The Calgary Flames got off to a miserable start last season, recording nine regulation wins in their first 50 games, but did manage to finish strong over the final 32 games.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Flames team that has new management and will be looking to build on the strong finish and hope not to fall back to where they started the 2013-2014 season.
Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke was positive about what the Flames accomplished late in the season. "I think there were a lot of positive developments in this season that I'm proud of," Burke said at season's end. "I think we gave (the fans) a product they enjoyed watching."
The first move of the Flames' offseason was to hire a new general manager and that resulted in Burke picking Brad Treliving, who had been the Assistant GM for the Phoenix Coyotes. At his introductory press conference, Treliving sure sounded like would be in alignment with the plans of the president. "I think the style of play, people talk about big and whatever word you want to use, I think you need to have heavy teams now," Treliving said. "I think you have to play a heavy game."
It's challenging enough for rebuilding teams to acquire good hockey players, let alone doing so with size as a pre-requisite. Making matters even more fun is that the Flames' top prospect is a tiny scoring forward, Hobey Baker winner John Gaudreau, so there will be some challenges if the Flames are intending to get bigger and better immediately.
Nevertheless, those are some of the challenges that Treliving faces with a team that also has to believe their finish to the 2013-2014 season wasn't fool's gold. If it wasn't, then adding the likes of Gaudreau and getting further development from last year's sixth overall pick, Sean Monahan, could help advance a team that, if nothing else, put forth a good effort for head coach Bob Hartley.
Effort is admirable, character and grit are admirable. But if the Flames are going to climb the ladder in the Western Conference, they are ultimately going to need more talent, no matter the size.
The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- Corsi, adjusted for zone starts, quality of competition and quality of teammates, hits, blocked shots, penalty differential and faceoffs. Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be around 70, stars will be over 80 and MVP candidates could go over 90. Sidney Crosby finished at the top of the 2013-2014 regular season ratings at 87.12.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
CF% = Corsi percentage (ie. percentage of 5-on-5 shot attempts), via www.extraskater.com.
Brad Treliving/Bob Hartley
25-year-old centre Mikael Backlund could be the top returning forward on the Flames' roster and he's coming off a season in which he scored a career-high 39 points. But Backlund also been the Flames' best possession forward over the past five seasons and, over the past three seasons, he's been doing it while not getting the easy work, starting shifts in the defensive zone and facing quality opposition. He's widely underrated because he doesn't have big point totals, but is a quality player at a bargain price.
Curtis Glencross had knee and ankle injuries cost him more than half the season, and his possession numbers weren't good, but he's been an effective goal-scorer. Even with some injuries, 77 goals over the past four seasons ranks 65th in the league and he's somehow one of the highest-percentage finishers in the game.
Jiri Hudler was the Flames' leading scorer last season and while he's not a dominant player, he's also put up three 50-point seasons over the past five (including one lockout-shortened campaign), so his skill stands out in this group.
Matt Stajan didn't bring the best bang for the buck on his last contract but, given a better opportunity last season, he handled some difficult assignments with a lot of defensive zone starts, earning a new contract. Stajan seems like he can be a good fit as a responsible third-line centre, but there have been times in the past that they haven't had enough better options available.
Veteran winger David Jones was a risky enough signing last year and, following an injury-marred season, he's managed a dozen goals and 26 points in 81 games over the past two seasons. He can skate, has good size and may fit better in a checking role, even if his salary is a tad high for that expectation.
For as impressive as a 22-goal rookie season was for 19-year-old Sean Monahan, he naturally has much room to improve and, to his credit, there was progression in his game as the year went on. For example, prior to Christmas, he was on the ice for 40.7% of 5-on-5 shot attempts and 45.9% after. That's progress and Monahan's emergence is a big part of the Flames' future.
On the basis of pure hockey skills, there isn't an argument to justify Brian McGrattan holding down a spot in the lineup. He was overmatched, despite favourable usage, but when it comes to evaluating enforcers on the roster, there is a different set of rules, especially on teams that believe in the intangible benefits of having a heavyweight on the roster. Clearly, the Flames are a team that wants a tough guy patrolling their fourth line and McGrattan is one of the best fighters in the league -- he's fought 20 times over the past three seasons and, according to hockeyfights.com voters, he's won 18 and has a couple of split decision draws (one for, one against).
He's not much of a finisher, and doesn't look like he's ever going to approach his rookie season total of 39 points again, but T.J. Galiardi can be an effective checking winger. He was last season, as his minus-13 rating was effectively sabotaged by a low on-ice save percentage.
