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
Goaltending:

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?

Trades


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

for

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?

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