The premise of Stick TAP is not revolutionary. It's similar to mailbag features you will have seen elsewhere. It's an opportunity for you -- the reader, to ask questions about the Calgary Flames, and I'll answer the question or at least share my thoughts. Where I am putting my own unique twist on the concept is every response will be broken down into three specific elements:
Thoughts - General commentary, maybe including something you hadn't considered.
Analysis - Statistic(s) or research that supports or relates to the topic.
Prediction - The dangerous part. I'll take a guess at what will happen. But no scorekeeping allowed!
To get started, I put out a request for questions last weekend and I had a terrific response. From the many topics submitted, I can't answer them all today but I have selected five to get us started. From the leftovers, I then selected another five that I've answered with a quick and short response. These can be found at the bottom in the appropriately named Snapshots section.
I'll save the others for perhaps another time, if still relevant. Or will turn them into a future blog. Note that you can tweet your questions to me anytime at @DarrenWHaynes and I'll put them in the queue for consideration for the next Stick TAP.
Q1. Which Flames prospect that spent the year in Abbotsford last season makes a big leap forward in the show?
- Submitted by @vanpelt77
The Olympics last year was a coming-out party for Finnish centre Mikael Granlund, who played his best hockey of his career when he rejoined Minnesota after the break. Selected 9th overall in 2010, Granlund was instrumental in the Wild's opening round upset of the Colorado Avalanche in the playoffs. Might there be a similar breakout season coming from younger brother Markus Granlund in 2014-15?
Drafted by the Flames in the second round of the 2011 draft, Markus spent most of last season in the American Hockey League, where he was consistently one of Abbotsford's top players finishing an impressive 25-21-46 in 52 regular season games. Centring the Heat's No. 1 line and forming a dangerous duo with left-winger Max Reinhart, Granlund was also good in a short playoff stint going 2-3-5 in four games. In-between, Granlund had earned a call-up to the Flames on Feb. 24, where he got into seven games with the big club and scored two goals and added an assist before suffering a shoulder injury 12 seconds into his first shift of a game against Los Angeles on Mar. 10.
While blessed with a great offensive skill set -- sublime passer, hard shot, and crafty on a breakaway, he's not all finesse. While he's a bit undersized at 5-foot-11, in the games I saw him play last year, he plays bigger and is not afraid to get in hard on the forecheck and take the puck into the dirty areas.
'Patience' is a buzzword around the Calgary Flames these days and while it's easy to look at Granlund's age -- 21, and suggest the smart thing to do is to have him play another season in the AHL, we tend to forget that his background has been different. Prior to last year, Granlund played two seasons for HIFK Helsinki in the Finnish hockey league so while last year was his first year playing pro on this side of the Atlantic, he's been playing with 'men' for three years now.
The Granlund brothers train together in the off-season and the strides taken by both players last year reflects the work they're putting into it. With another solid summer of training this summer and with Markus motivated by his brother's impactful play in the Stanley Cup playoffs, expect Granlund to put in a serious run for one of the open jobs on the Flames.
It's not normal for guys Granlund's age -- he was still 20 right up until very late in the regular season, to have the type of success he enjoyed last year in the AHL. Theoren Fleury -- way back in 1988-89, represents the last time a Flames prospect younger than age 21 scored at a more prolific rate in the minors.
In Calgary Flames history, here is the top 10:
1. Theoren Fleury, 1988-89, 37 g in 40 gm, 0.93 GPG
2. Bruce Eakin, 1983-84, 33 g in 67 gm, 0.49 GPG
3. Markus Granlund, 2013-14, 25 g in 52 gm, 0.48 GPG
4. Cory Stillman, 1994-95, 28 g in 63 gm, 0.44 GPG
5. Cory Stillman, 1993-94, 35 g in 79 gm, 0.44 GPG
6. Pierre Rioux, 1982-83, 26 g in 59 gm, 0.44 GPG
7. Chuck Kobasew, 2002-03, 21 g in 48 gm, 0.44 GPG
8. Marty Murray, 1995-96, 25 g in 58 gm, 0.44 GPG
9. Dustin Boyd, 2006-07, 27 g in 66 gm, 0.41 GPG
10. Andrew McKim, 1990-91, 30 g in 74 gm, 0.41 GPG
How did Granlund's goal-scoring rate rank in the AHL this year? His 0.48 GPG ranked him ninth in the league but of the eight ahead of him, nobody was as young as Granlund. In fact, Anaheim's Devante Smith-Pelly (0.49), 21, and Chicago's Jeremy Morin (0.51), 22, were the only players younger than age 23.
