Saturday, February 25, 2017

Final Playoff Push: Eight Reasons for Flames Fans to be Optimistic

In the past month going back to January 25, only the Washington Capitals (9-2-1) have a better winning percentage than the Calgary Flames (8-2-1). Calgary has also spent eight of those 11 games in enemy barns, which makes it an even more impressive feat.

The much-needed hot streak has the Flames sitting rather comfortably for now in a playoff spot in the Western Conference, this while the Canucks, Jets and Stars fall further and further behind.

As of this morning, Calgary is six points up on Los Angeles. The scuffling Kings have two games in hand but even if they win both, they'd still behind. Calgary is also one point up on Nashville now and has moved into the first wild card spot.

When I comprehensively broke down the race for the two wild card spots in the West earlier in the week, I said it was a three-team race for two spots with Nashville and Los Angeles the other combatants.

But notably St. Louis -- now even with the Predators in points -- is also coming back to the pack so I'd suggest the race has morphed into four teams for three spots, further increasing Calgary's odds. Also don't forget that the Blues are likely to soon part ways with top notch defenceman and pending UFA Kevin Shattenkirk.

Eight Reasons for Optimism 

1. Road Warriors

Calgary is on a 6-1-1 tear in their last eight road games. That streak began after the infamous post-game eruption by coach Glen Gulutzan in Montreal after the Canadiens whipped his team 5-1 on Jan. 24. It has improved the Flames record away from the Saddledome to 17-12-4.

With eight road dates remaining, they're closing in on the franchise record for wins (22) and points (50), which was set in 1987-88. The win total was equalled in 1988-89 and again in 2014-15. If sustained, their current road winning percentage of .576 would be third-best all-time behind 1987-88 (.625) and 1988-89 (.613).

Success away from home is a good thing considering should they get into the Stanley Cup playoffs, Calgary would be opening up on the road. That, combined with their season record against the two division leaders and likely first round opponent -- San Jose (2-1-0) and Minnesota (3-0-0) -- makes one think that should they be able to get in, it is not unreasonable to think that they could pull off an upset and play at least into May.

2. Goaltending Getting it Done

In the end, the goaltending is turning out as expected back in the summer. Brian Elliott has taken over as the No. 1 goalie of late and has been playing his best hockey of the season.

For Elliott, the overall numbers aren't gaudy and they won't be the rest of this season. The poor start to the season put him behind the eight-ball and the five pucks that got behind him in that wacky 6-5 win over Nashville on Tuesday also didn't help.

But get away from the raw numbers, what Elliott has been doing lately is making the big saves when his team really needs them and keeping the team in the game. As an example, he bounced back nicely with a perfect third period against the Predators, which allowed Calgary to rally from behind and win the game. He was sharp in the win over the Lightning two nights later.

Elliott is 6-2-1 with a .909 SV% in his last nine games. Go back to mid-December, he's 11-5-2 in his last 18 appearances with a .905 SV%.

Chad Johnson, meanwhile, has thrived when he's been used how a conventional back-up goalie is used.

While Johnson did have that nice season-saving run in November, it seems like the less he plays, the better he plays. I'd expect Gulutzan to continue to use his goaltenders in a similar fashion.

3. Tkachuk: Elite Agitator, Elite Playmaker

What more can you say about the cantankerous, but also highly-skilled Matthew Tkachuk. The 19-year-old who Gulutzan describes as "always in the fabric of the game" has one of the most unique skill sets I've ever encountered.

Exhibit A

NHL has a statistic it calls A/60, which stands for assists per 60 minutes. What this advanced stat does is remove disparities in ice time and puts all players on an even playing field by calculating how many assists they are averaging over 60 minutes of ice time.

While his team-leading 30 helpers on the season -- yes, one more than Johnny Gaudreau -- is impressive enough, as is him being second in assists among rookies behind Mitch Marner (33), but factor in his average time on ice nightly and suddenly he is among the NHL's elite.

NHL Leaders in A/60 (min of 25 games)

1. Nicklas Backstrom WSH, 2.48
2. Connor McDavid EDM, 2.24
3. Evgeni Malkin PIT, 2.18
4. Matthew Tkachuk CGY, 2.17

As a side note, in team history his 30 assists are already 10th all-time for a rookie. By season's end, he could catch Gaudreau (40) and crack the top five.

Exhibit B

NHL also has a statistic called Minor Pen Dr/60, which stands for minor penalties drawn per 60 minutes. Known as someone that gets under the skin of the opposition, this one is a runaway with Tkachuk way out front.

NHL Leaders in Minor Pen Dr/60 (min of 25 games)

1. Matthew Tkachuk CGY, 2.75
2. Garnet Hathaway CGY, 2.53
3. Matt Martin TOR, 2.05
4. Nick Cousins PHI, 1.96

We're many years away from being able to say with certainty if the Blue Jackets (Pierre-Luc Dubois at No. 3), Oilers (Jesse Puljujarvi at No. 4) or Canucks (Olli Juolevi at No. 5) got their pick wrong in the 2016 NHL Draft, but it's not too early to declare that Calgary got its pick right.

4. Backlund and 3M el Fuego

Second on the team in goals (19) and first in points (44), Mikael Backlund continues to gush confidence as he demonstrated once again on Friday night against Florida.

Blazing through the slot halfway through the first period, he neatly buried Tkachuk's set-up to break a 1-1 tie and give the Flames the lead for good. Later on, he flat-out embarrassed poor Panthers defenceman Michael Matheson with a change of speeds move down the wing. Not sure I've ever seen him make a better move.

Backlund is on pace for 25 goals and 58 points, both of which would be career highs. The way he's going lately though, I'd definitely you take the over as I bet he surpasses 60 points. What a phenomenal season it's been. Just hand him the Frank Selke trophy right now.

The entire 3M line of Backlund, Tkachuk and Michael Frolik, which has been together since Oct. 24, continues to thrive despite being saddled with heavy defensive responsibilities.

During the Flames current three-game winning streak, that trio have been on the ice for 57 even-strength face-offs. Only two have been in the offensive zone. That's right, two! In contrast, 35 have taken place in the defensive end. There is no mystery to how much Gulutzan leans on and trusts this trio to shut down opposing team's best line and also get Calgary out of trouble.

Meanwhile, in addition to Tkachuk's outstanding rookie season and Backlund having a career season, Frolik is also on pace to set a personal best with 46 points, which would be one more than he had with the Florida Panthers in 2008-09.

5. The Flames have Dougie Hamilton

It's been a good season overall for Dougie Hamilton but it's been really good if you narrow the scope a little bit and just look at how he has performed since being paired up with Mark Giordano for the first time on Nov. 15.
  • Points - 33 (6th)
  • P/60 - 2.19 (4th)
  • G/60 - 0.53 (6th)
  • A/60 - 1.66 (4th)
  • Shots - 133 (4th)
  • SAT% Close - 56.74 (4th)

Meanwhile, over that same period, Hamilton ranks 93rd in ice time among NHL defencemen at 20:06.

As the games get more important and with no back-to-backs the rest of the season, the opportunity is there for Gulutzan to use Hamilton more often the more he sees the ice, the better off the team will be.

