The regular season is over and playoffs are just around the corner. The Calgary Flames are participating! While we eagerly await the commencement of their matchup against the Anaheim Ducks or Edmonton Oilers later this week, why not take this time to reflect on what has happened so far. Here are my arbitrarily created awards, assigned to players for what they achieved this season.
MVP: Mikael Backlund
You can make an argument for other players at various times of the season, but there was one guy on this team that was unreal from start to finish. Mikael Backlund had a career season, leading one of the best lines in the NHL. With partner-in-crime Michael Frolik and rookie Matthew Tkachuk, the 3M line dominated all year long. For the first portion of the season they were the only line that the Flames could count on. Without them, the Flames would be nowhere close to where they finished the season. Backlund was the catalyst.
Unsung Hero: Michael Frolik
Frolik definitely has received recognition for being a part of the team’s success on the 3M line, but his contributions have been slightly overshadowed by the tremendous play of Mikael Backlund and the tantalizing Matthew Tkachuk. Without Frolik, that line would have been good, but nowhere near as dominant. He was also great on the powerplay and formed an excellent partnership on the penalty-kill with Mikael Backlund. An incredibly reliable player, he will be integral to post-season success.
Honourable Mention: Matt Stajan, who was tasked with difficult zone starts and lesser teammates, but still managed to be effective.
Goalie of the Year: Brian Elliott
Halfway through the season, it would be hard to believe that Elliott would have turned his season around anywhere close to where he ended it. But he did. After a dismal start to the year and losing the starting role to Chad Johnson, Elliott eventually found his game and has been exactly the goalie we were promised. He has become incredibly reliable, the backbone of the team.
Shout out to Chad Johnson for keeping the team afloat for the first three months of the season.
Best Defenseman: Mark Giordano
Dougie’s time is almost here, but we got another stellar season from Mark Giordano. Together, Giordano and Hamilton formed one of, if not the best, pairings in the entire NHL. It is not a coincidence that once Giordano and Hamilton were put together on November 15th, the season turned around completely. Giordano played in all situations, faced the toughest competition, and continuously excelled with it. All at the age of 33. He has been an incredible story for years and is the heart of this team.
Honourable Mention: Dougie Hamilton (who I almost gave the nod to)
Top Rookie: Matthew Tkachuk
He may not have had any competition this year, but Tkachuk would have very likely won this title even if he had. Other than Gaudreau (who was years older when he came into the league), Tkachuk has had the best rookie season out of any of the Flames young players, with greater points (48) than both Monahan (34) and Bennett (36) in their rookie years, while absolutely blowing their possession numbers out of the water. He played on the Flames best line, had tough zone starts and played with an edge throughout the whole year. He exceeded everyone’s expectations and it is so exciting to see where he goes from here.
Most Fun To Watch: Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk
I found it impossible to pick between the two. Both are incredibly different players, yet so enjoyable to watch. Johnathan Ice Hockey dazzles with his elite talent in all regards offensively, making unbelievably skilled plays and raising the viewer’s heart rate every time he is on the ice. On the other hand, Tkachuk managed to do such an effective job at creating hate toward him, as there were multiple circuses involving him throughout the season. But it was not just his physicality and agitation skills that make him intriguing, as he demonstrated elite hockey sense along with the skills to pull off some jaw-dropping plays.
Honourable Mention: Mikael Backlund, Dougie Hamilton
Most Frustrating to Watch: Dennis Wideman
It was a very rough season for Dennis Wideman. If management could have had their way, he likely would not have been on the team at all this season. They tried to trade him, but not surprisingly, there were no takers. Wideman definitely had his moments in the earlier years with the Flames, but this year was painful to watch. He was slower than ever, made some very poor decisions in his own end and his production continued to erode. Most frustrating was that he dragged T.J. Brodie down to some very dark depths. Thankfully, the acquisition of Michael Stone saved us from having to continue seeing him as a fixture in the lineup.
Honourable Mention: Troy Brouwer, who was continuously gifted the opportunity to succeed but was invisible for the large majority of the time.
Best Breakout Season: Dougie Hamilton
Dougie Hamilton was actually very good last year, despite what some said. Nevertheless, this was the season where he transitioned from very good to being in the conversation of the elite defensemen in the game. One of the very best defenders at producing points at even-strength, he was also dominant in terms of shot-metrics. Only 23, the best is yet to come.
Honourable Mention: Micheal Ferland, who made the most of the opportunity on the top-line and has really helped round out the top-9.
Biggest Regression: T.J. Brodie
T.J. Brodie did not have the sort of season we have grown accustomed to seeing from him. Much of that had to do with his partners, as Stone, Wideman and Engelland are extremely different options when compared to his previous spot alongside Mark Giordano. Still, it was disappointing not to see more out of Brodie on a consistent basis, as there were games where he looked like the player he used to be. With an improved partner, I expect a big bounce back next season.
Honourable Mention: Sam Bennett, who had flashes of the player he has the potential to be, but long periods of struggles as well.
