Three words that describe the Calgary Flames’ past and present: Mediocrity. Legitimacy. Supremacy.
The Young Era
The Flames had a rollercoaster of a 2014-15 season, but constantly kept in the playoff hunt. From October to April, Calgary was a team that surprised fans across the league. Johnny “Hockey” Gaudreau and Sean Monahan were on fire all season, but the injury bug sidelined captain Mark Giordano.
The (underdog) Flames ousted the Canucks in six games, and faced off against the Anaheim Ducks in the conference semi-finals. The Ducks were stronger, from goaltending in Frederik Andersen to significant scorers Corey Perry and Matt Beleskey.
Crippled by the injury bug, the Flames’ young roster quickly learned the ropes of what it is like to play against a more experienced team. After being out for games two and three with an upper-body injury, Michael Ferland had given his team life upon his return in game 4. Ferland’s return had sparked the Flames to be more competitive, but their issues on the back-end could not hold up. Calgary lost the series in six games, and the roster needed to be addressed.
Adding a defenceman that no team knew was available:
June 26, 2015. The Boston Bruins traded their future star defenseman Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames for a first-round pick and two second-round picks in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The addition of Dougie Hamilton is what Rob Blake was to the Los Angeles Kings, Colorado Avalanche, and San Jose Sharks: a cornerstone defenceman. Dougie Hamilton is only 22 years-old, and will be the Flames’ top defenceman in the immediate future.
With the addition of Hamilton, the Flames have a stellar blue line of Brodie-Giordano, Russell-Hamilton, and Smid-Engelland.
Quick Splash into Free Agency
Adding Michal Frolik might be the most underrated move that the Calgary Flames made during the 2015 summer. At only 27 years young, Frolik scored 42 points in two consecutive seasons with the Winnipeg Jets. With a fresh 5-year, $4.3 M AAV (Average Annual Value) contract as her enters into his prime, Frolik will be a good second-line winger alongside Sam Bennett and Mikael Backlund.
The Goaltending Question
After the 2014-15 playoffs, a major question surfaced around the Flames’ back end: “Is the goaltending good enough?”
Jonas Hiller wasn’t great. He was good, but could not get the job done with the stellar goaltending that he had once been recognized for. Karri Ramo was almost the same story. He would have his good games and his off games, but did not always have the consistent start after consistent start that fans had expected.
Queue in Joni Ortio: a 24 year-old Finnish goaltender drafted by the Flames in 2009 who has developed well with the Abbotsford Heat. The Flames have the starting position up for grabs. Whoever grabs the bull by the horns will run with it, and by the looks of it, Joni Ortio might just be the ace to do so. Ortio posted a 21-13-1 record with the Heat with a .912 save % and a 2.69 GAA. Ortio also went 4-2-0 in six games with the Flames in the 2014-15 season, and his well-paced development might make him ready to lead the Flames into the playoffs during the 2015-16 season.
Could the Calgary Flames be a force of the National Hockey League? Most likely, yes. If their goaltending and defence and scoring and if, and if, and if.
The Flames need to have consistent efforts throughout the season. That means Johnny Hockey and Sean Monahan should pick up from where they left off. Sam Bennett should produce a great offensive output, making his linemates look much better than what they are. Defence should be stellar. As for goaltending, good competition will bring out the best of the three (Ortio, Hiller, Ramo).
The Flames will be a dominant team throughout the 2015-16 season. The Sea of Red will only be louder and the Flames will only be better. Hopefully the Ducks won’t put them out again.