Calgary Setting Themselves Up For Success
Calgary handed Montreal their first home loss of the season last night, extending their own road record to 5-2-0 in the process.
Whilst it is unlikely the Flames will maintain their current position among the Pacific Division’s top 3 for the duration of the season, their hot start to the new campaign does underline the great work the clubs management has done to rebuild the franchise.
With a solid group of young players, a strong top 4 on the blue line and one of the NHL’s best netminders; the Flames play-off drought may be coming to an end sooner than many think.
It should come as no surprise a team that added Jonas Hiller over the summer has seen its fortunes improve.
The 32- year old Swiss netminder has given Calgary the elite level goaltending they have lacked since Miikka Kiprusoff’s body broke down. With a .938 save percentage, 1.38 GAA and 6.14 GSAA, second to only Jonathan Quick, it’s not hard to understand why the former Anaheim stoppers arrival has had such an impact on the Flames so far this season.
Partner Karri Ramo has also matured since his underwhelming stint with Tampa Bay, using his time in the KHL to iron out some of the kinks in his game before returning to the NHL last season.
With Ramo an unrestricted free agent this summer, and Hiller only locked up until 2016, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see the organisation use some of the $15m+ in cap space, to extended the pair beyond their current deals – especially as both have plenty of miles left in them.
Along the blue line, the Flames have enjoyed similar prosperity during the early running.
Captain Mark Giordano has picked up from where he left off last season, registering 3 goals and 11 points in the Flames first 13 games, whilst defensive partner TJ Brodie may already be this seasons break out star.
With a team high 12 points, 24-year old Brodie signed a 5-year, £23.25m contract extension recently and looks set to be a star for years to come.
Veteran Dennis Wideman leads the club with 5 goals, enjoying something of a resurgence in Alberta this season, with Kris Russell rounding out a top 4 with plenty to be positive about.
Ladislav Smid, Raphael Diaz and tough guy Deryk Engelland provide depth for the D corps as well, should the Flames run in to injury trouble.
But where the defence is now largely built on reliable performers, tried and tested in the NHL, the offence is predominantly looking to the future.
Sean Monahan, who potted 22 goals during his rookie campaign last year, and Johnny Gaudreau lead a talented group of youngsters that also includes Mikael Backlund, Josh Jooris (who had 2 goals in last night’s 6-2 win against the Habs) and prospect Sam Bennet.
Calgary also hopes winger Sven Baertschi can overcome the struggles he has been fighting early in his NHL career, with the club looking for the Bern native to develop in to a solid NHL winger.
Combined with veterans like Jiri Hudler, Curtis Glencross and Matt Stajan; there is hope for Flames fans moving forward offensively – time is, largely, on the franchise’s side.
In Bob Hartley they also have a veteran coach whose ability to ‘connect’ with his roster is perhaps second to none – turning what some considered a ‘rag tag’ bunch in to one of the league’s hardest working outfits.
Hartley won a Stanley Cup with Colorado, but also took Atlanta to it’s first (and only) play-off appearance in 2007 – displaying much of the same tactical ability again, as he draws the best from players like Joe Colborne whilst helping revive the teams fortunes.
The Flames have some way to go – they are after all in the ultra competitive Western Conference battling it out with some of the toughest Divisional rivals possible, including the defending Stanley Cup champions.
But the foundations are, for the most part, in place.
If they continue along this path, it’s hard to believe the club won’t be on the play-off bubble in a year or two. And once you’re in the fight, free agents start to look at clubs differently – opening up the chance to add a little star power to the mix.
Whilst other clubs in ‘rebuild mode’ have endured some very public ups and downs, the Flames have quietly reinvented themselves – so don’t be shocked to see them playing well in to spring again before too long.