The Calgary Flames lost game five of the Stanley Cup Conference Semifinals to the Anaheim Ducks and are thus eliminated from the playoffs. The elimination marks the end of a magical season for the Flames who faced a plethora of tribulations throughout the season and had little to no expectations at the beginning. They might not have won the Stanley Cup, but they gave fans a taste of the future and boy does it look bright.
The Flames came in this season as nominees for the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. USA Today had them ranked 27th in their preseason poll. Many other sites echoed that sentiment, questioning the team's lack of size, their patchwork defense, and their offensive capability.
Then the season started and the Flames started winning. The team, led by Jiri Hudler, found its offensive niche and began winning games that many had them losing. They were able to establish the league's best penalty differential with Calder Trophy candidate Johnny Gaudreau leading the way there. They had a Norris Trophy candidate in Mark Giordano. Everything started clicking and the question turned from, "Can they win?" to "When will they stop winning?"
They didn't. Not through the myriad of different games that they trailed entering the third period. Not through injuries that forced Joni Ortio into the net. Not through a season ending injury to Giordano. Not through the end of the season when they were supposed to lose to the Los Angeles Kings and barely miss the playoffs.
The team finally made the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and had to square off against the Vancouver Canucks. Many wrote the Flames off once again. They won in six games, advancing to the second round for the first time since 2004.
There's no shame in losing to Anaheim. The little rebuild that could wasn't supposed to get here and they were outclassed by a team that's in its prime and still shooting for the Stanley Cup. The holes in the lineup were too much while squaring off a team that was simply better and considerably more complete.
The team must be happy knowing that they have an incredible first defensive pairing in Giordano and TJ Brodie, a fantastic first line in Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Hudler, and a great start to a second pairing between Sam Bennett and Mikael Backlund who will presumably return once he signs as a restricted free agent. These are not only the most important things for a quality hockey team, they're also the most expensive and Calgary has them locked up at reasonable costs. Add in the facts that Josh Jooris, Paul Byron, Micheal Ferland, Lance Bouma and Drew Shore are likely to be back with their restricted free agency rights and the team still has Matt Stajan under contract and the Flames have a terrific start to building a great team.
To round out the forwards, young players like Kenny Agostino and Emile Poirier are available and waiting should the Flames decide to go that route. That would allow them to dispose of Joe Colborne and Brandon Bollig who were less than stellar this season. Despite their less than stellar play, they may still have some value and the team could get some assets to contribute to the rebuild or perhaps grab some defensive help.
Calgary has a solid starting goalie returning in Jonas Hiller. Great goaltending prospects like Ortio and perhaps the best N.C.A.A. goalie over the past three years in Jon Gillies could also make the team next year. The team could also just re-sign Karri Ramo or look to free agency as a backup goalie. They're essentially set at forward and in net.
That isn't to say that the team doesn't have any issues. The team's top defensive pairing in terms of minutes were Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman and they were completely obliterated by the Ducks. They also had horrid possession numbers this season. The team's top performing defensive pairing, Raphael Diaz and David Schlemko, do not have contracts. Deryk Engelland is terrible at hockey and Ladislav Smid isn't much better - both are signed for next year. If the team goes in with a defense of Brodie, Giordano, Russell, Wideman, Smid, Engelland, then the team will likely regress heavily regardless of how fantastic the forwards look.
That doesn't matter right now though. The Flames just completed their most exciting season in many, many years and the sheer unexpectedness of it only added to that excitement. Calgary fans should be proud of the effort they put forth and stoked for next season. As for the team in the moment, the offseason has officially begun and it should yield nearly as much intensity as the regular and postseason did for the Flames.