Calgary Flames: playoff team or bust

Flames goal celebration

Last years biggest surprise of the season had to be the Calgary Flames, they had been in the basement of the NHL for years and really hadn’t shown to much promise to get out. The Flames have one of the most passionate fan bases in the league and have really struggled to be a prominent playoff team in an extremely difficult Western Conference. The Flames finished the 2013-2014 season with a record of 35-40-7, finishing 13th in the western conference and failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs. This led to many different personnel changes in the off-season including hiring Brad Treliving as their general manager. Trevling who was the assistant GM in Arizona before being hired walked into the Flames organization looking to bring them back into prominence. This started at the draft where the Flames had the fourth overall pick and looked to add to their young core of players, they took center Sam Bennet from the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League. Bennet had 91 points in 57 regular season games with Kingston, and had nine more in their seven game playoff campaign. During free agency Treliving made a move to upgrade the Flames goaltending by adding long-time Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller. Hiller had his share of struggles over the last few season, but was a significant upgrade over the other four goalies that the Flames had trotted out their in the previous season. Reliving also added other key difference makers like Mason Raymond who had a break out season with Toronto, Deryk Engelland to help sure up the Flames blue line, and Brandon Bollig who they acquired for the Chicago Blackhawks for a third round pick.

The future looked bright for the Flames and fans were starting to get excited again about the team because of on rookie on the team, and that was Johnny Gaudreau. Gaudreau was a break out star for Boston College, winning a national championship, three beanpole tournaments, and the Hoby Baker award for the best college player. Fans had high expectation for “Johnny hockey” and looked to him and second year player Sean Monahan, who had a breakout rookie season with the Flames. Many fans also looked for Flames first round pick Sam Bennet to make an impact, but those ideas were squashed after Bennet injured his shoulder which required surgery that would take him out of action for five months. But camp seemed to go by quickly and there seemed to be more buzz around the team wondering what the new Flames could bring to the existing team. All eyes were on the Flames and Johnny Gaudreau, the Flames opened the season with a 4-2 loss against the Vancouver Canucks. But the next night the Flames spoiled the Edmonton Oilers season opener behind a Mason Raymond hat-trick and his 100th career goal. But after the first two games the biggest concern was Johnny Gaudreau, who struggled early on in the season and didn’t record his first goal until the sixth game of the season. Gaudreau went on a tear after scoring his first goal and through 37 games he had 42 games. The Flames surged through most of the season and many people wondered all season when they would fall apart and come back down to earth. But behind their young talent like Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, and stellar goaltending from Jonas Hiller and Kari Ramo who had back to back at the end of December to cap off a great 2014 for the Flames. The team also got what looked like a career year from captain Mark Giordano, who was the favorite at the time for the Norris trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman.

After a tough December, the Flames looked to bounce back and get on a role going into the all-star break. They did just that, the Flames entered the all-star break by winning four games on a five-game road trip. They’re only loss came from the Anaheim Ducks and it was their 20th consecutive loss in the Honda center, a streak that dates back to the 2003-2004 season. The Flames reached the break clinging to the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with a record of 25-19-3. Only two flames were selected to the all-star game captain Mark Giordano, and breakout rookie Johnny Gaudreau who was added to the line-up the night before the game due to injuries. After the break the Flames won four games in a six game homestead, before splitting their California Road trip. On February 25th the Flames rebounded to defeat the New Jersey Devils 3-1, but that game had devastating repercussions for the Flames who lost captain Mark Giordano for the season with a completely torn bicep tendon. Many thought that this loss would be the end of the Flames playoff push. But they seemed to really around each other, and continued to fight the Kings and Jets for control of the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference. The regular season ended with a 5-1 defeat at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets, but in the game fourth overall pick Sam Bennet made his debut and had his first career point on his first career shift. The Flames started out their post-season campaign against the Vancouver Canucks, the Flames dominated in the third period in almost every game. That dominance continued in game six of the first round where the Flames stormed back after falling behind 3-0, beating the Canuck 7-4 taking the series and setting up a second round meeting against the Anaheim Ducks. The Flames continued to struggle in the Honda Center dropping the first two games in Anaheim, and in game three the Flames tied it late off of a goal from Johnny Gaudreau that forced over time. Mikael Backlund won it at 4:36 of overtime, but the Ducks took games four and five to beat the Flames and move on.

The off-season left fans wanting more out of their team, and looked to Treliving to make a big splash in free agency. Treliving pulled off a huge deal on draft day with the Boston Bruins for 22 year old defenseman Dougie Hamilton, the Bruins got three draft picks back for Hamilton. The young defenseman added to the Flames young core, and  were able to sign him to a six year contract locking up a potential franchise defenseman at a very young age. He also locked up Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik, Karri Ramo, Lance Bouma, and Josh Jooris. Treliving has made a lot of changes since coming on board, and it looks like it has all been for the better. But can the Flames shock the world twice in two seasons, Calgary will need Johnny Gaudreau to step up once again this season and will look for captain Mark Giordano to pick-up right where he left off last season. They will also look for either Jonas Hiller or Karri Ramo to get hot and grab the starting job for the them this season. As of right now the Flames look like a legitimate cup contender, they have filled their holes and added some pieces for the future. The Flames seem like they have made enough moves to solidify their team, and if they can stay healthy they should be on the right track this season. The Flames will look to add on to their playoff experiences, and get one step closer to reaching the Stanley Cup.

James McGowan