Calgary’s season ended a couple days ago with an overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks, which saw them lose the series 4-1. Disappointing as that may sound, this was an incredible year to be a Flames fan, and saw some amazing stories. Let’s take a look back at some of those highlights.
- Mark Giordano had a career year, and would have won the Norris trophy if it weren’t for an injury. Giordano was a stellar leader, who provided not only sound defensive support, but a ridiculous amount of offensive help as well. From what I remember, he stayed a point-per-game player for almost half the season, which is not something that is frequently accomplished by defensemen. There’s no question that had he remained healthy, he would have won the Norris trophy – and he’s only stepping into his prime.
- Johnny Gaudreau will (or at least should) win the Calder Trophy, capping a brilliant rookie performace. Being a longtime Flames fan, Gaudreau was a name that was always brought up when discussing the future of the Flames. Based on his performace this season, I can see why. Gaudreau is one of the most exciting players to watch in the entire league. He’s defied all odds given his miniscule size, but he will soon be a force to be reckoned with.
- Sean Monahan built on his strong rookie performance, scoring 30 goals and 60 points in only his second season. He continues to be a strong force on Calgary, providing dynamic offense and showing a killer instinct. He’s great on the defensive side of the game too, and also with faceoffs. The sky seems to be the limit with him. I don’t want to exaggerate, but I can certainly see Monahan-Gaudreau turning into a Toews-Kane type dynamo soon.
- Dennis Wideman, Kris Russel and TJ Brodie emerged as franchise defensemen. It was already known that each of these three individuals were greatly talented, but it became apparent this year that their talent was way beyond what anyone thought. When Giordano went out, Wideman and Russel elevated their games to unprecedented highs. Wideman went from being a scratch in the second game of the season to an alternate captain by the end of the year, finishing with career highs in goals and points. Russel broke the NHL record for most blocked shots in a single season, all the while providing incredible poise as an offensive leader. Brodie seemed to cool off a little bit after his partner was injured, but showed in the playoffs that he is every bit as good as Giordano. I feel comfortable saying that the Flames have one of, if not the best top two defensive linings in the league.
- The Flames finished as one of the best offensive teams in the league. Several players should be credited for this, players who likely deserve their own description in depth below (but I’ll skip due to time constraints): Jiri Hudler, Lance Bouma, Mikael Backlund, Josh Jooris, David Jones, Joe Colborne. Goal scoring was not an issue for the Flames this season.
- Sam Bennett and Michael Ferland impressed us greatly in the playoffs, further illustrating that the future will be a bright one indeed. Bennett played with the poise and intelligence of a player well beyond his years, and with a hunger and aggression that can only belong to youth. Ferland proved to be a classic pest, one capable of getting his team going with a single shift. Every team needs a player and like that, and in the playoffs especially, they can make the difference between winning and losing.
- The Flames owned the third period; they were the best third period team in the entire league. It was crazy how Calgary won so many games after being down entering the third period. The game I’ll never forget is when they were down 4-0 to Ottawa at the Sens’ building after the second period – they tied it at 4-4 before losing in a shootout. To garner even one point from that scenario is incredible, but the Flames did it again and again and again. The truly lived up to their “never quit” motto.
- Coach Bob Hartley led a team that was projected to finish in the bottom three in the standings to finishing as one of the final eight teams competing for the Stanley Cup. He’s winning the Jack Adams trophy as surely as the sun is coming up tomorrow.
Yes, it was a great season to be a Flames fan. Of course, it wasn’t perfect; here’s what they have to fix if they want to remain successful in the coming years (I’ll just list here, as I’m really running short on time – most of these are pretty obvious, anyway):
- The Flames need more consistent goaltending. Both Hiller and Ramo showed spells of brilliance, but they were also marred with terrible performances in between. That can’t happen on a winning team.
- The Flames have to shoot more. This is probably the most important thing they need to do, as this year they really relied on opportunistic goal scoring as their offense. High shooting percentages are prone to fall, especially if you don’t take many shots to begin with. Nothing bad ever came from shooting the puck more.
- Calgary’s faceoff numbers seemed weak, and it was especially prevalent in the playoffs. They either need to get better, or get a guy who is known to be a master in the dot.
- Adding offensive depth would help the team greatly. They tried well this year, but Devin Setoguchi, Curtis Glencross and Mason Raymond just weren’t the right fits for depth on a team that screams offensive talent. Whatever the case, they need to fill in that void.
- Practice makes perfect – the Flames are a young team, and this season was highly unlikely. But if they keep doing whatever they did this season that worked so well for them, they should be able to remain successful.
Calgary didn’t play well against Anaheim – it looked like boys vs men for the first two games. But Anaheim is a superpower, and it was likely to be expected. I don’t care how they lost – I’m grateful for the amazing run they gave the fans this season. They proved to be one of the most resilient teams in the league, infused with heaps of young talent. Their core is incredibly strong, and they have possibly the deepest pool of prospects in the entire league. Yes, the season didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but it only ends that way for one out of thirty teams anyway. The Flames were projected to finish 29th in the league – instead, they were one of the final eight teams standing. They made the playoffs after six years and one their first playoff series after a decade, with an opening-day roster that was laughable. They did all of Calgary proud, and set the bar high for the years to come. The sky is the limit for this team, and they will be a force to be reckoned with in the future. For a team that was in the second year of a rebuild, the near future is going to be amazing.
Obligatory: and at least we’re not the Oilers.