If he doesn't begin the season in Calgary, it will be because there isn't an opening in the role he would best play. If your only option due to the presence of other veterans is to play Granlund on the fourth line, that would be misuse of him and sitting him out as the Flames extra forward wouldn't make any sense developmentally. In that scenario, a better option would be have Granlund playing on the top line in Adirondack.
However, once the first injury hits with the Flames and there is an opportunity to play Granlund in a top nine role, I expect him to be one of the first forwards recalled and when he comes up that next time, it could be to stay. Even if the need is on the wing, while Sven Baertschi may be the higher ranked prospect based on where they were each drafted, Granlund had the superior season last year and in my eyes, is deserving of getting that first look.
Q2. Do you think the Flames are purposely going for McDavid or Eichel this year?
- Submitted by @aloudoun
Well, "purposely" is a strong word. However, if you're asking if Flames management is aware of the calibre of player available in next year's draft in Connor McDavid -- 4th in OHL scoring last year (and was 16 years old for half of the season) and Jack Eichel -- every bit McDavid's equal according to many, you know they are and behind closed doors, I'm sure they are every bit as smitten at their potential as the common fan.
What we also know is that conveniently enough, this is not 'the year' for the Flames anyway. Sorry. They're a charming lot and all and last year was one of the more entertaining seasons in recent memory but they just don't have the horsepower to finish anywhere near the top eight in the Western Conference.
Sure, there's plenty of good feeling and optimism around how the Flames finished up last season (19-13-0 in final 32 games) and the direction this club is headed. Yes, there are quality players on the way in the form of first round picks Sam Bennett, Emile Poirier and Morgan Klimchuk -- but their time is at least a year away. Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau are exciting pieces, but they're also just getting started.
The Flames prospect cupboard has a lot more in it than a couple years ago but it goes without saying that adding one more big piece, one more potential superstar into the organization -- especially if it's one of those so-called generational stars that rarely come along, it would really set the organization up for a very bright future.
The presence of the big three in Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie and Mikael Backlund, improved goaltending with the addition of veteran Jonas Hiller, combined with Bob Hartley coaxing everything he can out of his blue collar group, is going to once again make the Flames a formidable opponent to play every night. But from what we've seen so far in the off-season through the players added and term they've been added for, management knows that it's the next wave of players still to come that is going to finally put Calgary back on the map.
This year and it won't be from a lack of trying, expect a bunch more one-goal games with the Flames most often the team coming up one goal shy. Throughout the year, expect the club to give chances for young players to show their stuff when injuries hit rather than bringing in quick fixes. In fact, there are so many waiver-exempt prospects deserving of an NHL audition, WestJet may want to consider adding a daily Calgary-to-Adirondack direct flight.
Two examples in the Western Conference of the simple formula of getting good players, and then getting good is Chicago and Colorado.
The Blackhawks have appeared in 94 playoff games in the last six years. That's five more than Calgary has played in the last 25 years. But Chicago wouldn't be a shell of the team they are today if not for two key pieces that they added in consecutive drafts:
- Patrick Kane, drafted 1st in 2007
- Jonathan Toews, drafted 3rd in 2006
After both joined the organization, the Blackhawks ascension began with a good year in 2007-08 although it wasn't quite good enough to make the post-season. The return to the playoffs came in 2008-09 in which they went to the Conference finals. You'll be very familiar with their success ever since.
