A lot of 2016 was pretty rough if you support the Calgary Flames. After such a successful end to the 2015 season, along with a couple of playoff rounds, the Flames dropped back near the bottom of the league last season. We entered 2016 just hoping for a quality draft pick at the end of the season and for Kris Russell to be traded. The remainder of the 15-16 season included more terrible goaltending and the classic Dennis Wideman saga.
The offseason was not entirely fun either, whether it be hiring a coach that was somewhat off the radar, or the Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau contract negotiations dragging out for the duration of the summer. When the season finally came around, the start to the 2016-17 season was disastrous. Most players under-performed for the new coach, the expected goaltender saviour struggled, ridiculous trade rumours persisted about one of the best defensemen on the team and the Flames were hanging out near the bottom of the league for the first few weeks of the season.
Despite a lot of negative backdrops to this year, the Flames are heading into the holiday season on a higher note, having gone on a hot streak. Chad Johnson has been terrific, the special teams are on fire and the star players are performing how we expected them to. There were many gifts that us Flames fans received this year, lets reflect upon them.
Gifts of the 2016 Year
Matthew Tkachuk: Probably the greatest gift us Flames fans received in 2016, Tkachuk was gifted to us through the draft thanks to the decisions made by the team’s drafting ahead of Calgary. Columbus drafted Pierre-Luc Dubios who is under a point-per-game in the high scoring QMJHL this season. Edmonton snagged Jesse Puljujarvi who will likely be a quite good player for them, but then the Vancouver Canucks took Olli Juolevi instead of taking the best player available, in Tkachuk. Long ways to go, maybe all those guys drafted ahead of Tkachuk will end up being better than him in the end, but Tkachuk is already having tremendous success in the NHL today. He is the strongest possession forward on the Flames (and one of the better ones in the league), with difficult zone starts and competition. He is tied for third on the team in points and leads the club in penalty minutes. Some infractions he takes could be avoided, but he does a tremendous job playing an agitating role and backing it up with high quality play. He was the exact sort of player that the Calgary Flames needed, the only way he would be more useful would be if he was a right-shot. It is already so enjoyable to watch him play and it is only going to get better for years to come.
No Dougie Trade: There has been a lot of crazy talk about the Flames potentially trading Dougie Hamilton. Yet, here we are and he is still a Calgary Flame. It would be ridiculous for the Flames to trade Hamilton unless they were getting a tremendous return. He is tied with Tkachuk for third in team scoring with 18 points in 35 games (all stats prior to Friday’s game against Vancouver). He boasts the best shot differentials among all defensemen on the Flames with a 53.63% CF, with only Mark Giordano being the other Calgary defender over 50%. Dougie is a great player, he does more good than harm, has a lot of value as a right-shot and is still only 23-years-old. We are lucky to have management competent enough to keep him.
6 More Years of Johnny Gaudreau: The contract negotiation was brutal, long and ugly. But in the end, the Flames signed Johnny Gaudreau for 6 more seasons at a very reasonable price of $6.75M per season. There was no hold out, there was no trade, there was no overpay or bridge-deal, instead the Flames signed their franchise player to a very team friendly, long-term contract. Johnny Gaudreau is the most exciting player I have ever seen play for the Flames (Disclaimer: I am a 90s child) and is critical to the organization’s success. I’m just excited we get to watch him try and lead the Flames to victory on a nightly basis.
Goodbyes Were Said to Those That Needed to Leave: This organization has had some pretty exciting pieces for awhile, players that are the sort of players you can win championships with, such as Gaudreau, Monahan, Bennett, Backlund, Frolik, Brodie, Giordano, Hamilton. However, there has also been a lot of black holes on the team, that either do not provide much or drag down the performance of others. This year, quite a few of those players departed the organization. The ghost of Jiri Hudler was traded, never to return to form. All the goalies were sent packing. Kris Russell was sent to Dallas for a package and ended up in Edmonton after signing a last minute contract. Big Ol’ Joe Colborne was let go and has been terrible this season. Most importantly, Brad Treliving made the decision to let go of Bob Hartley and head a different direction. Glen Gulutzan has not been a perfect coach, but the Flames were never going to go anywhere significant with Bob Hartley at the helm. He was a likeable guy and was around for one of the best seasons in a long time, but his approach was very unsustainable and his systems questionable.
The Flames still have some players they need to part ways with, but those contracts are expiring after this season or the following one and there is a wealth of quality prospects that could have a positive impact down the road.
Chad Johnson’s Run
The last three of his starts were not an ideal way to head into the holiday season, but Chad Johnson gave us a glimpse of what high quality goaltending looks like, something we have not seen for years. He outright stole a few games, gave the team confidence and led the team back into playoff contention. Now that the players have found their composure, hopefully Johnson and Brian Elliott can push each other to help lead the team to success and the playoffs.
The Trajectory of Current Prospects and Acquisition of More Quality Prospects
For a long time, the Flames hardly drafted anyone that would go on to be an impact player. In the Darryl Sutter era, we got Dion Phaneuf, Mikael Backlund, T.J. Brodie, Micheal Ferland and Lance Bouma. I love 3 of those guys and Phaneuf was quite the player when he broke in, but that is not really enough for all those years. Drafting changed significantly in the Jay Feaster era (some great, some meh) and the Brad Treliving era has been even better.
This year we saw a lot of positives in the growth of many prospects, such as Mark Jankowski, Morgan Klimchuk, Oliver Kylington, Rasmus Andersson, Andrew Mangiapane and Brett Kulak. The Flames also added to the pool, bringing in Hunter Shinkaruk, Daniel Pribyl, Dillon Dube, Tyler Parsons, Adam Fox and Matthew Phillips. There are a lot of high potential players in this group and it is something to look forward to for the future.
Wish List for 2017
While we received a lot of nice things, we live in a capitalist economy. We always want more. Here are some things I would like in 2017:
- Sam Bennett to take a step toward his elite potential
- More ice time for Dougie Hamilton (he can always have more ice time)
- A legitimate, top-six right-winger (Crazy, eh?)
- The goalie situation to be less ambiguous
- No more Dennis Wideman or Jyrki Jokipakka, Deryk Engelland in a reduced role, and for T.J. Brodie to not have to regularly play with any of those guys.
- Related to the previous wish, how about Tyler Wotherspoon and Brett Kulak come and have actual opportunities like the ones Wideman and Jokipakka get?
- A top-9 Micheal Ferland
- More growth in the team’s 5-on-5 play
- Troy Brouwer to be exposed in the expansion draft, followed by Las Vegas deciding to take him
- Connor McDavid to request a trade to a team in the East and Kris Russell to sign a long-term deal with the Oilers
- Calgary Flames Playoff Hockey
What Calgary Flames gifts are you appreciative of? What do you desire for next year? Have a great holiday and thanks for joining us here at M&G throughout the year.