Ranking the Rebuilds #6…The Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB - APRIL 9: Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Los Angeles Kings at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 9, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)
CALGARY, AB – APRIL 9: Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Los Angeles Kings at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 9, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Calgary Flames rebuild officially started on March 28 2013 when they finally pulled the trigger on a trade sending away Jerome Iginla for two prospects and a 1st round pick (Morgan Klimchuck).

None of the assets acquired in that trade have had any impact in the NHL but that doesn’t mean the Flames have been sitting on their hands.

The return on that trade was limited because then GM Jay Feaster was hobbled by Iginla’s no trade clause and, in fact, Feaster had a better deal in place with Boston before Iginla decided he would rater play in Pittsburgh.

Feaster wouldn’t survive long enough for the trade to play out after Brian Burke was named POHO in September 2013 and would fire Feaster several months later.

He was replaced by Brad Treliving, the former assistant GM in Phoenix, and the two men rolled up their sleeves and went to work.

The Flames had missed the playoffs for 4 consecutive seasons when the new regime took over and would miss again in 2013-14 but would quickly rebound in 2014/15 with a 97 point season good enough for 3rd in the Pacific Division.

The quick turnaround in Calgary came from a variety of sources.

In the first part of this series, I lauded the rebuild of the Tampa Bay Lightning as being the best in many seasons and it’s interesting to look at a comparison of the two rebuilds (Tampa vs. Calgary) from a respected Flames blogger From 80 Feet Above:

What the Lightning’s success does re-inforce is that the NHL is a young man’s game now. With Stamkos, Johnson, Hedman, Killorn and Palat all in that ‘sweet spot’ of being 24 or 25 years old, it shows what could be possible for the Flames in a few years with their young core of Ferland, Gaudreau, Bennett, Monahan and Brodie.

By turning over a portion of the roster every off-season, building up a solid supporting cast, strengthening the back-end, continually injecting youth, Yzerman has built a Lightning team that looks poised to be good for many years to come.

It’s not to say the Flames won’t be able to accomplish next season what Tampa Bay is doing right now, just don’t expect it.

What you should be hoping for instead is that Calgary stays the course on its rebuild and eventually gets to where the Lightning are at. Being a perennial Stanley Cup threat in which deep playoff runs become the norm, not the exception, should be the real goal here.

That article was written on May 31 and, of course there have been some significant changes for the Flames since then.

Chief among them was the absolute theft of young D stud Dougie Hamilton from the Boston Bruins and the signing of possession monster Michael Frolik in free agency.

Even before that, the Flames had shored up their D prospect depth by grabbing two very highly rated draft eligible players in Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington.

They added to that haul when they signed 6’3″ 210 free agent RH D Kenney Morrison out of Western Michigan University who promptly went on to score 6 points in 10 GP in a late season debut with the Adirondack Flames of the AHL

Considering their current NHL D depth chart is likely the best in the NHL, that certainly secures both the present and the future.

The Flames are in the enviable position of have no less than THREE legit top pairing D in Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie and Dougie Hamilton and their supporting cast of Kris Russell, Dennis Wideman and Derek Engelland, while being a little shy on the bottom pairing, has blue chip prospects who will, soon make an impact.

Like any team that is rebuilding to win, centre depth is critical and the Flames have addressed that issue through the draft.

In their first draft, the new regime selected Sean Monahan 6th overall. Monahan has already established himself as one of the best 2 way centres in the league…hitting 31 goals in his second season at age 20.

The following year, they selected Sam Bennett, who I rated the best player available in the draft, at 4th overall and, despite needing shoulder surgery, Bennett would score more that 2.0 PPG when he returned to the OHL and then managed 3 goals and 4 points in 11GP in the NHL playoffs.

How is this for C depth?

Monahan

Bennett

Backlund

Stajan

Colborne

Bouma

Jooris

Byron

Shore

Granlund

That’s 10 natural centres folks and, while some have already been shifted to wing, I think you’ll have to agree that position has been well stocked.

With D and C already solved, that brings us to the crease where the Flames have 3 legit NHL goaltenders on the roster and blue chip prospects Jon Gillies and Mason MacDonald working their way up through the system.

All this, and not a mention of Johnny Gaudreau who was the most electrifying rookie in the NHL last season.

The former 4th round pick scored 24 goals and 64 points as a rookie and I expect he’ll build off that success in the upcoming season.

