The 2014-15 Calgary Flames were a team stretched far beyond their abilities. Sure, there were some teams they could compete against - the Vancouver Canucks, of course, directly come to mind - but against the top dogs in the league, there wasn't much hope. They simply were not talented or deep enough.
Instead, the Flames made it to a playoff berth and then 11 postseason games by taking what they had, and finding a way to make it work.
Via War on Ice, here's what they did:
A note on this before we dive in: the default Y axis is actually how difficult a player's competition was based on time on ice, but thanks to Willie Desjardins' bizarre line rolling, that data got completely skewed. Bouma, who missed the entire series against the Canucks, is alone at the top in that case because he faced a coach that actually played his big dogs. So instead, the Y axis is sorted by the opponents' corsi.
- Sean Monahan, Jiri Hudler, and Johnny Gaudreau really struggled. They were put in position to score, but often times, simply couldn't do it, and ended up out-possessed by the other teams' big lines along the way. Gaudreau was the best of the three, though, and it definitely showed on the ice.
- Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman weren't really anything resembling a top defence pairing at all. When Mark Giordano and Brodie were together, they were taking the toughest starts: rarely in the offensive zone, and against top competition. Russell and Wideman were sheltered and out-possessed, and you could see them getting turned around and lost on a number of goals that went against them.
- TJ Brodie is definitely a step above them. Similar ice time, but more difficult circumstances, and actually managing to be an asset to his team. The corsi is relative, so the blue overstated, but he was one of the better Flames, and considering the minutes he took, did a really damn good job.
- Deryk Engelland is not a top four defenceman, but he was helped out an insane amount by Brodie. It is, however, a pairing I hope we'll never have to see again.
- There's a giant cluster of third liners getting the toughest zone starts. Micheal Ferland, Matt Stajan, and David Jones - a line that could very well open the next season - were trusted to shut opponents down. Against the Canucks, it worked. Against the Ducks, a little less so. They had the hardest minutes, and performed admirably. Jones, perhaps an afterthought at the start of the season, had an especially great performance.
- And then there's Lance Bouma, who is a bit more difficult to testament to. His return had him thrown straight into the lion's den, forced to take on difficult minutes against a very good team, and he did not fare well. He couldn't handle it, though not many of his teammates really could.
- David Wolf never should have played a playoff game. Not this season. He wasn't ready, and made no positive impacts.
- On the flip side, why the hell didn't Drew Shore get to dress for more than one game? He played decent minutes in not-fantastic circumstances, and he looked great. What did he do to warrant getting scratched so often throughout the regular season; what did he do to warrant being scratched in the playoffs? This was a team with next to no right handed shooters to speak of and he was left by the wayside. He could have really helped.
- Similarly, why didn't Raphael Diaz get more minutes? The Flames were thin on defence and even though he was being relatively sheltered, he was a legitimate option to help take the load off some of the overworked players. Instead he was just left there to sit.
- Mikael Backlund had an outstanding postseason. He didn't score much, but he bolstered his wingers, took an 18-year-old kid on his line and helped him be a better player, and came out of it showing that on a really, really good team, he'd be an ideal third line shutdown centre.
- So watch out when Sam Bennett develops. Not only for him to push Backlund down the depth chart, but for his own sake. Bennett, who was unfairly relegated to the fourth line in the Flames' final two games - and he really, really should not have been - proved to be the entire package pretty much immediately. He was a touch sheltered compared to his teammates, but by no means did he play easy minutes, and he was a force to be reckoned with. And of course, it goes without saying that he's only 18.
- Joe Colborne was the weakest link on that line, and probably isn't a top six forward at all. He could be useful in a depth forward context, as long as he learns to stop taking stupid penalties. In the meantime, though, he wasn't up to par with Backlund and Bennett, and was more dragged along for the ride.
- Mason Raymond has fallen down the depth chart, and might have difficulty ever getting back up. Still, when he was scratched, he clearly received the message and took it in stride, to the tune of hauling ass and working to actually get chances to get his team going.
- Brandon Bollig helps show the Flames' fourth line was somewhat able to compete with opposition depth. The Flames' top line talent has a lot of room to grow, but their forward depth actually wasn't too bad.
- That said, Josh Jooris and Markus Granlund were excellent options to centre the fourth line; Jooris more so. Without the high offensive talent Bennett possesses, they worked in a shutdown, out-possess-the-other-team's-worse-guys kind of way. And Jooris took a lot of defensive zone starts: pretty important, and he was definitely missed on the penalty kill.
- David Schlemko, like Diaz, was an excellent depth option that deserved more minutes. Compare those two to Russell and Wideman and tell me the latter didn't need help. Because they did. And it was available. And it wasn't utilized.
- Corey Potter should have never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, at any point, ever been dressed over Tyler Wotherspoon. Ever. Wotherspoon has potential, and was already better than Potter, who is not an NHLer.
What ultimately happened in regards to the Flames was their depth players weren't used enough. This isn't saying that Bollig should have gotten more minutes, but quality players like Shore and Diaz were left sitting when they would have, in all likelihood, been far more useful than several of the guys who actually dressed.
Bouma's return didn't help the in the slightest, and actually had some negative side effects, resulting in Jooris getting scratched and Bennett relegated to the fourth line.
Not much could really be done for the top line: they were put in every position to succeed, and just couldn't quite do it. It happens, and it'll come with experience. And maybe a few less injuries as well, because it's hard to believe that dominating force from the road to make the playoffs dried up all on its own.
They tried, though. And if the Flames make the playoffs next year, hopefully they'll have more personnel better understood by their coach to maximize their skills and efforts, and maybe, just maybe, surprise a few more times.