6. Balanced Offence

As everybody knows, the offensive numbers for Johnny Gaudreau are way down. After 30 goals a year ago, he's got just 11. Included is a miserable stretch lately of just one goal in his last 22 games.

Yet while that would have been a death knell for the team the past couple years, it has not been. Calgary has survived nicely thanks to offensive contributions from other sources. While the 3M line has been a big part of that, they haven't been the only part.

Troy Brouwer notching his 10th goal on Friday makes it 10 players in double-digits. That is tied for the most in the NHL. Additionally, Mark Giordano (9) and Alex Chiasson (8) are on the cusp. If both of them can get there over the final six weeks, that would give Calgary 12 players in double-digits for the first time in 25 years.

Calgary last had a dozen players with 10-or-more goals in 1991-92.  That season, Gary Roberts led the way with 53 while next was Theoren Fleury with 33. They had five guys with between 20 and 23 and five more with between 11 and 13.

Might Sam Bennett's goal on Friday spark him? That would help the team even more. Same with Brouwer, maybe his slump-busting goal will get him on a bit of a roll. Calgary's top nine as currently configured is looking as good as it has all season.

More on No. 13

Getting back to Gaudreau, the bright side is he leads the team with 23 road points, which is one more than he had all of last year away from home. That's a big-time positive given how much of a concern that was a year ago.

If he can only regain his form from a year ago at the Saddledome where he led the NHL in home-ice points -- and he'll get plenty of opportunity with 10 home games in March -- then Calgary will really be cooking.

Of course, there's also that scoring machine Sean Monahan. For a lot more context on the start to Monahan's career including his fourth straight 20-goal season this year -- some stuff you already know, but other stuff you didn't know you wanted to know -- check out my piece from Friday.

Sure, Monahan is not a player without flaws. But my goodness, Calgary got four goals combined from the two forwards (Daniel Tkaczuk, Rico Fata) they previously selected sixth overall so in the grand scheme, 100 goals already is damn impressive. This guy is a flat-out goal-scoring stud.

7. Improved Possession Game

An area of significant and sustainable improvement, which often gets lost whenever Calgary is having trouble scoring or if they get down a couple goals and abandon their style of play, is how much better the Flames have been in terms of generating shots and limiting shots against.

While there are many advanced stats, the main metric used as a proxy for quantifying how good a team's possession game is, is SAT% Close. This is the ratio of shot attempts created versus shot attempts surrendered when the game is close (defined as one-goal lead in the first or second period, tied in the third period).  This is preferred versus just straight-up SAT% because teams play differently if they're ahead by a couple goals (more cautious) or behind by a couple goals (more desperate).

Historically, SAT% Close (aka Corsi Close) has proved to be a good predictor of future, sustainable success. Here is how Calgary has fared in that category in recent years:

Under Glen Gulutzan:

2016-17 - 50.57 (13th)

Under Bob Hartley:

2015-16 - 47.07 (26th)
2014-15 - 45.25 (28th)
2013-14 - 45.85 (27th)
2012-13 - 47.59 (22nd)

I would suggest the improvement in this part of the game has also contributed to Calgary's nearly flawless 23-0-1 record when leading after two periods. Only Pittsburgh (25-0-0) has been better at methodically putting a game away when they enter the final 20 minutes in front.

8. Stabilized Blueline

It's a small sample size, definitely, but Calgary is a perfect 3-0-0 since the addition of Michael Stone to the line-up via a trade with Arizona, which subsequently bumped slow-footed veteran Dennis Wideman to the press box.

While a lot of public opinions have already been formed on what Stone is or isn't based on his time in Arizona, I'm willing to let it play out for the 26-year-old. Someone to play on the second D pairing was badly needed so for GM Brad Treliving to address that hole while also parting with nothing more than a third round pick -- and a conditional fifth rounder if he re-signs -- that makes it a deal that is no risk, potential high reward.

A few things to remember with Stone before you pass final judgement before he's played his first home game with Calgary.

Playing on a new team can be refreshing, especially if you've spent your career on one of the worst teams in the league. Playing in a city you have a ton of familiarity with can also be a boost. He played four seasons with the Calgary Hitmen and his wife, who just gave birth to twins in September, is from Calgary.

For those hung up on his performance this season, he's coming back from major knee surgery last April in which his ACL and MCL in his knee were both repaired. That's a six-month injury recovery and then an indefinite period of trying to get back physically and mentally to where you once were. I'd suggest he's not there yet and may not be until next season.

Was Taking on More and More Responsibility

Stone's ice time was on the rise steadily throughout his career. After logging 16:41 as a rookie in 2012-13, his TOI went to 18:12 the next year, 20:52 the year after, then 22:29 last year. Prior to this season, he had spent much of his time with the Coyotes skating with Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle.

All you're asking from Stone is to play a simple and safe game and let TJ Brodie go and do his thing. Once the team is back home in March and gets some practice time in, I'd expect the Brodie-Stone pairing to build some chemistry and keep getting better and better.

On a similar note, Matt Bartkowski isn't hurting the Flames either. He and Deryk Engelland are providing some nice stability from the third pairing.

The Flames have improved their back end at a minimal acquisition cost and that will help this team the remainder of the season.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.


Recent Flames Reading:

Friday, February 24, 2017

Triple 20: Context Around Sean Monahan's Long-Awaited Arrival at the Century Mark

As the old saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.

Stuck at 99 goals for 20 days, Sean Monahan finally hit the century mark on Thursday night and in doing so, became the youngest player in Flames franchise history to reach that milestone.

The former No. 20 with the Ottawa 67s is the 20th player in Calgary team history to score 100 goals and going back to 1972, he's the 20th player in Flames franchise history to score his first 100 NHL goals with the club.

Any regrets about taking the 6-foot-3 centre at No. 6 in the 2013 NHL Draft? No way.

The big moment came six minutes into the second period of a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Coming 81 seconds after Mikael Backlund tied it 1-1, the goal came on a set-up from who else -- his longtime, diminutive wingman Johnny Gaudreau -- would have stood up as his 19th career game-winner if not for a late power play tally from the home side with 1:13 remaining in the game.

At the young age of 22 years and 134 days, Monahan is nearly two full months younger than Joe Nieuwendyk was when he reached that same milestone in March 1989.

Sure, at 298 games, Monahan required twice-as-many games as Nieuwendyk did. But it is also a different era now -- way different. Back then hockey was far more free wheeling. 1987-88, for example, Calgary averaged just a smidge under five goals per game. Since Monahan entered the league in 2013, the Flames have averaged just a little over two-and-a-half goals per game.

Climbing the Leaderboard

In hitting 20 goals for the fourth straight season, the leading goal scorer among active Flames players (next is Backlund, the 2007 first round pick is at 90 goals), Monahan is the 27th player to score 100 goals for the Flames. This goes back to when the franchise was in Atlanta.

