After a solid 2016-17 season and a bright future ahead of them, the Calgary Flames look like a force to be reckoned with.
“This team has a really bright future, they just need time to develop”. The most common phrase surrounding the Calgary Flames since the complete change of regime four years ago. With two Stanley Cup Playoff appearances in the last 4 years and a dynamite core of young but experienced talent, I think it’s safe to say the Flames are no longer in rebuild mode. They are almost an elite NHL team. So, what are the final missing pieces?
Ask anyone following the team right now and their surefire answer is: Goaltending.
However, I don’t believe that is the case. Sure, Jonas Hiller and Brian Elliott have cost the team a few games here and there with some subpar play (especially Elliott in the playoffs, ouch). And there needs to be an improvement if the team wants to get better. But there is more to it than that.
The Supporting Cast
Frankly, I do not think the Flames bottom six players are cutting it. Yes, you could point to the 12 players on the team with 10+ goals this season, but this is an instance where everybody had a good year, I want guys who will perform even when the team is struggling. I think the Flames would be much better suited swapping out guys like Troy Brouwer and Alex Chiasson (who I have to admit has grown on me a bit) for players like Andrew Cogliano and Patrick Maroon. I realize those guys are a stretch but getting players like them would be ideal. Notice how I picked two players who epitomize speed and size.
90% of Brouwer’s goals were tap ins, he turns over the puck much more than you’d like from an assistant captain and he takes many unwarranted penalties. Not acceptable for someone making $4.5 million per year. Chiasson could be great as a 4th line winger, but should not be playing anywhere else. Especially not on the 1st line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.
I know these two guys look good now on paper, but the same thing was said about Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller. As soon as the team went south, so did they.
I will say this: Kris Versteeg is probably one of the best bottom-six players in the league, aside from Corey Perry (haha). It’s rare to see a 3rd liner anchoring a power-play, but that’s what Versteeg does.
The Mystery of Micheal Ferland
What is he? A fourth liner with tons of bite and grit? An energy player who likes to fight and get under the other team’s skin? Or a first-line power forward with scoring prowess and some silky hands? He is a bit of everything.
Micheal Ferland is quite a mystery to Flames fans. He won our hearts with his bone-crushing hits in the 2015 playoffs, then disappeared in 2015-16. However, he came back in a big way this year. He built great chemistry while on the 1st line with Gaudreau and Monahan. Not to mention he scored 15 goals and displayed his great hands as well as a textbook power forward type style of play while on that line.
If Ferland can continue his top-6 play next season, I do not see why he couldn’t take control of that 1st line right-winger spot.
His obstacles: Injuries and consistency. He’s versatile enough to be put in a grinder/checking role, but I think his potential has shown that he is better suited as a goal scoring power forward who can anger the opposition when needed.
If the Flames were to look via trade or free agency for a 1st line RW, they would be in tough. We have seen in the past with guys like Loui Eriksson and Thomas Vanek that this typically doesn’t work out.
Tightening up the Defense
No doubt, Dougie Hamilton, Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie are the D-core, and a superb one at that. That said, the Flames need to find a solid #4 and a respectable #6. Sure, in order to become elite, the Flames will have to give professional ice-time to some of their exceptional defenseman prospects. But for now, experience is needed on the blueline.
Franson looks like the best choice on the market as a solid right-shot puck mover; unless management can do something similar to what they did in the Hamilton trade in acquiring someone better out of the blue that would bolster the defense. If not, Stone or Franson are the best options.
As far as Engelland’s partner on the third pairing goes (if they even keep Engelland), I think that is a judgment call for management. Either put a young kid there with minimal ice for “development” purposes or get a veteran who can solidify the defense. They each have their pro’s and con’s.
With the kid, say Oliver Kylington or Rasmus Andersson, you might be pleasantly surprised or you could get burned. However, if you choose a veteran, you might also get burned by finding someone who is too slow or incapable of keeping up with the high-speed of today’s game.
It’s clear the team isn’t perfect, but the missing pieces are small and the Flames are on the brink of contention. I’m sure that is music to the ears of every Flames fan.
If I just jinxed the Flames into many years of playoff-misses, I’ll start watching Golf… No I won’t.