What is the best case scenario for the Flames in 2017-18?

Look. The Flames have grown a ton from this time a year ago. They’ve turned into one of the better possession teams in the NHL, and it’s all been through replacing lesser players with better ones, seeing the young talent they already have grow and thrive, and of course, a coaching change played a bit part in the team’s resurgence – and it became especially obvious once the calendar flipped over to 2017.

On paper, it looks like the Flames are poised for a big season.

Let’s take a moment to wonder just how high they can go if the stars align.

If everything goes right…

… then Mike Smith should, at the very least, keep up his performance from the past couple of seasons. In 2016-17, he posted a .914 save percentage on a very poor Arizona Coyotes team; the season before that, he clocked in at .916. Keep in mind, the Flames, with Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson, posted an average save percentage of .907 throughout the most recent season. If you want to dream really big, though, then Smith doesn’t stop there – he reverts back to his performance in 2011-12, when he was 29 years old, started 67 games, and had a save percentage of .930. That’s a really big ask, and it’s probably not going to happen – it’s only happened the one year – but if everything goes as right as it possibly can, well, this would be a big step forward.

… then Eddie Lack will return to his Vancouver Canucks form. Lack went from a .917 save percentage over 82 games for the Canucks to a .902 save percentage in 54 games for the Carolina Hurricanes. That’s a steep drop, but the division of it is obvious: new team, drastically worse performance. If the Flames can help him rebound from that, then they would have a very solid backup goaltender on their hands; one who could aid Smith throughout a season that should see him play a starter’s workload.

… then Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton do just what they did in 2016-17. Actually, they can probably one-up it now that they should be starting this season as a pairing. Did you enjoy 50+ point Hamilton? Well, with more ice time (and powerplay time in particular), that can easily go up. And Giordano doesn’t seem to be feeling the burden of age quite yet – and he’s only one season removed from a 50+ point year of his own.

… then Travis Hamonic turns out to be the perfect partner for T.J. Brodie, seeing them both rebound from what were pretty much career-worst years, if not close to it. It has been a very, very long time since the Flames have been able to boast a proper top four. Poor contracts and the lionization of overrated players have done their part to make it so. If this pairing reaches its potential, though, then the Flames enter the season with perhaps the strongest top four in the NHL.

… then Michael Stone, like Hamonic, rebounds. It’s a new season, it’s a full season on his new team, and though he may cost a bit much for a fifth defenceman, if all goes well, he should make a case to be the strongest fifth defenceman in the league.

… then Brett Kulak is prepared for full time NHL duty and slides in alongside Stone seamlessly. He’s more than shown in previous NHL stints that he’s ready for a proper chance to hold a regular spot in the lineup. Suddenly the Flames have six puck-moving, mobile defencemen to regularly rotate between. They haven’t had that… maybe ever, actually?

… then Micheal Ferland turns out to not only be the perfect complement for Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, but develops into a proper first line forward in his own right. It sounds as though he’s finally going to get the chance to prove himself, no longer shunted to the fourth line. No; he’s proven he has chemistry with the Flames’ two highest-scoring forwards, something both the eye test and the underlying numbers agree on. The 14.2% shooting percentage may be a bit much to hope for to repeat, but it’s not as though he’s ever been unable to put up high numbers alongside better players – just ask former Brandon Wheat Kings linemate Mark Stone about that. Stone was clearly the better player, but Ferland still scored 96 points in 68 games once upon a time.

… then Johnny Gaudreau’s hands are left alone by opposing players. Because slashing is still illegal in the sport of ice hockey.

… then Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund, ad Michael Frolik keep doing their thing. Actually, scratch that; Tkachuk was a rookie this past season. He stands to get better, and could bring his linemates up with him – after all, that trio already boosts one another regularly as it is. Can you imagine the 3M line being even stronger? It’s certainly possible.

… then Sam Bennett has his breakout season. Bennett was touted as a potential first overall pick in his draft year, and every time he’s played in the NHL playoffs he’s been enthralling. It’s just a matter of finding him the right linemates, now, and him taking his chance and running with it. He may have to fight to earn more ice time now, but if he can do that and build on what he’s accomplished so far – well, who’s going to object to a third line centre with 40+ points?

… then Troy Brouwer rebounds into a 40-point guy in his own right. Scoring-wise, 2016-17 was the worst season of Brouwer’s professional career, with just 25 points scored. That’s not good enough. But if he’s able to go back to the player who would, at the very least, hover around the 40-point mark, then the Flames are doing a much better job of getting their money’s worth – and the lineup is stronger for it.

… then Matt Stajan has another 20-point year. Stajan’s career probably has not gone the way originally envisioned when he was brought to Calgary, going from first line centre to fourth. But he did eclipse the 20-point mark this past season for the first time since 2013-14. If he can do that again, well, how’s that for a fourth line guy?

