33Sean Monahan
Photo Credit: Candice Ward / USA Today Sports

How have the Calgary Flames gotten here?

The Flames have come a long way from floundering about in desperation to make the playoffs. They’ve come a long way from their lacklustre goal of only making eighth place, under the guise of “anything can happen,” as if a 35-year-old Jarome Iginla and 36-year-old Miikka Kiprusoff could do what the 26- and 27-year-old versions did. They’ve come a long way from both no postseason and poor draft picks, a team mired in mediocrity with no direction.

They may not go all the way this year, but this should be the first season in which they actually start contending.

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2013 lockout season

This was the beginning of the end for the previous iteration of the Flames. Starting this season, the Flames were still going for it, hence the additions of Jiri Hudler and a new up tempo coach in Bob Hartley, and… No. No, this wasn’t going to work out.

And so the fire sale began. Jay Bouwmeester was shipped off for a first round pick (Emile Poirier), Mark Cundari, and Reto Berra. More importantly, Jarome Iginla was traded for a first round pick (Morgan Klimchuk), Ben Hanowski, and Kenny Agostino.

The returns from those trades weren’t important. What was important was that the Flames had committed to a rebuild by getting rid of two of their higher profile players, including the face of the franchise. Better returns would have helped increase the pace of the rebuild, but it was more important that it was happening to begin with.

And they did nail it with one first round pick: Sean Monahan. With his drafting, the Flames finally had someone who could develop into a number one centre, and the rebuild was officially underway.

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2013-14 season

It’s one thing to say you’re ready for your favourite team to rebuild, and it’s another thing to actually watch them go about it. Sure, the promise of the future always hangs overhead, but in the meantime, you’re going to be subjected to some very bad hockey for six months.

And make no mistake: the 2013-14 season was a bad one for the Flames. Even if it was by design, it was still something that 35-40-7 team had to go through, resulting in the highest pick in franchise history.

But even as the season slogged on, the foundations of today’s Flames started to emerge. Monahan earned an NHL spot immediately, and while it didn’t seem he should have played the full season in the big league, he still performed admirably and set hope for the team’s future with his play. Mark Giordano burst onto the scene, looking like a player who not only should have represented Team Canada at the Olympics, but a genuine Norris contender. Johnny Gaudreau made his NHL debut, and Sam Bennett was drafted.

Off the ice, there was an important switch, too: Jay Feaster was out, and by season’s end, Brad Treliving was in.

2014-15 season

The second year of the rebuild brought with it more bad hockey, more hope for the future, and a surprise playoff appearance thanks to some league-average goaltending and league-best shooting.

Before the season started, there was some question of whether Gaudreau would be in the NHL or the AHL. It seems ludicrous to think of now, but back then it was a debate – at least until Gaudreau silenced all notions of that in the preseason and then for good early on in the regular season. Most importantly, he proved to have chemistry with Monahan, while Giordano continued to look like his breakout 2013-14 self, and suddenly, the Flames had the beginning of a foundation.

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The bonus playoff appearance was nice, but what was even better was Treliving’s realistic assessment of his team. Yes, they were in a playoff position; no, they weren’t likely to do anything with it. So he sold at the trade deadline, acquiring picks, and directly leading to the turning point of the rebuild.

It was one thing to have a couple of budding young, talented forwards and a really good defensive pairing.

It was another thing entirely to scoop up a freshly turned 22-year-old defenceman already displaying signs of number one, Norris candidate upside.

For all of the good the Flames had been slowly building since starting their rebuild, acquiring Dougie Hamilton kicked everything into overdrive. Drafting Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington – who have still yet to make their NHL presences felt – was just the cherry on top, en route to re-stacking what had been a dismal group of prospective defencemen. But getting Hamilton signalled the Flames were almost there.

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2015-16 season

The Flames targeted Michael Frolik to kick off the 2015-16 season, and with two solid additions, they were off – to wander the desert, waiting for the chance to cast off poor contracts. It was like the 2013-14 season, but further along: young talent establishing itself, old mainstays finally getting the respect they deserved (looking at you, Mikael Backlund), but still stuck at the bottom of the league.

