Tuesday, September 6, 2016

2016-17 Calgary Flames Season Preview | Part 2: Defence

Despite multiple analysts' projections placing them near the bottom of the NHL's standings, the Calgary Flames enjoyed an unexpectedly-successful season in 2014-15, which culminated in a trip to the second round of the playoffs and resulted in high hopes for the future. Instead, the Flames lost a step in 2015-16, falling 20 points from 2014-15 to end with a lowly 77 points, 10 out of a playoff spot.

Now, entering the 2016-17 season, the Flames have many reasons both to hope for the future, and to draw doubt from the past. The team has been historically poor analytically under the tutelage of coach Bob Hartley -- now that he's been replaced by former Stars coach and Canucks assistant Glen Gulutzan, how will the Flames respond?

Jonas HillerKarri RamoJoni Ortio, and Niklas Backstrom made up the Flames' goaltending tandem last season. None of these goaltenders hold NHL contracts for the 2016-17 season, which is indicative of their quality of play in 2015-16. Statistically, the Flames' goaltenders were the worst in the NHL last season, and Hiller was the worst player at his position. These four players have been replaced by Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson for the 2016-17 season, who both posted save percentages above .920% last year; however, neither have ever played more than 55 games in a season. Though they both have exemplary statistical records, will they be able to hold up over the regular season grind?

I'll attempt to answer these questions and more in this, my preview of the Calgary Flames' 2016-17 season.

Yesterday, we covered the forwards. Today, we’ll talk about the defence. On Wednesday, we’ll discuss goaltending, and lastly, on Thursday, we’ll discuss prospects and management.

The Calgary Flames had the worst defensive record in the NHL last season, letting in an atrocious 3.1 GA/G. This was mostly due to their goaltending woes, but also in part because of some defensive struggles. T.J. Brodie was injured for the first half of the season, and Dougie Hamilton took a while to really adjust to the Flames' system. These and other problems contributed to such an awful season defensively for the club.

Here’s my projection (or best guess) for the Flames’ defence pairings in 2016-17:

Mark Giordano - T.J. Brodie
Jyrki Jokipakka - Dougie Hamilton
Deryk Engelland - Dennis Wideman
Tyler Wotherspoon

Two-time All-Star Mark Giordano led the Flames' D in scoring last season with career highs in both goals (21 -- good for second amongst all NHL defencemen behind Brent Burns) and points (56). As Giordano ages, those totals should go down a little, but right now, he's one of the best defensemen in the game. He has elite puck-moving skills and great leadership capabilities, and, as the 2016 NHL Foundation Player Award winner, is a pillar in the Calgary community. The Flames' captain should have another banner year in 2016-17 as the Flames improve.
Projection: 16 goals, 39 assists, 55 points

As good as Giordano is, there may be another defenceman on the Flames better than him: T.J. Brodie. Brodie is a swift skater with a fantastic stretch pass, and at just 26 years old, he's still improving. The Flames improved considerably after Brodie returned from his hand injury in November of last year, and hopefully, having him healthy and in the lineup will result in a much better record in 2016-17. Say what you will about Johnny Hockey -- and there's a lot to say -- but there may not be a more important player to the Flames than T.J. Brodie.
Projection: 6 goals, 43 assists, 49 points

Acquired from Boston for a 1st-round pick and two 2nd-round picks at the 2015 NHL Draft, Dougie Hamilton took a while to come into his own last season. Faced with the prospect of adapting to a new Calgary defensive system, Hamilton played poorly in the first few weeks of 2015-16, frequently looking outmatched in his own zone. However, he picked his game up as the season progressed, and finished the year with career highs in both goals and points. The former 9th-overall pick is still only 23, and should form a top pairing with T.J. Brodie following the departure of Mark Giordano. For now, however, he'll likely continue to develop on the second pairing.
Projection: 11 goals, 36 assists, 47 points

Kris Russell was traded to Dallas for a King's ransom last season, with the package returning to Calgary including prospect Brett Pollock and a potential 1st-round pick. However, aside from the conditional 1st (which turned into a second as its conditions were not met), the most intriguing name in the deal was Jyrki Jokipakka, for two reasons. First, it's fun to say. But second, Jokipakka was a relative unknown at the time of the deal. A 7th-round pick of Dallas in 2011, Jokipakka has mainly toiled away from the spotlight either on the bottom pairing in Dallas or on the top pairing with the Texas Stars, their AHL affiliate. Thrust into a top-four position in Calgary, Jokipakka played 18 games and recorded six points. How did he do? Well, the reviews were mixed, but all signs point to the 25-year-old Jokipakka continuing to develop in the #4 defenceman spot next year.
Projection: 2 goals, 13 assists, 15 points