He could climb as high as 23rd before the end of this season. Lying ahead are:

22. Curtis Glencross, 114 
T23. Paul Reinhart, 109
T23. Cory Stillman, 109
25. German Titov, 107
26. Carey Wilson, 102
27. Sean Monahan, 100 

By the end of 2017-18, he should be comfortably inside the top 20. If he averages between 25 and 30 goals over the final six years of his contract, that should leave him in the high 200s and right behind the big three of Jarome Iginla (525 g), Theoren Fleury (364 g) and Nieuwendyk (314 g).

And he'll only be 28 years old.

20 Youngest Flames to Score 100 Goals 
(Date of 100th goal, age at the time)

1. Sean Monahan on Feb. 23, 2017 - 22 years, 134 days
2. Joe Nieuwendyk on Mar. 14, 1989 - 22 years, 185 days
3. Robert Reichel on Feb. 2, 1994 - 22 years, 222 days
4. Guy Chouinard on Dec. 12, 1979 - 23 years, 54 days
5. Theoren Fleury on Oct. 15, 1991 - 23 years, 108 days
6. Jarome Iginla on Dec. 9, 2000 - 23 years, 161 days
7. Tom Lysiak on Mar. 20, 1977 - 23 years, 333 days
8. Eric Vail on Jan. 31, 1978 - 24 years, 138 days
9. Gary Roberts on Mar. 14, 1991 - 24 years, 295 days
10. Jim Peplinski on Jan. 22, 1986 - 25 years, 91 days
11. Willi Plett on Nov. 11, 1980 - 25 years, 157 days
12. Kent Nilsson on Feb. 5, 1982 - 25 years, 159 days
13. Al MacInnis on Oct. 14, 1989 - 26 years, 95 days
14. Hakan Loob on Oct. 11, 1986 - 26 years, 101 days
15. Paul Reinhart on Nov. 24, 1986 - 26 years, 321 days
16. Cory Stillman on Dec. 16, 2000 - 26 years, 362 days
17. Ken Houston on Feb. 17, 1981 - 27 years, 156 days
18. Gary Suter on Feb. 25, 1992 - 27 years, 246 days
19. Joel Otto on Oct. 30, 1990 - 29 years, 1 day
20. German Titov on Jan. 3, 1998 - 32 years, 79 days

There are seven others that scored 100 goals with the Flames, but who started their career with another NHL team: Curt Bennett, Bob MacMillan, Lanny McDonald, Carey Wilson, Joe Mullen, Curtis Glencross and Daymond Langkow.

Behind Some Impressive Company

The other staggering note is that among active NHL players, Monahan is the sixth youngest to reach 100 goals. 

The other five:

1. Steven Stamkos - 20 years, 316 days
2. Sidney Crosby - 21 years, 72 days
3. Jaromir Jagr - 21 years, 261 days
4. Alex Ovechkin - 22 years, 25 days
5. Patrick Kane - 22 years, 115 days

Say what you want about Monahan not being in that class of player, that's nonetheless a pretty elite five-pack to be behind.

20 Fastest Flames to Score 100 Goals 

1. Joe Nieuwendyk - 147 gm
2. Kent Nilsson - 177 gm
3. Theoren Fleury - 201 gm
4. Hakan Loob - 225 gm
5. Guy Chouinard - 266 gm
6. Robert Reichel - 276 gm
7. Eric Vail - 283 gm
8. Sean Monahan - 298 gm
9. Tom Lysiak - 307 gm
10. Willi Plett - 312 gm
11. German Titov - 316 gm
12. Gary Roberts - 327 gm
13. Jarome Iginla - 342 gm
14. Cory Stillman - 359 gm
15. Ken Houston - 373 gm
16. Joel Otto - 386 gm
17. Jim Peplinski - 433 gm
18. Paul Reinhart - 448 gm
19. Al MacInnis - 454 gm
20. Gary Suter - 493 gm

Monahan is eighth in terms of fewest number of games taken to reach 100 but for context to that, re-read the seven names in front of him. All of them reached that 100 goal mark in 1994 or earlier. This is 2017 now. The NHL game has changed significantly since then.

Also, a reminder that this is 100 goals with the Flames franchise to begin your career. Take away that requirement and the surprise -- until you think about -- answer to the trivia question of whichCalgary player got to 100 goals the fastest is Lanny McDonald.

Having already played for Toronto and Colorado, McDonald needed just 133 games in Calgary to score 100 goals. But he was age 28 when he arrived in town. His incredible 66-goal season in 1982-83 was not something you'll ever see again.

Joe Mullen is another example. A dangerous player offensively, he got to 100 goals in just 182 games but again, he was an established veteran when he was acquired from St. Louis. 

Amazing Start to his Career

How good has Monahan's first four seasons gone? Since entering the NHL in 2013-14, only 17 players have scored more goals.

1. Alex Ovechkin - 181
2. Joe Pavelski - 136
3. Max Pacioretty - 134
4. Sidney Crosby - 133
5. Jamie Benn - 130
6. Tyler Seguin - 128
7. Vladimir Tarasenko - 126
8. Patrick Kane - 125
9. Corey Perry - 121
10. John Tavares - 118
11. Wayne Simmonds - 114
12. Steven Stamkos - 113
13. Brad Marchand - 112
14. Phil Kessel - 109
15. Jeff Carter - 108
16. Evgeni Malkin - 103
17. Zach Parise - 101
T18. Sean Monahan - 100
T18. Rick Nash - 100

On that list, Monahan's age is what jumps off the list. He's 32 months younger than Tyler Seguin, 25, who is the next youngest in that group of 19.

100 Goal Scorers - By Draft Class

Looking back at recent draft classes and where Monahan ranks adds another exclamation mark to what he's achieved. Here's the number of 100-goal scorers by draft class.

2016 - 0 (leader is Patrik Laine - 30)
2015 - 0 (leader is Jack Eichel - 37)
2014 - 0 (leader is David Pastrnak - 50)
2013 - 1 (Sean Monahan - 100, next is Nathan MacKinnon - 71)
2012 - 0 (leader is Alex Galchenyuk - 84)
2011 - 2 (Gabriel Landeskog - 111,  Brandon Saad - 101)
2010 - 4 (Tyler Seguin - 184, Jeff Skinner - 163, Taylor Hall - 146, Vladimir Tarasenko - 134)
2009 - 6 (John Tavares - 229, Matt Duchene - 172, Evander Kane - 150, Ryan O'Reilly - 124, Nazem Kadri - 106, Brayden Schenn - 103)
2008 - 7 (Steven Stamkos - 321, Jordan Eberle - 157, Derek Stepan - 123, Adam Henrique - 113, Cam Atkinson - 113, Erik Karlsson - 110, Josh Bailey - 105)

Just try to wrap your head around this. From the 2008 draft, these are players selected five full years earlier than Monahan. Despite essentially giving them a five-year head start, he still would rank eighth in goal scoring. Not bad.

Final Word

I get the criticism. Given his size and lack of a mean streak, at times Monahan leaves you wanting more. But let's be honest, what the Flames are getting is pretty darn good.

Need I remind you of the dubious history of 6th overall picks in this organization? Do the names Rico Fata and Daniel Tkaczuk ring a bell? Drafted consecutively at No. 6 in 1997 and 1998, they combined in their careers with Calgary for four goals. That's right, four goals combined!

