THN’s 2015-16 NHL season preview: Calgary Flames

After a surprising 2014-15 campaign, the pressure is on in Calgary for the Flames to have one heck of an encore. Off-season additions of Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik will help the Flames continue their upward trajectory and young guns Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett will again make Calgary an offensive force.

2014-15 Record: 45-30-7 (97 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 3rd, Pacific Division
What To Expect: Last summer, nearly everyone suspected there would be a buzz around the Flames in the spring, because
Connor McDavid was up for grabs, and Calgary looked like a sure lottery contender. But nearly everyone was wrong about the Flames, who overcame the loss of captain
Mark Giordano in the final quarter of the season and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Despite their success, pitiful possession numbers and 10 comeback wins told the story of a lucky team who arrived ahead of schedule. GM Brad Treliving, aware of the potential for regression, boldly upgraded his roster. He dealt for RFA defenseman
Dougie Hamilton, a 22-year-old star in the making, and promptly signed him to a six-year deal. He then lured versatile two-way winger
Michael Frolik as a UFA. These additions, along with the natural progression of youngsters
Johnny Gaudreau,
Sean Monahan and
Sam Bennett, will guard against a slide.

Up front, two 60-point locks in Monahan and Gaudreau lead the charge on a line with
Jiri Hudler. A potent second line didn’t emerge last year, and Treliving hopes Bennett, 19, solves that problem. He has outgrown the OHL and could be an offensive catalyst as a rookie. Team goal production should once again be top 10. With Hamilton, the Flames have arguably the NHL’s best D-corps. Hamilton settles in on the second pair behind Brodie and Giordano, who signed a six-year extension in August. The team’s offensive engine starts on ‘D’, featuring four players who’ll break 40 points. Goaltending wasn’t a strength last season, but
Jonas Hiller,
Karri Ramo and
Joni Ortio did an adequate job. It would be preferable if one of them stepped up as a go-to guy. The top-line PP unit was deadly, but a second unit, perhaps built around Bennett, must emerge. The PK should flourish with the reliable Frolik. The Flames now believe they belong. They won’t sneak up on anyone, but they won’t have to. They’re skilled enough to hang with the West’s best.
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Best-Case Scenario: The Flames aren’t going to surprise anyone this season and a return to the post-season should be in order with the additions Calgary made in the off-season. In Hamilton and Frolik, the Flames got instantly better in the puck possession game. It’ll still likely be a battle to the end. Expect a low-seed berth, but this team isn’t quite Cup-ready.
Worst-Case Scenario: The additions of Hamilton and Frolik won’t backfire, but it’s possible they don’t stop the regression as much as Flames fans are hoping for. The Pacific Division isn’t a cakewalk. Calgary could get into another battle for a wild-card spot and any untimely losses could mean no post-season. Just ask the division-rival Los Angeles Kings.
Who To Watch: There are a number of interesting players on the Flames heading into the season, but how Bennett fares this season could have a big impact on how Calgary finishes. The rookie, who likely would have made the Calgary roster to being 2014-15 were it not for a shoulder injury, will step in to second-line duty almost instantly. In 11 post-season games, Bennett played well, scoring three goals and four points while averaging 14 minutes per game. At the time of the release of THN’s 2015 Future Watch issue, Bennett was the second-ranked prospect in the game. Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid may have surpassed him at this point, but Bennett could be a sneaky candidate for Calder honors on a Calgary team that has some firepower.
What The Numbers Say (by Dom Luszczyszyn):
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Click here for more detail on these predictions. As you’ve probably heard by now, the numbers don’t really like the Calgary Flames. They were a bottom-three shot rate team last season that found a way to squeak into the playoffs thanks to a high shooting percentage, great penalty differential, and obscene numbers in extra attacker situations. A lot of things went their way, and it’s unlikely they repeat that magic. That is until Calgary went out and improved their team in a big way by adding Frolik and Hamilton. But are they enough to prevent a drastic fall? The answer is likely no. It’s not that those players aren’t very good – or even elite in Hamilton’s case – it’s that the Flames were in for a huge drop.
Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 2.12.37 PM Without the key additions Calgary made this off-season, they’d likely be looking at a 12 point fall. Instead, it’s probably an eight point fall which isn’t as bad, but still puts them outside the playoff bubble. In a relatively weak Pacific, there’s a still a decent chance that Calgary can make the playoffs, but in terms of talent they’re well below the three California teams and the top six teams in the Central. On paper, every position looks to be near the bottom third. The Flames have a strong top six, but the bottom six is lacking. On defense it’s the same story where the Flames boast one of the league’s strongest top three and one of the weakest bottom three. There’s a lot of hype there after adding Hamilton, but
Kris Russell and
Deryk Engelland drag the group back down to earth. The Brodie injury doesn’t help either. Natural youthful progression might offset things a bit, but Calgary looks like a team that will do worse this season despite getting better. One step forward, two steps back.
THN is rolling out its 2015-16 Team Previews daily, in reverse alphabetical order, until the start of the season. Check out our ‘Previews’ section to see other team breakdowns.