If you would have told me that Dennis Wideman would've followed his 15-goal 2014-15 season with a 2-goal 2015-16 season in which he was suspended for 20 games and sued by the NHL itself for cross-checking a linesman from behind, I'd have called you bizarrely specific in your predictions and would recommend counselling. However, along with some other twists and turns, that's exactly what happened to Dennis this past year. As he's entering the final year of his mammoth five-year deal in 2016-17, don't expect another 15-goal season... but don't expect a 2-goal year, either. Used correctly, Wideman is a dangerous weapon on the powerplay. He may not hit even 10 goals, but he'll be a scoring threat, for sure.
Projection: 7 goals, 27 assists, 34 points

Deryk Engelland's 3-year, $8.7 million contract was widely ridiculed when it was first signed in July 2014. This was a career bottom-pairing defenceman who was now receiving a fivefold salary increase over his previous contract. However, Engelland has found a niche in the Flames' bottom six. He brings grit and toughness to a defence corps often lacking in those two attributes, and manages to chip in the odd goal, too. He'll never be a huge offensive force, but Engelland is a sturdy #6 defenceman for this team.
Projection: 2 goals, 8 assists, 10 points

Tyler Wotherspoon has the #7 defenceman slot open for him, if he can take it in training camp. Recalled multiple times during Bob Hartley's tenure as Flames coach, Wotherspoon has received little-to-no playing time in only 26 games over the past three seasons. Under new coach Glen Gulutzan, perhaps he'll receive more chances to prove himself.
Projection: 1 goal, 6 assists, 7 points

Hampered by neck injuries since his arrival in Calgary, Ladislav Smid remains on the roster entering 2016-17. However, Smid is expected to be placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) prior to the season's beginning, and as such is unlikely to play for the Flames this season. Entering the final season of his contract, Smid may have played his last NHL game.
Projection: 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points

Finally, though they have not received contracts, there have been two names floating around as possible late-summer additions to the Flames: Kris Russell and Jakub Nakladal. Russell was a Flame until late February 2016 when he was traded to Dallas, but he has not signed a contract yet this summer as a UFA. There have been whispers linking him back to Calgary, so stay tuned.

Jakub Nakladal made his NHL debut late last season, and proceeded to become a fan favourite in Calgary. His scary eyes, his laser shot, his name... there are many fans who would love to see him back (points to signature).

The question is: where would these guys fit in? Do the Flames move Wideman, or push Wotherspoon back down to the AHL? Only Brad Treliving may know the answers. Until then:
No projections

(Again, for those of you counting, that's 45 goals from the defence. That totals 246 goals altogether for the club, which is a high figure, I know. These predictions are made with the belief that the Flames will finish second in the Pacific Division next year. But that's for a later article)

Check back tomorrow afternoon as I preview the Calgary Flames' goaltending. Again, I hope you enjoyed this, or at least have something new to talk about. If my grammar/math is wrong, please don't hesitate to tell me.

TL;DR -- Calgary is a city of 1.3 million people, and they watch the Flames who have defencemen on the roster.

Monday, September 5, 2016

2016-17 Calgary Flames Season Preview | Part 1: Forwards

Despite multiple analysts' projections placing them near the bottom of the NHL's standings, the Calgary Flames enjoyed an unexpectedly-successful season in 2014-15, which culminated in a trip to the second round of the playoffs and resulted in high hopes for the future. Instead, the Flames lost a step in 2015-16, falling 20 points from 2014-15 to end with a lowly 77 points, 10 out of a playoff spot.

Now, entering the 2016-17 season, the Flames have many reasons both to hope for the future, and to draw doubt from the past. The team has been historically poor analytically under the tutelage of coach Bob Hartley -- now that he's been replaced by former Stars coach and Canucks assistant Glen Gulutzan, how will the Flames respond?

Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo, Joni Ortio, and Niklas Backstrom made up the Flames' goaltending tandem last season. None of these goaltenders hold NHL contracts for the 2016-17 season, which is indicative of their quality of play in 2015-16. Statistically, the Flames' goaltenders were the worst in the NHL last season, and Hiller was the worst player at his position. These four players have been replaced by Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson for the 2016-17 season, who both posted save percentages above .920% last year; however, neither have ever played more than 55 games in a season. Though they both have exemplary statistical records, will they be able to hold up over the regular season grind?

I'll attempt to answer these questions and more in this, my preview of the Calgary Flames' 2016-17 season.

Today, we cover the forwards. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the defence, on Wednesday, we’ll discuss goaltending, and lastly, on Thursday, we’ll discuss prospects and management.

A lack of offence was not the reason for the Flames' troubles last year. Calgary finished 10th in the NHL in goals scored last season, and it wouldn't be a huge surprise for the Flames to jump over the 250 goal mark in 2016-17. The Flames have loads of skill up front; it's their defence that needs work.

