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Calgary Flames Post-Mortem



Study the past, if you would divine the future – Confucius

So said one of the most prominent philosophical thinkers of history. It’s a simple statement, the wisdom of which has resonated throughout the ages. With the focused reason of Confucius, let’s study the recent past of the Calgary Flames, in the hopes that we might divine theforeseeable future.

  • Season Record: 35-40-7 – 77 points
  • Division: 6th (of 7)
  • Conference: 13th (of 14)
  • League: 26th (of 30)
  • Wild Card: 14 points back

Setting the Stage

The 2013 NHL Entry Draft took place on June 30, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey. At the conclusion of the 2012/2013 season, the Flames had finished one of their worst seasons in franchise history. They were 2nd last in the NorthWest Division, 3rd from the bottom of the Western Conference, and 5th last overall; a full 13 points out of the playoffs in a shortened 48 game season.

The stage was set for full rebuild mode. Long-time Captain and Flames legend Jerome Iginlawas traded, as was defensive star Jay Bouwmeester. Starting netminder Mikka Kiprusoffannounced his retirement. There had been a coaching change before the start of the season asBob Hartley was brought in to replace Brent Sutter. While the season seemed to demand some form of sacrifice, Hartley would complete the season and would not be replaced. It would be GM Jay Feaster that would be the inevitable sacrificial lamb to appease the hockey gods, but that would not come until later…

There could be no doubt heading in to the draft that a rebuild was priority #1. Jay Feaster was still the man in charge, and had an enviable position at the draft. Due to the trades of Iginla and Bouwmeester, as well as finishing low enough to get a solid first pick, the Flames were holding a total of three first round picks, plus a 3rd round pick. If there was even a time to capitalize on a draft, this would be it.

By most accounts, Feaster and the Flames’ scouts did an admirable job. With the 6th overall pick, the Flames took an excellent young Centre by the name of Sean Monahan. There’s a story of it’s own, which we’ll get to soon. To the surprise of many, the Flames passed on local Calgary boy and Medicine Hat Tiger’s Captain Hunter Shinkaruk in favour of the much lower rankedEmile Poirier of Gatineau in the QMJHL. In retrospect, this was a fantastic move, as Shinkaruk has been plagued by injuries, while Poirier has been an absolute force for the Olympiques, leading the team with 43 goals, 87 points, and +30 rating. Poirier has since been producing well for the Flames AHL affilaite Abbotsford Heat in their playoff run. The final 1st round pick did end up being a Calgary lad named Morgan Klimchuk of the Regina Pats, who finished in the top 3 Pats scorers two years running despite missing handfuls of games. With their 3rd round pick, Feaster took a hulking 6’7″, 245 pound defender from the Victoria Royals named Keegan Kanzig.

If the Flames wanted to make an impact at the draft, they could say they had done so. WhenBrian Burke was added as President of Hockey Operations in September, he made to sure to mention more than once that he believe the Flames had the best draft of any NHL team.Reassuring words for Feaster, but ultimately not enough to save his job, as Burke would later axe Feaster and Assistant GM John Weisbrod in December.

Flames fans were ready for an unpredictable roster and equally unpredictable season. Would Hartley meet the same fate as Feaster? Which prospects would stay with the club after training camp? Who would emerge as the starting goaltender? Would the Flames finish in dead last or just close to last? Time would tell, and tell it has. What Went Right?

In the end, plenty of things went better than expected for the Flames. Perhaps that’s the nice thing about low expectations; it’s hard to disappoint! That said, there were definite bright spots for the Flames over the course of the 2013/2014 season.

