The Calgary Flames have problems, but they’re not all bad.
For the first time in a couple of decades, the Flames have depth at all positions. There are solid prospects coming along, though patience is required. This is Year 2 of Calgary’s rebuild but the Flames will be closer to the Connor McDavid sweepstakes than making the playoffs in the tough Western Conference.
The biggest question for the 2014-15 season is: will youth be served, and how much? The Flames added a number of veterans that may curtail the additions of young players. The question is whether this is a good idea. A look north to the Edmonton Oilers reveals too much youth is not the best way forward. The Flames have added experience to allow the prospects the time each player needs to improve. Some, like Sean Monahan, are ready sooner while others take more time. By adding depth to the lineup, the Flames are giving young players time to properly develop.
There are battles at every position so it will be interesting to see who makes the final roster and who will be among the first call-ups when injury hits. It already has with center Mikael Backlund, who may not be ready to start the season.
Calgary hasn’t had two good centermen in the lineup over the past couple of decades but things have changed, This year’s fourth pick overall, Sam Bennett, will provide a nice one-two punch with Monahan…. just probably not this year. There is no pressure for the Flames to keep Bennett on a rebuilding team unless he forces his way into the lineup. Even with Backlund on the injury list and Bennett back in the juniors, the Flames have options. Joe Colborne can be moved from the wing to center and veteran Matt Stajan provides leadership to a young team. A number of youngsters are trying to stick around, including Bill Arnold, Turner Elson, Max Reinhart, Corban Knight and Markus Granlund; Granlund may have the edge over the other rookies with his excellent camp and play in pre-season games.
On left wing, there’s plenty of Flames veterans looking for ice time: Curtis Glencross, Jiri Hudler, Mason Raymond and Brandon Bollig have too much experience not to be in the lineup. Perhaps one might move to the other side. There are some interesting rookies banging on the door, especially NCAA star Johnny Gaudreau, Michael Ferland, and former first round pick Sven Baertschi. Shot blocker par excellence Lance Bouma and hard working Paul Byron are also in the mix.
The Flames haven’t had this type of competition at center and left wing in a long time. Coach Bob Hartley and management have said the most deserving will earn a spot on the ice. If nothing else, the Flames are rebuilding with a good mix of young talent and veteran players.
Right wing is a different story. One or two of the left wingers might switch position. The three “old” guys are David Jones, Devin Setoguchi and top NHL fighter Brian McGrattan. Josh Jooris, Hunter Smith, and Ben Hanowski are pushing for a spot but this is a position the Flames need to address as the team moves forward.
On defense, no rookie will likely make it given how many veterans are on the payroll. Captain Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie go over the boards against all the top opposite lines. Kris Russell, Ladislav Smid, Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland are likely the remaining regulars on defense. Three veterans, including two on tryouts, are trying to crack the lineup: Sheldon Brookbank, Raphael Diaz, and Corey Potter. If any rookie cuts in, it will likely be Tyler Wotherspoon, who performed well in a few games last year.
In goal, the Flames added veteran Jonas Hiller to tandem with Karri Ramo. This gives the team time to develop the young goaltenders: Joni Ortio, Doug Carr, Mason McDonald, and Jon Gillies. Ortio in particular is getting close to NHL duties after a few solid games for the Flames last year and performing well in the AHL.
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