They say scoring goals is the hardest thing to do in the NHL. So when you have someone that is really good at it and by that, I mean really, damn good at it, you gladly accept it and ride it all the way to the bank including right into the Stanley Cup playoffs, which are sure to soon follow.

Some fans refer to him as 'Money Hands'. They've got that right.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.


Recent Flames Reading:

Monday, February 20, 2017

Let's Make a Deal: What Fate Lies Behind Doors 1, 2 and 3 for the Kings, Preds and Flames

The race to make the playoffs in the Western Conference is playing out like a wacky episode of the old television game show Let's Make a Deal.

If you're too young to recall, that's too bad, because it was highly entertaining. I'm thinking in particular of the 1970s version with Winnipeg native Monty Hall as host.

Only in this scenario, the three ridiculously-looking contestants ("These people, dressed as they are....") consist of a dude wearing a crown and velvet burgundy robe, someone in a sabre-toothed tiger costume and a third guy dressed up in a red spandex full body unitard.

What the Kings, Predators and Flames are competing to win is what is hidden behind door No. 1, door No. 2 and door No. 3:
  • 1st wildcard spot
  • 2nd wildcard spot
  • A goat. i.e. No playoff spot (and also a bad draft pick)

There are 49 days remaining in the NHL regular season and it's looking more and more like six teams are locked into the playoffs in the Western Conference.

In the Central, you have Minnesota (84 pts), Chicago (77 pts) and St. Louis (67 pts). In the Pacific, you have San Jose (77 pts), Edmonton (72 pts) and Anaheim (72 pts).

That leaves Nashville (58 gm, 64 pts), Calgary (59 gm, 62 pts) and Los Angeles (58 gm, 60 pts) in pursuit of the two final playoff spots.

For now, I'm dismissing Winnipeg (62 gm, 61 pts), Vancouver (59 gm, 58 pts) and Dallas (60 gm, 56 pts) as too far back.

Breaking Down the Final Seven Weeks

So how do the schedules for those three teams compare? Here's a in-depth look at how things break down:

Nashville - 58 gm, 28-22-8 = 64 pts, 26 ROW
  • Remaining Split - 12 home, 12 road
  • Back-to-Backs - 3
  • Four-Pointers - 3 (vs Cal, at. LA, vs. Cal)
  • Top 6 in West - 7 (vs Edm, vs Chi, at Ana, at SJ, vs SJ, vs Min, at Stl)
  • Big 4 in Metro -  2 (vs Wsh, at Wsh)
  • Best of the Rest in East - 5 (at Mtl, at NYI, at Bos, vs Tor, vs NYI)
  • Nearly Eliminated - 5 (at Buf, vs Wpg, at Car, at Dal, at Wpg)
  • Cellar Dwellers - 2 (vs Col, vs Ari)

Predators still have a tough grind with nine of their remaining 24 games coming against the best 10 teams in the league, each of them are playoff locks. Owners of a much better home record than road record, Nashville also has the ability to essentially bury the Flames with both of its final four-point games with Calgary taking place at the Bridgestone Arena, the first one being this Tuesday. In addition to the Flames, the teams appearing multiple times on their remaining schedule are Winnipeg, still trying to hang around, the surging Islanders who have been better under new coach Doug Weight and the defending Stanley Cup finalist San Jose Sharks.

Calgary - 59 gm, 29-26-4 = 62 pts, 26 ROW
  • Remaining Split - 12 home, 11 road
  • Back-to-Backs - 1
  • Four-Pointers - 6 (at Nsh, vs LA, vs LA, at Nsh, vs LA, at LA)
  • Top 6 in West - 5 (at Stl, vs SJ, vs Ana, at Ana, at SJ)
  • Big 4 in Metro -  2 (vs Pit, at Wsh) 
  • Best of the Rest in East - 4 (at Fla, vs NYI, vs Mtl, vs Bos)
  • Nearly Eliminated - 5  (at TB, at Car, vs Det, at Wpg, vs Dal)
  • Cellar Dwellers - 1 (vs Col)

The six four-pointers left against the Predators and Kings make up over a quarter of their remaining schedule. It puts Calgary very much in a position to control its own destiny, especially against Los Angeles with four of the final 19 games against the Kings and three of them at the Saddledome. The final six games all coming against California teams will make for a difficult final dozen days. One silver lining is when the Flames host Ana, LA and SJ the last week of March, all three will come to Calgary having played the previous night in Edmonton. Key for the Flames is improving their play at home where they have a worse record than on the road.

Los Angeles - 58 gm, 28-29-5 = 58 pts, 27 ROW
  • Remaining Split - 15 home, 9 road
  • Back-to-Backs - 5
  • Four-Pointers - 5 (at Cal, vs Nsh, at Cal, at Cal, vs Cal)
  • Top 6 in West - 8 (vs Ana, at Min, vs Stl, at Edm, at Edm, vs Edm, vs Chi, at Ana)
  • Big 4 in Metro -  2 (vs Wsh, vs NYR)
  • Best of the Rest in East - 2 (vs Bos, vs Tor)
  • Nearly Eliminated - 4 (vs Van, vs Buf, vs Wpg, at Van)
  • Cellar Dwellers - 3 (at Col, vs Ari, vs Ari)

The four games against Calgary stand out, but so do the three remaining with Edmonton. Suddenly Flames fans will be rooting for their provincial rival. While the Kings have way more home games left, it's interesting to note that five of their nine remaining games on the road will be in Alberta. The other stat that jumps out is five back-to-backs left, which are never easy. Versus Chicago and in Anaheim on a back-to-back to finish the season also sets up to be a challenge. Ducks could be in a position to rest some regulars in that final game but then again, potentially eliminating LA would be some big motivation considering their heated rivalry.

Get In and You Never Know

What should make Flames fans stand up and take notice is who their first round opponent would be should Calgary squeak into the playoffs. It's looking very likely that the wildcard teams would play either the Wild or the Sharks. Minnesota is seven points clear of second-place Chicago in the Central. The Sharks have a five-point lead atop the Pacific.

To refresh your memory, Calgary has played very well against both of them this season, going a combined 5-1-0. They swept the three-game series from Minnesota including a resounding 5-1 win at the Saddledome in their last meeting on Feb. 1, which ended the Wild's 14-game road points streak.

Meanwhile, playing in San Jose hasn't been nearly as difficult as the 'Haunted Center' in Anaheim. Calgary won 3-2 in November and has won five of their last seven visits to SAP Center.

Would the Flames enter a series against either as the underdog still? Absolutely, but their regular season success would give them a lot of confidence going into both match-ups and you know what they say about the Stanley Cup playoffs, that first round -- especially for the favourites -- is sometimes the hardest series to win. There are always upsets, every year.

Not Great But Few Teams Are

After a 2-1 overtime loss in Vancouver on Saturday, I sensed a lot of despair among the residents of Flames nation. But welcome to life on the bubble. Very few teams in the West are without warts and inconsistency is about the only consistency.

They found a way to salvage a point in a road game and every point matters. Plus, they outplayed the Canucks and that's what you want right now. As long as the team is playing well, the results should follow.

