The Calgary Flames are in a full-on rebuild and have the support of their fans. But while another top five pick is likely on the way, ans would also like to see improvement from the young players already on the roster and a strong rookie year from Johnny Gaudreau.
2013-14 record: 35-40-7
Acquisitions: Devin Setoguchi, Jonas Hiller, Mason Raymond, Deryk Engelland, Brandon Bollig
Departures: Shane O’Brien, T.J. Galiardi, Chris Butler, Joey MacDonald, Blair Jones, Mike Cammalleri
Top five fantasy options: Jiri Hudler, Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan, Mason Raymond, Mikael Backlund
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: Even though the Flames were fourth worst in the league last season, Calgary fans were patient and rallied behind the rebuild because for the first time in a decade, there’s skillful youth coming through the system.
Sean Monahan made the grade as a 19-year-old, T.J. Brodie emerged as a top-two defender and Mikael Backlund, Joe Colborne and Karri Ramo made positive strides.
Expectations are high for Johnny Gaudreau, who lit up college hockey with 80 points in 40 games to win the Hobey Baker Award, Sam Bennett, who was selected fourth overall (though he’s not guaranteed to make the team as an 18-year-old) and Tyler Wotherspoon, who has a top-seven spot on the blueline. And soon there will be Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund and Emile Poirier.
The Flames are still outmatched by most teams in all areas, but expectations are realistic. The fans know there will be another top-five pick in the pipeline a year from now.
Bust: Most prognosticators have the Flames finishing among the bottom three teams, so there’s not a lot of busting that could happen that would surprise or disappoint fans. Still, question marks remain.
What if Monahan struggles in an increased role in his sophomore season and can’t match the 22 goals he scored in 2013-14? What if the loss of proven scorers Mike Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak dries up the offense and the young forwards spin their wheels? What if small-man Gaudreau just can’t handle the size of the NHL? What if Baertschi is another Swiss miss? What if the career seasons for Mark Giordano and Backlund in 2013-14 were aberrations?
Calgary will need a lot of standout performances if it’s going to avoid finishing in the bottom five again. But if the Flames remain among the cellar dwellers, we can’t really call that a bust. For a team with low expectations, the worst-case scenario is finishing just outside the playoffs and missing out on a prime draft position.
Bottom Line: If things go better than expected in Calgary, the Flames will miss out on one of Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel or Noah Hanifin as top prospects in the 2015 draft, but still miss the playoffs. If the Flames predictably struggle, they’ll add another high pick blue-chipper to the prospect stable. Expect Calgary to grind out a lot of close games under well-liked coach Bob Hartley, keeping in mind that most of those matches will be losses.
Prospect to watch: Flames GM Brad Treliving said he’d be “shocked” if No. 4 overall pick Sam Bennett made the team out of camp, so we’ll turn our attention to Gaudreau. A super scorer with Boston College for three years, Gaudreau comes with high expectations. Flames fans would like to see him at least contend for the Calder Trophy this season and provide a glimmer of hope that Sean Monahan did last season. Gaudreau played one game for the Flames at the end of last season and scored a goal.
THN’s Prediction for 2014-15: Seventh in Pacific Division
Contributors: Brian Costello, Rory Boylen