With 7 seconds left on the clock in last night’s game four, Ryan Getzlaf‘s empty net goal effectively ended the Calgary Flames’ season. The Flames played an aggressive game each night, peppering John Gibson with shots from all over the ice. Unfortunately, they were ousted by the Pacific division winning Ducks in four short games and officially became the first team eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs. This series was tough to watch, as the Flames arguably outplayed the Ducks in every single game and probably deserved a better outcome than a first round sweep.
Each loss seemed tougher to take than the last, especially with the Flames seeming to drive the play most of the time. It felt like the hockey gods had turned on us and it was impossible to even buy a win. Kris Versteeg summed it up best last night:
I’ve been parts of sweeps before, for and against, and this wasn’t warranted … it sucks right now.
Last night was tough, and we are the first to admit that several tears may or may not have been shed after that final horn went off. But now it’s time to appreciate our incredible season and look forward to what should be a promising future for this great team. We’re upset, but not that upset. Here’s why:
Let’s not kid ourselves here, the Calgary Flames shouldn’t have been a playoff team this year, at least according to the Official Rules of Rebuilding (authored by the Edmonton Oilers… they didn’t sell many copies). Even in September, the prevailing notion was that qualifying for the playoffs was not an expectation for this team, but instead would be a bonus. It’s important to understand that the 2016-2017 season was still categorized as a rebuilding season – remember, the Flames finished 26th in the league last season. With severable notable prospects blossoming in the AHL and CHL (we’ll get to them later), this was a year for stars like Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Dougie Hamilton to grow and develop against NHL competition, and for older veterans like Matt Stajan, Deryk Engelland, and Dennis Wideman to fill roles until younger players were ready to make the jump. The fact that most of this team’s core has three playoff rounds under their belt is a definite asset moving forward. With Gaudreau, Monahan, and Hamilton continuing to round out their game, and players like Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk becoming bonafide NHL game changers, the Flames are in good position to make some serious noise in the playoffs for years to come.
2. Cap Space
One of the biggest storylines for the Flames this year was Wideman. Everyone remembers this play, and it sure seemed like as long as he was getting cheques from Ken King, this actions on that fateful night would impact the team. It wasn’t just the fans who started to believe in the Wideman effect, even team management discussed the conspiracy with the league as reported by Elliott Freidman in his ever amazing “30 Thoughts” of February 22. Beyond the conspiracy that we’re officially putting to rest now that the season is over, a major talking point about Wideman was his enormous contract. After a career best 56 points in Calgary’s cinderella run to the playoffs in 2015, he seemed to have significantly slowed down this season. Unable to keep up with other teams’ speedy forwards, he served as a healthy scratch for 25 games and recorded a career worst 18 points – all while making $5.25 million dollars. Fortunately, his contract has officially expired and we don’t have to worry about him affecting our team anymore (hopefully). Then again, there’s this.
Let’s talk numbers. Not only is Wideman’s contract off the books for next year, so are those of Engelland, Ladislav Smid, Alex Chiasson, and Brandon Bollig (finally), just to name a few. We estimate the Flames will have ~$23 million in cap space for next season, plenty of money to play with especially with most of their key players locked up long term. This number does include notable players Versteeg, Sam Bennett, Micheal Ferland, and both goalies, but having this flexibility will help improve the team all over the ice. That number could grow even higher if the Flames decide to expose Troy Brouwer and his $4.5 million cap hit in the expansion draft, and the Vegas Golden Knights decide to claim him. With a flat cap expected for next year, this wiggle room could give the Flames a leg up on other teams fighting to stay below the cap ceiling and should allow them to easily re-sign key players like Versteeg.