Their formula has been similar yet a bit different. While they did sneak in one playoff appearance over the five-year span leading into last season, they also had three years in which were dreadful and finished near/at the bottom of the league. Painful at the time, it helped them get:
- Matt Duchene, drafted 3rd in 2009
- Gabriel Landeskog, drafted 2nd in 2011
- Nathan MacKinnon, drafted 1st in 2013
There are various other formulas as well when it comes to building a perennial playoff team -- see the Detroit Red Wings model. And there is no guarantee as Edmonton has shown (so far) that top picks will automatically lead to success. Nonetheless, if you can piece together a series of high picks and draft some top talent, and ideally mix in at least one elite level, first overall-type in there, that is your best bet at building an excellent hockey team and making future success sustainable.
Bennett, considering where he was ranked much of the season, may have ended up a 4th pick on paper but I think can be viewed as a No. 2. With a top pick next year, plus include Monahan, who is here already, and 2015-16 is when things could really start getting interesting with 2016-17 the year Flames fans should really be excited about.
However, here's the bad news -- from a draft perspective. I just don't see this group finishing in the bottom two. What they lack in talent they make up for in work ethic. There are a lot of motivated young players like Sven Baertschi and Michael Ferland, who will be making a push. The goaltending won't be spectacular but will be improved this year.
Also, the difficulty of the Western Conference schedule and those top 10 teams will be mitigated by the games they'll have against Winnipeg, Vancouver and Edmonton, of which one or more could conceivably finish behind the Flames.
Buffalo should once again be the league doormat and while it wouldn't surprise me if the Flames end up in 29th, my gut says they will end up 27th or 28th and just miss out on the big two. While that result will disappoint some fans, the club will still get a really nice player at No. 3 or No. 4 and with the other prospects in place already, they'll still be ready to turn the corner sharply -- just the squeal from the tires won't be quite as loud as it might have been with McDavid or Eichel.
Q3. Do you think Bennett plays nine games then goes back to junior, goes straight to junior or makes the team?
- Submitted by @schafer_12
You know the comparisons are going to be made. If Sean Monahan, as the 6th overall pick, can stick with the Flames out of training camp, why can't Sam Bennett as the 4th pick? Admittedly, right here on this blog I predicted last summer that Monahan would end up going back to junior and I was wrong. But call it a double-of-nothing bet, but I'm going with the same prediction once again this year because I don't see their situations as the same.
There are three reasons why I fully expect Bennett to be back with the Kingston Frontenacs this year:
1. Experience - Bennett has less OHL experience than Monahan. Monahan had three seasons in the OHL when he arrived at Flames camp last year. Bennett has only played two years of major junior.
2. Age - Bennett is much younger. It may not seem like a lot in the grand scheme but it is. Bennett will be over nine months younger than Monahan will have been last year. As you'll see below, not many kids make the NHL at Bennett's age.
3. Size - Monahan showed up at training camp a rock-solid 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds. A big reason players will return to junior is to get bigger. Monahan was already bigger. Meanwhile, the lanky Bennett is 6-foot-1 and I'd suggest is in the vicinity of 180 pounds. Some extra muscle wouldn't hurt, especially given the abrasive nature of how he likes to play, but that will come via a year's worth of working out, not just a couple months.
How young is Bennett? He just turned 18 on June 20, one week before the draft. In the last 16 years, only eight players Bennett's age or younger have played a full season in the NHL. Here they are, ranked by age (youngest to oldest):
1. Jordan Staal, Pit, 2006-07 (Sept. 10, 1988) 81 gm, 29-13-42
2. Aleksander Barkov, Fla, 2013-14 (Sept. 2, 1995) 54 gm, 8-16-24
3. Nathan MacKinnon, Col, 2013-14 (Sept. 1, 1995) 82 gm, 24-39-63
4. Sam Gagner, Edm, 2007-08 (Aug. 10, 1989) 79 gm, 13-36-49
5. Sidney Crosby, Pit, 2005-06 (Aug. 7, 1987) 81 gm, 39-63-102
6. Evander Kane, Atl, 2009-10 (Aug. 2, 1991) 66 gm, 14-12-26
7. Patrice Bergeron, Bos, 2003-04 (July 24, 1985) 71 gm, 16-23-39
8. Zach Bogosian, Atl, 2008-09 (July 15, 1990) 47 gm, 9-10-19
Looking at that list, you know the decision to keep a few of those players in the NHL is one that teams and maybe even the player also, ended up regretting. Kane and Bogosian are two that come to mind. You could probably lump Gagner in that group also.
