2014-15 NHL season preview: Calgary Flames

This 2014-15 NHL Season Preview features the Calgary Flames.

What was Stanley Cup worthy in 2013-14?

Despite missing the playoffs for the 5th consecutive year, the Calgary Flames gave their fans hope that things are turning around. If defense does in fact win championships, then the Flames are on the right track, finishing 8th in the NHL with just 28.6 shots allowed per game.

They also finally found a potential top line centre. 18 year-old Sean Monahan looked very much like the real deal in his rookie season notching 22 goals, 19 of which came at even strength (Only Mike Cammalleri had more goals at even strength with 20). While 9 of those came in his first 24 games, Monahan showed enough that many expect him to develop into sort of a “Jonathan Toews-lite” before too long.

Defenseman Mark Giordano was another bright spot for Calgary, finishing with career-highs in goals (14), points (47) and plus/minus (+16) in 64 games. Many thought his season was good enough to warrant a Norris Trophy nomination, but he finished in 10th place in the voting for the award, no doubt due to his early-season injury.

25 year-old centre Mikael Backlund also had a breakout year. After drafting him 24th overall in 2007, the Flames had very high expectations of the Swede, but he struggled to find his way through his first four seasons. in 2013, he finally showed that he’s ready to be the solid, two-way centre the Flames need to complement Monahan and newly drafted Sam Bennett posting career bests in goals (18), assists (21), points (39) and ice time (18:32 per game).

What was draft lottery worthy in 2013-14?

As solid as the defense was as limiting shots against, the Flames didn’t generate a ton going the other way. They managed just 26.8 shots per game. Only 2 teams in the league were worse.

After scoring 20-plus goals twice for the Colorado Avalanche, David Jones was brought in to provide some secondary scoring punch. Unfortunately for the Flames, a combination of inconsistent play and injuries led to Jones putting up just 9 goals in 48 games with a shooting percentage of just 8.7%, well below his career average of over 14%.

Another player that was counted on for some offense was former 13th overall pick Sven Baertschi. The 21 year-old managed to get into just 26 games, scoring twice. He has all the tools to be a top sniper in the league, but he has yet to be able to translate that into solid production in the NHL (just 8 goals in 51 games) after tearing it up in the WHL (67 goals in 113 games).

So what did they do to get better?

The number one addition the Calgary Flames made this off-season came at the draft, where they selected Sam Bennett with the 4th overall pick. He finished last season with 91 points in 57 games with the Kingston Frontenacs and has been compared to former Flames centre Doug Gilmour because of his competitiveness and realtively small frame. He and Monahan should provide the Flames with a very good one-two punch at centre for years to come.

With Brian Burke at the helm, you just knew that Calgary was going to add some toughness and they did. Brandon Bollig was brought in via a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks. With him, he brings a decent defensive game and a very gritty game. He’s also got a Stanley Cup ring, invaluable experience for the young Flames.

They also signed defenseman Deryk Engelland as an unrestricted free agent. The former Penguin is very tough to play against, although many have questioned whether he brings enough to warrant a three year, 8.75 million dollar contract.

Toughness isn’t all they added however. Mason Raymond was signed to help fill the offensive gap created by Cammalleri’s departure. He’ll bring lots of speed and some offensive skill to the forward ranks and should be a decent secondary scorer.

Last but not least, Jonas Hiller was brought in to shore up what was a very unstable position. He will provide a steady presence in goal and, assuming the Flames defense limits shots as well as they did last year, should be a major upgrade.

Player to watch

It’s rare that rookies are “players to watch”, but if former 4th round pick Johnny Gaudreau makes the big club, watch for him to be an offensive spark-plug. At just 5’7″ and 150 pounds he’s very small, but has excellent escape ability and vision. He led Boston College with 80 points in just 40 games last season. He also scored in his Flames debut last season.

…a combination of a regime change and some very high picks have given Flames’ fans a reason to hope.

They will make the playoffs if…

The kids perform well above expectations (how often does that happen?). The next generation of Flames is the best one in two, perhaps three decades with Monahan, Bennett, Gaudreau and Baertschi among others.

They will miss the playoffs if…

They cannot adequately replace the 26 goals that Cammalleri brought last season. Their offense was already anemic. Losing their best goal scorer is not a good way to fix that.

What should we expect this season?

The Calgary Flames are one of the worst drafting teams of the last 20 years. Backlund is the only player they’ve selected since 2004 who has played over 200 career games. Is it a wonder they are where they are?

Having said that, a combination of a regime change and some very high picks have given Flames’ fans a reason to hope.

Their crop of young forwards looks very promising. If they all pan out, the light at the end of the long, long tunnel might finally be visible. Just not quite yet.

Prediction

31-43-8 70 points, 7th in the Pacific Division, 14th in the Western Conference

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Tags: 2014-15 NHL Season Previews Brandon Bollig Calgary Flames David Jones Deryk Engelland Johnny Gaudreau Jonas Hiller Mark Giordano Mason Raymond Michael Cammalleri Mikael Backlund NHL Sam Bennett Sean Monahan Sven Baertschi

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