Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Sneak-a-Peek Edition of the 2015-16 Flames Season Preview: An Assortment of Top 3's

Flipping the page on the office calendar this morning revealed that one word synonymous with the impending return of hockey -- September.

It's as if everything changed in an instant overnight. Sandals are stored away, skates are brought out. Put down the baseball glove, dig out the hockey gloves. As of today, if you've "got your sticks packed in the car", you're not talking about your golf clubs.

While for most Flames fans, the wait has taken forever -- probably feeling more like six, seven or eight months, it was actually just over 16 weeks ago that Calgary's season came to an end on a Sunday evening in Anaheim. After blowing a pair of one-goal leads, the Flames were still an overtime goal away from bringing their second round series with the Ducks back to the Saddledome for game 6. But alas, as things tend to go at the Honda Center, Corey Perry scored instead and just like that, summer was upon us.

As the NHL inches closer to resuming, it is to be expected that hockey is not quite top of mind for most people yet. With the NFL kicking off in less than 10 days and with most of Canada engulfed daily in Blue Jays-palooza, hockey will have to wait its turn.

That said, as an appetizer and a way to start getting you into hockey mode, here is a look ahead to the upcoming season in the form of a variety of top three-lists that will give you plenty of fodder for conversation for your next trip to the pub with your buddies.


2015-16 Calgary Flames - Random Top 3's


1. Who are the dark horses to make the team?

Jakub Nakladal

The 27-year-old comes to North America as an international man of mystery, although we got a glimpse of his friendly nature off the ice at development camp where the Czech also displayed a quality skill set on it. For all the pleas of bring back David Schlemko, Nakladal could end up being the depth d-man Calgary wants. If he goes to Stockton to adjust to the small rink, he may not be there for long.

Garnet Hathaway - Big, strong, mature and with decent hands. He awaits an opening on the fourth line.
Emile Poirier - Highly-touted, he's getting closer and could come up to stay at some point this season.


2. Who will round out the top-six group of forwards?

Micheal Ferland

If Bennett shifts to centre as Hartley stated in this piece, perhaps Ferland becomes the best bet to round-out the top-six set of wingers with Johnny Gaudreau, Jiri Hudler and Michael Frolik. However, that's if he can play at the same level he did against Vancouver in April. If he does, he has the overall game in which he could thrive. Otherwise, he could plummet to the fourth line. It's up to him to earn it.

Joe Colborne - Has soft hands and is more built to be a top nine guy than a fourth line crasher and banger.
David Jones - Played better as the season went on. Shifting Frolik to LW and promoting Jones is a possibility.


3. Who can the team not afford to lose to injury?

Sean Monahan

Very quickly, the 20-year-old has established himself as a workhorse that coach Bob Hartley likes to ride for 20-plus minutes every night. Up a goal, down a goal, power play, penalty kill, he has become the coach's go-to guy in nearly every game situation. On a pitching staff, Monahan is the ace, who will take the ball and reliably give you at least seven innings every start. Losing him would be crippling.

Johnny Gaudreau - The straw that stirs the drink offensively. Has raw skill no replacement could offer.
Mark Giordano - They got away with it once, but thriving without the captain again would be tough to repeat.


4. Who could surprise?

Joe Colborne

He's gotten better over his first two seasons in Calgary but in the second half of last season had his effectiveness limited due to a wonky wrist that limited his ability to shoot. He'll never be someone, who wallpapers guys but if he can add more bulk to his chassis and use his body to effectively protect the puck, he's got soft hands. With the right linemates and in the right role, he could be a break-out candidate.

Michael Frolik - A very good two-way player. His offensive numbers could spike in a top six role.
Markus Granlund - A superb AHL player, could be ready to take a big step if an opening at centre allows.


5. Who could deliver a way-bigger-than-expected impact?

Sam Bennett

If Hartley does deploy Bennett at centre, the 19-year-old is set up to be brought along slowly in the form of sheltered minutes behind Monahan, Backlund and maybe even Matt Stajan too. Yet, you sense that just won't cut it for the pesky and very driven 2014 fourth overall pick, who could quickly earn himself a much larger role then thrive in it. This guy's huge upside may be mere months away, not years.

Karri Ramo - If he can cut down on the number of blow-up starts, he can be a very good goalie.
Mason Raymond - Looks like a spare part right now but has 25-goal potential in the right setting.


6. Who will make the NHL stand up and take notice?

TJ Brodie

Flames fans took notice long ago but it's about time the rest of the NHL learns just how good he is. Overshadowed last year by Giordano and even Dennis Wideman for those Easterners just skimming the game summaries. Make no mistake, as much as Giordano has been good for Brodie, the opposite has also been true. The extension Brodie signed that takes effect this season could turn out to be a steal.

Mikael Backlund - One of the best two-way centres nobody knows about. A healthy season could change that.
Micheal Frolik - Three years in Florida to start career, past two years in Winnipeg. Is on a big stage now.


7. Who could disappoint?

Joni Ortio

After being spoiled for years by Miikka Kiprusoff, fans hope Ortio -- same height, weight and from the same Finnish hometown as the former Flames goaltending great -- can develop into Calgary's goalie of the future. He was superb in his first four NHL starts last year but struggled in the last two. While a one-way deal should assure him an extended look, what he does with it is still very much in question.

Lance Bouma - Given a one-year 'show me' deal, he erupted for 16 goals and got paid. Will be tough to repeat.
Micheal Ferland - Was a rock star in the playoffs but didn't have nearly the same impact prior to that.


