With less than a month before the start of hockey’s regular season, the Guardian Liberty Voice will be taking an in-depth look at the 30 organizations, one for each day. Today, 30 in 30 will look at the Calgary Flames. It is tough to judge exactly where Calgary will be next year. From the organization’s own admission, the Flames are in the midst of a rebuild, but the signings made this summer do not seem to support that stance. On paper, the Calgary Flames appear to be stuck in hockey limbo. Their roster does not appear talented enough to make the playoffs, but there is enough talent there that may prevent them from grabbing a high draft pick.
Last Season – The Flames finished last season with only 77 points, and the organization was behind the eight-ball early in the season. After putting up a .500 record in October, Calgary lost 10 out of the 14 games in November, putting them squarely in the company of the bottom-feeders of the league. The Flames did show some signs of life throughout the year, winning five in a row in late January and five out of seven in late March, but ultimately, the team was unable to compete in the tough Western Conference.
Two players stood out for the Calgary Flames last year, and they only serve as evidence as to the tough situation the Flames find themselves in. Captain Mark Giordano had a career year, putting up 47 points in 64 games, and earning himself some Norris votes in the process. He missed 18 games early in the season after breaking his ankle blocking a shot. His absence was noticeable for Calgary, as the team only won five out of the 18 games he missed. At 30-years-old, he is starting to reach the twilight of his career, which may mean he might not be around when the Flames finish their rebuild.
At only 19-years-old, the other standout player for Calgary last year should give hope for the future. Sean Monahan showed up to training camp confident he could make the Flames’ roster, and he not only made the team, he surpassed everyone’s expectations. Monahan became the first junior-eligible player to play full-time with Calgary in 33 years. He gave the organization very little choice but to keep him on the roster, after scoring six goals in the first nine games. He finished the year with over 20 goals, becoming the first Flames rookie forward to do so since former captain Jarome Iginla did so in the 1996-1997 season.
The Offseason – The Calgary Flames made their presence known in the offseason. Grabbing Sam Bennett with the 4th overall pick should give the Flames a solid one-two combination down the center for the foreseeable future. Calgary has been stockpiling young talent for quite a while, and with the likes of Monahan, Bennett, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sven Baertschi, the organization should have a solid Top 6, should the players develop as expected.
This makes the signings of the offseason all the more questionable. The Flames jumped on the available players on the first day of free agency, signing forward Mason Raymond to a three-year contract, and goaltender Jonas Hiller to a two-year deal. They also signed defenseman Deryk Engelland to three-year deal. Almost all the of Flames contracts end in three years or less (Matt Stajan being the only exception), which gives ample time for their young prospects to develop. However, this also means that when those three years are up, the Calgary Flames will have a lot of roster spots to fill with almost everyone needing to be re-signed or let go. Hiller was a good pick-up, as the Flames were not going anywhere with Ramo and Berro, but Calgary will need a new goalie by the time the rest of their roster develops.
Deryk Engelland is an especially confusing grab. He is a solid bottom-pairing defenseman in his own right, but he has taken more of a enforcer-role in recent years. With Brian McGrattan on the roster already, and many other players not afraid to drop the gloves, Engelland seems like a redundant signing, especially on a three-year deal.
What to Watch for This Season – The defense will be the main thing to keep an eye on for the Flames this season. The success of the team seems to be influenced heavily by the play of their captain, so it will be interesting to see if Giordano can repeat his success from last season or if he will fall a bit back to Earth. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Dennis Wideman needs to live up to his $5.25 million contract. His performance last year was far below expectations and Calgary can not afford to play him for 22 minutes a night if he continues that level of play. Ladislav Smid will be a wildcard in the defensive corps.
The development of the young prospects of the Flames will also be something to watch. Monahan should continue to develop into a solid first or second line center in the NHL, but the rest of the prospects should be playing with their respective junior club or in Adirondack with Calgary’s AHL affiliate. Gaudreau and Baertschi could make the jump to the NHL roster if they have an impressive camp, but the signing of Raymond gives Calgary a back-up plan if they don’t.
In a tough Western Conference, it is hard to say that the Flames will have a lot of success this upcoming year. In the midst of a rebuild, that is not such a bad thing, but after five years of no playoff action, the Calgarian fanbase must be getting restless to bring back the “C of Red” to the Saddledome. There is hope in the future for the Calgary Flames, but going into next season, it appears the team is caught in hockey limbo.
Join the Guardian Liberty Voice tomorrow, where 30 in 30 will examine the inconsistent Carolina Hurricanes. Also check out yesterday’s team, the Buffalo Sabres.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner