Saying goodbye to the 2015-16 Flames

So this is how it ends. 

Not with the quiet deflation met 11 months ago, an acceptance at having been bested by a superior opponent while clinging to life with the skin of teeth. Rather, with personal bests across the board and smiling, youthful faces living out their dreams and getting a shot.

The latter is much more pleasant, but much more hollow. It shows a promise of a future: a future already met by the former. We already lived it. Not for long, but we did. And in comparison, this is cheap. 

Two steps forward, one step back. This season was the step backwards. It was coming, it was expected, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.

The Flames could not possibly repeat the success they did last season. The most optimistic went with it, of course, but even those on the more pessimistic side of things figured it had to at least be possible. A division title? Absolutely not. A playoff appearance? Entirely likely.

At least until Sept. 21, when the season ended before it even started.

In a meaningless pre-season game, T.J. Brodie broke his hand. In doing so, he unwittingly established himself as the Flames’ most valuable player. By the time he was able to return to game action just over a month later, he met a team in disaster: two wins, three goalies, no wait they finally waived that guy, no wait the other guy got injured the waived guy has to come back now, and also, everyone is bad.

Brodie stepped on the ice. Brodie was immediately the best player on said ice. Brodie continued stepping on the ice for a team that had already wasted a month, he and Johnny Gaudreau the only ones truly worth watching. Gaudreau, the new favourite around town, a smaller, high-skilled left winger taking the place of a bigger, high-skilled power right winger.

Gaudreau, who was scoring. And… still scoring. And… didn’t seem to stop scoring? Every game, there was a point. If he missed a point one game, there would be two the next. And then most of the season was already gone, the Flames being forced into acceptance of failure, and he was still doing it. It wasn’t a hot start, it was a sophomore player announcing himself as one of the top offensive threats in the entire sport.

But still, one of the top young forwards and one of the top young defencemen weren’t enough. They weren’t enough to overcome bizarre player usage, horrific special teams that barely ever got their acts together, over-expensive depth players who hurt more than helped, and season-killing goaltending.

Instead, the Flames were forced to trade away some faces familiar over the past three, four years. David Jones, Kris Russell, and Jiri Hudler all moved on, bringing back picks and a prospect and two Finns: one, an older guy who would turn into a feel-good story; the other, Kevin. Dennis Wideman was effectively gone as well, a bizarre and damaging collision with a linesman causing seemingly endless off-ice drama. While it didn’t technically end his season – an injury three games into his delayed return did – it might as well have.

This opened doors. Jakub Nakaldal’s presence could no longer be ignored, and he showed himself a superior depth option. Tyler Wotherspoon perhaps earned himself a contract extension by being the same. A player like Derek Grant showed he could be every bit as effective as any other fourth liner, for a fraction of the cost others boasted. Garnet Hathaway did the same; Kenny Agostino and Freddie Hamilton suggested they might be able to do even more. The Markus Granlund-Hunter Shinkaruk swap upgraded a player who had been taking up Sam Bennett’s spot at centre to a player who may be able to score more one day, maybe a day as early as next season.

And amidst it all, Joni Ortio – abandoned in the press box for the first month of the season, then to the bench for the second month, and finally, to the AHL until just before the trade deadline – was finally given a chance at consistent starts. And though he didn’t always perform, he looked like he might have more to show. He cemented himself as the best possible option, which isn’t exactly saying much, but it’s something. It just took until the season was dead to get to that point.

Perhaps one of the greatest shames of the season was that it took so long to experiment. Trying new combinations or prospects was basically unheard of until the season was already over. 

New acquisitions weren’t always well-used. While there was a great deal of excitement over Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik in the off-season – because they were both the exact players the Flames needed, and getting Hamilton in particular was so out of left field, so much better than could have been expected – Hamilton was buried after a rough start (one that the entire team had) and Frolik could occasionally be found at the bottom in regards to ice time, not to mention being practically banned from the power play. The very two players the Flames absolutely needed, and they weren’t being used properly.

What was perhaps most bittersweet was the two longest-tenured Flames put together full campaigns and career years to go with them, and have nowhere to go from there. Mikael Backlund played 82 games for the first time ever, and he nearly scored 50 points while doing it. Mark Giordano stayed completely healthy for the first time since his named started entering the Norris Trophy conversation, passed the 50-point mark, and has nothing to show for it. He missed the playoffs last season, and he doesn’t get them this season.