8. Who could suffer the biggest statistical digression?

Dennis Wideman

After two much-maligned years with the Flames, the hump season in his 5-year/$26.25 million contract turned out spectacularly for the 32-year-old, who racked up career highs in goals (15) and points (56). However, if Calgary gets a full season from Giordano and with Hamilton in the mix now too, his playing time will come down and with that, his offensive totals will take a dip also.

Lance Bouma - Sniped 16 goals after a year in which he scored five. Ten is a more realistic number.
Sean Monahan - After 22 and 31 goals, a drop-off would follow if separated from Hudler and Gaudreau.


9. Who will lead the team in scoring?

Johnny Gaudreau

Finished a dozen points behind Jiri Hudler a year ago but as a young man just getting started -- and with Hudler coming off a career year -- it should surprise no one if he takes over top rung on the team scoring list this year and keeps a tight grip on that spot for many years to come. This is not a Frank Selke candidate in training, he's here to put up points and will get the ice time and linemates to do so.

Jiri Hudler - Points will once again pile up quickly if he mans the opposite flank of Gaudreau.
Mark Giordano - Plays a lot, constantly a fourth attacker on the rush. Could surpass 65 points.


10. Who will lead the team in penalty minutes?

Brandon Bollig

A guy whose value seems to increase exponentially come the playoffs, he'll be in and out of the line-up often in the regular season but could see more regular playing time as the season goes on and injuries mount. A character guy, who the coach likes, he'll drop the mitts as required and even if he does suit up for just 55 to 60 games, that will be enough to pace the team in trips to the sin bin.

Deryk Engelland - An enforcer more in size and presence, he does scrap a bit and sometimes two at a time.
Micheal Ferland - More a body-checker than a fighter but won't back down and the invitations will come.


11. Who could get traded?

Jonas Hiller

Flames have three goalies on one-way deals. That's one too many. Something has to give and as the guy with the longest resume, my guess is it's Hiller that is eventually shipped to a contending team looking for an experienced back-up, who could become the starter if necessary. To make this happen though, Calgary may need to eat some of the $4.5 million he's owed in this final year of his deal.

Mason Raymond - Digging out of Bob Hartley's doghouse is like climbing up a slide in socks. Good luck.
David Jones - A pending UFA, I can see him peddled for an asset with Hathaway or Poirier inserted in his place.


12. Who are the top prospect trade chips?

Tyler Wotherspoon

He is a draft pick of the previous management regime and while that shouldn't matter, it often does. The 22-year-old (three months older than Hamilton) is still the closest of the young defence prospects but the gap has closed and should Kenney Morrison, Ryan Culkin or even Oliver Kylington look close to NHL-ready, Wotherspoon may become an asset that is moved in order to address an alternate need.

Markus Granlund - Bennett's move to centre may force him out. Has the talent that teams would covet.
Kenny Agostino - Despite being Adirondack's leading scorer, is far down on the club's LW depth chart.


13. Who will be the subject of public scorn?

Deryk Engelland

Why will this year be any different? As soon as he signed that 3-year/$8.75 million contract last summer, you knew he didn't stand a chance with Flames fans, who gauge expectations around salary. Even when he stepped up into the top four after Giordano's injury last year, he was more criticized for dragging down Brodie than commended for the bigger role and harder match-ups he took on.

Ladislav Smid - Some fans already lamenting that Smid may be healthy. Man, hockey is a cold business.
Brandon Bollig - Old-school fourth liner in a new NHL. Loved in the dressing room but fans don't care.


14. Who will become public enemy No. 1 in Edmonton?

Micheal Ferland

He hits hard, he hits often, and as he heads down the runway, there's a borderline charging 'feel' to his take-off technique that will drive opposing fans absolutely crazy. He got under the skin of Kevin Bieksa and expect the same thing this year with the Oilers defencemen. The Battle of Alberta has been dormant for two decades but it is on the verge of awakening and Ferland will help stoke the fire.

Sam Bennett - Has a sneaky edge to his game. Combine with his talent and fans will be cursing him.
Lance Bouma - Loves to hit but it's the clutch goal and his wry smile that will really get under their skin.


15. Who are the top trophy candidates?

Mark Giordano

Last year, the Norris trophy for best defenceman was right there and his for the taking until his season-ending injury in February with over 20 games remaining. If he plays a full season this year and as the captain of an improved team with a solid blue-line, one in which Giordano will be surrounded by solid pillars in Brodie and Hamilton, he will be right back in that same discussion once again.

Sam Bennett - McDavid and Eichel lead Calder race but Bennett's edge is playoff experience and a better team.
Johnny Gaudreau - Had same PIMs as 'Shoeless' Jiri last year. Lady Byng may be staying in the family.


16. Who are the team's biggest enigmas?

Karri Ramo

Borrowing a line from Forrest Gump, every start was like a box of chocolates as you truly never knew what you were going to get. Was he going to stop 39 of 40, or get yanked after four goals on 15? A Jekyll and Hyde season saw him go on sizzling hot streaks where his athleticism conjured up memories of No. 34. Yet at other times he'd repeatedly get caught swimming way out of position.

Paul Byron - So much speed, so many breakaways, yet so little production at the end of the day.
Tyler Wotherspoon - Frequently called up, rarely used. Shine seems to have come off the former top prospect.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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2 comments:

  1. Great preview of the upcoming season. Excited about a full season from Bennett.

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    1. My sense is they'll try to bring Bennett along slowly but he'll knock down that challenge like a seasoned vet and will be one of the trusted players very quickly, who will be treated like a veteran. Having a top 5 pick in the line-up is uncharted territory for Calgary so it adds some intrigue to the season, for sure.

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