This was an interesting season of sorts for the Calgary Flames. They had a red hot winning streak that was interrupted by the mandatory break that killed their season. Then they got back on track just in time to take a break for the All Star festivities.....which killed momentum. They found a back up goalie in David Rittich who proved that he was just that, a backup. Micheal Ferland shot himself out of a cannon en route to a career high 41 points (21G 20A), but he only scored 2 goals after January 11th. Sean Monahan got hurt and needed surgery as the season was winding down. Matthew Tkachuk missed the last month of the season. Kris Versteeg never fully recovered from a hip injury and Michael Frolik looked like a shadow of himself for most of the season. But it wasn’t all bad. The Flames got some contributions from their younger players and Stockton looks stacked with kids ready to come and help. Johnny Gaudreau had another solid season with 84 points and Mark Giordano had one of the best seasons defensively he’s ever had. Speaking of defence, Dougie Hamilton had another strong showing since coming to Calgary. Hamilton was tied for the lead in goals by a defenceman with 17. And contract wise, Brad Treliving locked up Mikael Backlund to a very team friendly, long term deal.
There will be changes this off-season for sure, but here’s a look at a few things that worked in 2017-18 and a few that didn’t.
Despite being 36 years old and playing on mostly bad Coyotes teams, Calgary’s trade acquisition of Mike Smith worked out. Calgary got 55 starts out of the veteran netminder and probably would have gotten more if he didn’t get hurt. His post injury part of the season was a mess, but he carried the Flames for a good 45 of the 55 games he started when they had no business winning. He also made the All Star team and was clearly the Flames MVP. Chalk that one up as a win for both sides.
The Flames PK struggled for a bit this season, but it really ramped the effort up as the season moved along. Calgary finished 7th in the NHL on the penalty kill at 81.8% All 6 teams ahead of them? They made the playoffs. So part of Calgary’s special teams were good this season and this was the unit that got the job done. The Flames PK only allowed 49 goals on 269 attempts. Calgary shut the door as the season winded down with serious efficiency. The Flames were 43-47 while being a man down since March 2nd.
The Flames have to wake up every morning pinching themselves, making sure that they really have Matthew Tkachuk in the organization. The star forward was 3rd on the team in scoring with 49 points (24G 25A) in only 68 games. Tkachuk’s star is rising and he’s still only 20 years old. He has an uncanny ability to draw penalties and get under the opponents skin, all while dropping his PIM significantly this season. In his rookie season Tkachuk had 105 PIM, he cut that down to 61 this season. Yes, there’s some boneheaded suspensions and fines during the year, but the good with Tkachuk FAR outweighs the bad. He’s an instigator on the ice, but he also shows leadership qualities as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a letter on his sweater very soon.
Kulak was an interesting name to watch as the 2017-18 season dawned. He had the chance to take over the bottom defensive pairing with Michael Stone and he did just that. Now granted, his only competition was Matt Bartkowski, but it wasn’t even a contest. Kulak was steady on the blue line and was never a disaster or a nightmare. He was consistent all season long and should push to crack that Top 4 in 2018-19. Brett Kulak isn’t going to score you a ton of goals, but the fact that he’s productive at his position DEFENSIVELY should be enough.
Janko was a project in waiting that seemed like it was never going to come to fruition. He was a controversial draft pick when the Flames took him in the first round back in 2012. That seems like forever ago, but it appears that the wait has paid off. Jankowski SHOULD have made the team coming out of training camp, but because, well, the Flames, he was sent to Stockton to start off the season. He only saw 6 games with the Heat where he scored 5 goals and had 3 assists before being called up for good. Jankowski played in 71 games and had 25 points while centering the Flames 3rd line and he won 48.8% of his face offs. Towards the end of the season Calgary saw another side of Jankowski and that was his physical game. He threw more hits, got into more scrums, got into some fights and looked like someone trying to step up and lead. He did get “healthy scratched” twice during the season, but the upside is there and Jankowski should be in Calgary for good.
What Didn’t Work
This was an unmitigated disaster and Dave Cameron should lose his job this off season. If the Flames could have scored a few goals here and there they might be in the playoffs. But more often than not the Flames would waste the 2 minutes with the man advantage and get nothing out of it. Calgary finished the season 29th in the NHL in PP% at 16.0%. The Flames had 43 PPG in 269 attempts and they scored exactly 2 PPG from March 2 to April 7th. In that time span they had 48 opportunities to score, but could only collect 2 markers. 2-48. I have nothing else.
Whether it was a function of a new partner, not being on the right side of the ice or some off ice issues, this was a brutal year for Brodie. Just from committing them to memory there were 4 times he turned the puck over and it directly cost the Flames a game. I’m sure there were more direct/indirect times as well, but I’m trying to block these things out. Offensively he was a no show as well. Brodie had 32 points on the season, 4 of which were goals. Two of those goals came in the second game of the season. His pairing with Travis Hamonic was hit or miss, with most of it being miss. Calgary sank a lot into Hamonic to get him here so I don’t see him being moved. Brodie on the other hand, if someone came calling or was willing to listen, I’d deal him in a heartbeat. A change of scenery could be good for both parties.
It was another underwhelming season for young Sam Bennett as he played in all 82 games, yet only collected 26 points. That’s 10 points less than his first full season back in 2015-16. The Flames moved him to every line to see where he’d fit and he really doesn’t. Mark Jankowski has taken over centering the 3rd line. He’s not going to crack the 3M Line. For parts of the season Micheal Ferland outplayed him and got the top line minutes. Basically he’s either a 4th line centre or an under-performing 3rd line winger. I don’t see it. Convince me I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.
Troy Brouwer is the whipping boy for the fan base, but he’s not the only issue with the Flames bottom 6. Outside of Mark Jankowski, the Flames bottom 6 is rough. Nick Shore and Chris Stewart were both acquired at the trade deadline to help out the bottom 6 and, well, meh. I’d keep Shore around as he showed some promise, but I’d walk from Stewart. Neither were great. Garnet Hathaway came on like a house of fire and then disappeared. His offensive game isn’t strong and if the Flames needed a 4th line bruiser, I guess he’s it, but would they rather have a young player with potential upside in there? And this is from a guy who’s a big fan of Hathaway. Spencer Foo showed some promise in his 4 games so he’s a guy to keep an eye on. Curtis Lazar seems like a nice kid, but is he going to be the answer? Probably not. The Flames will most likely move on from Matt Stajan. Bennett? See above. Tanner Glass? Nope. With how his season ended for Micheal Ferland he could find himself on the 3rd line with Jankowski and that might be a fun group to watch. The Flames also have young players in Stockton that could be ready to make the jump so there’s a lot up in the air. The main point is the bottom six is a hot mess and it needs a serious overhaul.
Sorry, but I said it when the Flames started being linked to him: NO. Whether it was age, injuries, the system or just not wanting to be there, the Jagr Experiment was a failure. He didn’t help with lasting leadership as evidenced by the Flames collapse and complete lack of effort on the ice. He was hurt more often than not. He came to the Flames WAY to late and that was on him. Jagr waited and waited and waited for a team and the only one interested was the Flames. By the time he signed the season had started and he had no training camp. He looked like he was a speed or 3 slower when he was on the ice and you could tell it wasn’t a good fit. The Flames and Jagr broke it off on January 29th so he could go home and play in Europe. He didn’t want to be here and the Flames did the right thing by letting him either find another NHL team or go home. Sure, they made a mint selling Jagr jerseys, but other than that this was a fail that did neither side any good. Sadly, after leaving Calgary on January 29th, Jagr still lead the Flames in +/- at +6.