Bennett will definitely play a bunch of exhibition games and he may get in a few regular season games also but I wouldn't guarantee it and I certainly wouldn't assume he's here for the full nine games that he is permitted to play before his entry level contract kicks in.
I have little doubt Bennett ends up back in Kingston but how quickly that occurs and if he gets a few NHL regular season games first could hinge on the health of the Flames and how some of the other older prospects fare in training camp. If Calgary is looking solid up the middle with Backlund, Monahan, Matt Stajan and perhaps Markus Granlund or Lance Bouma as well, then Bennett may depart NHL camp sooner than people think.
Kingston opens up its regular season on Sept. 25 and while Bennett will not be back in time for that, if the Flames are healthy, Bennett could be returned prior to the Flames season-opener on Oct. 8.
After Calgary's home opener, they immediately go on a six-game road trip. If there are injuries, it's possible Bennett begins that trip with the big club and gets in a handful of games depending on how many players are hurt and what the club's needs are, but I'd be surprised if he ends up playing more than four or five games before he goes back down and begins what should be a dominant year including a trip to the World Juniors at Christmas.
Q4. Do you think the Flames will have a goaltender this year that will play 50+ games or a real change around in the net again?
- Submitted by @FlamesFun
Despite Jonas Hiller's big $4.5-million salary, which I view as more a product of supply and demand than performance of late for the 32-year-old Swiss goaltender, I fully expect the battle for the starting job to be an ongoing competition that starts in training camp and runs the course of the season.
There's very little chance that recently re-signed Joni Ortio can do enough in September and in a handful of exhibition games to earn the starting goaltending job so pencil him, despite his determination, to be the No. 1 puck stopper in Adirondack.
That leaves Karri Ramo and Hiller with Ramo's case an interesting one as he'll be a pending UFA this season. The way Ramo finished last year and considering the club has to make a decision on him sooner than later, expect him to see his share of work no matter what. Even if Hiller wins the starting job, I'd expect Ramo to still play at least 35 games. Ideally for the Flames, however, from an asset perspective is it's Ramo that wins the No. 1 job.
The subplot to the battle in net is what will happen in 2015-16. Ortio's two-year contract is a two-way deal for this year but it reverts to a one-way NHL deal in year two. He'll also be waiver eligible by that point, which means despite the nominal salary of just $600,000 -- just $25,000 above the NHL's minimum salary, you can't just ship him down and pay him that in the minors without having to expose him to all 29 other teams. So, safe to say he'll be in Calgary that season unless his play drops off to the point that the Flames don't care if they lose him on waivers.
However, if Ortio puts together another solid season in the AHL -- last year he was 27-8-0 with a .926 save percentage, which was second in the league, expect the Flames to move either Ramo or Hiller at some point to create a roster spot. The advantage of making such a decision during the season rather than after is if it's Ramo they choose to move, they can maybe get an asset for him in return if they deal him at the NHL trade deadline. We're all familiar with the second round pick Brian Burke surprisingly got from Colorado in exchange for Reto Berra. If Ramo's not in Calgary's future plans, you won't want to waste that asset and see him leave for nothing.
The other scenario one shouldn't rule out is the Flames sign Ramo to an extension and then look to unload Hiller at the trade deadline or next summer. Calgary fans missing No. 34 will undoubtedly endorse a choice of going with a goalie tandem consisting of two Finns.
This training camp will be the first time in eight years that the Flames will have two goaltenders in camp that are coming off years in which they played 40-plus games. Here's a quick look back at that time and other such occurrences:
- 2007-08 - The circumstances in this one were completely different. After playing 55 games the year prior with Phoenix, Curtis Joseph was brought in to back-up Miikka Kiprusoff. Nobody was under the illusion that Joseph, age 40, could wrestle away the starting job. The end result was Kiprusoff played 76 games while Joseph played just nine.
- 2001-02 - Again, this wasn't really a battle for No. 1. Mike Vernon was 38 and on his second tour of duty with the Flames. While Vernon had played 41 games the year prior, the reason 31-year-old Roman Turek was acquired from St. Louis where he had played 54 games the year prior was to be the No. 1, and that's exactly what happened with Turek playing 69 games to Vernon's 18.
