Well, no one wants to be swept out of the playoffs by anyone, but this season should be looked at as a success for the Flames. The fact that a team who lost 12 of it’s first 20 roared back into the playoff picture and hung with the Ducks in round one is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s time for a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from this past season in this edition of the Writer’s Roundtable.
-The Flames got some surprisingly good performances from players this season. Who’s play, in a good way, surprised you the most?
MarkParkinson14: I’m going to have to go with Matthew Tkachuk and I don’t think it’s close. The 19 year old was 5th on the team in points with 48, led the team BY FAR in PIM with 105 and really showed he belonged in the NHL. Were there some growing pains and lessons he should learn from? Absolutely. But in the end, the good far outweighed the bad. It’s funny to look back and think that there was a debate that he may be sent back to London after his 9 game “tryout” to start the season.
Samwell9: Have to go with Tkachuk as well. He was unbelievable. I was intrigued my his ridiculously productive year with the London Knights heading into the draft and his tenacity was exciting. However, it was hard to know how much of his success was driven by him, considering how terrific his junior linemates Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak are. But wow, what a player. 48 points, consistently making intelligent plays and rattling the opposition on a regular basis. In terms of points per 60, he generated 2.06 at 5-on-5, only Johnny Gaudreau (2.25) was more productive than him on the Flames. League wide, he was 47th, ahead of players such as Tyler Seguin, Blake Wheeler, Jamie Benn, Phil Kessel, Logan Couture, Jeff Carter and John Tavares. Incredible. He also had an elite 55.9% CF at even-strength and had the 14th best CFrel% among forwards in the league.
FlamesMM: I’ll take Mikael Backlund for this year. He had been consistently improving over the previous seasons, but this season was another huge step forward. Backlund continues to develop and has become an integral part of this team. With a season that started with a trip to the World Cup of Hockey, Backlund has started to make for himself as one of the better two-way forwards in the league. He’s always been a strong defensive forward but this season he again set career highs with 22 goals and 31 assists, while also chipping 3 points in the playoffs. At 28 years old, he’s only entering his prime years as an experienced centre in the NHL.
Renu Sahota: Tkachuk was a welcomed surprise – we knew he had the genes, but it’s been great watching this kid REALLY get into the game. Into players faces, gritty plays - but also capitalizing on points: 48 in 76 GP (13-25). #19 adding both value and character to the Calgary Flames team in his first NHL season. Also – a shoutout to Backlund. We see you Mikael!
-On the flip side of the coin, who was the most disappointing Flames player this season?
MarkParkinson14: Sam Bennett. I was hoping for big things out of Bennett this season and he just didn’t deliver. With that said, he’s still a kid and he could be a late bloomer. But if you look at what Tkachuk did in his first season and what Bennett brought to the table in his second full season, it’s clear this was a disappointing campaign for the young centre. He and the Flames struggled to find where he fit between centre and forward and his 26 points in 81 games was 10 less than last season in a year where he played 4 more games. Bennett started to show promise in the last few weeks of the season and playoffs, but I think more was expected in his second full season with Calgary. The bonus? His down season could result in a team friendly deal with Bennett this summer.
Samwell9: T.J. Brodie. I realize he played in some very difficult circumstances and fared decently despite them, but I thought his year was a little disappointing. Perhaps I held him on too high of a pedestal, I thought he might be close to the calibre of Mark Giordano and would be able to excel regardless of who his defensive partner was. That did not turn out to be the case. However, I am confident that with a more competent defensive partner and an adjustment to a difficult ongoing situation in his personal life, he will bounce back next season and give the Flames two terrific defence pairings. *I’m not going to even touch on how terrible Brouwer was at this point in time.
FlamesMM: Troy Brouwer. End of discussion. All season I held out a lot of hope at some point he would turn things around. After a decent start, he was derailed by a broken finger and never seemed to return to form. Then when playoffs rolled around, he was nowhere to be found. Considering he was signed on to be that big playoff presence, I was pretty disappointed. However I’m hoping he’ll be better next season if he stays on the Flames, because it can’t be worse than this season right? Right????
Renu Sahota: I’m going with #13 – blame it on the contract hype maybe, but I was disappointed with Gaudreau’s lack luster play early on. Small guy, who is able to compensate with his nifty hands and goal scoring – when he’s not slashed 21 times. Spray him with bully off. I guess I just expected more than 61 points in 72 games from him. Better luck next season kid.
-Best/Worst move by Calgary this season?
Best: Michael Stone trade. This deal FINALLY allowed the Flames to send Dennis Wideman to the booth to watch the remainder of the Flames season. Wideman was due for a night or two off and ended up spending the better part of the last month of the season watching the Flames play hockey. T.J. Brodie benefited from this move as well, as his game turned around quickly when paired with Stone on defence. Stone played 19 regular season games with Calgary and had 6 points and was a +5. He also found the back of the net once during round one of the playoffs.