Most Disappointing: Troy Brouwer
There were a lot of naysayers when Troy Brouwer was signed. I was skeptical for sure, but I tried to be optimistic. The naysayers were right. The Troy Brouwer signing was a massive failure. As previously written about, he failed in basically every regard of what he was brought in to do. He was a massive drag on possession, was a huge reason why Sam Bennett’s season was so difficult and really did not show the physicality in heavy games that was promised to us. Already 31, it is hard to see the opportunity for a huge bounce back, as a lot of player’s primes are already over at that age. He has 3 years left at $4.5 million a season, hopefully Vegas needs some leadership?
Honourable Mention: Lance Bouma, who I did not expect a lot out of but I was hoping for more than what he gave. He has 5 goals in 105 games since signing that 3-year deal.
Best Value: Mikael Backlund
In Backlund, the Flames had a centre that played in absolutely every situation and excelled everywhere, making his teammates better along the way. He did this for the entire season. His salary? $3.575 million. Essentially a million less than Troy Brouwer, almost two million less than Wideman. The Flames still have him for one more year at that bargain deal, then he is going to have to be paid a fair bit more.
Honourable Mention: Kris Versteeg, who put up 37 points in 69 games for a paltry $900,000. That is tremendous value.
Best Villain: Matthew Tkachuk
Matthew Tkachuk has made a heck of an impression throughout the league. Oilers, Leafs and Kings fans already have a substantial hatred toward the kid, while he has made many enemies throughout the league. He does a tremendous job as an agitator, sometimes overtly but also in a subtle manner. What further frustrates people that do not support the Flames? He is a very skilled player.
Good Soldier: Freddie Hamilton
Freddie Hamilton has been a textbook depth forward or “spare part”. While being a part of the Flames the entire season, he found himself in the lineup for just 26 games, in strictly a 4th line role. Whenever he did appear in the lineup, he was ready to play and played hard. It probably would not have hurt for him to play more regularly.
Honourable Mention: Deryk Engelland, who is definitely not the most talented player, but gives it his all every game and sticks up for his teammates.
Goal of the Year: Johnny Gaudreau
I think both of these speak for themselves.
Honourable Mention: Sean Monahan
Most Likely to Breakthrough in 2017-18: Sam Bennett
This was not the season anyone dreamed of for Sam Bennett. Not the team, not the fans and certainly not Sam Bennett. However, there are still countless reasons to believe in Bennett’s future. He regained his confidence toward the end of the year and was playing with energy and making skilled plays. He did not have a lot of powerplay time but was great on the penalty-kill. When he was not with Troy Brouwer, he had a pretty good season at 5-on-5 as well.
Honourable Mention: Curtis Lazar, who is definitely not as bad as his season in Ottawa showed. 3 points in 4 games with the Flames, good work ethic, he should be a regular in the lineup next season.
Best Prospect Close to the NHL: Mark Jankowski
What a journey it has been for Mark Jankowski. From being an off the board first round pick, to 4 years in the NCAA (including an NCAA Championship in his junior year) to this year, where he finally was a full-time pro, playing with the Stockton Heat. He has been Stockton’s best forward this year. Playing in all situations, Jankowski is currently second in AHL rookie scoring, 53 points in 60 games. He also leads all AHL rookies in goals with 27. While successful in posting points, he has a reputation for being a good all-around player. He is close to the NHL.
Honourable Mention: Brett Kulak, who I think deserved more time with the club and hopefully gets some action in the playoffs.
Fastest Rising Prospect: Adam Fox
I really liked the Adam Fox pick from the day that the Flames selected him in June 2016, but I think if anybody expected him to be this successful already, he would have been drafted a lot sooner than 66th overall. Fox had one of the best seasons an NCAA freshman D has had. Ever. He had 40 points in 35 games as a rookie. Only Clayton Keller, the 2016 7th overall pick who is a forward, had more points among all NCAA freshmen. Those are eye-popping numbers. He also won gold with Team USA at the World Junior Hockey Championship, and came through big with 3 assists in the final. There is no need to rush him to the professional ranks, but if he goes a step further next year, the Flames may attempt to persuade him to turn pro.
Honourable Mention: Tyler Parsons, who had a great regular season in the OHL, lead Team USA to Gold at the WJC and has been huge for the London Knights in the playoffs so far.
Fastest Falling Prospect: Emile Poirier
Everyone had such high hopes for Emile Poirier. It has not worked out. After a great rookie season in the AHL, he regressed last year and this year fell further, with just 6 goals and 17 points in 43 games. He left the team due to personal reasons weeks ago and has not returned. His future as a prospect is very much in question. Hopefully everything in his personal life is okay and things work out well for him, even if that is not in hockey.
Honourable Mention: Mason McDonald, whose stock has fallen since being drafted and continued to drop every year. He posted a sub .900 save percentage in the ECHL this year.
What a season. After a horrible start, the Flames were one of the better teams in the league for the last three-quarters of the year. These are my selections for The Flamies. Disagree? Let us know who you would nominate for any of the above titles.
Who was the MVP of the 2016-17 Calgary Flames?
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