- 2000-01 - This was really the last legitimate battle for No. 1. Vernon had split the previous year between San Jose and Florida before being brought back by the team that originally drafted him. The incumbent was Fred Brathwaite, who had played 61 games with Calgary in 1999-00. In the end, Braithwaite played in 49 games compared to Vernon's 41.
Other goaltender battles we've seen between two goalies coming off 40-plus game seasons.
- 1999-00 - Grant Fuhr vs. Fred Brathwaite
- 1997-98 - Dwayne Roloson vs. Rick Tabaracci
- 1996-97 - Trevor Kidd vs. Rick Tabaracci
My prediction is Hiller and Ramo will split the games nearly 50/50. While Ramo proves to be a capable NHL goalie, I don't think he's the guy the Flames want to commit to long-term at age 28 and especially at the wage he may ask for as a UFA. So, I think Calgary looks to trade Ramo at the deadline to a playoff contender that perhaps due to injury, may be looking to add a veteran back-up.
Ortio will then get the call from Adirondack and will make a majority of the starts over the final month of the season. In 2015-16, it will be a tandem of Ortio and Hiller with Jon Gillies as the No. 1 goalie in Adirondack.
Q5. Will the Flames make a step forward or backward next season?
- Submitted by @Danycalgary
The important thing to distinguish when we use the word "progress" is how are you measuring such? Are you talking about literal progress or figurative progress? If your eyes are strictly on the points column in the NHL standings and expecting an 8-10 point improvement, you may be disappointed with how the 2014-15 season goes. The West has only gotten tougher this summer and I think it's going to be awfully difficult for the Flames to equal the success they had last year when among their accomplishments, they went 4-3-0 combined against Western Conference finalists Chicago and Los Angeles. Bob Hartley's club isn't going to be sneaking up on anyone this year beginning right from October.
However, figurative progress is most certainly possible. If your end goal is to get back to being a perennial playoff contender and legitimate Stanley Cup threat, there are ways to get closer to that goal without necessarily making a step forward in terms of the standings. Even a modest drop-off in points while doing so with a younger and less experienced line-up can still be considered a net gain -- although don't expect anyone in Flames management to confess to that publicly.
Rather than look at rebuilds gone wrong -- Florida, the Islanders and Edmonton. Instead, I took a look at the lean non-playoff years leading up to the return to prominence for Chicago as well as the ascension by Los Angeles into being the 'mini' dynasty they are today. I picked these two clubs as we can all agree they are both in pretty good stead right now.
What I found and this isn't necessarily shocking but there was nice gradual ramping up of their point totals after they hit bottom and were forced to build themselves back up.
- 2008-09 - 46-24-12, 104 pts (+16) Playoffs
- 2007-08 - 40-34-8, 88 pts (+17)
- 2006-07 - 31-42-9, 71 pts (+6)
- 2005-06 - 26-43-13, 65 pts (+6)
- 2003-04 - 20-43-11, 59 pts
- 2002-03 - 30-33-13, 79 pts
- 2001-02 - 41-27-13, 96 pts - Playoffs
- 2009-10 - 46-27-9, 101 pts (+22) Playoffs
- 2008-09 - 34-37-11, 79 pts (+8)
- 2007-08 - 32-43-7, 71 pts (+3)
- 2006-07 - 27-41-14, 68 pts
- 2005-06 - 42-35-5, 89 pts
I expect Calgary to end up around the same mark they finished at last year when they were 35-40-7 for 77 points. They could be four points better but even if they're a few points worse, doing that while integrating youth into the line-up will make it a year of forward progress regardless. However, giving youth opportunity is the key. It is imperative for the Flames to expedite the rebuild that they use this season to start the carousel going and give opportunities to kids that could be part of the core of this team a few years down the road.
On the other hand, if they repeat last year's point total with a veteran team and all their kids in the minors, I would call that a step backwards.
You can't have five prospects all ripening at the same time. That's just bad planning. You need to work them into the line-up gradually. Calgary's done that recently with Brodie, Backlund and Monahan. They must continue that slow turnover this year.
