If a team is out of the playoff picture by the U.S. Thanksgiving, the odds of making it are not good. The Calgary Flames are 14 points off the pace as of early December in the competitive Western Conference, 22nd in goals for and 27th in goals against; a -23 difference is not a recipe for success in anyone’s book.
It’s clear Calgary will, as many expected, end up near the bottom of the standings. The key question to ask this season: is the team moving forward? The integration of younger players into the lineup and the accumulation of solid prospects are small steps toward returning to post season play.
If the Flames end up with a top 5 draft pick, many might be surprised to learn that it would be their highest pick ever. The team has never picked higher than 6th overall. A top position at the draft table in 2014 would be ideal. Calgary could pick either centreman Sam Reinhart or defenseman Aaron Ekblad. The latter may be the preferred choice as the Flames could use a top young defenceman.
Adding more draft picks by trading some of the veterans, likely Mike Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak, will also help speed up the rebuilding process. The Flames already have some solid young players in Abbotsford, junior leagues and U.S. colleges.
On defence, the Flames have rugged customers like Patrick Sieloff, Tyler Wotherspoon and John Ramage but lack an offensive top-end defenceman like Ekblad promises to be. This is where the draft comes in; the ability to pick up key players at each position. Successful teams in recent years, especially the past four Stanley Cup winners, had the opportunity to draft franchise players.
Center Sean Monahan has already proven to be the real deal and an important part of the team’s future. Perhaps Mark Jankowski can help give the Flames a solid 1-2 punch at that key position.
On the wings, Calgary has the best prospects on the left side, especially if Johnny Gaudreau lives up to expectations and signs with the team. Sven Baertschi is already with Calgary but has struggled. Would he benefit from spending time with the Heat? It’s still too early to give up on Baertschi. The Flames also have Ken Agostino, Morgan Klimchuk and Michael Ferland among others on the left side. The right wing is thinner with Emile Poirier the best bet.
Goaltending is a real issue in Calgary these days but help may be on the way with top prospects Jon Gillies and Joni Ortio continuing to improve their skills this season. They could be a solid tandem in a couple of years.
The way the Flames utilizes these young players will be a factor down the road. The team are giving less heralded names such as Joe Colborne and Kris Russell a chance to show what they have to offer. Colborne brings size and could be a good fit as a third center. Russell adds speed and passing ability and has excelled in the absence of captain Mark Giordano and Dennis Wideman. Additions like these are helping the Flames figure out their rebuilding plan.
Patience is going to be needed to properly rebuild the team back to the post-season dance. Only time will tell whether these moves will result in a future contender.
Mario now covers the Los Angeles Kings and writes other hockey features. He is an experienced journalist who has covered sports and entertainment in daily and weekly newspapers, magazines and online, including thedigitalbits.com/columns/inside-cinema. He is also the co-creator of The Gaffoos, www.gaffoos.com