Calgary remains in a very good position to make a push. If they can get middle-of-the-pack calibre goaltending as Brian Elliott has been delivering lately -- maybe not stealing games, but not losing them either -- that will carry them a long way.

They'll also need to generate far more offence and Glen Gulutzan continues to tinker with his forward group to try and find the right mix. This is perhaps the most glaring area of concern as they need to get more up front. The 3M line has been great, but can't do it alone.

In terms of tweaks, I'd suggest a depth addition or two at the trade deadline would be prudent too. Nothing expensive, this isn't the time to part with 'A' prospects or high draft picks, but improve around the edges.

Final Word

Having missed the playoffs in six of the last seven years, you don't want to hover around the bottom of the standings forever. You need to advance the team forward and show some progression. A playoff appearance this year with Calgary's young core would make them a far more formidable team in 2017-18. Keep building, getting incrementally better, accrue valuable experience and see where it takes you.

Where this team is at right now, and looking at where the rest of the league sits by comparison, a playoff spot is by far the best outcome versus picking 11th in the upcoming draft. That should be the sole focus of everyone from management on down.

Whether hockey into late April is behind door No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3.  We'll wait and see but as I see it -- and using the most rudimentary of mathematical calculations as I think the Predators, Flames and Kings are that even -- that translates to a 67 percent chance of finding a wildcard spot.

However you're dressed, fans should be excited about those odds. Back to you, Monty.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.


Recent Flames Reading:

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Making the Most of It: Gulutzan About to Deploy the Best Top Nine and Top Four He Can

Saturday is Hockey Day in Canada and for rabid fans of the game, that means three longstanding traditions:
  1. Watching hockey. It might be your kid's game, it might be your favourite NHL team.
  2. Bitching about the coach's line combinations and defence pairings.
  3. Repeat No. 2, but this time with more disgust.

Yet in Calgary, Flames coach Glen Gulutzan is expected to ice tonight in Vancouver what I would argue is the best configuration of top-nine forwards and top four defencemen that he can concoct given the ingredients he has at his disposal.

Up front, it's the first time since opening night that the top nine hasn't featured at least one of either Lance Bouma or Alex Chiasson.

Distinguishing the expected top four on defence against the Canucks tonight will be the lack of Dennis Wideman. Back on Oct. 12 as you'll recall, Wideman and Mark Giordano were a thing while Dougie Hamilton was paired with the late Nicklas Grossmann.

At practice on Friday, Gulutzan's line configurations were:

Tkachuk - Backlund - Frolik
Gaudreau - Monahan - Versteeg
Ferland - Bennett - Brouwer
Bouma - Stajan - Hamilton

Of the few noteworthy changes, the most significant change in an attempt to get the team's two highest paid forwards going is moving the skilled Kris Versteeg onto the right side with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.

This move is long overdue.

Going Back in Time

Back in early October when Versteeg fled Oilers camp at the 11th hour and signed with Calgary one day before the season began, the thinking was that he would play in that spot on what was expected to be and should be the Flames top line.

That was where he was deployed for the first three games of the season. But after Calgary went 0-2-1 off the hop, Gulutzan changed things up. Versteeg, despite demonstrating all season that he is a higher skilled player than people realized, has not returned to that post.

What makes that a bit of a head scratcher is it's not as if Gaudreau-Monahan have this tremendous chemistry with someone else. Gulutzan has tried four other options there and has not found the right combination.

That duo of No. 13 and No. 23 have been together for 31 games. Here's the breakdown by right-winger:
  • Alex Chiasson, 18
  • Troy Brouwer, 7
  • Kris Versteeg, 3
  • Michael Frolik, 2
  • Matthew Tkachuk, 1

A right-hand shot, it's time to give Versteeg another chance on that line and commit to keeping them together to see if they can build some chemistry because you'd think that there should be something there.

As for the first three games, I'd argue if this was a trial, that is evidence that should be inadmissible. Remember, the situation.

Early Days Were a Struggle for Everyone

First, Calgary was very much trying to learn Gulutzan's new systems. At that early stage of the season, the team was collectively more familiar with Rick Astley song lyrics than where they should be on the ice and what they should be doing. 

Secondly, those three had virtually no time to get comfortable with each other. To recap:
  • Oct. 10 - Gaudreau signs
  • Oct. 11 - Versteeg signs, Gaudreau's first practice
  • Oct. 12 - Flames play in Edmonton, lose 7-4
  • Oct. 13 - Flames practice
  • Oct. 14 - Flames host Edmonton, lose 5-3
  • Oct. 15 - Flames play in Vancouver, lose 2-1

That was it. Just six days together, only two actual practices together -- both being the first two times on the ice for both Versteeg and Gaudreau -- and then that plan was abandoned. Versteeg was moved to a line with Sam Bennett and Troy Brouwer and the carousel began with Gaudreau and Monahan -- Matthew Tkachuk for a game, then Michael Frolik for a game, then Chiasson for far too many games.

Get them back together, keep them together, and see if Versteeg can turn into Jiri Hudler 2.0, or at least Jiri Hudler lite. We've seen the skill from him. He's got some tenacity to his game to go get a puck. It seems like it could work.

3M Stays Intact

First put together as a line in game on Oct. 24 in Chicago -- after Tkachuk had spent the two previous games as a healthy scratch -- the 3M line of Mikael Backlund, Frolik and Tkachuk has been Calgary's top line by far. 

Not only have they been consistent, but they've been consistently great. Thriving in their defensive responsibilities of shutting down an opponent's top line, while also providing way more offence than was expected. Backlund leads the team in scoring with 39 points (15 goals, 24 assists) while Tkachuk sits second at 36 points (11 goals, 25 assists).

They've been kept together for that entire stretch other than three games. On Nov. 10 and 12 -- ugly home ice losses I'll point out to the Dallas Stars and New York Rangers, Micheal Ferland replaced Tkachuk for two games when the rookie was sidelined with a cut hand. Then in Ottawa on Jan. 26 in the last game before the NHL all-star break, Chiasson subbed in for Frolik, who was moved onto the Gaudreau-Monahan line in an attempt to get them going.

Other than that, they've been one of the best lines in the NHL all season and the biggest reason Calgary woke up this morning in a playoff spot.

Ferland Promoted, Chiasson Sits

Ferland has had a great season as a fourth liner. What he hasn't been able to do is sustain that level of play when he gets bumped up in the line-up, which has happened several times.

While Brouwer was out, he had a six-game run alongside Bennett and Versteeg, He's had a few games on the port side with Monahan and Brouwer. But those opportunities for more ice time haven't worked out and sooner than later, he finds himself back on the fourth line where he finds his game again.

It's a game that has been pretty good. Ferland's eight goals are double what he had last year. His 15 points are three off his career-high. His breakaway goal the other night in Pittsburgh that opened the scoring showcased his deceptive speed and skill.

Ferland-Bennett-Brouwer have not been a line yet this year, but again, it looks like it could work. If Bennett-Brouwer can find the groove that they appeared to be in early in the year and if Ferland can pretend he's on the fourth line and just play a simple game of being physical, driving the net and shooting pucks, they'll be another trio in the top nine for opposition to take note of.