… then Curtis Lazar develops into the player the Flames felt was worth taking a significant flyer on. They like the player a lot; if he turns into someone not just defensively responsible, but someone capable of putting his enthusiasm to good use and – maybe not scoring three points every four games as he did in his limited stint after being traded to the Flames this past season, but somewhere over the 20 points he scored in 2015-16 – then that’s an investment the team is probably pleased to have made. The more first round picks from 2013, the merrier.

… then whatever prospects make the team not only prove they deserve to be in the NHL, but turn out to be effective contributors in their own right. If we’re really pushing for the best possible scenario, then they’re contributing the same way Tkachuk did in his rookie season.

Dream big

What is the ultimate optimal, but still realistic, outcome for this season?

Quite frankly, if absolutely everything goes right – or most things, at least – then it’s a Stanley Cup. If the Flames made all of the right moves this past season and throughout the offseason, then they have genuinely turned themselves into a contending team, starting a couple of weeks from now. You couldn’t have said that about any recent seasons. Sure, steps were made to get to this point – but they were only steps. Now, they might be there.

If you want to dream big with a strong helping of sentimentality, then here’s one last detail for you: Jarome Iginla captains Team Canada to a gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics. The Flames sign him to a one-year contract after he wins but before the trade deadline, ensuring he’s eligible to play for them during the postseason. The Shift 2.0 happens, except this time, it’s him scoring the Cup-winning goal on home ice. Giordano doesn’t even bother with the pretence of skating up to claim the Cup, just sends Iginla up. And that’s the final moment of his career: Iggy, in a red Flames jersey, standing centre ice in the Saddledome, Stanley Cup at long last hoisted above his head for the first time, beaming that iconic smile of his as the entire building cheers for him.

… But that’s only if, you know, absolutely everything goes right. Everything. Everything. So uh, take notes, guys.

  • Cup hope

    Fair or Unfair

    I have been trying to sort through the spin of the new arena announcements. Nenshi says they have a very fair offer and that the public will agree with him if they understand it. Ken King says it is not fair and that they announced the end of negotiation so that we would not be misled. This seems complex and confusing until I got it down to a personal level. When I look at this from the perspective as a homeowner I think I now understand the conflict.

    My Current Situation:

    1. I rent a home from the city.
    2. It is out of date.
    3. I like the city but I need a new home.
    4. I have got a plan and an estimate of $530,000. (I have no obligation for the home I am renting.)
    5. I approach the City of Calgary to see if we can make a deal as it has land.

    The City of Calgary studies the situation and offers what they say is a “very fair” deal:

    1. They will let me build on their land that is valued at $30,000.
    2. They estimate that it will take about $25,000 to demolish the existing home I am renting.
    3. They will not charge property tax on my new home and they value this contribution at $130,000.

    All the City expect of me is:

    1. I put $185,000 in cash.
    2. I take out a mortgage or get a loan for $185,000 that can be paid for by demanding more money from customers. (This is going to be such a nice home maybe you can make some money by holding concerts.)
    3. I pay the City $185,000 back for what they contributed to my idea. (I can’t realistically expect the city to contribute to a showcase draw that will build value for the city.)

    Just a few additional points:

    1. The City will retain ownership of the land.
    2. I have to remain in the community for 35 years.
    3. The City will hold Stampede parties in my home.

    I add up the cash in versus the cash out and it looks to me like I am still $130,000 short. I must be missing something here because it seems I am being screwed if I accept this deal!!!!

    • Willi P

      Cup, you almost have it right.

      The city does let you build on the land (a parking lot) that they are collecting little or no tax on now but want you to pay $5,000 a year for property tax for the next 35 years. Total would be $175,000 (short) and you still don’t own the land. You would also be responsible for removing the house after 35 years so the city can have their land back.

      The city also plans on developing more houses around you to collect more taxes because you improved the area with you shiny new house.

    • Squishin

      You are indeed missing a big something. You would be using this house to attain revenue that far outpaces anything you invested. Advertisers would be lining up to pay you to advertise in your home. You could sell snacks and drinks for ridiculously high prices and take home 100% of the profit. The city would be helping you with an INTEREST-FREE LOAN in order for you to build your house. All they ask is that you pay property tax to cover their investment. Which, um, EVERYONE has to do?
      You know who else gives interest-free loans? Your parents, and maybe a close friend. That’s it. If the city is offering to do this for your house, why would you not take the deal? Take it and run.

    • The Fall

      Problem is, there is no reasonable metaphor for this situation. Building a house, opening a Tim Hortins, or any other type of building/business is just not a comparable. This is unique in scale and scope.

      No ownership group should be asked to subsidize one business with an unrelated business.
      No city should take public money and give it to a private enterprise.