Short and quick answers to other randomly selected questions that were submitted.
Q. How likely is it that the Flames will be one of the top teams in a few years? Considering top teams now will be in decline. Will Flames become a 'playoff here-and-there team' (Ott), consistent playoff team (Chi), or a consistent bottom team (Edm)?
- Submitted by @g1ddy_up
One thing we must remember is that being a consistent playoff team like the Flames were through the 80s, when Calgary never missed the post-season once, was a lot easier when the NHL only had 21 teams. Back then, nearly 70% of teams made the playoffs. Now, it's just over 50% that make it and with the salary cap, being continually good for a long time is that much more difficult.
However, if the core the Flames have in place pan out, if they can pick up one more stud in the 2015 NHL Draft, and if someone steps up and becomes the No. 1 goalie for the next several years, I definitely see Calgary as setting themselves up to be a consistent playoff team starting in 2016-17. They could even creep into the playoffs grabbing one of the final spots in 2015-16.
Q. What do you think the chances are of Calgary signing Devon Setoguchi? They need players on the right side and if you could do a one-year deal like Raymond had in Toronto, it could be a win/win.
- Submitted by @coachkayne74
A. I don't see Setoguchi as a fit, unless they also move out a body. The Flames need to keep some spots open for developing prospects. Signing Setoguchi, while addressing a short-term need on right wing, would gobble up one of only a couple spots remaining for forwards. If they have no room for kids, that creates a developmental logjam in the AHL.
With Bennett and Poirier likely to arrive in the NHL for 2015-16, older prospects like Granlund, Reinhart, Ferland, Knight and Baertschi need a chance to play this year so they and the Flames can see where they're at and whether they have legitimate NHL futures.
Q. What are realistic expectations for Sean Monahan next season and in his career? First-line centre?
- Submitted by @tommyhuge
A. Despite his very nice rookie season, I would have modest expectations for him this year. I'll take a guess at around 20-20-40 over a full season. Long term and it's so hard to guess after just one season, but I see him more as a second line centre or even a guy that anchors the third line on a real deep team (e.g. Connor McDavid and Sam Bennett ahead of him), where he'd play between a couple big wingers on a power line that can score but also defend. I'd project him as a guy that will average 25 goals per year and 50-55 points.
Q. Do you think the Flames can land Kevin Hayes? What about our chances at Ryan O'Reilly?
- Submitted by @hipcheck26
A. I'd say a 1-in-5 chance at Kevin Hayes. I don't think it's the slam-dunk that some fans think. The fact that both of his old Boston College linemates are here is nice but as I documented in this blog a week ago, they only played together for 26 games. I think that connection is being over-hyped.
Hayes, Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold will be friends forever regardless of what organization they end up in. If there are contending teams, especially U.S. teams that have a need for depth at winger but are thin on cap space, those opportunities might be pretty attractive to Hayes, especially if he sees it as an outside shot of jumping straight to the NHL. Besides, by signing elsewhere, he isn't competing against Gaudreau for a job!
I'd say it's very unlikely Ryan O'Reilly arrives in Calgary. With one penalty last year, this year's Lady Byng award winner is hardly a Brian Burke type of player in the slightest. In fact, back in 2006 when GM in Anaheim, Burke said about the Lady Byng, "It's something I don't particularly want to see on my team.".
Where Burke always insists there is room on the roster for skilled guys, the Flames already have a bunch of those. I just don't see it.
- Submitted by @lummer1
There were some good pieces written on Jankowski when he was here for development camp. It's too bad a hip injury prevented him from being on the ice. Although you wouldn't expect Treliving to say anything different, he said that Jankowski is very much in the Flames future plans still.
Coming up on year three at Providence College, a continuation of the modest improvement he made last year is imperative. With PC expected to be one of the powers in college hockey this year, it will be a year with added exposure and added pressure. This could be good, or this could be bad.
I see him having his best season so far this year. But it won't be one that will have people wondering if he'll leave school early and turn pro. Always projected as a long-term project, he'll remain a polarizing talking point for fans right up until the end of his senior year when it will be decision time, or potentially, confession time for the Flames.