The Flames rebuild isn’t quite done since they’ll have to find another scoring winger and need to move out some deadwood on D (Smid, Engelland) but their future is very bright according to Hockey’s Future:

TEAM BREAKDOWN:
Strengths: The Calgary Flames have a bright future ahead of them as they have transformed into a resilient team that will only get better. It was thought the rebuild would take years before the Flames would contend for the postseason, but the bar has been raised following a special year that saw them reach the second round of the playoffs through determination and skill.

Most of their graduated prospects from this season were impact players, but their prospect pool is still flush with talent across the board. Markus Granlund has settled into a second/third line role while Michael Ferland stepped up in the postseason.

Expect Sam Bennett to push for a spot in the NHL next season.

There is also competition coming from the AHL ranks with a strong cast of players like Emile Poirier, Tyler Wotherspoon, Kenny Agostino and others fighting for an NHL job.

Further down the pipeline in the NCAA and CHL, there are a host of skilled forwards with promise including Mark Jankowski, Morgan Klimchuk, and Hunter Smith. In spite of their shallowness in goal, Joni Ortio, Jon Gilles and Mason McDonald have shown prospective for the future of the Flame’s net.

Weaknesses: Calgary is fortunate to have a deep defensive pool, but the system needs a high-end, puck-moving defenseman who can transition the puck up ice and run the power play. The Flames also need more depth on the right wing and in the crease.

Please note the bolded.

The Flames acquired Dougie Hamilton to cover the first weakness and added Michael Frolik to address the second.

There is some concern that The Flames were “lucky”last season based on their possession stats but I find it difficult to project that going forward considering the offseason additions of Hamilton, Frolik and Bennett and potentially Morrisson and others.

This rebuild isn’t quite finished but, damn, it’s close and, when you consider it’s only been underway for 2 years, while provincial rival Edmonton has been rebuilding for almost a decade, it’s remarkable.

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The Home Stretch

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Only 5 weeks remaining in the NHL regular season and we’re in for a helluva finish in the WC and there are still 3-4 teams that could grab the final wild card spot in the EC.

The Boston Bruins just defeated the Flyers in OT.

Boston moves to 73 points, up 3 on Florida and 4 on Ottawa and Philly. Given that Florida is without their top 2 goaltenders they may be all but out of it and I’d keep an eye on the streaking Senators who are 8-1-1 in their last 10GP, somehow.

Much more interesting in the WC where Minnesota, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary, Los Angeles, San Jose and even Dallas, are still all vying for a playoff spot.

I had all but counted the Stars out of the race but there’s word today that Tyler Seguin is expected to return from injury tonight much sooner than expected and, if they can get even average goaltending, they may well be right back in it.

As for the others, I would bet a sizeable amount that the Minnesota Wild will make the playoffs with a very good chance to overtake the Blackhawks and/or St’ Louis for 2nd or #rd in the Central Division.

Then it gets really interesting.

Winnipeg has been exceeding expectations all season but now they are without their best player, Dustin Byfuglien, and their top centre, Bryan, Little for an extended period. I’m not sure they can withstand that double body blow.

Vancouver is almost impossible to get a read on. In their last 10 games, they’ve beaten Minnesota, the Rangers, the Islanders, Boston and St. Louis but lost to Buffalo, Arizona and New Jersey. You have to wonder why they can’t beat the teams they should beat.

The Calgary Flames continue to amaze. Everyone was counting them out when Mark Giordano went down with a season ending injury but all they’ve done is beaten Detroit, Boston and Philly…all on the road….since he went down. What the Flames are accomplishing with the lowest payroll in the league (other than those who sold the farm at the deadline) is a testament to great coaching and hard work. Yes, I know they are getting hammered in the possession stats but what many of the staszis don’t often recognize is that shot blocking is a demonstrable, repeatable skill and the Flames are exceptional at it. Flames defenseman Kris Russell leads the league in BS by a wide margin with 221 compared to 175 for the second place shot blocker Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators. Dennis Wideman, TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano are also among the top 20 in the league. Shot blocking may not be good for your Corsi rating but it sure does stop goals from being scored.

It also helps that the Flames are among the top scoring teams in the league (11th) at 2.82 while the supposedly young, fast talented Oilers will all those #1 picks are 28th at a paltry 2.17…only Arizona and Buffalo are worse.

Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are both providing great numbers fro such young players and those who expected Monahan to fall back this season have been very disappointed…he could hit 30 goals and 60 points.

Both Los Angeles and San Jose remain just outside the wild card spots and, while I expect LA will make it, San Jose appears to be in serious trouble despite their star-studded lineup.

Buckle up…it’s going to be a great ride.