While Bennett has had an off year in general, there have been signs of life lately so maybe, just maybe, Gulutzan has the right mix with two guys on either side that can play a physical, nasty game but also have the ability to finish.

As Good As It Gets on the Back End

Meanwhile, it looks like it will be Deryk Engelland deployed with TJ Brodie to round out the top four on defence, behind Giordano and Hamilton.

Let's face it, Wideman just doesn't have the speed to be able to play 20 minutes per night in the top four. He was being exposed and it was dragging down Brodie with him.

Engelland is not a long term solution by any means. Comparing the foot speed of Engelland versus Wideman is not the hare versus the tortoise but more so like comparing a tortoise to a tortoise with a bad wheel, but for now, it's the best option you have. 

For what it's worth, when Brodie-Engelland are a thing and it's been seven times this year, Calgary is 4-2-1.

Maybe Matt Bartkowski becomes a top four option, but caution with that hope. He was playing in the AHL all season so I don't think he's a slam dunk top four defenceman that was off the radar for 30 NHL teams.

Last game, Wideman's ice time dropped to 12:32, his lowest in nearly three years. It should probably stay at about that amount the rest of the way too. I don't think there's much more in the tank with this guy, who is in the final season of his five-year deal and becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Final Word

The Flames have six games before the trade deadline, five of them are against teams currently not in a playoff spot. For the most part, they're playing every other day so they have some practice time in there as well, despite being mainly on the road. 

Now's the time to keep these top three lines together for an extended period and see where they can take this team.

As for the fourth line, mix Chiasson back in for Freddie Hamilton, inject Garnet Hathaway now and then, mix and match, but make no mistake, if the Flames are going to get to the dance this season, it's on the back of the top nine. 

Now with great curiosity and in an important game at Rogers Arena that wraps up Hockey Day in Canada, we'll see if the new combos work.

If they do, fans will have to find something else to bitch about. Meanwhile, enjoy the silence.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.


Recent Flames Reading:

    Saturday, February 11, 2017

    FF80F Podcast: Episode 12 - Flames Talk with Kristen Odland to Fill the Void of the Bye Week

    PostMedia beat writer Kristen Odland, a bit weary having just returned from the Flames hectic road trip out East -- and a bad travel day trying to get back from Pittsburgh -- stopped by to catch up on what's new with the team and also dig into some of the things that are top of mind for fans.

    Topics Broached
    • The Flames trip to Central Park.
    • Dennis Wideman's struggles and what to make of that situation.
    • With eight games to go until the trade deadline, what does Calgary need and who might be on the move.
    • How might the Vegas expansion draft impact Calgary and have any of the names changed in terms of who they might protect..
    • Digging in a little deeper on my recently unveiled and always popular midseason edition of the Top 20 Flames Prospects rankings.
    • We answered some of these reader/listener questions that were submitted to Facebook (and some of the others were answered in the other segments.)

    Options to Download/Listen

    You are now able to download Flames at 80 Decibels from all your favourite podcast locations, as well as through your regular podcast player or app. Here are a few of the more popular links to where you can download the latest episode:

    Catching up On What You've Missed

    The podcast began last July as an experiment. I hope you'll agree, the quality has come a long way since that first one that was ripped off solo, on a whim and literally at midnight one lazy summer evening.

    This is the sixth one done during the season. While initially I had concerns about how long each podcast would remain relevant, the insight my guests have brought and the manner in which we're tackling topics still make them worthwhile listens long after after they're recorded.

    Past podcasts:
    • Episode 11 (1:11:40) - On Jan. 30 with the NHL at the all-star break, Flames radio colour analyst Peter Loubardias popped by. He peeled back the onion a little on Glen Gulutzan, we theorized what's wrong with Gaudreau and Bennett, and discussed the evolution of 4th lines.
    • Episode 10 (1:23:00) - On Dec. 23, Aaron Vickers made his way up to my Saddledome studio. Vickers is the brains behind prospect publication Future Considerations and also covers the Flames for We chatted lots bout Calgary prospects at the WJC.
    • Episode 9 (1:10:36) - On Dec. 5, Jermain Franklin joined me for some Flames talk. In addition to sharing some stories about life at TSN, Flames topics broached included Chad Johnson, are the red-hot Flames for real and first-third surprises and disappointments.
    • Episode 8 (1:04:49) - On Nov. 12, it was time for Wes Gilbertson from PostMedia to have his say. We talked some more about the coach, special teams, Nik Grossmann and various hot topics.
    • Episode 7 (1:01:01) - On Oct. 30, Kristen Odland from PostMedia stopped by and we looked back on a roller-coaster month of October. We also discussed Glen Gulutzan's unique coaching methods.
    • Episode 6 (58:27) - On Sept. 20, before leaving the rookie tournament in Penticton, Ryan Leslie from Flames TV stopped by and we discussed which prospects stood out and  also who didn't. Includes some great insight into who Matthew Tkachuk is off the ice and his background.
    • Episode 5 (1:08:24) - On Aug. 28, longtime Flames beat reporter Scott Cruickshank from PostMedia stopped by to look ahead to the season as well as reminisce about the 2004 Stanley Cup run and what it was like to cover that series both home and away. 
    • Episode 4 (1:30:59) - On Aug. 14, Ryan Leslie from Flames TV stopped by and provided a glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes with the Flames -- on the charter, etc. Other topics included who will play RW on the top line, who will benefit the most from the new coach.
    • Episode 3 (1:34:01) - On Aug. 5, I connected with Rob Kerr again, this time to dig into a variety of other off-season topics like the Gaudreau/Monahan contract 'stalemate', Troy Brouwer and expansion.
    • Episode 2 (1:28:43) - On July 19 in a more technically-sound second episode (thanks to the use of actual broadcast-quality audio equipment), Rob Kerr joined me as co-host and we debated the Flames season-opening roster. 
    • Episode 1 (48:04) - In the July 11 impromptu pilot, featuring zero technology, I recapped development camp. This was was a solo effort with sub-part technology but fresh on the heels of the prospects being in town, lots of good stuff discussed.

    Have you enjoyed the podcasts so far? Please stop by iTunes and rate the podcast as I understand this will make it easier to find for newcomers. Thanks for listening.

    By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.


    Recent Flames Reading:

      Thursday, February 09, 2017

      Ranking the Calgary Flames Top 20 Prospects (February 2017 Edition)

      Nicely settled into the second half of the hockey season and with the Flames on their CBA-mandated five-day bye week, it's an ideal opportunity to issue the mid-season update to my list of Calgary's top 20 prospects.

      After all, fans need something to debate and argue about at the pub this weekend before the Flames return to action on Monday with home date against the Arizona Coyotes.


      This the fourth edition of the rankings, which typically come out in the summer -- after the draft and development camp has taken place -- and then again around the NHL all-star break.

      Here's a look back at past rankings, which has included guys like Sam Bennett and Micheal Ferland, who have gone on to graduate. Meanwhile, others like Markus Granlund have graduated but done so with a different organization.