      A new arena is beneficial to the city, the team, and the league. It’s is upto the parties involved to agree on what all the actual costs and benefits are as a basis for an agreement.

      Politicizing this issue stoopid.

    • Ari Yanover

      We’ve got our Slack conversation for tomorrow – I figure we’ll get a proper roundtable done probably in a week or two, a little closer to the roster being finalized.

  • Squishin

    Love the premise of these articles. Best-case, worst-case. The reality is likely in the middle somewhere, but let’s hope it’s more towards the “best” side!! Can’t wait for the season.

    • Just.Visiting

      Agree. I know what the analytics folks tell me. I also know what my eyes saw. I’ll go with my eyes, and let the analytics folks comment about how CORSI said that the Kings should have been in the Stanley Cup final in June.

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    For me, I have a list of unnaceptables for this team. My top two are a slow start and Sam not breaking out, which was mentioned in the article. It’s something that has to got “right” .

    What’s your top two unnaceptables?

  • Fan the Flames

    The best case is the Flames secure a playoff position with home ice advantage in the 1st round , We have the battle of Alberta in the conference final with the Flames having home ice advantage and capped off with a trip to the cup final . For this to happen Smith will need to give us a season like Kipper , 3M line repeats, Bennett steps up and Johnny looks like the second coming of Marty Gelinas in the playoff. Go Flames Go

  • Just.Visiting

    To me, the keys between another good year and a great year will be Smith performs to expectations, whether Lack/Gillies/Rittich provide a suitable backup who can also step up if there’s an injury, at least one offensive surprise (e.g., Ferland, Bennett, Tkachuk 15 points above expectations, Janko) and whether the third line is a strong third line or performs at a level more similar to last year.

  • HAL MacInnis

    The best case scenario for our Flames is a win at the Honda Center. I’d also be okay with a Duck’s team flight going off course over the Bermuda Triangle, but I’m not a greedy man.

  • Raffydog

    My brother in law told me heard that some of the Flames were in such great shape that the broke some records for the fitness testing. Haven’t seen anything about that, so can anyone confirm this, or is he just blowing smoke out of his nether regions

  • Stajanforadirtyboot

    A perfect start to the year would be Stajan being traded to the Moose jaw warriors for Tim Hunters left dirty boot. That boot could be placed on the 4th line and contribute around 30 points…would be 40 but 10 goals were called back due to the puck being kicked In. This will eclipse what people think a multi million dollar contract contribution of 20 points from Stajan can provide. Tims boot will also come to the aid of teammates and be a stronger presence in the dressing room…after all it’s Tim freaking Hunters boot.

  • Skylardog

    Alright, here is my best case. You will hate it, but it ends well. It all depends on the start, and here’s how it needs to go.

    GG puts Brouwer with Bennett to start the season, and they come out of the gates like a dead horse. Tough schedule in the first 13, and they go 3-9-1. GG has an embarrassing rant in a post game interview after the game 12 blowout by Washington. Management says nothing, and nobody shares a beer with GG cause they are at home and not on a train. They tanked in game 13 against Pittsburgh and get throttled 7-2.

    After an OT loss to NJ in game 14, they get outplayed and beat 4-2 by Vancouver in game 15. They are on an 8 game losing streak, and GG hits the road, replaced by Martin Gelinas on an interim basis. The rest of the coaches are cleaned out as well. Corsi sits at 47.8%.

    Flames then go 3-1-1 in the next 5, and 7-2-1 in the following 10. In there, Lack loses to Colorado, and Rittich takes the backup role after being on fire in Stockton.

    Flames finish strong, ending up just one point back of Anaheim for 1st in the Pacific. The Central gets 5 teams in. The odd team out in the Pacific is Edmonton. Talbot couldn’t live up to his 2016-17 season, and becomes average, which he is. Drysaddle is the goat in Edmonton, as he can only score with McDavid. Oiler fans are crying over the term and money of his now badly overpriced contract.

    Along the way, Flames beat Anaheim on December 29th, ending the curse. Tkachuk-Bennett-Lazar are put together, and by the end of the season are the first line. They pop 4 goals in the 5-2 win in Anaheim.

    Flames beat SJ in round 1 in 5, then take out Anaheim in 6. Nashville goes gown in 6 as well. Really doesn’t matter if they win the cup now, its been a hell of a season, but they do hoist it.

    Brouwer plays 20 games in the season, the first 10, and then only 10 more in the last 72. Stajan retires at the end of the season, and takes a spot on the bench as an assistant to newly confirmed coach Gelinas.

    Flames win 4 of the next 6 cups.

    Finally, Bono hails the Flames dominance in a 2022 during U2’s Farewell Tour. The banners are huge, they have to be because the rafters are so high in new arena.