FlamesNation Roundtable: What are you still watching for?

The Flames haven’t exactly had the best season. A three-win October saw them quickly behind the rest of the NHL, but a terrible Pacific Division, combined with an impressive home win streak, kept the dreams of returning to the post-season alive.

But then they fell, again. And while a fair portion of their division fell with them, the teams in California stayed well ahead of the pack, and that was that: the Flames were selling at the deadline, and the season was, essentially, over.

But there were still 21 games to go. A quarter of the season, without any real reason on the surface level to tune in.

Except a lot of us are still around. What have been your reasons for sticking with the team through this final stretch? Here are ours.

ARI: Watching for players to obtain certain milestones: Johnny Gaudreau to finish a point per game and score 30 goals, Sean Monahan to hit 30 goals, Sam Bennett to hit 20; Mikael Backlund, Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton to all reach career highs. Hoping for first NHL goals, like for Derek Grant, Hunter Shinkaruk (check), Emile Poirier, Garnet Hathaway, Brett Kulak, Tyler Wotherspoon. Along those lines, seeing players get a chance in the NHL, whether they be kids (Wotherspoon, Shinkaruk) or older guys (Grant, Jakub Nakladal).

And also because, well, this is it for half a year. Sure, there will be some Flames in the World Championships or the World Cup or whatever, and there will be prospects to cheer for, but this is basically it until October. That’s a really long time to be without this team.

RYAN: I’m more watching individual storylines than anything else. Can the call-ups do decent? Can the veterans maintain some semblance of drive as the season fritters away? Can Hartley coach coherently? Those types of things.

MIKE: I’m only watching for individual performances at this point. I want to see Bennett score 20. I want to see best friends Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik teaming up and driving play. I want to watch T.J. Brodie’s continued emergence and path towards Team Canada (#BrodieForTeamCanada). Finally, I want to keep observing the progress of Jakub Nakladal at the NHL level and Josh Jooris. The latter two are worthy of being re-signed and they’re of value to this team.

TAYLOR: I, like everyone I’m sure, am just focused on individuals. I’ve really liked the feisty play from Shinkaruk so far and I desperately want Derek Grant to score a damn goal. Other than that, I’d love to see Bennett get 20, because that’d be three straight seasons with a flame rookie doing that. Can’t say that about the Daniel Tkaczuk era…

CHRISTIAN: The new faces, mostly. I for one enjoyed seeing Niklas Backstrom’s debut as a Flame, I thought it was kinda cool. It’s gotten old now, but it was fun for one game. Watching Jokipakka be good at hockey gives hope to the future and seeing the AHL kids have their shot offers a intriguing storyline, as well. Tell me it wasn’t awesome seeing Hunter Shinkaruk score his first as a Flame. It’s just the little things at this point.

BYRON: Gaudreau to finish ppg. Bennett to score 20.

BELOCH: I’m still watching because, gosh darn it, I love hockey (and am somewhat masochistic). The Flames have had a disappointing season, but it seems more like a shady reflection of last season than anything that’s happened up North over the last decade. There haven’t been a lot of games where the Flames were badly outplayed, even when league-worst goaltending allowed other teams to score rafts of goals at a time. Like last season, there have been a lot of close games but, unlike last season, random chance has not favoured the Flames. This, along with the developing young stars, has kept this season from wearing out its welcome for me. Also, it’s always entertaining to watch this team brutalize the Oilers!

In terms of things I’m specifically watching, it’s mainly how rookies are coping with the minutes Hartley has been giving them. From what I’ve seen, next season’s opening night lineup could be very different from what it was last season, and in a very good way.