Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2015-16, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Makes sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our collective LWOS 2015-16 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today we continue with the Calgary Flames.
Puck Drop Preview: 2015-16 Calgary Flames
2014-15 was an unexpectedly successful season for the Flames. Many fans and writers gave them little to no chance of even being in the playoff race, let alone actually appearing in the postseason. The year before, the Flames were undoubtedly a lottery team (picking fourth overall, despite endearing themselves to many with their hard-working style of play). However, last season Calgary came out of the gate hot, and stayed that way.
Throughout the entire campaign, the Flames repeatedly defied their critics. Their advanced numbers were poor, getting outshot nearly every night. The season was reminiscent of the 2013-14 Colorado Avalanche, with the offensive firepower but suspect possession statistics. Nevertheless, Calgary maintained their winning ways through the whole season, finishing third in the Pacific Division and qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2009 (at the expense of the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings).
In the playoffs, the Flames continued to exceed expectations, matched up against the Vancouver Canucks in the first round. True to their nickname of the “Find-a-way Flames,” they fought from behind in several times to emerge from the brutal series as winners in six games. Calgary vs. Vancouver was one of the most entertaining series of the entire 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with each game coming right down to the wire, and both teams displaying an obvious hatred for the other – some of the games ending in line brawls.
Unfortunately for the Flames, the season ended in the second round when they went down in five games to Anaheim. Calgary’s defence just wasn’t good enough to contain the powerhouse Ducks. However, making the second round of the playoffs far surpassed all expectations, and Flames fans were happy with their 2014-15 season. They were led by youngsters Johnny Gaudreau (who finished third in Calder Trophy voting) and Sean Monahan, who scored 64 and 62 points respectively, as well as veteran Jiri Hudler who put up 76 points, and took home the Lady Byng Trophy.
Calgary maintained their winning ways and hard-working, exciting style of play even without captain Mark Giordano for the final months of the season. For his ability to turn the team from a basement-dweller to a playoff team in one year, coach Bob Hartley was given the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s coach of the year.
The Flames were one of the NHL’s most active teams this summer, making a splash with one of the biggest trades of the off-season. They acquired defenceman Dougie Hamilton from the Boston Bruins, in exchange for the 15th overall pick and two second rounders. Later, they signed Hamilton (an RFA) to a six-year contract. In free agency the Flames also picked up forward Michael Frolik, who will bolster their already strong attack. Giordano was also handed a new six-year contract with an AAV of $6.75 million.
Despite trading their first round pick, the Flames performed well at the draft, as well. They took defencemen Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington (who was expected to go much earlier) in the late second round.
2015-16 Opening Day Lineup
Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – Jiri Hudler
Sam Bennett – Mikael Backlund – Michael Frolik
Lance Bouma – Matt Stajan – David Jones
Micheal Ferland – Josh Jooris – Joe Colborne
Mark Giordano – Dougie Hamilton
T.J. Brodie – Dennis Wideman
Kris Russell – Tyler Wotherspoon
Players to Watch
What better player to watch than one of the most exciting in hockey? Gaudreau had a phenomenal rookie year, and was an integral part of the Flames top line with Monahan and Hudler. It’ll be very interesting to see whether the American sensation can maintain his production, and avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. Calgary will need his creative playmaking ability to get them back into the playoffs.
Bennett made his much-anticipated NHL debut in the last game of the regular season, recording his first career assist 33 seconds into the game. He featured regularly for the Flames in the playoffs, with his first NHL goal serving as the winning goal in Game 3 of the series against Vancouver. With Bennett likely to get a more extended spell on the Flames this season, it’s unclear where he will play. Some fans want him to replace Hudler on the first line, but he’ll likely start on the second. He’ll be looking to have a breakout rookie season and add to Calgary’s firepower.
On the Rise
At 25 years old, Brodie has broken into the NHL as a bona fide top-four defenceman. He will be an incredibly crucial piece of the Flames defensive core, alongside Giordano and Hamilton. For a former fourth-round pick, he’s lived up to Calgary’s loftiest expectations and then some. Brodie is an outstanding puck-mover and excels at generating offence. He complements the team’s skilled forwards very well. He put up 41 points last season, tied for 24th among all NHL defencemen. He’s only expected to get better, signed to a contract that expires in 2020, worth approximately $4.65 million per year. The Flames will look to Brodie to be a source of scoring chances.
On the Decline
After leading the team in scoring in 2014-15, it’s improbable that Hudler will match those totals. Of all the Flames, he’s the most likely to suffer from regression. He finished eighth in the league with his 76 points, which smashed his previous career best 57. His shooting percentage of 19.6%, second in the NHL, is unsustainable, as he was buoyed by his playmaking linemates (particularly Gaudreau). Of course, he’s still a very good player and an integral part of the Calgary lineup, but don’t expect Hudler to produce at quite the same rate. If his scoring does fall off a bit, it’s possible his spot on the top line could be taken by Bennett eventually, a move which many Flames fans are eager to see.
The thing that sets the Calgary Flames apart from the 2013-14 Colorado Avalanche and the 2012-13 Toronto Maple Leafs is that they aren’t entirely carried by offence and goaltending. Yes, they were certainly a high-scoring team last year, but the Flames have undoubtedly one of the top blueline cores in the NHL, which was improved immensely this summer by the addition of Hamilton. Calgary’s management has done an excellent job of addressing the team’s needs. As long as the tandem of Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo in net doesn’t collapse, the Flames should absolutely be aiming for the playoffs this coming year.
They’re probably still a year or two away from being truly considered Stanley Cup contenders, but they could well ruffle some feathers this year. In an incredibly tight Western Conference (albeit one going through much turnover, particularly in Chicago), the Flames could finish anywhere from outside a playoff spot to the top of the Pacific Division. If they do return to the postseason, the experience they gained this year will be a huge asset in a deep run.