The Flames, who had a season to remember in 2015, came into this last season with some high expectations for themselves, they added to a deep blueline and tried to get a few of those young players that achieved great praise to repeat those efforts the next season.
Instead of a team with nothing to lose, they had their own pride and their fans' expectations to work against, but the moves and the philosophies that surrounded this team worked against them and that has cost the head coach, Bob Hartley, his job and the Flames are looking to go in a completely different direction, fueled by the players that are already there.
The Flames were not short of some positives in the 2016 season, as some of their key players continued to emerge as legitimate top-end players in the NHL and they were able to swing a couple of deals that landed them some help in the short and the long-term, which should have the fan base a little more at ease, heading into the off-season.
Looking back on the 2016 season from a pool perspective, it should come as no surprise that they were a favourite in the season-opening draft, with 16 players taken among 27 teams in 14 rounds. Three of those players were dropped in Week Nine, while one was picked up and then in Week Eighteen, that one that was picked up was dropped and one of the first three drops was picked up again. Got that?
Johnny Gaudreau was the top Flames player at the end of the season, as he finished the season ranked 15th among all players in the pool in scoring, finishing with 30 goals and 78 points in 79 games in the year. There's no question that this is his team moving forward and management is building around him.
Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Joe Colborne, Sam Bennett and Michael Frolik all finished as draft-worthy forwards in the season, while Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton were considered to be draft-worthy on the blueline. All of these players finishing in the top 378 (27 teams * 14 players per team) in overall scoring. In goal, Karri Ramo did carry the better part of the load, before getting hurt and did register a point per appearance in the season.
The Flames will be among those teams that will garner a lot of attention at the draft, but without a very solid foundation, you may want to take a few of these players with a grain of salt.
What I Said Last Year, At This Time...
There is no reason why the Flames can't return to the second round of the playoffs again, as their trajectory has taken a turn to the good and their stocks continue to rise. Monahan will go into year three with experience as the number one pivot, Gaudreau will be a targeted, yet elusive, point of attack, the blueline emerged as quite beast and their goaltending responded well to the platoon system, which they may have to employ for another year, waiting for that iron-clad number one. If the Flames can find one more playoff leader, they might be very hard to stop next season.
Swing and a miss! Monahan and Gaudreau were definitely points of emphasis this past season, Gaudreau being the top dog of the bunch, but in what they were not able to accomplish in 2016, they must have been able to learn a few things. With a sell-off at the trade deadline and a notion to move forward in this rebuild, they still have a positive trajectory for their franchise, but it could be more baby steps than huge leaps.
2017 Pool Outlook
|Michael Frolik||4.300||Mark Giordano||6.750|
|Mikael Backlund||3.575||Dougie Hamilton||5.750|
|Sam Bennett||0.925||Dennis Wideman||5.250|
|Mason Raymond||3.150||Ladislav Smid||3.500||Jon Gillies||0.925|
|Matt Stajan||3.125||Deryk Engelland||2.917||Mason McDonald||0.853|
|Lance Bouma||2.200||Kenney Morrison||0.925||Nick Schneider||0.575|
|Brandon Bollig||1.250||Jyrki Jokipakka||0.900|
|Mark Jankowski||0.925||Patrick Sieloff||0.894|
|Daniel Pribyl||0.925||Rasmus Andersson||0.818|
|Hunter Shinkaruk||0.902||Oliver Kylington||0.793|
|Emile Poirier||0.894||Keegan Kanzig||0.773|
|Morgan Klimchuk||0.894||Brett Kulak||0.657|
|Micheal Ferland||0.825||Ryan Culkin||0.657|
There were a lot of questions about the Flames' goaltending situation all through the 2016 season, but now the slate is clean and there is lots of directions that this team can go in now. They can run with their top prospects right away, allowing for more salary cap flexibility or they can go chase one of the top free agents, assuming that they're still available, when the market opens on July 1st. There is still lots of possibility for this table to change significantly, by or around the draft.
This could be the year that their top prospect in the crease makes some noise, as the Flames have the ability to say, 'you're the guy' to Jon Gillies. The kid has size and a lot of natural talent, but his 2016 season was cut short by injury this season, which could make his NHL-level debut set back another year, as I'm sure a 22-year old goalie could benefit from one full year in the AHL. Another kid to keep an eye on will be Mark Jankowski, as the 1st round pick from 2012 is now ready for the pro game.
Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft
The Flames are certainly in a spot where they don't have to fill one particular need, as all of the positions could welcome a little bit more high-profiled help from the opening round of the draft. They will pick from the sixth position in the 1st round and if the Dallas Stars can make it past the St. Louis Blues next week, they will get their pick as well. Concentrating on the sixth pick, they have lots to choose from and this pick will give us all a great idea of where they're going with their new philosophies. If I was making the pick for Calgary, I would be taking a kid like Alexander Nylander, since his playmaking ability would have some complimentary value to Sam Bennett's power forward abilities.
Free Agency and the Salary Cap
In net, we know that Jonas Hiller will not be back in the NHL, as he has signed in Switzerland to play for the next three years, Niklas Backstrom is likely to hang the skates up at 38 years old, Karri Ramo is eligible for unrestricted free agency and Joni Ortio is a restricted free agent, the Flames could very well just the Summer of an empty crease.
Restricted free agency could be an even bigger concern up front, as both Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are in need of new deals, while Joe Colborne could also use a new contract. Those three are their main concerns and there will be a lot of cap space taken up by their deals.
Unrestricted, beyond the goalies, there isn't a great deal of concern, but Jakub Nakladal did raise an eyebrow or two and he is in line for a new deal, if management thinks highly enough of him.
The roster table above comes in at a total of $64.2 million, which you'll pare away the minor-leaguers and get down to a 23-man roster, eventually, but this team will have to address their big RFA's, before they know how much of a budget they'll have for other free agents.
When the Flames added Dougie Hamilton, their blueline was full of 20+ minute defenders and I said there were going to be a lot of issues... and there were. It wasn't until Hamilton could log more minutes before he was doing anything productive and with four pool-worthy defenders above, this Flames team could be in the same boat. Dennis Wideman is a candidate to move and I think it's fair to think that he will, opening up the top three guys, have a better bottom three and this team should operate a little bit better. Sorting out the defense, depending on who wins their number one job, how much this team tears away because of the new contracts, this will all play big roles in their season. The Flames will live and die by these factors and someone can't really predict luck. Ideally, the Flames move Wideman, get a number one and they'll be in the playoff picture, but if they fail either way, they'll be back in the lottery.