The Calgary Flames did two impressive things in 2014-15. In the second season of the rebuild, the team built upon the establishment of a style of play in the later stages of 2013-14. They also managed to bring some young skill players into their team and allowed them to be effective within the constraints of Bob Hartley’s system – such a thing didn’t really occur under the watch of Brent Sutter, for instance.
What resulted was the Johnny Gaudreau show, as the mite-sized rookie dazzled Flames fans all season long with his speed and skill. Sean Monahan built upon an effective rookie season with a mature, composed sophomore effort. And Mark Giordano had another Norris-caliber campaign.
Overall, 2014-15 was a perfect storm of a lot of factors that conspired for the Flames rather than against them. The result? They made a return to the post-season for the first time in six years.
Nobody expected very much from the Calgary Flames in 2014-15. The hope was Johnny Gaudreau would put together a full professional season without getting squished by the bigger NHLer defenders, that Sean Monahan wouldn’t regress too much from his strong rookie year, and that the rest of the team would allow the Flames to have a respectable season.
But, somehow, the Flames continued to play the same break-neck style of game that they played in the final three months of the 2013-14 season. Seemingly the entire league waited for the other shoe to drop. And outside of a sizable skid before Christmas, the Flames kept chugging along. The team had eight different three-game (or longer) win streaks. The team only had three losing streaks, though one of them was eight games long.
The Flames season can best be exemplified by two games, both against the Los Angeles Kings. On December 22, down 3-1 after two periods, the team rallied back under the power of a Johnny Gaudreau hat-trick to tie the game and win it in overtime. The other was the playoff-clinching game on April 9 when they got themselves a 2-1 lead and held on for dear life. A good deal of Calgary’s wins were by dramatic comebacks or by spotting themselves a lead and holding on for dear life. It worked often enough that they made the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Mark Giordano went down with 21 games left in the regular season and the team just kept moving forward regardless. It was that kind of a season.
In addition to getting themselves into the post-season, the Flames were fortunate enough to get the best possible first round match-up – Vancouver, who the Flames managed to beat in six games. They hit a road block in the form of a deep and skilled Anaheim Ducks team that won the Pacific Division by a mile, losing in five games.
Ignoring the bad ending, it was probably the most exciting 93 games of hockey in Calgary in over a decade.
The Flames added Jonas Hiller in the off-season, which conspired to give them (relative) stability in net in the form of a pretty effective tandem with Karri Ramo. Hiller started 44 games and got 26 wins, along with a .927 even-strength save percentage. Ramo got 32 starts and won 15 of them, generating a .916 even-strength save percentage. Joni Ortio came up mid-season for about a week and won 4 of his 6 starts, most of them on the same big road trip. In the post-season, Hiller made 7 starts (with 3 wins) and Ramo made 4 starts, winning twice.
Brad Treliving was likely still evaluating the Calgary Flames roster early in the year, so he didn’t make a single player swap until the 2015 calendars arrived.
- January 5, 2015: traded Corban Knight to Florida for Drew Shore.
- March 1, 2015: traded Curtis Glencross to Washington for second and third round picks.
- March 2, 2015: traded Sven Baertschi to Vancouver for a second round pick.
- June 26, 2015: traded a first round pick and two second round picks to Boston for Dougie Hamilton.
- June 27, 2015: traded up from the third round into the second with Arizona, trading two thirds for Arizona’s second round pick.
We don’t yet have the benefit of hindsight, but these picks primarily fall into the category of “These guys aren’t in our plans anymore, so let’s get something for them.” That’s generally a prudent philosophy.
Treliving was busy in free agency, bringing in Jonas Hiller, Deryk Engelland, Mason Raymond, Devin Setoguchi, Corey Potter, and minor leaguers Brad Thiessen and Sena Acolatse. He also signed Raphael Diaz after a training camp try-out. Hiller and Diaz were smart value additions, while Engelland and Raymond were expensive.
Here’s the 2015 Draft class:
RETHINKING THE 2014-15 FLAMES
The hockey community was pretty divided about the success of the 2014-15 Calgary Flames, aside from everyone seemingly enjoying their late-game comebacks from an entertainment standpoint.
The traditionalists saw it as a triumph of style over substance. Bob Hartley had struggled to implement his system in a lockout year in 2012-13 with a veteran roster. He finally began to lay the groundwork in 2013-14, and the team went on an impressive run over the season’s final three months. The strict adherence to Hartley’s five-man forecheck system, combined with a Flames club lauded for their fitness, made the difference.
The analytics community saw it as a triumph of PDO over substance. The Flames were the NHL’s third-worst possession team, with a Corsi For percentage of just 44.4. Their goaltending was much improved over the previous season, moving from the NHL’s worst save percentage to a league-average 92.2%. But their 8.9 shooting percentage was second-best in the NHL, behind only the skill-laden Tampa Bay Lightning squad, which was enough to keep them in the playoff picture and cement a spot in the late stages of the season.
Whether your preferred explanation is “grit and hard work” or “a really strong shooting percentage,” the Flames won games because they got timely goals late in games more often than their opponents.