Ladies and gentleman, children of all ages, the 2015-16 National Hockey League season is almost upon us. Roughly 30 months ago, the Calgary Flames were adrift in a sea of uncertainty. The team had no direction. Then-general manager Jay Feaster pulled the ripcord on the long-overdue rebuild.
And here we are today, as the team has a well-defined culture, a sense of an upward trajectory and organizational momentum, and they’re coming off a trip to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs – fueled in large part by a willingness to rely on young players to drive the team forward. Life’s strange sometimes.
To help preview the 2015-16 campaign, may we present the best and brightest of Flames writers to share their thoughts on the upcoming season. For an added bonus, read last year’s roundtable and laugh about how thoroughly wrong we were!
Our panel: Ryan Pike, Ari, Byron Bader, RexLibris, Mike Cadarette, Beloch, the Book of Loob and Kent Wilson.
Let’s get the dirty work out of the way: where do the Flames finish in the division and with how many points?
Ryan: After chasing Anaheim for a good chunk of the year for first place, the Flames hit a slide late and finish third in the division with around 100 points.
Ari:: Third in the division, let’s say 96 points.
Byron: I see them finishing second in the division. A ways behind Anaheim and just ahead of LA by a few points. I’ll say 100 points on the nose.
RexLibris: I’m guessing behind Anaheim and Los Angeles easily, somewhere around 90-ish points.
Mike: It’s not too farfetched to think they can reach the 100 point plateau this season. I’ll say the place second in the division (behind Anaheim) with 102 points.
Beloch: Second. I think the Flames will surpass the Canucks this season, but not the Ducks. The Flames might push past 100 points, but not by far. Meaningful hockey is likely to continue right until the last week or two of the season.
Book of Loob: So weird to say this, but I think they can be a mid to high 90’s team
that finishes with a playoff berth. It could be a long shot, but the
team is better than they were last year, and I don’t know if other teams
improved enough to stop them.
Kent: I’ll be optimistic for a change. 3rd, 97 points.
Do the Calgary Flames make the playoffs?
Ryan: Yes, but barely.
Ari: It’s a fight to the end, but yeah, I think they do. Part of that is due to the Pacific not being a particularly great division, though.
Byron: Yes. Perhaps mostly cause they’re division is no good. I see them being in the top three in the division for sure.
RexLibris: No, but only just.
Mike: Absolutely, yes, but only by a three or four points.
Beloch: Yes, with the usual caveat that badly timed injuries to the wrong guys would jeopardize that.
Book of Loob: I should read all the questions first.
Now you guys don’t know what I think
What about the 2015-16 edition of the Flames makes you excited?
Ryan: The continued emergence of their home-grown talent. I’m curious what Micheal Ferland can be over an 82-game season. I’m curious if Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau can continue to mature as hockey players. Can T.J. Brodie continue his growth? Can Lance Bouma sustain his play? So many interesting storylines, just in terms of their internal talent.
Ari: The additions of Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik, as well as Sam Bennett’s rookie season. Bringing in two outstanding players and one of the brightest hopes for the future to improve the team is really, really exciting. The Flames were already a top-heavy team, and they still are; now, though, that top is even better, and the depth is better as a result.
Byron: Gaudreau emerging as a superstar. DOUGIE! Bennett … very interested in his first year. Frolik has really impressed in the previous season. Curious if he can take another step from previous seasons with more ice time and responsibility.
RexLibris: That defense should be a pleasure to watch.
Mike: Where to start. The sheer depth of the forward group, for starters. Outside of the superstars like Gaudreau, Monahan and Hudler, the Flames shouldn’t hurt too bad if injuries take place. That defence is scary and with a blue line like that, you have to think whoever’s in goal will be alright.
Beloch: Last season, the Flames really only had one defensive pair that could drive play North. Once Brodie is healthy they’ll have two. Frolik and Bennett (who has consistently driven play North in the pre-season), promise to help tilt the ice as well. I’m eager to see what players like Giordano and Brodie, who have been buried in defensive zone starts thus far in their careers, can do if Hartley is suddenly able to give them some of the high ground formerly reserved for Wideman and Russel. This team might be at a tipping point in terms of possession.
Book of Loob: The Flames have enough good players in the organization now that
they can realistically roll out teams that don’t feature Engelland,
Smid, Bollig, Colborne, or Raymond.
The idea that Sam
Bennett could play on a line with Backlund and Frolik and that that
could become the most important line in all of hockey.
A Norris trophy for Mark Giordano, now that he already has a new contract and can’t use that for leverage.
Kent: A lot. Seeing Gaudreau take a step forward, watching Bennett’s rookie season and Hamilton’s debut.
What about the 2015-16 edition of the Flames fills you with a feeling of impending dread?
Ryan: I’m worried that too much of their 2014-15 success was born on the tides of insanely-high shooting percentage and that the team will not get the bounces in a major way – as in, the bounces go against them massively. The hockey gods giveth and the hockey gods taketh away.
Ari: How much Deryk Engelland is used – especially if T.J. Brodie’s injury means he’ll have to stick with Engelland throughout the season when he gets healthy. I doubt that happens – lines and pairings aren’t usually so set in stone so early – but I can’t say I’m not afraid of it being the case.
Byron: Their shooting percentage and PDO plummet and they lose many games. I don’t think it will happen to the degree done have hypothesized but it still makes me a touch nervous.
RexLibris: I think fans of the Flames should be most concerned about how Hartley deploys this group and the possession game. In each of the last four years the Flames have finished near the bottom of the league in possession metrics and in three of those four have had a place in the standings that almost perfectly coincides. That is a trend, and if the Flames are going to find success with this roster, they will need to start there because they have the talent now.
Mike: Any scenario where Mason Raymond is the lineup for an extended period of time. Oh, and Granlund getting traded. Don’t trade Granlund. That’d be bad news bears.
