On Friday April 11thI attended the last Calgary Flames home game of the regular season against the Winnipeg Jets. The Flames lost the game to the Jets 5 to 3. Calgary Flames defenseman Kris Russell received 1st star honours and Sean Monahan was named 3rdstar of the game respectively. These two players are a sample of the new and bright faces of the franchise. The Calgary Flames displayed a “Great Will to Compete” throughout the long 82 game schedule. The team made some very promising strides in a rebuilding year. Many experts predicted the Flames to finish last this season in the NHL. However, the team played a very competitive and entertaining brand of hockey setting an NHL record with 49 – 1 goal games!
Reflecting back on the season, Coach Bob Hartley delivered a refreshing puck pressure, higher tempo, and more entertaining brand of hockey for Flames fans. The Calgary Flames identity consisted of improved fitness levels, improved work ethic and stronger team chemistry than previous teams. It’s a true testament to Bob Hartley and his dedicated coaching staff. Bravo gentlemen for a job well done! Coach Hartley displayed a very demanding and savvy coaching style. He will probably not receive many votes for the Jack Adams – Coach of the Year Award but he did a stellar job during his first full season with the club. The team became younger, faster, with a little more size, played more physical and showed more grit. Overall the team made some great strides to becoming a playoff contender in the next year or so.
But after not making the playoffs for the 5th season in row, the Calgary Flames organization will have some important questions to answer to accelerate the rebuilding of this franchise and bring back a winning team to the city. Here are a few thoughts that come to mind. I am sure you have many others!
What is the main goal of the Flames organization?
President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke recently hired Brad Treliving has their new General Manager. Trevliving, 44 served as assistant GM of the Phoenix Coyotes for the past 7 seasons and oversaw their AHL affiliate in Portland. He has been Assistant GM for Team Canada at the IIHF world championship. As well, he previously served as President of the Central Hockey League and President and Director of Hockey Operations for the Western Professional Hockey League, which he founded. The next step is to hire an Assistant General Manager.
With the Flames hockey department rounding into shape, the Flames mission is to continue to develop their young talent both on the team and on the farm. Their objective is to fight for a playoff spot next season. This past season the Flames employed 44 different players in the line up! Injuries to the veterans Cammalleri, Glencross, Giordano, Wideman, Stajan and David Jones etc. did not help the Flames’ cause. But when in the line-up each player contributed to the overall success of the team. No one really had a bad season. The Flames have many good young players on the team in Monahan, Backlund, Brodie, with top prospects Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold, Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund, Max Reinhart, Tyler Wotherspoon, Mark Jankowski and Kenny Agostino. The future is igniting for the Flames. With some salary cap room to play with (approximately $25 M+) the hockey operations department will continue to mould the team to Burke’s philosophy and Coach Hartley’s likings. Next season’s salary cap is estimated at $68 Million and the floor at $50 million and the Flames’ owners seem prepared to max the cap if necessary.
What to do with the goaltending situation?
It was a major burning question at the start of last season after the retirement of Kipper but not so much for next year. At the conclusion of the season Karri Ramo appears to have the vote of confidence to be the No: 1 goalie next season. RFA’S Joni Ortio and Oliver Roy plus Joey MacDonald UFA’s will probably battle for the backup role depending on who gets re-signed .The Flames improved their overall team defence from 29th – 2nd worst goals against in the league in 2013 to 23rd in 2014. Looks like Joni Ortio will probably back-up Karri Ramo next season.
What Free Agents do the Flames re-sign?
The most significant Flames restricted free agents with last season’s salary in brackets are TJ Galiardi ($1,250,000), Chad Billins ($925,000), Ben Hanowski ($900,000), Paul Byron ($643,500), Oliver Roy ($628,333), Joni Ortio ($617,500), Joe Colborne ($600,000), Mark Cundari ($600,000), and Lance Bouma ($577,500). The most important re-signings for the Flames are Colborne, Byron and Bouma. Colborne really developed on the wing after his move off centre. Byron showed his speed and penalty killing abilities while Bouma displayed his grit, shot blocking and hard work every shift this season.
The most significant unrestricted free agents with last season’s salary in brackets are Mike Cammalleri ($6,000,000), Chris Butler ($1,700,000), Joey MacDonald ($925,000), Derek Smith ($775,000), Kevin Westgath ($725,000), Blair Jones ($650,000) Ben Street ($575,000), and Chris Breen ($577,500). The two most significant UFA’s are Cammalleri and Butler. It looks like Cammalleri will test the free agent market this summer. They may replace Butler on the blue-line with one of their up and coming defenseman. Wotherspoon is a good candidate.
Who do they pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft?
For the first time over the past 25+ years the Flames will pick in the top 5 of the NHL Entry draft. This year they will pick 4th overall. They need to draft someone who can make the roster now. Sean Monahan, last year’s 6thpick was a gem of a selection and scored 22 goals in his rookie season. They need another great selection. It looks like it will be either Sam Bennett, Centre, Kingston, 6’ and 178 pounds or Michael Dal Colle, Centre, Oshawa, 6’1”, 179 pounds. Both listed at Centre but can play left-wing. Bennett has good size, toughness and skill package and Dal Colle is another prospect with size and skill with a great shot. I believe the Flames will take Bennett over Dal Colle if he is available come the 4thpick… either prospect will be a winner. Both Centre Sam Reinhart and Defenseman Aaron Ekblad should be selected in the top 2 and will not be available to the Flames.
Will they aggressively pursue the free agent market?
The Flames are becoming a better team and therefore Calgary is a better city to attract future free agent talent. This year’s free agent crop includes the following: Marian Gaborik, Thomas Vanek, Ryan Callahan, Derek Roy, Dave Bolland, Matt Moulson, Milan Michalek, Mason Raymond, Dustin Penner, Dany Heatley, Steve Dowie and Steve Ott; just to name a few. Also, goalies Jonas Hillier and Martin Brodeur are available. Do they go after one or two free agents to add valuable skill and experience to help a youthful roster? Definitely; the team could sure use an accomplished veteran winger especially if Cammalleri does not re-sign with the club.
The Calgary Flames made some tremendous strides last season to steer the franchise in the right direction. They were competitive each and every game out. The home record is getting better 19 – 19 – 3, but the team still needs to make the Saddledome a tougher place to play in every night. The strength of the Flames team is with their defensive core of Giordano, Russell, Brodie, Smid, Wideman, and Butler. Now with so many good young prospects, will they trade Wideman to acquire a good experienced forward or let Butler go to the free agent market? With so many up and coming young players and prospects in the system, Flames’ fans are in store for some very entertaining hockey in the years ahead. The worst days are behind now! The Flames will continue to inject more youth, speed, physicality and grit into their line up. Say tuned. It will be a very interesting off season as the Flames management and coaches tackle the ongoing rebuilding process. Again time and patience will be two key words for next season, but the franchise is certainly heading in the right direction.