It's been a gradual climb for Paul Byron since getting drafted by Buffalo in the sixth round in 2007, but he may have cracked through last season, using his tremendous speed to generate solid possession numbers; solid enough that, for the first time, he ought to be part of next season's roster plans.
After failing to stick with Boston or Toronto, Joe Colborne finally got a chance to play with the Flames and, while a 24-year-old scoring 28 points in 80 games isn't a resounding success, Colborne's underlying numbers (Corsi % wa 47.1% from January 1 on; 43.1% before) improved as the season progressed, enough that he should get the opportunity to see if he can build upon that foundation in his second NHL season.
24-year-old Lance Bouma has managed 19 points in 121 career games and doesn't have an ideal puck possession track record, but he also played hard minutes last season, with lots of defensive zone starts against quality opposition, so those underlying numbers do need to be considered in context. That doesn't mean that Bouma's most definitely an asset, but it may be enough to warrant a depth role.
Looking ahead, the Flames need more skill in their forward group. Collegiate scoring sensation Johnny Gaudreau should have an opportunity next season, as may the fourth overall pick in the draft, but if the Flames want more immediate help -- especially if they don't re-sign unrestricted free agent Mike Cammalleri -- then they may need to dip into the free agent pool. Landing a proven scorer like Radim Vrbata or Matt Moulson could at least offset Cammalleri's potential departure.
Free Agent Defence
||'13-'14 Cap Hit
If not for a broken ankle suffered in October, Mark Giordano would be front-and-centre in the Norris Trophy discussion. Even after missing 18 games, Giordano justifiably received lots of praise at season's end, putting up out-of-this-world possession stats, while playing the hardest minutes for a generally poor team. This was the best year of Giordano's career and it would be great for the Flames if this is his new standard level of play going forward, but there is some risk that he's not going to be able to duplicate such an impressive campaign.
Sure, it's a first-world problem to have to worry about your number one defenceman duplicating his Norris Trophy-calibre season, but it should be taken into consideration.
Rising with the tide created by Giordano's season, 23-year-old T.J. Brodie turned in a strong season as Giordano's partner. Brodie has had strong relative possession numbers pretty much since arriving in the league, but he did it last year while playing in a top-pair role, with tough matchups and more defensive zone starts. His ability to move the puck is a major asset on the Flames' blueline.
Since 2009-2010, Dennis Wideman has the worst plus-minus in the league, but that's not a fair representation of his game. Over that same period, he's been on for 50% of the 5-on-5 shot attempts for while ranking near the bottom in on-ice save percentage. With that in context, Wideman remains a capable puck-moving defenceman who can man the point on the power play.
After six seasons of struggling to establish a consistent presence in the NHL, with Columbus and St. Louis, Kris Russell took advantage of an opportunity in Calgary last season, playing 23:08 per game for the Flames (4.33 per game more than his previous career high). Trouble is, he was likely asked to do too much in that role, as his possession stats steadily declined as the season went along. In a secondary role, though, Russell's skating should make him an asset.
There were 10 defencemen that had more combined hits and blocked shots than Ladislav Smid's 361 but, as one might suspect, that indicates that the Flames didn't have the puck much with Smid on the ice. To that end, the Flames probably need to limit Smid's use to third pair and penalty killing minutes to make the most of his skills.
Shane O'Brien was demoted to the AHL part way through the year after playing sparingly. He's a year removed from a relatively strong possession season, so the 30-year-old doesn't have to be done altogether, but might need a change in order to land an NHL gig for the final year of his current contract.
The good news for the Flames is that they appear to have the core of their defence set. If Giordano, Brodie, Wideman, Russell and Smid make up the top five, then the rest may involve minor adjustments. At the same time, it would come as no surprise if Burke, er Treliving, had interest in a bruising veteran (Team USA) defencemen like Brooks Orpik.
Free Agent Goaltender
||'13-'14 Cap Hit
There was definitely a leap of faith taken last year in making 27-year-old Karri Ramo the Flames' No. 1 option in goal after four years in the KHL. The early returns weren't good, as Ramo opened with an .890 save percentage through the end of November, but he was pretty good from December on, posting a .918 save percentage in his 30 games played from December on. That's hardly enough of a sample to decide that Ramo is all set as a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL, but it's encouraging.