  1. The early emergence of Sean Monahan: There’s little doubt about this one. Right from pre-season, the 18 year old first rounder looked ready to take on the best players in the world. With 22 rookie goals, he would eclipse both Jerome Iginla’s and Dion Phaneuf’s rookie seasons to be the best since probably Joe Nieuwendyk’s remarkable 1988 performance. Besides his offensive flair, Monahan’s work ethic and maturity have resulted in ringing endorsements from Burke, Hartley, Treliving, and much of the hockey world.
  2. Goaltending: I know many will jump all over this one, but it’s true. The goalie situation looked grim indeed at the beginning of the season. Neither Reto Berra nor Kari Ramohave good NHL experience, and neither started the season particularly well. By the end of the season, Burke had flipped Berra to the Colorado Avalanche for a 2nd round pick, and Ramo was starting to produce consistent results, if not the best goalkeeping stats in the league. Looking forward, it’s likely that Ramo will continue to occupy the starter spot, with support perhaps from veteran Joey MacDonald or perhaps one of Calgary’s bounty of goaltender prospects like Joni Ortio. It’s not immediate results, but it’s starting to become a solid foundation to build upon.
  3. Players in Supporting Roles: A variety of Flames players had seasons in which they either exceeded expectations or developed into much better players than they were previously. Lance Bouma was finally a Flames regular, and filled the role of checking line Centre very well. Playing beside Mark Giordano did T.J. Brodie a world of good, as he developed into the top pair defender the Flames have always felt he could be. Both of the Flames “tough guys”, Brian McGrattan and Kevin Westgarth, set career highs for offensive production while still providing the grit that they are known for. Chris Butler’s defensive game improved like crazy, and regular defensive partner Kris Russell added an element of speed, skill, and puck movement on the blue line. Perhaps most importantly, Mikael Backlund finally started to find a nice balance between offence and defence, thanks at least in part to the help of personal skills development coach Darryl Belfry. Backlund’s excellent two-way game is getting noticed, as his possesion stats (like Corsi For %) are the best of any Flames forward. (NOTE: We’ll ignore Johnny Gaudreauon that one, as he played only one game but had fantastic possession stats)
  4. Hartley’s Coaching: You have to hand it to Bob Hartley. He really got the whole team on board with a unified work ethic and system. Under his guidance, the Flames beat most expectations with a young and unproven roster, a lack of established scorers, and uncertain goaltending. The fact that the Flames lead the league in shots blocked (Butler was #2, Russell #3, and Smid #12 overall) is one great example of the Flames’ commitment to sacrifice and hard work.
  5. Gio as Captain: Besides leading the Flames record book in games played, goals, and points, Jerome Iginla was also the Flames’ Captain since 2003, and left a gaping hole in that department with his departure. Mark Giordano was named the 19th Captain in team history, and was almost certainly instrumental in the establishment of the aforementioned culture of work ethic and sacrifice that the Flames have become known for. Gio lead the Flames in +/- with a +12, and probably played the best season of his career. If he hadn’t broke his ankle while blocking a shot and missed 18 games, he almost certainly would have lead the team in points, as he was on a 60 point pace but had to settle for 47. Unfortunately, the injury likely took Giordano out of Norris Trophyconsideration as the NHL’s top defender, which he would have demanded attention for as one of the top 3 point-producing defencemen. He had the best possession stats of any Flame. If the team had an MVP this season, Gio would be him.

What Went Wrong?

Sure, plenty of things went well (or at least better than expected) for the Flames, but there were certainly negative aspects of the season.

  1. Injuries to Veterans: The Flames were plagued with key injuries in the 2013/2014. This was a double-edged sword of sorts, as missed time by vets allowed opportunities for prospects to grow, but it did impact the competitiveness of the team. As mentioned, Giordano missed 18 games. Ladislav Smid missed 26. Matt Stajan missed 19. Dennis Wideman missed 36. Curtis Glencross missed 44. For a team already lacking in experience, that’s a lot of lost manpower, and these are the guys that were supposed to be leading the Flames youngsters! It’s a good thing that the Flames weren’t really in a position to make a competitive run, as the injury bug would have been a major factor in how that played out.
  2. Sven Baertschi: While I really hate to single out one player on the negative side of things, poor Sven Baertschi definitely goes into this category for the Flames this season. If there was ever a excellent opportunity for the Swiss prospect to have a break-out season, this was it. Sven is unfortunately just not quite ready for top–6 NHL play, and he’s just not suitable for a checking role. By all accounts, Baetschi is playing well for the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat, so there’s still a good chance that he might grab a regular roster in the next season or two, if the Flames can make top–6 room for a skill guy that maybe isn’t that high on the physical side of things. He’ll just have to hope that Johnny Gaudreau doesn’t take that spot first!
  3. Failure to move Cammelleri at the deadline: Having moved Reto Berra for a 2nd round pick, and Lee Stempniak for a 3rd round pick, it must have been a tough pill to swallow for Burke when no one put out an acceptable offer for the Flames most desirable UFA, Mike Cammelleri. Although diminutive, Cammy it seems is always good for 25+ goals a season. Possibly because of a trading “log jam” due to Tomas Vanek and Matt Moulsongoing late on deadline day, Burke just couldn’t get a reasonable offer in on time, and Cammelleri had to stay in Cow Town. From a rebuild standpoint, it would have been awfully nice to get a first round pick or possibly a hot prospect out of a deal. Cammy is highly respected by the players, and he seems at least somewhat interested in staying in Calgary, but the smart money would be bet on Mike leaving for a contender near the Free Agent deadline.

Where do we Go From Here?

The immediate past for the Flames has included jumping with both feet into a rebuild, and then somewhat exceeding early expectations. Under the competent oversight of Bob Hartley, they are building an identity of hard work and determination. They practice hard, and they play hard.

The goal moving forward will be to build on that. The effort is there. A little more development and effort should turn to results. The 2013/2014 season was a promise by the Calgary Flames to their fans that they will have a winning team in the future; a promise that all of the trades and all of the losses will not have been in vain.

Next year, the expectations of Flames management, coaching, and fans will be higher. It’s likely far too soon to speculate about a playoff run, but with the stagnant growth of the Edmonton Oilers and the decline of the Vancouver Canucks, I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility for the Flames to be the best team in Western Canada next season, especially if they can keep guys like Giordano and Glencross healthy.

Read more Flames and other great entries at Two Pad Stack.


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