      Over time, these snapshots in time of the organization's prospect cupboard will provide a nice way of tracking players as they rise and fall on the depth chart. By rise and fall, I mean it. I like there to be movement as that makes it more interesting so there will often be a power rankings-feel to my list.

      Just think, by the time the next edition comes out, an expansion draft will have happened, another entry draft, free agency. You can bet by August, there will be names that will be no longer be with the organization as churn is a necessity in the world of sports. There are only so many seats on the bus.

      Definition of "Prospect"

      If you look at other hockey publications and websites, there are different definitions for "prospect". Some have age maximums, some exclude players once they're no longer considered an NHL rookie. My criteria is simple and comes down to two things:
      • Age 25 or under for skaters (age 26 or under for goalies)
      • Has not established himself as a NHL regular

      For my rankings, it's also important to point out that this is not the order I expect players to ascend to the NHL. The estimated time of arrival (ETA) is a minimal factor only. A bigger consideration are two things: 1. Likeliness to make the NHL, 2. Projected impact if they make it.

      Grads and Departures

      Before we proceed, there is a graduation ceremony to attend and man, talk about a quick study. Matthew Tkachuk made his debut on the Top 20 Prospects last July after being selected sixth overall. He went straight to the top as the No. 1 ranked prospect. Sure enough, six months later and just 19 years old, he has already established himself as an excellent NHLer.

      That's it though. Garnet Hathaway has been up with the Flames since mid-November so he's getting real close to being anointed a regular, but he's not a lock to remain with the team the rest of the season so for now, he remains a prospect.

      Note: For further insight into how the mid-season prospect rankings came together and why players are ranked where they are, there was a segment dedicated to this in my latest Flames at 80 Decibels podcast with PostMedia beat writer Kristen Odland.

      Flames Top 20 Prospects - February 2017

      1. C Mark Jankowski (previously 5th, 8th, 15th)
      • Age | 22
      • Size | 6-foot-4, 205 lbs
      • Shoots | Left
      • Acquired | Drafted in 1st round (21st overall) in 2012 
      • This Season | Stockton AHL (38 gm, 14-16-30), Calgary (1 gm, 0-0-0)
      • ETA | 2017-18

      In his rookie season, he's stepped into the role of No. 1 center in Stockton and been very consistent. Playing in all situations, Jankowski leads the team in scoring. He was named an AHL all-star. He even got a call-up with Calgary in November. It's been a long time coming but Jankowski and his sound 200-foot game is getting closer to NHL-ready.

      2. D Rasmus Andersson (previously 3rd, 2nd, 6th)
      • Age | 20
      • Size | 6-foot-1, 215 lbs
      • Shoots | Right
      • Acquired | Drafted in 2nd round (53rd overall) in 2015
      • This Season | Stockton AHL (41 gm, 2-17-19)
      • ETA | 2018-19

      After being singled out at development camp for his fitness, he's made great strides and the Flames are pleased with his commitment. He is down 8-10 pounds from July while adding muscle. Impressively, has spent much of the season on the top pairing and despite tough match-ups, is a plus-16. He is elite with the puck.

      3. G Tyler Parsons (previously 9th)
      • Age | 19
      • Size | 6-foot-1, 185 lbs
      • Catches | Left
      • Acquired | Drafted in 2nd round (54th overall) in 2016
      • This Season | London OHL (26 gm, 17-4-4, 2.25 GAA, .926 SV%)
      • ETA | 2020-21

      After winning a Memorial Cup last season with London, he backstopped the U.S. to a gold medal at this year's World Juniors. He was excellent at Flames rookie camp and has been brilliant in the OHL. Calgary was excited to get him where they did and you can see why with his Jonathan Quick-like style.

      4. D Brandon Hickey (previously 7th, 3rd, 4th)
      • Age | 20
      • Size | 6-foot-2, 195 lbs
      • Shoots | Left
      • Acquired | Drafted in 3rd round (64th overall) in 2014 
      • This Season | Boston University (28 gm, 4-9-13)
      • ETA | 2019-20

      Playing on a deep and very good Boston U. team, Flames continue to be very happy with Hickey's progression as he settles into a niche of being a strong defender, who can occasionally sprinkle in some offence. Smooth skater, good stick and quick feet, I'd expect him to turn pro this summer.

      5. D Oliver Kylington (previously 4th, 6th, 7th)
      • Age | 19
      • Size 6-foot-0, 185 lbs
      • Shoots | Left
      • Acquired Drafted in 2nd round (60th overall) in 2015
      • This Season | Stockton AHL (35 gm, 4-10-14)
      • ETA | 2018-19

      Still a young man in an older league. Still skates like the wind. Played key role and logged big minutes for Sweden at WJC. He's simplified his game, which is good news for someone with a tendency to freelance too much. Can quarterback a power play and his defensive play continues to improve.

      6. G Jon Gillies (previously 2nd, 1st, 5th)
      • Age | 23
      • Size 6-foot-6, 225 lbs
      • Catches | Left
      • Acquired | Drafted in 3rd round (75th overall) in 2012 
      • This Season | Stockton AHL (27 gm, 11-10-4, 3.00 GAA, .908 SV%)
      • ETA | 2018-19

      After missing most of 2015-16 (hip surgery), there was much anticipation heading into this year with him pain-free. But it's been an inconsistent season and he's being pushed by Rittich. He was out a long time so some inconsistency expected, but you'd like to see a more consistent second half.

      7. C Dillon Dube (previously 11th)
      • Age | 18 
      • Size 5-foot-11, 182 lbs
      • Shoots | Left
      • Acquired | Drafted in 2nd round (56th overall) in 2016
      • This Season | Kelowna WHL (22 gm, 8-18-26)
      • ETA 2019-20

      Really impressive in Penticton showcasing an alluring combination of speed, skill and tenacity. Surprised some in making Team Canada for the WJC where he thrived in a bottom-six role -- always around the puck, always noticeable. Knee injury delayed the start of his WHL season but is on a real roll lately.

      8. LW Andrew Mangiapane (previously 8th, 9th, 20th)
      • Age | 20
      • Size | 5-foot-10, 180 lbs
      • Shoots | Left
      • Acquired | Drafted in 6th round (166th overall) in 2015
      • This Season | Stockton AHL (39 gm, 10-13-23)
      • ETA | 2018-19

      Mangiapane's rookie season got off to a sizzling start as he thrived alongside AHL vets Matt Frattin and Linden Vey. While he's a shorter guy, he's solidly built and is not afraid of the rough stuff. He has slumped recently (3-0-3 in last 17 gm) but inconsistency is common when making the jump from major junior.

      9. D Brett Kulak (previously 17th, 11th, honourable mention)
      • Age 22
      • Size | 6-foot-2, 187 lbs
      • Shoots | Left
      • Acquired Drafted in 4th round (105th overall) in 2012 
      • This Season | Calgary (19 gm, 0-3-3), Stockton AHL (11 gm, 1-4-5) 
      • ETA | 2017-18

      The tools are there -- he's got size, is a good skater, OK defensively and he moves the puck well. What hasn't been there is consistent opportunity as he's spent many nights in the press box. But with the changes coming this summer, he has put himself at the front of the line to be a regular on the blueline in 2017-18.

