10 Fearless Predictions for 2013-14
Make no mistake, it certainly won't be an easy role for the soon-to-be 30-year-old (his birthday is opening night), especially the post-game chin-wags with the media to dissect the latest loss. However, he plays the game the right way, with a 'heart on his sleeve' blend of grit and determination, and is a respected voice off the ice. So, add me to the long list of people declaring Giordano the worthy successor to Jarome Iginla..
Right now, the pecking order down the middle consists of Matt Stajan then Mikael Backlund or vice versa -- depends on who you ask. Although TJ Galiardi has also been shifted there to start camp, there's a well-documented opportunity for a couple of young men from the bevy of young centres the organization has in camp to step up and start the year in the show.
Stajan is 29 and he's a pending UFA. While he was Calgary's most consistent forward last year and sure, elevating him to a second or even first line line role this season would be the logical move if you're trying to win now, that doesn't make long term sense. This club needs to identify a couple bona fide top line centres and auditions should start as soon as possible.
Sean Monahan looks like he's on his way to being one of those guys but for me, it makes more sense for him to return to junior (see below). Enter Markus Granlund. Unlike Monahan whose entry level contract can slide a year, Granlund's ELC starts ticking this season no matter what. Granlund is also two years older and has also been playing against men already having spend the past two seasons with Helsinki in the Finnish Elite league. Granlund's got loads of talent, he's shown that, and he's been a level above most of the prospects he's played against so far. Perhaps the time is now to see if he can continue to perform at hockey's highest level.
- A tough opening night in Washington is followed by a trip the next evening into Columbus where Calgary has never had success in the past -- and that was when Calgary was good and the Blue Jackets were not. Now Columbus is good and the Flames... well, you know.
- Next is a three-game home-stand that brings Torts and the arch-rival Canucks to the Saddledome, followed by the Canadiens and the Ilya Kovalchuk-less Devils. The New Jersey game looks winnable but if you at all three games together, four points is overly ambitious with three a more realistic goal.
- A five-game road trip follows and while it will be good for team-building, hotel pranks, five-star accommodations and delicious steak dinners, the reality for this outfit is the first three stops -- Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles, are going to be killers. Then you head to Phoenix on the back-end of a back-to-back and wrap up in Dallas, which has never been a very friendly building.
- October closes at home with a second chance at Ovechkin and the Capitals before the new and improved Maple Leafs and their legions of supporters arrive en masse at the Saddledome on Oct. 30.
Cundari is not overly big at 5-foot-10 but he plays the game like he's 6-foot-4. He's hard-hitting and has an abrasive style that will put him in the good books with new President of Hockey Operations, Brian Burke. Brodie, Dennis Wideman and Giordano are three locks to make up the top two pairings. While veteran Shane O'Brien would be a good option to round out that quartet, expect Cundari to sneak in ahead of him as one of camp's pleasant surprises.
In a way, you could say Granlund's emergence has sealed Monahan's fate. One reason for returning Monahan to junior is to give him the chance to experience the intense spotlight of being on Canada's World Junior team, which he surely would make. As you know, this country heaps ridiculous amounts of pressure and expectations upon these young men over the Christmas holidays. But that pressure, is not unlike what Monahan is in for over the many years to come as the face of the Flames rebuild in this hockey mad market. As well, starting his entry level contract ticking this year means you're into a bridge contract or expensive long-term deal starting in 2016-17. The ripple effect of this down the road could be the team running up against the salary cap one season sooner than desired as the team rounds the corner and begins to trend upwards again. While I'm not certain Monahan will play the full nine regular season games the NHL allows before returning him to junior, I bet he plays at least five or six. That will give him that irreplaceable taste of what he's working towards for when he returns to Ottawa and ideally a trade in January to an OHL playoff contender.
What shouldn't be overlooked is Calgary traded a top NHL defenceman in Jay Bouwmeester, who still had another year left on his contract to get Berra and Cundari (and the Blues first round draft pick). While critics were quick to openly wonder, "is this all Calgary got?". Maybe the way the deal should be analyzed instead is it took a player of Bouwmeester's calibre to get the two of them out of St. Louis because of how highly touted they were.
As the proceedings got going on Wednesday, it was reiterated by the Flames that all five goalies in camp have a chance to win the No. 1 job. I would not be surprised if Berra, despite having a two-way contract, shows the form he demonstrated last year in the Swiss League and at the World Championships and ends up outplaying Ramo and if nothing else, earns the right to start the season in Calgary right alongside him. In such a scenario, journeyman Joey MacDonald may want to pick up a Rubik's cube as he'll have some extra time on his hands.
For one, he's motivated to prove that last year's three goals in 33 games was an anomaly. Secondly, he's happy to be in Calgary where he has family connections to the city. He's also out to prove he's not an injury liability. In the three years prior to last year, his goals-per-game average would put him on a pace for around 28 goals in an 82-game season. But, he amassed just 110 games over those three years while missing 106. As dull and uninteresting as his his name is -- David Jones, sounds like a made-up name used in school text books, don't be surprised if Mr. Jones establishes himself as a fan favourite in no time and becomes one of the team's most dangerous offensive players.
Knowing Burke's propensity for bigger, meaner and grittier players that play with an edge -- the epitome of how Burke rolls himself, I'd expect some scrappy, sandpaper-like play from the locals this month in an attempt to convince Burke that there's enough mean and nasty in the Flames dressing room already and that he doesn't need to go shopping and airlift in that type of player.
While top prospect Patrick Sieloff is a likely bet to return for another season in the OHL and the AHL is the logical next stepping stone for highly touted Tyler Wotherspoon after his successful tenure in the WHL, college graduate John Ramage has emerged as someone to watch closely. He's obviously got the pedigree, his Dad was a member of the Flames 1989 Stanley Cup-winning team. At age 22, he's older than the others too. Also, his on-ice leadership has already been evident and on a young team, this is an intangible quality in which you can never have enough. The AHL is probably the best fit for Ramage to start his pro career but if he shows he's ready now, it would not be a stretch if the team looks for a way to part with either Smith or Butler to create a spot. Chris Breen is another candidate for big league service time but is currently recovering from shoulder surgery.
Related Flames Reading
- Penticton Post Mortem - Revisiting My 10 Flames Storylines - At the outset of the rookie tournament, I asked 10 questions. After the tournament ended, I shared my 10 answers.
- Tribute to Kipper - Joni Ortio's Mesmerizing Debut - The Miikka Kiprusoff connections and comparisons are almost spooky when it comes to 22-year-old goaltending prospect Joni Ortio.
- Getting to Know Markus Granlund - His stellar on-ice play so far has spoken volumes. Prior to departing for Penticton, he talked about his breakout season in Finland last year, his strengths as a player and his hopes for 2013-14.
- North America, Take One - Recounting Karri Ramo's First Attempt at the NHL - You may have forgotten but Ramo's already spent parts of three seasons in the NHL. Here's an in-depth look at his adventurous first attempt including his scrap in his second AHL game.