Here’s my projection (or best guess) for the Flames’ forward lines in 2016-17:

Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Hunter Shinkaruk
Alex Chiasson - Sam Bennett - Troy Brouwer
Matthew Tkachuk - Mikael Backlund - Michael Frolik
Lance Bouma - Matt Stajan - Micheal Ferland
Linden Vey

No one can talk about the Flames' forwards corps without first mentioning their top offensive dynamo: Johnny Gaudreau. Gaudreau finished tied for sixth in league scoring last season, and at age 23, he's only improving. He has world-class skating, hockey IQ, and playmaking abilities, not to mention a quick release and elite puck control. He's a superstar in this league and will be a face of the NHL for years to come. Expect upwards of 35 goals and 85 points from Johnny Hockey this season -- assuming he's signed soon.
Projection: 36 goals, 55 assists, 91 points

Gaudreau's partner in crime? Centre Sean Monahan. One of the Flames' most consistent goal-scorers, Monahan is also a superb playmaker. Though Gaudreau is easily the highest producer on the Flames' first line, make no mistake -- Monahan is a star of his own, and there's a good reason why Flames' GM Brad Treliving recently re-signed #23 to a seven-year contract in August. The 21-year-old should easily top 30 goals and 60 points again this season, and may even reach the 35/70 marks.
Projection: 34 goals, 41 assists, 75 points

Troy Brouwer was the Flames' most high-profile free agent acquisition this offseason. The 31-year-old received a 4-year deal worth $4.5 million per season on July 1. Though some fans have called the deal an overpay, there's no dispute that Brouwer brings leadership capabilities and experience to a very young Flames team. Brouwer was an assistant captain during his time with the Washington Capitals, and was a member of the Stanley Cup-winning 2010 Chicago Blackhawks. Though Brouwer isn't an elite scorer, he's usually dependable for around 20 goals and 40 points. If he plays with Gaudreau and Monahan, those numbers could go up.
Projection: 21 goals, 24 assists, 45 points

If Brouwer doesn't play with Gaudreau and Monahan on the top line next season, expect rookie Hunter Shinkaruk to fill that void. The Calgary native impressed in his cup of coffee with the Flames last year, and he should only get better as he gets older. The 21-year-old was acquired from Vancouver in exchange for Markus Granlund last season, and while Granlund put up modest numbers with the Canucks following the trade, it's Shinkaruk who will likely be the better of the two players in the future.
Projection: 14 goals, 29 assists, 37 points

Matthew Tkachuk, the 6th overall pick in this past years' draft, could stick with the Flames after training camp and earn an everyday spot on the roster past the nine-game mark. The son of former St. Louis Blue and Winnipeg Jet Keith Tkachuk, Matthew possesses many of the traits which made his father a star: a great shot, good hockey sense, and hard-hitting physical play. He had a solid development camp, and once he improves his skating, he'll be a star in this league.
Projection: 13 goals, 18 assists, 31 points

My #1 fantasy dark horse for the 2016-17 season is Sam Bennett. Sometimes forgotten amongst the other young stars on the Flames, the #4 overall pick in 2014 is seemingly on the verge of a breakout season. He put up 18 goals in his rookie season last year, and if he continues to progress, he could hit 25 next year. More of a playmaker than Monahan, Bennett also has more tenacity and aggression in his game. He could usurp Monahan's position as the Flames' #1 centre in coming seasons.
Projection: 21 goals, 30 assists, 51 points

Sticking with centres, Mikael Backlund had a breakout season last year. The Flames’ 3rd-line pivot is a fantastic two-way player. He’s a premier possession player on the Flames, and he also put up 21 goals and 47 points in 2015-16. He makes up half of a great possession-and-scoring tandem in the Flames’ middle-six.
Projection: 16 goals, 30 assists, 46 points

Who makes up the other half of that tandem? Winger Michael Frolik. Brouwer’s teammate with Chicago in 2011, Frolik won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2013. After signing in Calgary after the 2014-15 season, Frolik was expected to provide scoring depth on the right wing for the Flames. He did just that, scoring at exactly a 0.5 PPG pace in 64 games in a 2015-16 season marred by injuries. Expect similar production in 2016-17.
Projection: 14 goals, 29 assists, 43 points

Staying on the trend of players with something to prove: Lance Bouma. Bouma enjoyed a career year in 2014-15, putting up 16 goals while establishing himself as one of the NHL’s premier shot-blockers. However, he suffered a nightmare season in 2015-16, as he was limited to only 44 games due to multiple injuries and dropped 14 goals to 2. Bouma’s entering the second year of his three-year, $6.6 million contract, and he still has a ton of potential (he’s only 26). If he stays healthy, he could hit 10 goals and 25 points.
Projection: 8 goals, 11 assists, 19 points

It’s easy to forget that Matt Stajan is entering his eighth season as a Flame, but he’s here for good reason. Acquired in the Dion Phaneuf blockbuster of January 2010, Stajan has never been a huge scorer in Calgary (his best full season came in 2013-14, when he put up 33 points in 63 games), but his leadership capabilities and heart have more than made up for that. Few memories of Flames teams from recent years stick out more than his penalty shot goal against the Oilers following the death of his son in 2014. He’s overpaid, yes, but there are few better fourth-line centres and mentors in the NHL.
Projection: 4 goals, 11 assists, 15 points