      10. D Adam Fox (previously 15th)
      • Age | 18
      • Size 5-foot-10, 185 lbs
      • Shoots | Right
      • Acquired | Drafted in 3rd round (66th overall) in 2016
      • This Season | Harvard (22 gm, 2-23-25)
      • ETA 2021-22

      Calgary was pumped to get the smooth-skating, slick-passing blueliner where they got him last draft, Fox is playing a ton as a freshmen at Harvard and he's racking up points. Part of Team USA at the WJC, he's undersized and needs to get stronger but they rave about his hockey IQ and that can take someone a long way.

      11. LW Hunter Shinkaruk (previously 6th)
      • Age | 22
      • Size | 5-foot-11, 180 lbs
      • Shoots | Left
      • Acquired Trade with Vancouver in February 2016  
      • This Season | Stockton AHL (25 gm, 7-12-19), Calgary (7 gm, 0-1-1), 
      • ETA | 2017-18

      Enjoyed modest NHL success in a late call-up last season but he wasn't able to carry that into this season when he got into seven games with Calgary but did not make an impact. As a third-year pro, you see his upside in spurts but more production and better consistency needed. Has gone 12 games without a goal.

      12. LW Morgan Klimchuk (previously 14th, 7th, 9th)
      • Age | 21
      • Size | 6-foot-0, 185 lbs
      • Shoots | Left
      • Acquired | Drafted in 1st round (28th overall) in 2013
      • This Year | Stockton AHL (40 gm, 13-15-28)
      • ETA | 2018-19

      After a frustrating rookie season, Klimchuk's commitment to rediscovering his scoring touch has paid off as he's second on the team in goals and points. With the work he put in a year ago on his defensive game and play away from the puck, he's turned himself into a well-rounded player. He's still on the radar.

      13. D Tyler Wotherspoon (previously 12th, 13th, 11th)
      • Age | 23
      • Size | 6-foot-2, 210 lbs
      • Shoots | Left
      • Acquired | Drafted in 2nd round (57th overall) in 2011 
      • This Season | Stockton AHL (30 gm, 2-8-10), Calgary (4 gm, 0-0-0)
      • ETA | 2017-18

      You thought this was going to be the season he stuck in Calgary but he's fallen behind Kulak on the depth chart. Plays top pairing in AHL and is much relied-upon. Coach Ryan Huska says is playing the best he's ever played. But will that ever translate to being an NHL regular? The window seems to be closing.

      14. RW Daniel Pribyl (previously 13th)
      • Age | 24 
      • Size 6-foot-4, 210 lbs
      • Shoots | Right
      • Acquired | Signed as a free agent in April 2016
      • This Season | Stockton AHL (22 gm, 4-8-12)
      • ETA 2017-18

      When he signed, GM Brad Treliving said Pribyl reminded him of longtime NHLer Robert Lang. We don't know what he will end up being as he's had an injury-plagued season (hip, concussion). This after major knee surgery in the off-season. On a two-year deal, he still has lots of time to showcase himself.

      15. LW Matthew Phillips (not previously ranked)
      • Age | 18
      • Size | 5-foot-6, 140 lbs
      • Shoots | Right
      • Acquired | Drafted in 6th round (166th overall) in 2016
      • This Season | Victoria WHL (53 gm, 38-29-67)
      • ETA | 2021-22

      If only he wasn't so tiny. Given his size -- Johnny Gaudreau would tower over him -- it's a longshot Phillips will make the NHL but man, can he ever score. He's already surpassed last year's goal total. The good news is hockey continues to evolve towards more speed and skill and he's got plenty of that.

      16. G David Rittich (not previously ranked)
      • Age | 24
      • Size | 6-foot-3, 200 lbs
      • Catches | Left
      • Acquired | Signed as a free agent in June 2016
      • This Season | Stockton AHL (16 gm, 7-7-1, 2.26 GAA, .922 SV%)
      • ETA | 2019-20

      In signing him last summer out of the Czech Republic, the organization liked his quickness, athleticism and attitude. He's eager to learn and says he has come to North America to win a Stanley Cup. Still raw, he's had great nights -- four shutouts -- but also some rough outings. He's pushing Gillies.

      17. RW Garnet Hathaway (previously 19th, 17th, 19th)
      • Age | 25
      • Size | 6-foot-2, 210 lbs
      • Shoots | Right
      • Acquired | Signed as a free agent in April 2015
      • This Year | Calgary (25 gm, 1-4-5), Stockton AHL (8 gm, 3-3-6)
      • ETA | 2016-17

      Ivy League-educated, Hathaway understands what he needs to do to stay in the NHL and that's bring energy, play physical, be hard on the puck and rattle the other team including their best players. Doesn't project as more than a fourth liner but has been solid in that role. He could be in Calgary to stay.

      18. RW Eetu Tuulola (previously 18th)
      • Age | 18 
      • Size 6-foot-3, 225 lbs
      • Shoots | Right
      • Acquired | Drafted in 6th round (156th overall) in 2016
      • This Season | Everett WHL (42 gm, 11-11-22)
      • ETA 2021-22

      Exploded onto the scene at development camp with an impressive scoring barrage in the scrimmage. Organization hoped he's be considered for Team Finland in WJC but that didn't happen. The self-described Milan Lucic-like power forward has put up decent numbers for his first year in North America. 

      19. G Mason McDonald (previously 16th, 9th, 3rd)
      • Age | 20
      • Size | 6-foot-4, 200 lbs
      • Catches | Right
      • Acquired | Drafted in 2nd round (34th overall) in 2014 
      • This Season | Adirondack ECHL (19 gm, 10-6-2, 2.72 GAA, .897 SV%)
      • ETA | 2020-21

      Drafting McDonald as the first goalie off the board in 2014 was a highly scrutinized decision and it hasn't panned out so far. In his first year as a pro, he is winning games on a good Adirondack team but he's 30th in the league in save percentage. He just returned Tuesday after missing five weeks with an injured back. 

      20. RW Emile Poirier (previously 10th, 4th, 2nd)
      • Age | 22 
      • Size 6-foot-2, 200 lbs
      • Shoots | Left
      • Acquired | Drafted in 1st round (22nd overall) in 2013
      • This Season | Stockton AHL (40 gm, 6-11-17)
      • ETA 2018-19

      Drop-off continues since sniping 19 goals as an AHL rookie in 2014-15. In year three as a pro, his production has steadily declined since. Organization has done everything to try to light a fire under him including a brief NHL call-up last season. With a year left on his entry-level contract, you'd think a trade is possible.

      Honourable Mentions:

      D Stepan Falkovsky (previously NR) - 6-foot-7 Belarusian in ECHL has an intriguing skill set.
      C Linus Lindstrom (previously NR) - Small but skilled. Sticking all year in SEL is a nice surprise.
      C Mitchell Mattson (previously NR) - Lanky project much like Jankowski. Next year goes NCAA.
      D Kenney Morrison (previously NR, 15th, 13th) - Strong Penticton put him back on the radar.
      D Adam Ollas Mattsson (previously 20th, 19th) - Ice time in SEL is down under a new coach.

      By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.


      Recent Flames Reading: