by Les M. Mavus
The Flames were the most disciplined team in the league last year. No team had a higher ratio of penalties drawn to penalties taken than Calgary. This was the biggest reason the Flames were able to defy the analytics and make the playoffs. It might not be sustainable, but the Flames will likely come out ahead of most teams in this department, and it should continue to be a point of emphasis.
2. Top end talent.
The Flames have a lot of talent, particularly on the top line and the top defensive pairing. The combination of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler was dominant when it came to scoring. Few teams can boast that their top lines carried them in scoring like the Flames could last year.
On defense, the combination of T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano was as elite as it gets, leading the team in possession despite deplorable zone starts. While they might be split up with the addition of Dougie Hamilton, a tandem of Brodie and Hamilton or Giordano and Hamilton still looks like a matchup nightmare. They’ll still have one of them left on the second pairing, as well.
3. Center depth.
Calgary has Monahan, Sam Bennett, Mikael Backlund and Matt Stajan, with Josh Jooris exceeding all expectations at the position as well. This is a good problem to have. At the very least, Bennett, Backlund and Jooris are drivers of possession. Stajan was no slack at it either. Monahan was only okay at it, but his fantastic scoring capability more than makes up for it and he still has plenty of room left to develop.
The Flames will not be hurting when it comes to the center position.
by Ari Yanover
1. Wasted space.
The Flames have their fair share of bad contracts, and there’s a lot of money tied up in players who provide no on-ice value whatsoever. Brandon Bollig, Ladislav Smid and Deryk Engelland combine to take up roughly $7.65 million of the Flames’ cap. They’re so expensive that it’s hard for management to justify sending them down, but all they do on the ice is make the team worse.
What makes this even more difficult to deal with is the fact that there are a number of players who should, justifiably, be able to take spots away from them -- Engelland in particular -- but the contracts are difficult to move. The Flames may end up cornered in a situation where they have to play inferior players, simply because of the deals they have.
2. Youth and inexperience.
The Flames are looking very good for the future. The future -- not the present. Making the playoffs in 2014-15 helped give the team a taste, but this is still a group with a majority of its core players being 25 and under. Players like T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton look established, and the defense prospect pool has been revitalized, but one still has to remember that looking good as a prospect and being a good player are two very different things. No depth is guaranteed.
One also has to remember that Sean Monahan is only entering his third season, Johnny Gaudreau his second, and Sam Bennett his first. They look fantastic, but the Flames are at a point where there are still going to be growing pains.
The Flames had the top shooting percentage in the league in 2014-15, at 10.585 percent. However, they were the third-worst team when it came to actually getting shots, with just 27.5 per game. That’s a disparity that’s going to be difficult to repeat, and in all likelihood, their accuracy drops more than their ability to get pucks on net goes up.
With a 44.5 percent Corsi, or shot attempts against of minus-839, the Flames were the third-worst possession team in the league. Teams of that caliber typically do not make the playoffs, let alone win a round. There are exceptions to everything, of course, but the Flames will be unlikely to repeat that performance. They improved their on-ice product over the offseason; now, that on-ice product will be fighting to make up for nearly impossible stats to overcome.
1. What role will youth play throughout the season?
2. What will the Flames’ goaltending look like, and how will it pan out?
3. How will Bob Hartley deploy his players?
BEST CASE SCENARIO
by Liam McCausland
Everyone stays fit, Mark Giordano included. The majority of the core stayed healthy throughout the previous season, and we can only imagine what could have been if the captain had been around for the run towards the end, including the (albeit brief) playoff campaign. Hopefully this year it won’t be a case of what might have been, and the team will stay relatively healthy with all the key players around come the business end of the year. And T.J. Brodie’s preseason injury isn’t long-term, and he comes back without missing a step.
The best case is that last season's taste of the postseason makes the Flames even hungrier. Johnny Gaudreau will be in his second year and Sean Monahan his third, while another year under the belt for T.J. Brodie and Mikael Backlund can only improve matters. Add in Sam Bennett, and potentially Emile Poirier, and the sky could well be the limit for this group in 2015-16 -- especially if Dougie Hamilton proves to be the messiah we all think he is. Best case, they make the playoffs once again -- and go even further than the second round.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
by Christian Tiberi
Even though the Flames’ offseason objective was building to avoid regression, it could be possible that they receive the short end of the puck luck stick and fall just short of a playoff spot a la last year’s Los Angeles Kings. For all the good will they built up in acquiring Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik, they still have Brandon Bollig, Deryk Engelland and Ladislav Smid on this team. Something will give.
The Flames still have replacement-level players on their roster and a coach who will willingly ice them for 10-15 minutes per game while denying ice time to more skilled players. Should (knock on wood) Mark Giordano or another key player go down with injury, the Flames most likely won’t be able to band together and show the same "resiliency" they showed last year. Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman aren’t going to be a No. 1 pairing this year -- and if they are, then that certainly falls under the criteria of "worst case."
Ultimately, missing the playoffs while the team’s young, developing core fails to show any growth would definitely be a major step back, and raise unpleasant questions for the future.