Following a spectacular playoff in 2015, during which his line with Stajan and David Jones constantly tormented the Vancouver Canucks, Micheal Ferland had high expectations put upon him for the 2015-16 season. However, Ferland was plagued by a season-long scoring slump, putting up only 4 goals and 18 points in 71 games, while leading the Flames with 207 hits. Ferland should receive increased playing time following the departures of Jones and Jiri Hudler, and in the right circumstances could recapture some of his playoff magic of two seasons ago.
Projection: 7 goals, 19 assists, 26 points

Alex Chiasson, acquired in June from Ottawa in exchange for defenceman Patrick Sieloff, also enters 2016-17 hoping to regain past magic. Chiasson played for the Flames’ new coach Glen Gulutzan in 2013 back when the latter was the Dallas Stars’ bench boss, and in seven games, he put up seven points. Chiasson followed it up with a strong 35-point sophomore season, but his point totals have steadily dropped since he was traded to Ottawa in 2014, falling to 26 (in 76 games) in 2014-15, before hitting an all-time low of 14 (in 77 games) in 2015-16. Like Ferland, Chiasson may thrive with expanded playing time in 2016-17, and could reach 35 points again with the right linemates and playing time.
Projection: 8 goals, 20 assists, 28 points

The Flames signed Linden Vey to a one-year deal in early July. Had you forgotten? Though not the Flames’ most high-profile acquisition this summer, the 25-year-old Vey still has potential, and actually put up decent numbers (15 points in 41 games) on a terrible Canucks team last year. He'll likely compete for a spot on the fourth line.
Projection: 5 goals, 9 assists, 14 points

Finally, enforcer Brandon Bollig is entering his third season as a Flame. What he lacks in scoring touch (he scored his 9th and 10th career goals in 54 games with the Flames last season), he makes up for with his truculence, but in a league where speed and skill wins you championships, does Bollig still have a role on the Flames next year? Brian Burke may say so, but as Bollig enters the final year of his contract, don’t expect him to play 54 games again next year, as Calgary makes room for their new acquisitions. At best, he'll be the 13th forward.
Projection: 0 goals, 2 assists, 2 points

(For those of you counting, that's 201 goals from the forwards. Yeah, I know that last year they only had 178. But last year, they were terrible, and in 2014-15, they had 192, only 9 fewer than my projections.)

Check back tomorrow afternoon as I preview the Calgary Flames' defence. I hope you enjoyed this, or at least have something new to talk about.

TL;DR -- The Flames have forwards who can skate, shoot, and hit -- some better than others.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Takeaways from the 2016 Calgary Flames Development Camp -- Wednesday

2012 21st-overall pick Mark Jankowski (77) takes on defenseman Brandon Hickey (50) at Winsport on Wednesday.
Photo credit: Nick Fleehart (Twitter)
The Flames' annual Development Camp for prospects is taking place through this week at Winsport! Tuesday and Wednesday have largely been days of power skating and drills, revealing some very intriguing developments surrounding the club's future.

While I was not at Winsport on Tuesday, I was in attendance for Wednesday's sessions at Canada Olympic Park. Here are some observations from the day's festivities.

- Jon Gillies looked solid in his short time on the ice in the morning; however, he left the ice halfway through the session. No official reason has been given for his early exit.

- Mark Jankowski was head-and-shoulders above any of his peers on Winsport ice on Wednesday. His skills and finesse with the puck were unparalleled. He's really developed from the raw talent he was at his first Development Camp five years ago to a personification of the high praise given to him by then-Flames GM Jay Feaster at the 2012 Draft in Pittsburgh.

- Big Hunter Smith was the recipient of a lot of Jankowski's passes during the 2-on-1 drill, but he failed to impress once the puck received his stick. Though he positions himself well, more often than not the play seems to die on his stick. He needs to work on his skating and getting his powerful shot off more quickly and consistently.

Austin Carroll battles for the puck on Wednesday.
Photo credit: Nick Fleehart (Twitter)
- 2014 7th-rounder Austin Carroll was easily the best player not named "Jankowski" on the ice during the morning session. Though he's never been afraid to use his size (dating back to his days with the Victoria Royals of the WHL), Carroll has really progressed in both his puckhandling and skating attributes. He's not afraid to shoot the puck, either, and he does so with promising power. He's a dark horse to crack the 2016-17 Calgary Flames roster.

- Also standing out on the ice? 2016 6th-round draft pick Eetu Tuulola. Tuulola was one of the Flames' feistiest prospects out on the ice today, constantly fighting for the puck down to the whistle, and expressing audible dissatisfaction after his rare failures. He has a hard, quick shot, and displayed guts in front of the Flames' brass during the afternoon session by attempting to pull off a spin-o-rama during the 1-on-1 drill.

