The Calgary Flames have done a lot to prepare for the 2017-18 season. They’ve shed dead weight. They’ve added to their depth. The parts of the roster that needed to be overhauled have been; the parts that didn’t have been left alone. And this time around, they shouldn’t be caught flatfooted to start; not with a season’s worth of experience with new, better systems under their belts.
All in all, it should add up to an exciting season, and one with a lot of potential.
But what if it doesn’t?
If everything goes wrong…
… then Mike Smith is not the answer. In 2014-15, he posted a save percentage of .904 over the course of 62 games played. If he reverts back to that, age catches up with him, or anything worse, then all of the good the Flames may have worked to achieve over the offseason could be made a non-factor by their goaltending. And since this is about the worst possible scenarios, let’s rub some salt in the wound: Brian Elliott returns to his .930 save percentage form.
… then Eddie Lack can’t recover from his time in Carolina. If it turns out the .921 save percentage he posted for the Canucks in 2014-15 was a fluke, and his true form is the .902 player he was over two seasons with the Hurricanes, then the Flames will be in trouble. Their only feasible option in net would either be one of two thus far unproven goalies who each need likely at least another season in the AHL, or a kid stepping out of junior into his first professional year: not something you want, even in a pure rebuilding year.
… then age catches up to Mark Giordano. Despite the drop in points the previous season, Giordano still played at a high level. He will, however, be 34 to start the next season, and it stands to reason that at some point, his age will being to affect his play negatively. The Flames may have improved their defence over this offseason, but losing your top defenceman to the ravages of time is still a tough thing to recover from.
… then Travis Hamonic does not rebound from his poor 2016-17 season. Once upon a time, when his trade request was first announced, Hamonic was an extremely attractive commodity. That didn’t change when the request was rescinded; however, he had quite possibly the worst season of his career – and was one of the worst defencemen in the NHL from a corsi standpoint – this past season. At just 27 years of age, his career shouldn’t be deteriorating at this stage, but if this is indeed the beginning of the end then the Flames are in trouble – and they remain without a functional second pairing, as T.J. Brodie would still be without a partner, and his chances for a bounceback season of his own go down, too.
… then everything that applies to Hamonic applies to Michael Stone as well. Two bets on two defencemen who had poor seasons this past year. Two losses would take that vaulted best defence in the NHL and decimate it.
… then Brett Kulak is not ready for the NHL. Neither is Tyler Wotherspoon, for that matter. Neither is Juuso Valimaki, nor Rasmus Andersson, nor Oliver Kylington. Nobody is ready, and somebody needs to fill a regular spot in the lineup.
… then Micheal Ferland is not suited for the first line. He’s a fine enough player, sure – but maybe his ceiling is that of a depth guy. Pinning one’s hopes on a third liner to be the answer to the team’s top two scorers on the top line isn’t disastrous, but it does impede that line from its true potential. The Flames will need scoring from somewhere – and if Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan don’t have a linemate who can keep up with them, then their line is worse off. Their line being worse off is worse for the team as a whole, too. Ferland can be a responsible presence on the ice, but if he can’t score, then he doesn’t belong on the top line – and the Flames don’t appear to have any other options at this time.
… then Johnny Gaudreau is the target of multiple hand slashes and other such impediments, nothing is done about it, and the Flames once again lose their top scorer. Worse yet, he’s out for longer than expected, and is affected by his injuries that he’s a shadow of himself when he returns.
… then the 3M line was a fluke. Matthew Tkachuk had an outstanding rookie season, but maybe he gets absolutely demolished by a sophomore slump of some kind. (I’m not sure where this would come from – he played well in tough circumstances and his shooting percentage of 9.2 was perfectly reasonable – but for the sake of argument, let’s just say it happens.) Furthermore, Mikael Backlund’s stable ad good health has allowed him to truly properly break out over these past two seasons. If injuries strike him again, the Flames are down one of their most important players in their lineup, and will basically be without a shutdown line.
… then Sam Bennett does not find his form. He went from 36 points in his rookie year to 26 in his sophomore; say that continues to decline as Bennett continues to get less ice time, lower quality linemates, and is entrenched in the path of a downward spiral. The Flames’ comfortable centre depth suddenly turns rather vulnerable without Bennett.
… then Kris Versteeg’s feel-good story from the previous season turns sour real quick. Since a 54-point season with Florida in 2011-12, he has consistently hovered around the mid-upper 30s in points, which is very good for all that’s being asked of him at this time in his career. However, he saw more of a reliance on the powerplay to score goals in 2016-17 than he did in previous years (seven even strength goals compared to eight powerplay goals; in the preceding seasons he was scoring 11, 12, and 13 even strength goals). Having a player be something of a powerplay specialist is one thing; seeing his production perhaps start to rely on it is something else all together.
… then Troy Brouwer cannot rebound, and only gets worse from here on out. He did not have a pretty season in 2016-17, pulling in a professional career low in points with just 25 and hurting his linemates when he shared the ice with them, and if he can’t improve, then it’s going to be another awkward – at best – season from him.
… then Matt Stajan falls off of a cliff and basically is no longer an NHLer. He has one year left on his contract, so this isn’t as disastrous as it could be, but it’s still not ideal to have a player essentially locked into the NHL roster prove to be a danger every time he may step on the ice.
… then Curtis Lazar is not everything the Flames hoped he would be, but basically turns into a low-scoring, defensively poor player they specifically sought out and paid a price to acquire. He ends up not being a player for the present, let alone a player for the future.
… then absolutely no forward prospects are ready to take the next step. And with spots still open in the forward lineup, then those spots will go unfilled – and the lineup will be much weaker for it, unable to throw out the necessary players to counter an opposing team’s attack, let alone score any goals themselves.
Cower in terror
What is the absolute worst case, but still realistic, outcome for the Flames this season?
That they have no arena to play in and forfeit all of their home games.
Basically the worst thing that could happen to the Flames this season is a culmination of unideal events: that none of the new players they acquired fit in, nobody is capable of a bounceback season, and players who had good years previously either decline or get injured. They probably don’t turn into the 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche – not unless absolutely everything goes wrong to a comical extent – but it’s certainly not pretty. Only a small handful of players are capable of scoring, only a small handful are capable of playing anything that resembles defence, and the goaltending is so putrid that they’re pulling the goalie with 10 minutes left in the third anyway because it’s pretty much the same as having one of their netminders in there. Oh, and then they lose the draft lottery on top of that, because why not?
It’s probably not going to get that bad, though. Not unless the Wideman Effect cannot be exorcised or there’s a league commissioner threatening vague consequences in the team’s direction. And what are the chances of that?
(Don’t worry, I’m not a monster. Another piece on the best case scenario for the Flames will be up later today!)