There’s a lot of frustration surrounding the Calgary Flames as the 2017-18 NHL season draws to a close, and rightfully so. The fans are upset, the players are disappointed, and management & coaching staff are trying to figure out where things went wrong.
Although there’s plenty to like when looking at the Flames roster, the bottom line is that this roster missed the playoffs, and changes need to be made. However, this change should not be confused with a rebuild. The Flames still possess a rock-solid core — offensively with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan and defensively with Dougie Hamilton and Mark Giordano.
Without breaking up the core, the Flames will likely make a few minor lineup changes to retool the roster, while also making a potential change behind the bench.
Flames Need Goals
Nobody can knock what Gaudreau and Monahan did this year. They both set career-highs in points, and were basically the fuel to the Flames’ offense. If they weren’t rolling, the offense wasn’t rolling, and that’s a big problem.
With the likes of Matt Stajan, Kris Versteeg and Chris Stewart all set to become UFA’s this off-season, the opening will be there for the Flames to do a little retooling on the offensive front. Two big needs are certainly a top line right winger, and a third or fourth line player with offensive upside.
For the top line right wing, pending UFA’s James Neal, Rick Nash and David Perron are among those who would fill a gaping hole in the Flames lineup. While it may not be the most cost-efficient solution, it’s become pretty clear a permanent spot alongside Gaudreau and Monahan won’t be filled by a player currently in the organization.
Unlike the first line need, the filling of bottom-six scoring hole can be found within the system. Spencer Foo, Matthew Phillips, Andrew Mangiapane and Glenn Gawdin are all potential suitors to earn a permanent role with the big club next season, and all four have plenty of offensive upside when given the proper looks.
Fixing the Power Play
When it comes to the Flames’ power play, it was an abomination this season, plain and simple. As of Apr. 6, the Flames haven’t scored a power play goal in their last 13 games and currently rank 29 in the NHL at 16% efficiency.
It’s important to remember that the power play was actually one of the more effective units in the NHL to start the season, but the loss of Versteeg due to injury in November was essentially the nail in the coffin for the man advantage. Although he never lit up the scoresheet himself, he was essential to the power play production of Gaudreau and Monahan.
Unfortunately, Versteeg will be a UFA following this season and won’t likely be re-signed. Having an effective power play is important to any team’s success — the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, Winnipeg Jets and Boston Bruins currently rank as the top five power plays in the NHL, and it’s no coincidence all five are comfortably in a playoff spot.
The Flames man advantage has proven it can be effective, so it really comes down to having the right personnel. Whether the fix is tinkering with different combinations or simply plugging in one of the likely new off-season acquisitions, the power play is absolutely necessary to correct.
Behind the Bench
There are a lot of Flames fans who believe Glen Gulutzan should not be behind the bench next season. But is it really fair or logical to place all the blame of the Flames’ failed season on his shoulders? Absolutely not.
In his first season as head coach, Gulutzan led the Flames to the post season. One missed post-season should not decide a coach’s fate.
While it may not be justified, and would certainly be too soon, changes need to be made and it’s starting to seem more and more likely Gulutzan may not be around next season. Although he shouldn’t be shouldering all the blame, Flames fans have been senselessly quick to throw him under the bus. Whether it does end up being Gulutzan or another member of the coaching staff, changes will happen this off-season, justified or not.
The Flames may have been in a playoff race for the majority of the season, but when all is said and done, they won’t be playing beyond the regular season, and that calls for change.
I’ve been writing for over three years and have work published by the Calgary Herald, National Lacrosse League, Hard Knocks Fighting and The Weal at SAIT. Although I’ve covered many different topics as a journalist, sports writing remains my main passion and strength.