- Diminutive centre Matthew Phillips was incredibly impressive Wednesday. Many of his moves could only be described as Johnny Gaudreau-esque, as could his explosiveness and hockey IQ. Though he's only (a generous) 5'7", his talents more than make up for his short stature.

- 2015 2nd-round pick Rasmus Andersson had a rough day on the ice Wednesday. By the time the 2-on-1 portion arrived halfway through the morning practice session, he looked gassed. This could potentially be attributed to the fact that just before the session, he'd endured a lengthy powerskating session, but it'll be interesting to see how he fares in a game situation on Thursday.

Brandon Hickey snaps his stick during a shot on Wednesday.
Photo credit: Nick Fleehart (Twitter)
- Brandon Hickey needs to work on his shot, but his defensive play was stellar. The 2016 Canadian World Junior team member was one of the best defensemen on the ice Wednesday; multiple times, he broke up potentially dangerous one-timer passes with a good stick, reminiscent of some similar plays T.J. Brodie was involved in breaking up during the 2015-16 season. He'll definitely be one to watch on Thursday.

- Brett Pollock, acquired from the Dallas Stars at the trade deadline along with Jyrki Jokipakka and a 2nd-round pick at the 2016 draft in exchange for Kris Russell, was quietly solid on Wednesday. Though he didn't especially stand out, he put his good shot to use on multiple occasions.

- David Rittich and Mason McDonald were both good on Wednesday. According to many people sitting around me, Rittich markedly improved from Tuesday's sessions, and from my observations, he seemed to be making some solid saves from close range. However, his positioning was not always up to par.

- Adam Ollas-Mattsson was sound defensively. He was never flashy -- and, really, didn't need to be -- but he made all the right choices on the back-end.

- Adam Fox was one of the better defensemen on the ice in the afternoon sessions. He consistently played opposing forwards with good positioning, and he broke up many 2-on-1s.

- Also impressing on the back-end? Kenney Morrison. Despite some occasional positioning errors, Morrison always regained his positioning very quickly and more often than not managed to effectively break up rushes. He and Fox are two of the Flames' most promising defense prospects.

- Sticking with the defense: Oliver Kylington brought all of the known goods, in his excellent speed and skating. He still looks as skinny as a pole on the ice, and hopefully he manages to add some more muscle in the offseason.

- Walk-on Spencer Foo occasionally made the opposing goalie look like, ahem, a foo. He has really soft hands, and he is really good at making the goalies open up the five-hole. Foo also possesses quick skating and a nice, hard shot.

Brayden Burke calls for the puck during a drill on Wednesday.
Photo credit: Nick Fleehart (Twitter)
- Lethbridge Hurricane and fellow walk-on Brayden Burke turned heads in the sessions with some silky moves. He was quick in his skating, and like Tuulola, was quite keen on the puck. It'll be interesting to see if he receives a contract, but my bets fall on the "he will" square.

- The two goaltenders on the ice for the afternoon session: Tyler Parsons and Nick Schneider. Parsons looked good down low, but he struggled with the high shots, especially on the glove side. Schneider had some rebound trouble on Wednesday, but managed to maintain good positioning and quickness despite this.

- Linus Lindstrom and Mitchell Mattson both possess good, quick releases. However, I found that Lindstrom didn't stand out much in comparison to fellow 2016 draft choice Mattson. The latter stuck out in both good and bad ways: while he kept getting the puck poked off of his stick during the 1-on-1 drill, he made up for it on the last play of the 2-on-1 drill, hammering home a one-timer bar-down over the left shoulder of Tyler Parsons.

- Finally, 2016 6th-overall draft choice Matthew Tkachuk was very impressive on Wednesday. Though he still looks incredibly raw, he possesses a wicked shot and excellent hand-eye coordination. Like Tuulola, he had the guts to try a spin-o-rama, and unlike Tuulola, he actually managed to turn said spin-o-rama into a shot on goal, which was stopped. Tkachuk has good hockey IQ, can make great passes, and is very sound positionally. One area which he still needs to work on is his skating -- especially at the beginning of the session, he simply wasn't as fluid in his mechanics as many of his peers (though, as he warmed up, his movements seemed to become more in-sync). Tkachuk may be the Flames' most complete prospect not named Jankowski, and he's still just eighteen years of age. He'll be a treat to watch for years to come.

The Flames continue their Development Camp tomorrow at 9:30 AM -- scrimmage day! Seats are limited, so if you want to attend, get there early. If you can't make it, you can follow along on my Twitter page (@FollowingCGY), or, on this very website, where a recap of the scrimmage will be posted tomorrow night.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Karri Ramo Injury: Torn ACL + Meniscus Damage - Done for the Season

Credit: Don McPeak - USA Today Sports
It didn't look good for Karri Ramo after a dangerous collision late in the Flames' 6-5 shootout win over San Jose last Thursday.