3. On-ice Improvements
While the 2015 playoff run was probably one of the most fun seasons in recent memory, it wasn’t necessarily something the Flames deserved. They heavily relied on their top line to generate offence, Jiri Hudler scored 76 points and won the Lady Byng, was fourth in the league with a 1.016 PDO, and were known for their unsustainable third period comebacks. Qualifying for the playoffs in 2015 was great, but there was no way they could return to the postseason without making some serious improvements. Many were calling for new head coach Glen Gulutzan’s head at the beginning of the season, but looking back, the Flames dramatically improved this year in comparison to the previous two seasons. Their cumulative Corsi differential is just one example of how they’ve improved this year:
Their powerplay improved from 16th to 10th in the league, penalty kill from 20th to 12th, and they didn’t rely on career seasons from 10+ players. The additions of Hamilton, Versteeg, Tkachuk, and Michael Frolik among others contributed to a drastic improvement of on-ice quality for the Flames this year. A more experienced and mature group with a giant chip on their shoulders after a tough playoff sweep bodes well for next season and beyond.
4. Front Office
All praise Brad Treliving. If the Boston Pizza heir doesn’t receive a massive extension this offseason we’ll be crushed. He has arguably been a top 5 GM over the last couple seasons and deserves to continue his incredible work for years to come. Sure, he’s had some miscues and may have fumbled the ball on a couple of occasions (*cough* Brouwer *cough*), but every GM has their fair share of successes and failures. In our opinion, Treliving’s successes far outweigh his failures.
Locking up one franchise cornerstone long term is difficult enough, we know that. Locking up FIVE at a reasonable cap hit? That’s wizardry. Here’s a quick breakdown of Treliving’s best signings:
|Johnny Gaudreau||$40.5M||6 years||$6.75M cap hit|
|Sean Monahan||$44.625M||7 years||$6.375M cap hit|
|Mark Giordano||$40.5M||6 years||$6.75M cap hit|
|TJ Brodie||$23.252M||5 years||$4.6504M cap hit|
|Dougie Hamilton||$34.5M||6 years||$5.75M cap hit|
With Gulutzan’s coaching leading to significant improvements on the ice, Treliving’s savvy GMing off the ice, and Brian Burke’s hair and tie and tweets and candidness it’s safe to say we’re in good hands for the foreseeable future. If you need more convincing, read this article from our friends at FlamesNation.
5. Prospects and Young Guns
The easiest and simplest way to evaluate the expected projection of a team years into the future is by looking into the cupboards. As we know, having flour and baking soda is nice but what really matters is how many tasty snacks you have stashed away. Fortunately, under the guidance of Treliving and Burke, the Flames are well positioned with numerous tasty snacks in the form of legit NHL prospects. We like tables, so here’s another one for some of the most promising kids in the organization with stats from this year:
|Matthew Tkachuk||LW||Calgary Flames||76||13||35||48||105|
|Mark Jankowski||C||Stockton Heat||64||27||29||56||29|
|Morgan Klimchuk||LW||Stockton Heat||66||19||24||43||36|
|Andrew Mangiapane||LW||Stockton Heat||66||20||21||41||64|
|Matthew Phillips||C||Victoria Royals||70||50||40||90||50|
|Dillon Dube||C||Kelowna Rockets||40||20||35||55||40|
|Eetu Tuulola||RW||Everett Silvertips||62||18||13||31||34|
|Oliver Kylington||D||Stockton Heat||60||6||21||27||22|
|Rasmus Andersson||D||Stockton Heat||54||3||19||22||38|
|Tyler Wotherspoon||D||Stockton Heat||56||6||12||18||24|
|Adam Fox||D||Harvard University||35||6||34||40||6|
|Jon Gillies||Stockton Heat||39||2215||18||2.93||0.910||1|
|Tyler Parsons||London Knights||34||2000||23||2.37||0.925||4|
In addition to Tkachuk who we committed highway robbery for at the draft last year, our prospect base is looking pretty great. Andersson and Kulak should fight for roster positions out of training camp and Gillies may fill the backup role full time next year for the Flames. Jankowski is looking like a real winner after being labeled a bust since 5 seconds after he was drafted in 2012, Mangiapane’s game has translated well to the pro level, and CHLers Phillips and Dube are too good for the junior ranks. There is also a case to be made that Parsons is the best goalie not playing pro hockey right now. Our future looks good, and Stockton heading to the playoffs this year will only further enhance many of these prospects’ development.
Don’t fret, Flames fans. This year may have stung, but we’ll be back next year with a vengeance. We’re looking forward to sharing many years of competitive hockey and many successful playoff runs with all of you.