Worst: There wasn’t really any specific move that qualifies as “worst,” but not giving Micheal Ferland a chance to skate with a PP unit seemed a bit odd. Troy Brouwer got most of that ice time instead. Ferland worked well on the Gaudreau/Monahan line and I think the Flames would have been better served giving Micheal Ferland some of those minutes instead.
Best: Kris Versteeg. $900,000 dollars for a very productive forward that they picked up just before the season commenced. Imagine if the Flames did not have Versteeg this season. Brouwer, Bouma or Freddie Hamilton would have been playing higher up in the line up for the entire season and we all know that would have been a disaster. Versteeg was a great utility player, helped the powerplay and provided scoring depth in the middle-six.
Worst: Don’t buy all the media narratives about how Matt Bartkowski really “stabilized” the defence. It is flat out false. He was awful, it just superficially seemed like he was helping because he showed up just as the Flames went on that 10 game winning streak and because Brian Elliott was stopping almost everything when Bartkowski was on the ice. They acquired him to expose in the expansion draft, I don’t know why he appeared in every game after being acquired. He only controlled 45.7% of the shot-attempts when he was on the ice, was turnover prone and offensively inept. He dragged down Deryk Engelland who is not exactly an all-star himself. I sure hope we do not see him in a Flames uniform next season.
Best: Curtis Lazar trade. My initial reaction when the deal was made was that we gave up a 2nd round pick for a 1 assist player, what!? But after seeing the energy he brought, and the circumstances surrounding his struggles in Ottawa, this trade has the potential to be a major steal for the Flames. In his limited playing time this season I thought he fit in well and even almost had a goal in Game 4 vs Anaheim. Will be a strong asset for the future.
Worst: Not bringing up Garnet Hathaway for the playoffs. Haha just kidding, but not really. When a team has ridiculously good winning percentages with a player like both the Flames and Stockton Heat do when Hathaway plays, then you take a shot. Perhaps some positive Hathaway voodoo would’ve cancelled some of the negative Honda Center voodoo. But in all honesty I thought most of the decisions made this year were okay given what was available.
Best: Versteeg deal!
Worst: Lack of initiative to get Jarome back for another Flames playoff run!
-What are your overall thoughts on the 2016-17 season?
MarkParkinson14: Overall I think this was a successful season for the Flames. They made the playoffs after a terrible start. They survived very streaky goaltending and slow starts by Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. A few bounces here, a few bad penalties there and the Flames might have taken the Ducks a little deeper in their playoff series. Calgary showed that they won’t back down when you bring the fight to them and the play they got from the 3M Line was a most pleasant surprise. Was I disappointed the Flames were swept, of course, but they gave us a very exciting season and things are looking up for Calgary. A few tweaks here and there and the Flames aren’t that far off.
Samwell9: It was a great building block, absolutely a step forward. We saw growth from Tkachuk and Hamilton. Monahan, Gaudreau and Bennett all had tough spells to varying degrees, but will be better for it in the long run. Considering a bad start, how well the team performed despite a poor group of depth defenders, difficulties in the bottom-6 until Gulutzan got Bennett and Versteeg away from Brouwer and inconsistent goaltending, the team had a very successful season. The playoffs were a disappointing result, but the Flames were legitimately a better team in the series than the Ducks, they just never got the breaks and that can easily undo you in a short playoff series against an equal opponent. The exciting part? The Flames have all the core pieces in place, all they need to do is fill in some holes on the bottom end of the forwards and defence and figure out a stop gap goaltender. The future is really bright for this team and their window to become contenders could open up as soon as next season.
FlamesMM: Anytime a team has a 45 win season, you can’t be too frustrated with how it ended up. If the Flames can get a good start on next season, it’ll be interesting to see just how far they can go. The team showed a lot of resolve to fight through adversity. Sure the sweep hurt a lot at the time, but when everything is considered, this team made the playoffs and played the Ducks strong in all four games. The Flames are only going to get better with the current NHLers continuing development, the continued implementation of Glen Gulutzan’s systems that worked very well for the team, and the prospects that the Flames have on the way are looking strong. I think this season was just a taste of where this team is going to go, so we shouldn’t be too upset with what could’ve been this season, but we should be excited what could be in the future as the team grows.
Renu Sahota: Great season – glad they made it to the playoffs. The Flames had their share of misfortune – having to add a dosage of fortitude in dealing with the whistle blowers. It was great to see Sean Monahan with post-season tallies – really like the pairing with Kris Versteeg. I’m still a fan of Johnson and it’s too bad he was out for a bit there – had an effect on when to throw him to the Ducks. Atleast we got to see what Gillies can do between the pipes. BT has some serious off-season shuffling to do to keep the pipes squeaky clean. Young core – they’ll learn from their mistakes and bounce back quick next season. Stay lit Flames. Also – I love Dougie Hamilton. Whoever was on that hot mic is “dumber than they seem”.