It certainly doesn't look any better today. Flames GM Brad Treliving made a rare appearance in front of the media this morning, announcing that Ramo, a pending UFA this summer, is out for 6-8 months (read: the rest of the season, and up until next year's training camp) with a torn ACL and meniscus damage.

That's a terrible injury for any goaltender, and it's especially unfortunate for Ramo, seeing as how he had just managed to establish himself as a solid starter in the Flames' crease. This injury could also result in Ramo receiving significantly discounted offers in Free Agency this summer, if any at all - teams typically don't like risking their money on seriously-injured players.

So, What Does This Mean?

Thinking in the now, this injury likely ends the Flames' playoff chances this season. The club will now be forced to ride Jonas Hiller the rest of the way, and his play has not been up to snuff this year.

Ramo will likely never play another game for the Flames, which is quite unfortunate. He had been a brighter spot on a pretty mediocre team. It'll be sad to see him go, if he leaves.

Still, he gave this team three pretty excellent years of goaltending. He won a playoff series against Vancouver last year, and actually managed a winning record in his career with the Flames (49-42-8), despite playing on bad teams in two of his three years here. He averaged a .911 save percentage over those three years.

Karri Ramo had big shoes to fill. He was the team's first real starting goaltender after the departure of Miikka Kiprusoff (sorry, Joey Mac), and he managed to hold the fort commendably. If he doesn't re-sign here come July (or August), he'll be missed.

The best of luck to Karri in this difficult time. A torn ACL is an incredibly difficult injury to overcome, but #31 has been a fighter his three years here in Alberta, and he has it within him to recover. Hopefully, he'll be back better than ever next year, in Calgary or elsewhere.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The State of the Calgary Flames

Credit: Kevin Kuo - USA Today Sports
It’s February 15th, 2016 - precisely two weeks before the Trade Deadline. The Calgary Flames sit a miserable sixth in the Pacific Division, eight points back of Nashville for the second wild-card playoff spot, with one game in hand. There are 27 games remaining in the 2015-16 season, one which the Flames entered with very high expectations, after the breakthrough success of 2014-15 and the offseason acquisitions of Michael Frolik and Dougie Hamilton.

The Flames have a 17.8% chance of making the playoffs this season, according to sportsclubstats.com. That’s not good for a team in such a weak division as the Pacific.

Hey, though - at least the Flames have a bunch of games in hand on their divisional rivals, right? Well, you’d be right, if you said that three weeks ago. The Flames no longer have any games in hand on anyone else ahead of them in the Pacific. Nobody.

But what about last year’s Ottawa Senators? They made the playoffs after being 14 points out of it. And that is true. Do the Flames have an Andrew Hammond, though? Karri Ramo is injured, so he isn’t the answer. Jonas Hiller certainly isn’t the answer. Is Joni Ortio the answer? Well, we don’t know that, and all indications point to Bob Hartley riding Hiller down the stretch.

The Core

So, with all that said, how does this seemingly-lost season affect the future of this club? Well, it doesn’t. The Flames are already stocked with talent - a core including the likes of:

- Sean Monahan, who’s on pace to come close to matching his 62-point campaign last year.
- Johnny Gaudreau, sixth in league scoring.
- Sam Bennett, set to score 20 goals as a rookie (the third straight year a Flames rookie has done so).
- T.J. Brodie, the team’s best defenseman.
- Mark Giordano, the team’s other best defenseman.
- Dougie Hamilton, who has effectively replaced Dennis Wideman this year with nine goals from the point.

That’s three forwards and three defensemen, a nice balance. However, upon breaking the core down positionally, you’ll notice a couple things are missing:

Left Wing: Gaudreau
Centre: Monahan; Bennett
Right Wing:
Defense: Brodie; Giordano; Hamilton

Up front, this Flames team is essentially the opposite of what it was during the Iginla years: plenty of centre depth, and no right wing support. Whereas, taking a look back at the core ten years ago, in 2006:

Left Wing: Tanguay?
Centre: Langkow?
Right Wing: Iginla
Defense: Phaneuf; Regehr
Goaltending: Kiprusoff

There are some differences here. Jarome Iginla was one of the best players in the NHL, but he had incredibly little support up front. When Daymond Langkow is part of your forward core, you have a problem.

Like today’s club, the Flames of old were heavy on D. These were the pre-Bouwmeester years, yes, but Dion Phaneuf had just scored 20 goals as a rookie, and Regehr was still giving Ales Hemsky nightmares.

Possibly the biggest difference between these two clubs, however, is in net. Which brings us to our next section:

The Goaltending

Credit: Sergei Belski - USA Today Sports
First, before we get into this discussion, is there any debate here that Miikka Kiprusoff is the best goaltender in Flames’ history? I mean, with all due respect to Mike Vernon and his multiple Stanley Cup rings, Miikka was this team’s workhorse for a decade, and he nearly led the Flames to a Cup himself.