How the Flames address the backup goaltending situation could shine a light on the team's expectations for next season. If they decide to go with prospect Joni Ortio, that could be an indication that they're willing to take some of the lumps that tend to come with unproven goaltenders. If they bring in a veteran to compete with Ramo, though, maybe there would be reason to have higher hopes. They could sign a free agent like Thomas Greiss or Brian Elliott, or maybe they're a viable trade partner for Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer.
||Boston College (HE)
||36-44-80, +42, 40 GP
||13-16-29, +1, 41 GP
||43-44-87, +30, 63 GP
||25-21-46, +10, 52 GP
||2.16 GAA, .931 SV%, 34 GP
||30-44-74, +26, 57 GP
||2.33 GAA, .926 SV%, 37 GP
||21-43-63, +6, 66 GP
||Boston College (HE)
||14-39-53, +43, 40 GP
||18-26-44, +11, 70 GP
||13-12-25, +15, 39 GP
John Gaudreau won the Hobey Baker Award as the best player in U.S. College hockey after scoring two points per game (36 G, 44 A, 40 GP) for Boston College. Gaudreau is tiny, listed at 5-foot-7 so, like any undersized player, there are questions about whether he can handle the grind of the NHL. The way to find out is to let Gaudreau play. He scored a goal in his NHL debut, against Vancouver, and has been named to the U.S. team for the World Championships, so it's not like he'll be completely shell-shocked when he arrives in training camp next season with expectations of filling a role on a scoring line.
The 13th overall pick in 2011, Sven Baertschi has picked up 24 points in 51 NHL games to this point, but he doesn't seem to be a favourite of the new regime. If Baertshi isn't going to get an opportunity to be part of the solution for the Flames, he's still young enough, with offensive potential, to be a valuable trade chip.
Taken with the 22nd pick last summer, Emile Poirier continued to improve in the QMJHL last season, then added five points in five (regular season plus playoff) AHL games with Abbotsford. He's only 19, so there's no rush, but Poirier could challenge for a position soon.
Not nearly as heralded as brother Mikael, who plays for the Minnesota Wild, Markus Granlund had a smooth transition to the North American pro game, showing more goal-scoring prowess than might have been anticipated from his time in Finland. The 2011 second-round pick should compete for a spot next year.
A premier goaltending prospect, Jon Gillies is 6-foot-5 and has a .931 save percentage in 69 collegiate games. The 2012 third-round pick is only 20-years-old, so it makes sense for him to return to school for his junior year.
Morgan Klimchuk is a hard-working winger who plays bigger than his size and brings some skill too, scoring 150 points in 129 WHL games over the past couple seasons. The 28th pick in last summer's draft could still use time to get stronger before he's considered for an NHL job.
Drafted in the sixth round in 2009, Joni Ortio had a nice first season in North America, with a .926 save percentage in the AHL. He wasn't ready for his NHL stint (.891 SV% in 9 GP), but that was a situation forced out of need rather than part of the development plan. Could probably use another year of seasoning before looking at an NHL gig.
Max Reinhart took a nice step forward in his second pro season, scoring nearly a point per game in the AHL and he's going to be in contention for a roster spot, but it's starting to get crowded in terms of prospects looking for spots on the low end of the depth chart.
Sturdy forward Bill Arnold made his NHL debut late in the season and was a productive player alongside Gaudreau at Boston College. At the next level, though, Arnold isn't likely to be a scorer, so he'll have to do battle with the other young forwards looking for depth roles in Calgary.
Drafted by the Florida Panthers, 23-year-old Corban Knight signed with the Flames as a free agent last summer and had a solid enough first pro campaign, which included a seven-game audition in the NHL.
Lanky pivot Mark Jankowski was a controversial first-round pick (21st overall) in 2012 and his first two collegiate seasons haven't inspired confidence that he'll live up to that draft position, but he still has a ways to go if he's going to make a difference as a pro.
The Flames' system has been stocked up recently, with wingers Ben Hanowski and Kenny Agostino coming as part of the Jarome Iginla trade and they have defencemen Tyler Wotherspoon and Patrick Sieloff (limited to two games by a hip injury and staph infection last season) in the pipeline as well.
Flames advanced stats and player usage chart from Extra Skater
4th - Sam Bennett, Leon Draisaitl, Michael Dal Colle
According to www.capgeek.com, the Flames have approximately $39.1M committed to the 2014-2015 salary cap for 14 players.
Check out my possible Flames lineup for next season on Cap Geek here.
Needs: Two top six forwards, veteran checking forward, top four defenceman, goaltender.
What I said the Flames needed last year: Two top six forwards, one top four defenceman, another defenceman, starting goaltender.
They added: Sean Monahan, Joe Colborne, T.J. Galiardi, David Jones, Kris Russell, Shane O'Brien, Karri Ramo, Reto Berra.
Jiri Hudler, David Jones, Sven Baertschi.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.