Not that the Flames couldn’t be productive. They once again sold at the trade deadline, but the real meat came in the offseason, with the firing of Bob Hartley, the addition of Glen Gulutzan, and the drafting of Matthew Tkachuk. The coaching change represented a Flames team getting ready to take the next step forward, while there was no predicting just how good their latest sixth overall pick would be.

2016-17 season

The season started poorly, as the team took its time to adjust to Gulutzan, and he to them. Kris Versteeg came in, but the defensive pairings were a mess. Hudler was gone, and there was no suitable winger for Monahan and Gaudreau. Much of the progress made over the course of the rebuild had stagnated, with the two players the worst off being T.J. Brodie and Bennett.

But then they adjusted to Gulutzan, and started playing his system. Chances against went down, as the Flames went from one of the teams that gave up some of the most corsi events against to one that gave up some of the fewest. A linemate for Monahan and Gaudreau appeared to have been found. Tkachuk helped boost Backlund’s shutdown line to unbelievable levels. Hamilton stepped in next to Giordano and elevated the pairing to a level Brodie hadn’t quite been able to.

They made the playoffs. They lost quickly, though this was a much better lineup put together than the one from 2014-15.

And with that, many of their poor contracts expired, and it became possible to fill in the remaining holes in the roster: primarily by paying big for Travis Hamonic, and waiting around for Jaromir Jagr.

Look at where you are, look at where you started

Here is a rough approximation of a standard lineup from the 2013 lockout season (it’s been a while, I know these players appeared in most of the games but the lineup is a bit of guesswork).

Alex Tanguay Mike Cammalleri Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross Matt Stajan Jiri Hudler
Blake Comeau Mikael Backlund Lee Stempniak
Roman Horak Roman Cervenka Tim Jackman
Sven Baertschi Steve Begin
Mark Giordano Jay Bouwmeester
T.J. Brodie Dennis Wideman
Chris Butler Cory Sarich
Derek Smith
Miikka Kiprusoff
Joey MacDonald

Now, here’s roughly the lineup we can expect this season, or at least something rather similar to it, once all of the pieces fall back into place.

Johnny Gaudreau Sean Monahan Micheal Ferland
Matthew Tkachuk Mikael Backlund Michael Frolik
Kris Versteeg Sam Bennett Jaromir Jagr
Matt Stajan Mark Jankowski Troy Brouwer
Tanner Glass Curtis Lazar Freddie Hamilton
Mark Giordano Dougie Hamilton
T.J. Brodie Travis Hamonic
Brett Kulak Michael Stone
Matt Bartkowski
Mike Smith
Eddie Lack

Backlund, Stajan, Brodie, and Giordano have been present throughout the entire turnaround. Over that time, Backlund and Giordano grew into elite players, Brodie grew from a rookie to a responsible defenceman, and Stajan fell from being one of the team’s top players to a depth role on the fourth line.

Three of those players were homegrown talents. Another six have joined them; seven, depending on Jankowski’s status (I am very much positive he will be back rather soon; in the meantime, Garnet Hathaway fills in). A handful of smart free agent signings – Frolik, Versteeg, Jagr – have supplemented them, while some key trades – Hamilton, Hamonic – have helped solidify the lineup.

It hasn’t been a perfect rebuild. There have been some obvious missteps along the way, some unfortunately recent. But once they committed to tearing the old foundation down and putting a new one up, the Flames made notable progress, year by year.

Going into the 2013 lockout season, this team thought it could make the playoffs. Eighth place in the conference was an acceptable goal, because a decade-old philosophy said that as long as you got in, anything could happen.

Going into this upcoming season, this is a team that should make the playoffs with ease, and should contend for home ice. They are above an eighth place finish. They are on the path to sustainable, repeated success. That’s what these past five seasons have been about – and now we’re here.

    • Flaming1

      I’m withholding my excitement for Jagr. What does it say about our forward depth when we sign a 45 year old legend for only 1ml. Obviously he wasn’t a hot commodity.
      Let’er rip tater chip!! Go ?