So, with that - hopefully - settled, let’s move on to the situation in Calgary’s net. The Flames have three goaltenders. Their names are:

- Karri Ramo
- Jonas Hiller
- Joni Ortio

Judging on how this season has gone, however, the Flames really only have two netminders: Hiller and Ramo. Now, the latter of those two has an injured knee, and he’ll be out for a while. Hiller has moved into the starting position, and while Ortio is effectively now his backup, as the Sun article above says, he shouldn’t expect to play much, if at all.

These goaltenders have not been up to snuff this season, at all. Hiller just let in six goals to Anaheim, and his body of work this year suggests that not to be an aberration. Ortio hasn’t been much better, as his .862 save percentage in the NHL this year would suggest.

So, what do the Flames do? Well, this is a list of goaltenders who’ll be UFAs on July 1st:

- Cam Ward
- James Reimer
- Ben Scrivens
- Jhonas Enroth
- Alex Stalock
- Antti Raanta

Who there really stands out as a starting goaltender for a playoff team? Ward? Maybe? Does anyone else?

There’s James Reimer, for sure. He’s pretty good, and there’ll be many teams after him. However, is he proven? Not really. How about Scrivens? We saw the way he played in Edmonton. What about Enroth? Is he a starter in this league? Stalock? Not after last week’s 6-5 game. Raanta? A solid backup, sure.

Don’t read that paragraph. It’s super repetitive, because it keeps asking the same question: “is this guy really a starter?” And in most cases, the answer is “no”. So, the free agent market is out.

Is there another way?


When I do my Trade Deadline live blog in two weeks, I’ll have a few expectations for the Flames, including:

- Trade 3-4 of Hudler, Jones, Smid, Ramo, Hiller, Raymond and Wideman. Preferably for draft picks.
- Trade Russell.
- Get a decent goaltender who isn’t a career backup.

I’m not going to try and speculate on trades. That’s hard, and I’ve already written a very long article which doesn’t need to be longer. However, I’d like to see the Flames try and target Fredrik Andersen out of Anaheim as a potential solution in net. I’d also like to throw a proposal out there:

Hiller/Ramo + 3rd


Andersen (+ cap dump?)

Make it work, Brad. 

To Conclude

I’m fairly confident that this whole situation will work out in the Flames’ favour. They’ve got a good core, knowledgeable people in the front office, and tradable assets. If the Flames can manage to snag a first-rounder for Russell or Hudler (or both), I’d be super happy. 

The hindsight part of my brain wishes that they’d flipped Wideman and Hudler before the season. They could’ve gotten a couple of firsts and more for those two guys. Now, they’ll be lucky to get even one first without taking on a cap dump. However, hindsight is always 20/20, and the Flames will be able to get over that mistake. 

Here’s looking forward to cheering on this team, even as they spiral towards mediocrity, and being excited when they draft a great player come June. 

And hey, they’re ahead of the Oilers. Isn’t that all that matters?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Introducing 'Following the Flames'!

Hello, everyone!

Welcome to Following the Flames. On this website, I'll be writing three times a week (this may vary, depending on the time of year) about the Calgary Flames.

"Wait a minute," you say, scratching your head, "I've been to this website before! This is Glengarry Glencross!"

You'd be correct, although your tense is all mixed up. This was Glengarry Glencross. From last April to today, February 14, 2016, this website existed under that name. Why the change, then?

Let me put it this way: I love Curtis Glencross. He was a fantastic Flame, and I think it's a shame that he couldn't find a job in today's NHL. I also love the film Glengarry Glen Ross. Great movie. Always be closing.

However, you tell me: what do either of those two nouns have to do with the 2015-16 Calgary Flames?

Like it or not, Curtis Glencross is retired. I certainly don't like it, but it's a fact. Glengarry Glen Ross was a movie that came out in 1992, a time when the likes of Frank Musil, Robert Reichel, and Mark Habscheid were wearing the Flaming 'C' - not to mention the third-best #12 this franchise has ever had, the Kruser. And they were all fine players, mind you. But you tell me: what do they have to do with today's Flames?

In the future of this blog, I want to take a direct look at the Flames of today. While there will definitely be some looks to the past (especially come summertime - I'm already prepping for a "Top 30 Flames of the last 10 years" series of posts), this blog is intended to serve as an examination of what's going on with the Flames of today.

That sounded really serious. I promise to only do that once a week, max.

So, what do you have to expect from this site, features-wise? Well, there will be a few things to look for:

The Week that Was: Every Saturday, I'll take a look at what has occurred in the past week in the Calgary hockey scene. There will be loads of sub-features. Starting February 20.

