yaps about Feaster.

      He doesn’t like Kulak and Culkin which proves he has no clue.

      Doesn’t like Ferland and calls that cancer Kasian a good player.

  • Greg

    The problem with naming a “core” is that “unchangeable” aspect in the definition. Everything always changes.

    The core really depends on how far away you foresee a change to that player being a key part of your team is. Obviously Gio was “core” but his contract status create a lot of scenarios where he might not be a key contributor in 3-5 years, so you start questioning if he really is core.

    You could argue Monahan is part of the core because he should be around and killing it 5 years from now still but even that can change quick. Edmonton calls you and says they want to move mcdavid but Monahan has to be part of the package? You don’t hang up that phone…

    It’s fun to debate, but ultimately futile. The core is just who you currently project to still be a key contributor 5 years from now, and that can change on a month to month basis.

    That said, for me right now it’s Brodie, Hamilton, Monahan, gaudreau, and Bennett. And that’s a potential cup contending core down the line so I’m excited as heck about it.

  • T&A4Flames

    Core players should be those that are hard to replace. However, we are in a transition of our core. Gio defines this core. His work ethic on and of the ice are what makes this team what it is. His leadership aside, his point production coupled with his defensive abilities would be VERY hard to replace. Hudler and Stajan both help with the leadership but IMO, only Hudler would be considered, currently, part of the core because his point production would be difficult to replace and he’s a top 6 player. He helped drive that line but as early as this year, Gaudreau and Mony will clearly be the drivers of that offence, and the thinking would be that you could insert another similar player that would benefit by playing with those 2. This also makes both Johnny and Mony core players now and moving forward. TJ already is part of the core and will be for may years for the same reasons Johnny and Mony are. He is solid and benefits by playing with Gio but soon he’ll be driving his own pairing. Hamilton and Bennet are not yet core players but I’m certain they will prove to be in short order. IMO, the rest, as important as some are on and/or off the ice, are support players and can be replaced with varying degrees of difficulty/ease.

    • KH44

      Work ethic and leadership cannot be considerations for core players, because players are expected to have a high work ethic. You can’t claim intangibles as part of the core, as intangibles seem to have a habit of showing up in both good and bad players, in young and old players, and the high intangible/mediocre ability players tend to move around, suggesting they aren’t a part of any core. If those qualities were so important, more crap players with intangibles would be making good money and winning cups year after year. Instead, teams with star players in their core are winning Cups. Stop making the leadership and work ethic comments.

      • FeyWest

        Sure they can but the intangibles are what you want in your core players not necessarily because of them but they are what helps set the standard for your team and it’s “Culture”. you’d be hard pressed with a core built of Kessel’s imo, sure he’s talented and can score goals but he doesn’t really have the leadership aspect and I don’t know enough aside from rumors to say if he has a strong or weak work ethic but is just an incredulous sniper.

        I get what you are saying, you can’t build a team of McGrattan’s either, sure they have great leadership and work ethic but are lacking in natural game breaking talent.

        All I’m saying is you should target your core players as having that talent that will drive your team AND have the intangibles for the support when times get tough, I think it’s what really sets those teams apart from being successfully competitive year in, year out.

  • Tomas Oppolzer

    My definition of a core for a hockey team is 7 players. You’re top line should be core (top tier offense is important to contend), your 2nd line centre should be core, your top defensive pair, and your starting goalie.

    Of those Calgary for sure has 4 IMO. Monahan, Gaudreau, Hamilton, and Brodie. Giordano is great, but given his age, he isn’t part of their long term core. Ideally, Bennett can also be added to this list. That just leaves one more forward (top line RW) and the goalie, hopefully Gillies can be that.

  • Tomas Oppolzer

    Wouldn’t you want a more fluid concept when it came to the core of your team?

    For example, maybe right now the core includes Giordano, but he probably won’t be as effective for as long as some of the other players in the core. All that means is that he’s currently part of the plan for the next few years and that’s that.

    It seems much less useful to try to decide on which players to stick with for the next 5-6 years and try to stick to that.

  • Tomas Oppolzer

    Team consists of two goalies, six D and 13 forwards plus either a floating D or Forward. An optimum scenario is you change out about three players a year due to money, age, skill set erosion, too comfortable etc.
    Our core consists of three excellent D,plus wide an and I include him as he scores, is always in great shape and a big IF, if he learned to pursue the puck quickly in his own end and move it safely up the ice, he becomes the 4 th core D
    Goalies are an issue and that needs to be resolved. As far as forwards go, I thing Hudler, Monahan, Johnny H, Backlund,,Ferland,Bennett, and the new guy from Ywg are your core forwards. You might want to add Bouma to that group.

    So we need a strong goalies to take charge this year and if no one does, then it is a priority at the January window to find one. We have a tonne of kids in the AHL and recent draft picks for D to add to that core. For forwards, Poirier is a keeper, plus we have a few guys on the farm ready to come up.. Four or five players are not a core. All of the players herein are the beginnings of an great core group. It just needs to be refined. We are in good shape GFG