Beloch: Many will probably say regression of the team’s shooting percentage, but I doubt this will be as significant as many think. Instead, I’m dreading injuries. Treliving has upgraded this team in exciting ways, but injuries are one thing that can undo that utterly.
Book of Loob: Engelland, Smid, Bollig, Colborne, and Raymond playing full seasons.
The Flames deciding Hiller is the most expendable of all their goalies.
Jekyll and Hyde act of Brad Treliving. Good moves seem to be
complemented with puzzling ones. Is that trend going to continue?
length of leash given to Bob Hartley after winning a Jack Adams trophy.
He did well with a team that got pretty lucky last year, but he has
very glaring deficiencies when it comes to evaluating talent on his
roster, and that will always concern me.
Kent: The goaltending makes me a bit nervous and I’m wondering how to what
degree the Flames possession improves/vs the other stuff (OT wins, SH%,
What player that’s on the farm team right now do you think makes the biggest impact on the 2015-16 roster?
Ryan: I will go with Garnet Hathaway, who was excellent in training camp and probably gets the first call-up if a bottom-six winger goes down. My alternate is mid-season Ryan Culkin.
Ari: I don’t think anyone currently on the farm team is going to have that big of an impact this season, unless there’s another sale at the trade deadline that opens up a spot for the rest of the year. So… Emile Poirier. (Though if Markus Granlund ends up being the final cut and getting sent down, well, him, because he’d almost certainly be the first recall.)
Byron: I’ll say Bill Arnold. Perhaps an injury sidelines a bottom 2 center and Arnold emerges and takes a job.
RexLibris: That’s a tough one, but off the top of my head I’d say Kylington. It has been a long time since the Flames really had a defensive prospect to legitimately boast of. The AHL tends to be a little more chaotic than the NHL, and there will be some growing pains as he adjusts to the North American game from his European experience, but he has experience playing in quite a few different leagues now and his game is defined by being proactive rather than reactionary. It may be painful at times, most defensemen’s development is, but I have a feeling he’s going to be one fans will notice, both for better and worse, and will elicit some excitement by Christmas.
Mike: Garnet Hathaway. With the way Bouma, Ferland, Byron and maybe even Bennett throw their bodies around with reckless abandon, I could see Hathaway up with the big club for 25-30 games. He’s the type of player who doesn’t play all that differently from Jooris, so he could make an impact and uphold the #neverquit motto.
Beloch: Kulak has made the team, which sort of shuts the doors on other AHL defenders for now. The crease is already too crowded. I’m going to have to go with a forward, but it’s too hard to pick just one. This may be the year Stajan is traded, so one of Granlund or Arnold is likely to be big down the stretch.
Book of Loob: This one was made easier with the news today: Paul Byron (assuming he
doesn’t get claimed on waivers). The guy should have made the opening
day squad and one hopes he’s the first one recalled when there are
injuries (or, hopefully, Bollig and Colborne trades!) You may have a
problem with Pauly never scoring on breakaways, but the guy generates
offense pretty much every time he’s out there, and that’s what you want.
Kent: I’m not sure anyone on the farm will have an impact this year. Maybe
Nakladal works his way back up and becomes a legit 3rd pairing?
Yes or no: are the Flames off-season acquisitions enough to avoid the oft-prediction statistical regression of the team’s performance? (Sub-question: if no, what else could they have done?)
Ryan: Somewhat. The team’s older players all won’t have career years again, but the younger players might, and it’s their growth – and the replacement of pluggers with actual 200-foot hockey players – that’ll push things in the right direction. I do fear we’ll see a stretch like that December losing streak where the team plays well but they cannot score a goal despite themselves.
Ari: I… don’t know. I want to say yes, but I don’t know if that’s fandom blinding me or what. I’m really not sure what else they could have done, though; I mean, getting Hamilton in and of itself was massive and far more than could have ever realistically been expected.
Byron: Yes ish. They recognized that they needed to get better on the possession front and addressed it with two great adds in Hamilton and Frolik. They are also actively trying to build a better possession game internally. More carry ins more time on attack. I think they’ll be a middle of the road possession team this year. 15th to 20th.
RexLibris: No. Frolik and Hamilton are solid additions but the Flames would need to improve their possession metrics by a full 5.5% CorsiFor, 4.2% FenwickFor. Nine teams stood between a 50% Corsi or Fenwick rating, so this is no small mountain to climb and it can’t be resolved by the addition of only two players. Ultimately, I believe this will only be addressed by a change in coaching tactics or coaching staff.
Mike: I’m a little concerned about their shooting percentage regressing, but when it comes to their possession statistics, I’m confident that big minute-eaters like Frolik and Hamilton will remedy those underlying numbers.
Beloch: The Flames’ high shooting percentage last season was driven mainly by the top line. Some players are likely to regress (e.g. Bouma), but Gaudreau, Monahan, and Hudler will likely continue shooting well above league average. As such, I doubt regression will be as big of an issue as some think. If this team stays healthy, the improvement in possession rates could result in the team taking another step forward instead of merely treading water. Treliving exceeded expectations this summer. He would have needed a crystal ball to do better (e.g. by knowing what Franson would eventually sign for in Buffalo).
Book of Loob: I think so. Frolik and Hamilton alone should really help, as it limits
ice time for a lot of guys who shot well above what they’re normally
capable of last year, so hopefully that can quell some of the regression
to the mean. And if Gio (don’t ever call him #TheCaptain) can stay
healthy all season, that means big strides as well. Breaking up Wideman
and Russell can’t hurt either.
Kent: Possibly, if the kids take a step forward
the coaching staff adjusts the strategy from “collapse and
counter-punch” to “keep the puck in the offensive zone”. We’ll see.