For the month of June, Last Word On Sports will be covering each team in our 30 in 30 series. Once a day, we take a look at an NHL team’s past season, what their off-season looks like, and what they could hope to achieve before the start of their 2015-16 season. Everybody wants to get better and improve upon last season’s success or downfall and NHL’s 30 in 30 gives you that analysis and preview you need to get you by during another long and grueling summer season. 30 days in June, 30 teams to cover. Starting on June 1st we start from the bottom and make our way to the very top.
Today’s team: The Calgary Flames. Check out our previous 30 in 30 articles here.
NHL’s 30 in 30: Calgary Flames
Finishing 17th overall, the Calgary Flames posted a record of 45-30-7 to end up with 97 points. Their home record (23-13-5) accumulated for 51 points, earning them the fourth-least amount of points among playoff teams. Their away record (22-17-2) was good enough to keep them afloat. The Flames inched their way into the playoffs, breaking a five-year drought, by grabbing third place in the Pacific Division. Their story is similar to that of the 2013-14 Colorado Avalanche, a team with poor possession numbers that defied odds and made the playoffs. In order to avoid regressing like the Avalanche did, the Flames will have some work to do.
The 2014-15 Regular Season
Putting up a career-high 76 points, Jiri Hudler is coming off the best season of his career and on a year where his contract runs up. At the age of 31, Hudler looked rejuvenated on a line with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, a line that caused many heartaches against opposing teams. Gaudreau put up 64 points in his rookie season, and looked like anything but a player in his first year of the NHL. What he lacked in size, he more than made up for in determination, heart and tenacity, scoring highlight reel goals and never giving up on a play. No sophomore slump for Monahan, as he scored 31 goals and finished the season with 62 points, becoming the team’s number one center in the process.
The Flames also had to deal with certain forwards under-performing, but still attempted to get the best out of them. 25-year-old Joe Colborne had an offensively anemic season, scoring just twice in the last 34 games of the season, and once in the playoffs. He’s a hard worker that fits in as a complimentary player, but they’ll hope to get more out of him. The same can be said for Mason Raymond, who struggled to keep a spot in the line-up after going cold late in the season, a contrast to his hot start early on. David Jones has struggled with injuries in the last three seasons, but when he’s be healthy he’s been productive for the team.
Michael Ferland, Josh Jooris and Markus Granlund became contributing factors for the Flames. While Granlund got seven games in last season, Jooris and Ferland got their very first taste of the NHL. Granlund was productive enough to hold a job with Calgary next season, but could be in good company with a crowded top-six. Jooris can play center and kill penalties, which could be the difference of him making it and spending time in the AHL, especially considering how he played less minutes and contributed less in the second half of the season. In just 26 NHL games, Ferland prove himself worthy of being a regular in the line-up. He can play a gritty, aggressive game and pot in occasional goals when needed.
It’s evident in the possession numbers that when Mark Giordano is playing, the team is just that much better. In the last two years, he’s emerged as one of the best defenseman in the league, putting up more points than any defenseman not named Erik Karlsson during that time. He was on pace to becoming a legitimate Norris trophy candidate before going down to injury. Even then, some still thought he should have received consideration. While he was gone, Dennis Wideman saw his minutes increased, and put up 19 points in the final 18 games of the season, while also setting a career-high in blocked shots with 184.
The injury to Giordano also meant more playing time for Deryk Engelland, who averaged over 20 minutes of time during the captain’s absence. It proved to be too much, as Engelland is a hard-nosed player that should be on the third-line, and his increased ice-time led to him being exposed. 25-year-old T.J. Brodie had an exceptional season, setting a career-high in points with 41, while demonstrating his smooth skating ability and becoming a break-out player on the blue-line.
At the age of 33, Jonas Hiller gave the Flames a fighting chance, post a .918 save percentage in 52 games. While it’s uncertain how much time he has remaining as a good starting goaltender at the NHL level, he’ll at least provide solid goaltending long enough for the prospects to develop or if they find a younger replacement, whichever comes first. Joni Ortio could become the back-up as soon as next season, depending on what Karri Ramo decides to do.