Retro Rewind: An occasional feature, Retro Rewind will focus on a play, a player, or a game from the Flames' past.

Game Recaps: A very special feature, I'll do a Game Recap when I take in a Flames game at the Saddledome, or for particularly important games.

Live-blogging: The first instance of me live-blogging an event will occur February 29th: the Trade Deadline! These will also occur during important games, or during marquee NHL events, such as Free Agent Frenzy or the Draft.

There will be more features to come, for sure. Thank you for continuing to visit this website, and I'd like to officially invite you into my website: Following the Flames!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Reactions: Jonathan Drouin Suspended by Lightning - Trade Imminent - Agent Walsh Releases Statement

Credit: Robert Mayer - USA Today Sports
On Wednesday night, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman suspended highly-touted prospect Jonathan Drouin without pay for failing to report to the club's AHL affiliate in Syracuse. Drouin, the 3rd-overall pick in 2013, had been sent to the AHL following the release of information regarding the player's much-publicized and controversial trade request.
Why wouldn't Drouin want to play for Syracuse? Simple - he and his agent weren't pleased with how the Lightning's brass, including Yzerman, was treating him. His agent, Allan Walsh, confirmed this in a statement released Wednesday night:


- Jonathan Drouin will, evidently, never play another game in the Lightning's organization, which isn't surprising, given how this situation has transpired.

- You've got to wonder how this will impact Drouin's trade value - before this fiasco, he was widely regarded as a future stud stuck behind a deep lineup; now, he's seen as a player not committed to his team. The Lightning will be lucky to get any sort of first-round pick in return for him, now.

- Bob McKenzie said two weeks ago that he expected 13 or more teams to be in contention for Drouin's services, including Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Columbus, Montreal, Nashville, both New York teams, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Vancouver, and Winnipeg. I wonder how much that list has shrunk by now.

- Drouin to Calgary seems to be somewhat of a fit, with many of the team's wingers - including Jiri Hudler, Lance Bouma, and David Jones - slumping or injured. Perhaps they'd be able to give up one (or both) of Morgan Klimchuk and Emile Poirier, their two top wing prospects, for Drouin.

- Another team that looks to be a good fit is the Ducks, who are shockingly four points out of a playoff spot at the moment.

- I just can't see the Bolts dealing Drouin to a team in the East.

- Who is to blame for this fiasco? The initial culprit would, at first glance, be Drouin, but Allan Walsh is also taking lots of heat on Twitter. The general consensus regarding the pair's actions is "what were they thinking!?"

- Speaking of Twitter: at this writing, 'Drouin', 'Syracuse', and 'Allan Walsh' were 3 of the top five trends on the social networking site.

- Finally, you have to wonder how Steve Yzerman approaches his players during negotiations. He's had trouble in the past with Martin St. Louis and (still with) Steven Stamkos, and now Drouin looks to be as good as gone.

Could this, at least partially, be on him?

Friday, January 15, 2016

All-Star John Scott, and How the NHL Always Wins

Credit: Matt Kartozian - USA Today Sports

So, the NHL, faced with the prospect of John Scott representing the Arizona Coyotes at the All-Star Game, did not know what to do.

They must be feeling a lot better now, as Scott has been traded to the Montreal Canadiens and assigned to the AHL, thereby making him ineligible to participate in the game.


- The NHL’s fans can’t have nice things, apparently, as it has been reported that both the League and the Coyotes asked Scott not to play in the game. That’s just low — and Scott rightfully refused both times.

- Who will be the Pacific Division’s captain at the ASG now? Johnny Gaudreau, or someone else? Gaudreau was the second-highest vote-getter among Pacific Division players in the fan vote.

- It’ll be interesting to see the new fan voting debut next year, and what it constitutes. The NHL won’t want this to happen again.

- Max Domi will likely replace Scott as the Coyotes’ representative at the ASG.

- Of note: Scott’s current salary is $575,000. The bonus he would have received for winning at the All-Star Game: $95,000. That’s to him what it wouldn’t be for many others: real money.

- How much do you think the NHL pressured the Coyotes to trade Scott outside of the division?

- I wasn’t the biggest fan of Scott playing at the All-Star Game (not because I don’t like him — he seems like a genuinely good guy - but because it seemed like many fans were laughing at him instead of with him), but how the NHL has handled this event makes me want to see him play even more.

- I haven’t watched an All-Star Game in nine years. That would have changed this year. Not anymore.

- Finally, I wonder how John Scott feels about this. It’s been reported that he was looking dejected as he left Gila River Arena this morning, and I feel for him — he’s been the subject of a lot of publicity over the last month, and now he has been forced to depart Arizona for snowy St. John’s, sans the All-Star Game. I’d retire if I was him - what does he have to gain by playing there?

I’m sorry, John Scott. You never asked for this, and now you’ve been traded from where it’s 18 degrees and sunny to where it’s -6 and snowy. Wish you all the best.