If you’re a fan of the Calgary Flames, you’re probably very excited about your team’s group of forwards right now. The Flames got a lot out of their forward group last season lead by one of the league’s most dynamic number one lines. Thanks to organizational depth and a foray into free agency, Calgary has added to their forward group even more heading into the 2015-2016 campaign. So just how much better will the Flames be up front?
As we try to answer that question, we’ll do so the same way we looked at this group’s blueline and goaltending last month. I think this group is poised to take another step forward up front. Much like the back end, Calgary hasn’t really lost much, if anything, from their group last year. For the most part, the Flames boast a young, promising group that looks to only get better.
The Flames will have two pieces to start this season that weren’t there a year ago: Michael Frolik and Sam Bennett. One is a proven, effective commodity at the NHL level while the other is as promising a prospect the team has had in years. It would take a lot of screwing things up for these two to hurt Calgary this year.
In Frolik the Flames have a versatile forward who fills a glaring need on the right side. Frolik will help Calgary offensively, as he’s coming off two straight 42 point seasons with the Winnipeg Jets. On top of that, Frolik is a strong two way player who can play up and down the depth chart, kill penalties, and spend time on your powerplay.
Bennett, on the other hand, is more of an unknown. He certainly impressed in his 11 playoff games last year and he carries big expectations with him coming in. The fourth overall pick in 2014, Bennett will be given every opportunity to play as one of Calgary’s top three centres. if Bennett picks up where he left off in May, then the Flames will have yet another young, skilled piece to roll out.
Sean Monahan did not fall victim to the sophomore jinx. In fact, Monahan met the sophomore jinx, beat him up, and stole his girlfriend. Year two saw Monahan take massive steps towards being a legit number one centre in this league. I’ve seen nothing to make me believe he won’t take more steps this year. Monahan doesn’t need to be a 40 goal guy this year to progress, either. If he continues to move forward in the face-off dot and in his head-to-head game, he’s going to make the Flames better.
I’m curious how Johnny Gaudreau will react when meeting the sophomore jinx. Despite being emotionally scarred from how Monahan treated him, Mr. Jinx can still pack a punch if he wants to. That being said, Gaudreau doesn’t seem like the prototypical guy to fall victim to a difficult year two. Gaudreau’s skill level is so high that he’ll be able to put up points regardless of how much extra attention will be paid to him. His centre, by the way, is pretty good too.
Better depth. The additions of Frolik and Bennett to this group should provide the Flames a positive trickle down effect, too. Having players like David Jones, Lance Bouma, and even potentially Mikael Backlund in your bottom six is not a bad thing. Calgary had decent forward depth last year, at least from a scoring perspective. That came as a bit of a surprise, but I don’t think a lot of people are questioning their depth this year.
Regression. The dreaded step back is the most likely hurdle this Flames group of forwards is going to have to face. We saw career seasons up and down the roster last year and it’s no guarantee those are all going to be repeated. While players like Monahan and Gaudreau seem poised to equal or eclipse what they did last year, there are valid questions about some of their teammates.
Jiri Hudler, for instance, posted a career high by almost 20 points. Now, he was playing on a very good, and very well synced top line, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be a 70+ point player again this year. What about Lance Bouma? The fan favourite shattered his career totals in goals, assists, and points and many believe did so at an unsustainable level.
Much like there’s no guarantee that Monahan and Gaudreau take big steps forward, it’s also not a sure thing to see the likes of Hudler and Bouma go in reverse. Hudler possesses a terrifying amount of skill, and with talent like Gaudreau and Monahan surrounding him, the Lady Byng winner could have another strong year. Bouma is as confident as he’ll ever be and maybe that high shooting percentage last year was the start of something we see more often.
The main worry here is that Calgary could have trouble duplicating some of the seasons that were had last year. Sometimes career seasons are called that because they only happen once in a career.
As you can see, I could only come up with one real negative in the worse column. I brainstormed on some others, but none of them really make sense. In the end, it would be a bit of a shock to see the Flames get worse up front. They’ve got a young core of promising forwards to go along with two key additions. Even if the ol regression factor does play a bit of a part, I think the Flames are deep enough to be better this year than they were in 2014-2015.