During the season, General Manager Brad Treliving made three trades. The first was a prospect swap, trading Corban Knight to Florida for Drew Shore. Treliving then sent out some players for picks, first trading Curtis Glencross to Washington for 2nd and 3rd-round picks in 2015. He then shocked some by moving prospect Sven Baertschi to Vancouver for a 2015 2nd-round pick.
The Off-Season and Free Agents
Heading into the off-season, the Calgary Flames have a total of nine free agents to decide on. Of the ten free agents, six are restricted to the team, and all of them are forwards, including; Mikael Backlund, Josh Jooris, Drew Shore, Lance Bouma, Micheal Ferland and Paul Byron. Defensemen David Schlemko, Corey Potter and Raphael Diaz, and goaltender Karri Ramo are the upcoming unrestricted free agents. In terms of non-roster players, Treliving will have to decide on nine restricted free agents and four unrestricted free agents.
Expect the Flames to be very active when July 1st hits, maybe even before that. Currently, the Flames have about $22-24 million in cap space and a few holes to fill in their top-six. A few of the current RFAs could provide some stability in the top-nine, but going the trade route could be an option as well. Many teams are looking to move some contracts, including the Boston Bruins (who may need to just to re-sign defenseman Dougie Hamilton). Plus, most of their RFAs are heading into only their second season, so they shouldn’t command too much money.
A team to call up is the St. Louis Blues, who could be making some big changes for the 2015-16 season. Players like David Backes, Patrik Berglund and TJ Oshie could all be available at the right price and would be instant upgrades to the Flames top-six. Otherwise, Milan Lucic out of Boston could be the size and scoring they could use.
On defense, there’s a few holes to fill up including a top-four guy and some depth on the bottom pairing and seventh defenseman. Names like Barrett Jackman, Adam McQuaid and Francois Beauchemin could be the solid veteran guy the Flames could use in their top-four. If Ladislav Smid is still struggling with his neck, McQuaid can provide that stability on the back-end and play a hard-nosed style that Head Coach Bob Hartley loves.
The Draft Table
Treliving and his scouting staff will have some interesting choices at the upcoming draft, as the Calgary Flames hold nine picks, including the 15th overall selection. Despite having no fourth-round pick this year, the Flames will pick six times in the top-100. In all the Flames select 15th, 45th, 52nd, 53rd, 76th, 83rd, 136th, 166th and 196th.
Beginning with the 15th overall pick, the Flames will have some nice-looking names still on the board, with the possibility of a few surprisings sliding, as they usually do at every draft. At this spot, a prime candidate would be center/right winger Nick Merkley of the Kelowna Rockets. Getting some great exposure at the Memorial Cup, the Rockets forward possesses a solid mix of speed, stick-handling, passing and grit and he’d mix in well with a very talented group of forward in Calgary. Similar to Gaudreau, Merkley would look fantastic on Sam Bennett’s wing, sometime in the future.
The Flames then pick three times in the second round, thanks to trades with both Washington and Vancouver. There is the chance to package two of them and grab another first-round pick but in this case, we’ll consider them rather hang on to all three selections and build a solid foundation on defensive prospects, one of the weaker branches of their prospect tree. Names like Parker Wotherspoon, Guillaume Brisebois and Ryan Pilon could be available later in the second-round, while Mitchell Vande Sompel, Travis Dermott and Nicolas Meloche could go in the mid-to-late second-round as well. Of course, forwards like Christian Fischer, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Julius Nattinen are all viable options too.
With two more picks in the top-100, and three after that, the Flames are almost guaranteed to pick up a couple of talented prospects that could transition into NHL regulars. It comes down to their scouting team in the end but we won’t count out one that has drafted so much talent over the last few seasons. In due time, the Flames will have built a solid foundation through the draft and create a franchise to be reckoned with in the not-so-distant future.