    • moore_tweets

      @puckhead. I agree. Our 4th line needs some serious work. Boat anchor is hopefully on the way out. Stajan is most likely done. But, Jankowski is something to be pumped about, and I’m sure we’ll will see more Foo or Porier this season.

  • Day1-Cfan

    Still disappointment with managements decision yesterday, but I have calmed down a bit. I would have still liked to see Treliving and or GG face the media yesterday after the roster annoucement(or did they) and not hide.
    Now we are 12 hours away from puck drop and I have high expectations for the Flames this, sure hope these players come out and back the numbers on their paycheques with some inspired play throughout the WHOLE season. GFG!

    • BendingCorners

      We could be waiting a while. From rumour to fact the Jaromir signing took nearly eight weeks. The “trading Troy” rumour seems more like wishful thinking but I’ve crossed all my fingers and toes and T’s.

  • Raffydog

    Even if the Flames manage to totally botch this season and end up with 1 win and 81 losses, as long as that 1 win is against the Ducks in Anaheim, I think I would still be happy with that.

  • I'm Ron Burgundy?

    Great to look back year over year. Puts a lot of the negative reactions to the opening night roster into perspective, no? The fact that everyone is so upset about the make-up of the 4th line and not the top 6 forwards really shows how well this re-build has progressed.

    A solid top 9 forward group top 4 D on paper – and Janks will be back very soon to continue his progression. The good pipeline of Goalie (Parsons, Gilles & Rittich), LHD (Valimaki and Kylignton) and RHD prospects (Fox and Andersson) means we can focus on trading for (I’m looking at you, Stone) and drafting wingers. I can’t remember the last time there was so much to love about the present AND future state of the Flames.

    Let’s have a good season FN….and stay classy

  • Atomic Clown

    The reason the 4th line looks…not good is mainly because of how much its getting paid. If Stajan and Brouwer were making half of what they are currently making, the line would be deemed decent. I dont know if Versteeg and Jagr will be back next year, but that alone opens up two spots. Stajan for sure isnt back, so thats three. If Brouwer is a tire fire this season, im pretty sure hell get traded with salary retained; flames arent going to buy him out. Optimistically, 4 spots, realistically, 3. Do we have three players to step in and play 82 games in the NHL?

    • I'm Ron Burgundy?

      You forgot to mention Glass – he better not be here next year either.

      Janks is already there, Poirier looked really close, and Hathaway is a capable 4th liner already. At least one of Klimchuk, Dube, Foo, Shinkaruk, and Mangiapane better be ready for full time duty in 2018/2019.

      Stay classy AC

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    One thing you forgot to mention, and it’s the most important thing.

    Burke hired Treliving. I don’t like Burke, but that was a shrewd, awesome hiring, and we owe him for it.

  • Off the wall

    Thanks Ari.

    Treliving has done a lot of great things with this club. I think we can all agree with this.

    He’s well aware of his past faux pas and not eager to duplicate them again.To me it speaks of a great GM.

    Here’s the thing: Treliving has given GG a team that should be competitive, day-in and- out.
    Now it’s up to GG to utilize this team properly. If he can make the necessary adjustments “on the fly,” that would be a indication that he is worthy of coaching this team to a successful season.
    I know we have our GG doubters. I think it was player usage that had most of us confused. I don’t foresee this being an issue this year. We will have 3 solid lines. A solid top 4 defensive corps.

    If Smith plays most of the season like he did against Winnipeg (last game) I really like our chances.

    GG believes we can achieve 100 points this season. I believe we can actually exceed this, if we play the way we’re capable of.

    It’s going to be an exciting season. None better than the BOA to start the seasons journey!

  • buts

    My fear about GG is not only his mishandling of players and who they are partnered with it’s the fact that the bulk of last years points in the standings came in the dog days of the season in a condensed schedule because of the world cup of hockey. The beginning and end of the year when teams are more focused we seemed to struggle. Also after stretch’s of time off between games with time to practice specialty teams, the team really struggled when they should be sharp due to practice. To me this first 10 game segment will tell how good a coach GG is. I hope GG is not another Dallas Eakins.