The Flames have just finished the first quarter, of the first real season of their full-on, star-selling, kid-playing, goalie-swapping rebuild. What have we learned about this team so far?
First off, we have learned that the Flames have some valuable assets yet to sell. Mike Cammalleri has started the season at almost a point-per-game pace and has been, along with Jiri Hudler, one of Calgary’s most dangerous offensive weapons, though that has not been exactly a high bar. Cammalleri, if healthy, may be able to fetch the Flames a first-round pick for next year’s draft which would be a welcome boon to Calgary’s growing prospect depth.
Matt Stajan has been performing remarkably well, confirming many suspicions that Stajan has been a useful player all along and was simply not being deployed properly. I believe that even though Stajan has been undoubtedly Calgary’s most reliable centreman, he will likely not be a part of the long-term rebuild. Currently, Stajan’s position could be filled by Michael Backlund or Joe Colborne if the Flames are truly serious about seeing what they have in some of their young players.
Lee Stempniak, his recent offensive struggles notwithstanding, continues to be an exceptionally valuable forward for the Flames. Even though his underlying numbers this year have been rather underwhelming, Stempniak routinely creates chances and drives play and is a relative bargain cap wise. Kent Wilson at Flames Nation characterized players like Stempniak and Glencross as the “connective tissue” of a roster and I really like the analogy. When juxtaposed against the rebuilding of the Oilers, it is important to hold on to these types of players rather than abandoning them in the pursuit of stars.
The Flames’ newcomers: David Jones, T.J Galiardi, Shane O’Brien, Kris Russell, and Colborne have been largely a mixed bag. Unquestionably, the best of the bunch has been Russell who looks poised to earn an early extension despite seeing the second easiest minutes in the NHL among regular defencemen. The others, especially O’Brien have been below-average for the most part. Galiardi and Jones have been uneven, vacillating between effective and invisible from game to game.
Overall, the Flames have been praised for their work-ethic this season and there has been a noticeable change in the way that the Flames seem to doggedly attempt to stay afloat in most games this season. Hopefully this can continue throughout the season because it will get harder and harder to motivate the club when they are hopelessly buried in the Pacific division cellar.
Then there is the goaltending. This has, and will likely continue to be, a source of great consternation for Flames fans. There seems to be no rhyme or reason behind Hartley’s choices in net as Reto Berra has started a Kipper-esque nine straight games if you include his upcoming start against Florida. Karri Ramo has seen precious little ice-time this season and has arguably played against the stiffest competition. Finally, Joey MacDonald played too, but he well, largely sucked, and is now in the minors for a very good Abbotsford Heat squad.
The current lineup of tenders likely does not contain a future marquee starting goalie. The Flames also made a trade with…the Oilers. The Flames got Ladislav Smid and Olivier Roy in exchange for Roman Horak and Laruent Brossoit. This trade hints that the Flames may feel that their goalie of the future is Providence College sophomore Jon Gillies whom is lighting the world on fire in the NCAA as we speak.
All things considered, this (as in fourth last in the NHL) is where most reasonable Flames fans figured they would be this season, and they might fall even further. This is not something the fanbase should fear, even though it certainly sucks sometimes. As long as the Flames NEVER AGAIN blow a two-goal, third period lead, at home, against the god-forsaken Oilers, I for one will continue to watch this season with my mind to a brighter future.