The Calgary Flames did well enough in 2014-2015, finishing third in the Pacific Division with a 45-30-7 record. They were 23-15-3 at home and managed to score 237 goals, which put them near the top of the Western Conference in terms of offensive statistics.
Calgary even made waves in the post-season and saw the emergence of several key players in tough situations, including Johnny Gaudreau, Michael Ferland and goalie Karri Ramo. While they were eventually eliminated by the Anaheim Ducks, the Flames had a lot to be proud of in the playoffs – especially with the way they dispatched the hapless Vancouver Canucks in six games.
But going forward, Flames fans know that more has to be in store. This is a team that has something to prove, a team that has to go further in order to be taken seriously. 2014-2015 cannot be a fluke. The building blocks are in place and Calgary’s made things interesting with a few critical summer signings, which could prove that this batch of Flames is worth keeping an eye on.
The forward situation in Calgary has always been an interesting one as the team has transitioned out of the Jarome Iginla days of yesteryear and into forging a new identity. For 2015-2016, possession is the name of the game. To that end, Sean Monahan, Gaudreau and Michael Frolik headline a group that will be expected to play a containment game with an emphasis on physicality and pressure.
Jiri Hudler, the newly-signed Lance Bouma, Mikael Backlund, Joe Colborne, and David Jones round out the forward group, while Sam Bennett is slotted in as the second line centre in most depth charts. A lot hinges on how the 19-year-old from Holland Landing pans out, but the book on Bennett is a good one. He’s a go-getting two-way forward with leadership skills to boot. He could be captaining the Flames someday.
The likes of Mason Raymond and Matt Stajan will have a lot to prove in 2015-2016, especially the former because of his rather monstrous salary. Raymond has some serious outside-the-box skill and can light it up, but getting him to do that is a bit of a chore. He only popped in 23 points last season, including a dozen goals. Stajan had 17 points in 59 games.
The Flames boast a good group on defence and they’ll put one of the most balanced groups to the blueline when next season gets underway. Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie lead the way. The 31-year-old Giordano is coming off a great year, where he potted 48 points in 61 games and was a force at both ends of the ice. He’s one of the best skaters on the team and can pilot the power play. Brodie had 41 points in 81 games, including 11 goals. He can run the power play.
Dougie Hamilton is a fantastic addition to this group. He’s coming off a 42 point campaign with the Bruins and will slip right into Calgary’s system. Like Brodie and Giordano, he excels on the power play. He’ll help power this Flames attack from the back end, which is where a lot of the offence will come from.
32-year-old Dennis Wideman is another quality defenceman for Calgary. He has the skill to hold the line on the man advantage and will create opportunities. And like almost every other defenceman on this team, he put up big numbers in 2014-2015 with a 56 point campaign. Throw Kris Russell in the mix, yet another puck-moving blueliner, and Calgary is going to have a very active defence indeed.
This is where things get interesting. Ramo and Jonas Hiller will spend most of 2015-2016 battling it out to become the clear starter. The interesting component here is Finnish netminder Joni Ortio, who picked up four wins for the Flames last season and looks ready to go. He has the stamina to be number one, plus he can cover the net well.
Hiller is a quality starter for any team in the NHL and the Flames will likely slot him in, at least for the first while. He won 26 games last season, posting a 2.36 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. Ramo was good enough for his part, but Hiller has the clear statistical edge.
Calgary has a good group of prospects in the wings, with Ortio and Bennett leading the way for impact players in 2015-2016. Defenceman Oliver Kylington is worth a peek, although it’s not likely he’ll crack the roster yet. He’s another mobile blueliner and could be one of the Flames’ big steals from the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Another defenceman in the mix is Tyler Wotherspoon. The 22-year-old from British Columbia was taken in the second round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and could challenge the big leagues this year. He’s a safe and reliable blueliner. He can play serious minutes and is responsible in his own end, which could make him a nice counterpoint to the current crop of offensive defencemen.
The Path Ahead
Calgary should be a playoff team again this season, but the real issue is how to push the engine further. They have one of the most impressive defensive groups in the NHL and they’ll pilot their attack from the back end, which could open them up to the counterattack more than they’d like. If Hiller or Ramo can hold the fort, they should be able to weather the storms to come.
Up front, look for the Flames to play containment hockey. They’ve got a forward group set to track down the puck and make things messy in front of the goal, building from hard point shots or dump-and-chase attacks. Bennett could break out, too, which gives Calgary a number of options. They’ll be a tricky team in 2015-2016 and that’s a good thing.