The 2016-17 season is dead. Long live the 2016-17 postseason.
Before the season started, we gave our thoughts on how things would go. This was before a single regular season game was played; before Johnny Gaudreau signed a contract, even. (Remember those days? I totally forgot everyone being mad at Gaudreau the first time, before he hit a scoring slump mid-season and people wanted to trade him. Yikes, it’s been a tumultuous year.)
As you know, we here at FlamesNation are Certified Experts™ who are always right. Or so we’d at least like to think. So let’s revisit our thoughts from late September, and see just how on the mark we were.
1. Which of the new arrivals are you most excited about this season?
The general consensus? Brian Elliott. That one took a while to come together, but it paid off in a big way – after spending so much of the season with a save percentage under .900, Elliott rebounded with an outstanding finish to the year, dragging himself up to .910 and helping cement the Flames as a playoff team, particularly by virtue of his new personal best 11 wins in a row. Elliott was huge for the Flames this season, and they’ve got to feel good knowing he’s in net to kick off the postseason.
Other names that popped up were Chad Johnson (also justified early on) and Matthew Tkachuk (sure, seems obvious now, but back then we had no idea if he’d make the team full time). And a major swing and a miss for Christian R. on Troy Brouwer. Whoops.
2. Pick a prospect you think will make the team out of camp. Explain.
Tkachuk got shoutouts from most of us, but wasn’t always the surefire pick. A number of us went with Hunter Shinkaruk, and to be fair, he did play seven games for the Flames this season… on the fourth line… averaging 10:35 minutes a game and not being put in a position to succeed at all… so that did not go well. Shinkaruk does have 34 points in 49 AHL games right now, which puts him behind only Linden Vey and Mark Jankowski for Heat points per game, so it’s not like our enthusiasm was totally misplaced, but it wasn’t exactly justified, either.
Christian R. made up for his Brouwer miss with a solid Brett Kulak pick. (Christian T. got this one right, too.) Kulak only played 21 games for the Flames this season, not that that’s really on him – considering some of the defencemen that have been – or still are – on the Flames, it’s downright baffling Kulak wasn’t a proper full timer.
Beloch completely missed with his Daniel Pribyl guess, while Ryan Pike was a little too hype on Mark Jankowski, who did at least make his NHL debut.
3. Do you think any of the PTOs will be offered contracts?
Chris Higgins, Lauri Korpikoski, Nicklas Grossmann were the main guys. We were all like, not really, no. But then Grossmann was signed. He played three games for the Flames. They went poorly. So maybe we should have been right on this one.
4. How do you think Glen Gulutzan will differ from Bob Hartley?
Oh man, wasn’t coaching an absolute trip this past season? Let’s fire this guy one game in– 10 games in– is 20 games in enough? It took a while to come around on him, but it’s looking good so far; in his first season Glen Gulutzan has gotten the Flames to the playoffs, and in a more trustworthy fashion than Bob Hartley did. In general, we were expecting a more structured, puck possession style game, and eventually, that’s what we got.
Player usage was a big sticking point for some of us, and Gulutzan did have an irrational obsession with Alex Chiasson for a time, but that actually ended up correcting itself in the end. Maybe not as soon as we would have liked, but I, at least, found Gulutzan less married to his choices and more willing to try new things – and often getting rewarded for them (see: putting Tkachuk on Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik’s line, uniting Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton, playing Micheal Ferland with Gaudreau and Sean Monahan).
The Flames are better off under Gulutzan this year.
5. Based on what we know right now, do the Flames make the playoffs this year?
This is the big one. The 2016-17 was supposed to be a transition year, but you can still make the playoffs out of that. And they did!
Our general consensus was that they would make it in. Not definitively, but it would be close – and it was, though they made it quicker than they did in the 2014-15 season, with four games to spare instead of just one. After that horrific start, they somehow managed to do it. Mike even correctly got that it would take a team collapsing down the stretch to get them in, and the L.A. Kings did just that. (Silly me thought the Kings would be ahead. Whoops!)
Goaltending received a lot of love in our predictions – in terms of both players we were excited to see and how the Flames would make the playoffs – and before we knew anything about how the season was going to go, we were right to be focused on the net.
I think we’re all happy with how this one turned out.