With the right moves, the Flames can easily be back in the dance next season, and maybe even have something to show for it. They have one of the top forwards in the game, and a handful of other quality guys surrounding him. They have one of the best defencemen in the game, and a formidable top three that just needs a little further rounding out.

They need goaltending, which is easier said than done. Quite frankly, they need a new coach. They need to find a way to expunge the awful depth contracts that take up way, way too much cap and roster space.

It’s going to be a long, busy summer. The last one was productive, though. This one can be, too – and if executed correctly, can make a huge difference for the 2016-17 season. 

So hopefully we’ll get fewer hollow feelings. It’s time to move forward.

  • brodiegio4life

    best thing about this season was all the young core guys setting career highs despite the team not being very good. Says a lot about the future of this core and team.

  • MattyFranchise

    Complete 7 game segments:

    2-5-0 October 7 – October 23
    2-4-1 October 25 – November 5
    4-3-0 November 7 – November 20
    4-2-1 November 24 – December 10
    5-2-0 December 12 – December 27
    3-4-0 December 29 – January 13
    2-4-1 January 16 – February 3
    3-4-0 February 5 – February 17
    1-5-1 February 19 – March 1
    4-2-1 March 3 – March 16
    2-4-1 March 18 – March 30
    3-1-1 March 31 – April 9

  • Greg

    Just pictured BTs year end performance review:

    BT: I feel good, we added Hamilton, and Frolik last season. A couple more good moves this off season and we’ll be right back in it.

    BB: look, I added Engelland and Bollig and we got to the 2nd round. This team needs more truculence. Add John Scott and a big Dman or you’re fired.

    I really hope that’s not how it goes…

  • Derzie

    Spot on summary. We need a goalie (ideally Bishop), a top winger (Okposo anyone?), jettison the Wideman, Smid, Bollig bunch, and to give the coach a short leash unless we can land a keeper (Dave Tippet may be available, if so, we get him somehow). I’m not sold on Anderson as a goalie and trading with Anaheim would be a disgusting act. I’d be happy with Reimer though. Whatever it is, no more than 2 goalies to start camp.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      Have the Flames found a loophole in the salary cap that will allow them to add the likes of Bishop and Okposo? Even eliminating the names you mentioned won’t allow the Flames to be players for a big time goalie and a stud winger in FA frenzy. Settle for one.

      I agree with your point on coach, but what if a Tippet or Hitch became available this summer? Would you dump Hartley right away in favour of one of them? I believe the answer should be yes.

      I don’t agree with your comment about trading with Anaheim being a “disgusting act” because if a GM is either scared to trade with a team or stubbornly refuses to, then he is limiting his trade options. You try and trade for the best player available and not overpay regardless of who you trade with.

      I wonder about Anderson’s injury. How long will he be out? What is his prognosis? If he is out for many months, Flames should pass on him because they need their #1 guy in place on opening night in October.

      No way to Jimmy Reimer! Who was the last Leaf–and I am calling him a Leaf because he has spent most of his career as a Leaf–who came to Calgary and made a positive impact? Based on my definition of most of his career as a Leaf, it would be Lanny and that was more than 30 years ago! Jimmy Reimer is not the answer. As much as the Flames want a stud goalie, they may not be able to get one this offseason. They might have to use a temp until someone better comes along, Ortio shoes he is the guy or one of the farmers is ready for market. Reimer as a one-year temp might be agreeable, but I have to think that he can get a multi-year deal with another club.

  • The low dollar, economic uncertainty, tepid support for calgaryNEXT, and a slow start next season will all have me concerned about the futurof NHL hockey in Calgary. I hope my concerns are exaggerated. At least we’ll always have memories of 1986, 1989, and 2004.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    If the Blues get wiped out again in another Black Hawks’ massacre, will Hitch pay the ultimate price? If so, should the Flames go hard to get a coach who has won wherever he has coached but has never won the big one?

    Hitch is a developmental coach. He can make a bad team good, but he cannot make a good team a cup winner. He is an A to B coach, not a B to C coach. In that sense he is like the Murray brothers as coaches.

    Hitch might not be a bad coach for the Flames over the next 3 years, but if the team is pretty good in the third year but not a winner, Hitch has to go. Problem is that most teams have hung onto Hitch too long either out of loyalty or blind faith that he can undo his past failures. The Blues are the most recent example of this. In summary, I am cool with Hitch running the Flames next year, but as the team improves under him–and you know it will–don’t get stupid and extend the guy hoping he will join Crispy as the only other coach to lead the Flames to a cup win. now when to say no to Hitch.