One of my favourite novels is Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, which you might know better because of the John Cusack film adaptation. In it, the main character finds his actions unconsciously steered by his memories of a bad past breakup. He’s haunted by it. In many ways, you can argue that the Calgary Flames are still haunted by their oh-so-close 2004 Stanley Cup run. The thing that haunts them isn’t the Game 6 (non-)goal by Martin Gelinas, but the games that preceded it.
The 2004 Flames didn’t win the Stanley Cup because they ran out of players in the system who were able to play NHL-caliber hockey. The 2017 Flames are shaping up to be a club that has perhaps the best positional depth at the minor league level than the organization has seen in decades.
Presuming that (a) Mike Smith has an improved season metrics-wise due to playing behind Calgary’s beefed up blueline and (b) Eddie Lack has a bounce-back year with a more defined role as backup, the NHL level’s netminding seems just fine.
On the farm, both Jon Gillies and David Rittich had cups of coffee at the NHL level in 2016-17. Gillies got a win against Los Angeles in his first start, while Rittich gave up a single goal (tipped past him by Dennis Wideman) in his sole period of NHL work. As short-term stopgaps, both seem like they’d be adequate.
We’ve spilled a lot of ink, as have others, discussing the Flames’ defensive group at the NHL level for this fall. Pending other moves, the top five is Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, Dougie Hamilton and Michael Stone. That leaves two NHL jobs open to the gentlemen who are in the second group.
The second group contains five players that have all spent time at the NHL level but haven’t cemented themselves as everyday players yet. The five are Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, Matt Bartkowski, Brett Kulak and Tyler Wotherspoon. My best guess right now is Bartkowski and Kulak have the inside track on the NHL jobs, so the remaining three players (plus AHLer Kayle Doetzel) should form the basis of two pretty good AHL pairings.
Because of waivers and other considerations – like scoring goals – there are 11 players that are functionally locks for the NHL roster: Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Troy Brouwer, Michael Frolik, Mikael Backlund, Matt Stajan, Kris Versteeg, Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Bennett, Micheal Ferland and Curtis Lazar.
Beyond the locks, there are seven players under contract with some NHL experience that all would probably be just fine in a pinch: Mark Jankowski, Hunter Shinkaruk, Emile Poirier, Garnet Hathaway, Marek Hrivik, Freddie Hamilton and Luke Gazdic. In addition, based on last season and player reputations, four others seem like they would probably be decent bets to be adequate short-term NHLers: Spencer Foo, Morgan Klimchuk, Ryan Lomberg and Andrew Mangiapane.
There are probably three jobs to be had at the NHL level, so probably we see Hamilton and two of the remaining players start the season in Calgary – Jankowski and Foo look like good bets right now to push for spots. That would leave eight players as injury replacements or a mid-season cavalry to jump into the lineup without creating a big drop off. Compared to recent years, that represents a big, big improvement in the forward ranks.
Sum it up
The Flames have designs on being contenders this season. The last time they were actual contenders, they ran out of human bodies who could play their system. The moves the Flames have made this summer, combined with the development of some key prospects last year, have at the last given them a variety of depth options for this coming season.