With great fanfare, the Calgary Flames added a pair of new players to the roster in the span of about a week last summer. While Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik led the way among new faces for the Flames, they weren’t the only ones to spend their first seasons with the organization in 2015-16.
With so many negatives this past season, let’s focus on some of Calgary’s bright spots. All three new acquisitions we’ll touch on here qualify as positive stories for me.
The three players I pinpointed for this piece spent the entire year with the Flames organization. As such, I didn’t include guys like Jyrki Jokipakka and Hunter Shinkaruk because their sample size with Calgary was still very, very small. We had a much longer look at these next three guys, though.
You had to really scour the haystack to find someone who didn’t like Calgary’s acquisition of Hamilton from the Boston Bruins at the 2015 Draft. Just a few months later, though, things sounded a whole lot different. Despite being a defender of his throughout, Hamilton definitely went through his fair share of growing pains in the early stages of his time with the Flames. I think it’s fair to say, though, the outlook looks a whole lot rosier now than it did in October and November.
First off, regardless of what you thought of his season, the deal that brought Hamilton here is still a great one in my eyes. Yes, Calgary gave up some picks (a 2015 first and two 2015 seconds) to get him, but they also got a 22-year-old defenceman coming off a 42 point season. In Hamilton, the Flames were getting a first round talent who had already been productive at the highest level. The picks they gave up were, and remain, far more uncertain.
Hamilton struggled early in the season. Back in October, I outlined some of those struggles and what was behind them. It took more time than most were hoping for Hamilton to get comfortable, but as that got better, so did his impact on the ice. Take a look at his splits through his first 24 games (October and November) compared to the final 58 games.
Everything about Hamilton’s game got better in the final four months of the season, whether it be statistically or by the eye test. Whether you think it’s a valid excuse or not, the fact is Hamilton needed some time to settle in. Once he did he was a very productive and useful player and enters next season as the team’s third best blueliner. I very much put Hamilton’s first season with Calgary in the positive column.
The Flames had a glaring need for right wingers going into this past season and their free agent signing of Frolik on July 1st was aimed right at that target. While their arsenal on the right side still needs a great deal of work, Frolik’s first season with Calgary was an overwhelmingly positive one for me and many others.
Frolik’s reputation of being an excellent two-way winger with decent production rang true in his first 64 games with the Flames. As you’ll see in the table below, his possession numbers were very strong while his counting numbers were nothing to flip the bird at.
Let’s add a little context to those numbers above. Frolik barely saw any powerplay time this season; he averaged just 0:26 per game on the man advantage, ranking him 10th among forwards on the team. Just one of his 32 points came on the powerplay meaning he did all of his offensive damage at even strength. Seeing Frolik play a little more with a man up would definitely have boosted his point totals.
On top of that, Frolik was putting up his points while playing some of the most difficult minutes on the team. Along with Mikael Backlund, Frolik saw the toughest head-to-head matchups on a nightly basis and had to deal with a ton of defensive responsibility. That makes his possession rate and scoring chance rate that much more impressive and puts his final point total in better perspective, too.
The only negative about Frolik’s first season with Calgary was the fact he missed 18 games due to injury; the team is noticeably better when he’s in the lineup. Based on his recent history, it’s a good bet Frolik plays close to a full season next year. Judging on his first year with the Flames, that is a very good thing to hope for.
I won’t go into as much detail on Nakladal because we touched on him last week in an article about Daniel Pribyl. Nakladal still deserves some praise, though, because his first season in North America was a really positive one. Using the same table from last week, you can see how Nakladal fared in his first 27 NHL games.
Nakladal turned into a really nice signing for the Flames and gave them some really good value. He’s a very gifted skater with decent offensive instincts. I liked him on the powerplay and I think he could be a nice fit on the second unit full time next year. Nakladal has admitted his defensive game still needs some work, but I didn’t see it was a liability.
I liked what I saw from Nakladal, but I’m well aware the sample size is small. Right now, though, I’d be comfortable with him as a third pairing guy next year even if we don’t see a ton of improvement. Fortunately, I think we are going to see some solid progression from Nakladal next season, assuming the team brings him back. I think a new contract is the way to go, which is enough for me to label Nakladal’s first year with the Flames organization as a solid one.