Everybody knows that Jim Nill and the Dallas Stars have already won the 2014 offseason. But that doesn't mean that the rest of the Western Conference spent the summer sitting on their hands. Except Winnipeg, who did exactly that. Over the past month and a half we've looked at the true enemies of the Dallas Stars... the members of Conference III. However, in a spirit of paranoia, one must admit that the Stars' enemies are not just confined to the Central Division. No, they're everywhere. And so we shift our gaze westwards, to the revamped, downgraded, but now more appropriately named former home of the Stars. The Pacific Division. We began with Rebuild 3.0 over in Edmonton last week, and this week sees us move on to Alberta's other heroes, the Calgary Flames.
So in international cricket - and yes, bear with me here, I haven't forgotten what blog I'm writing for - you have the powerhouse nations, like England and Australia, and then you have the associate nations, like Ireland and Zimbabwe, affectionately referred to as "minnows". These are the teams that everybody knows don't stand a chance of actually winning a tournament, but they do pull off the occasional upset, and anyway, it's good for the growth of the sport in non-traditional markets where cricket perhaps isn't as developed.
Non-traditional markets being the key thing here. Which is why it makes perfect sense that the minnows of the Western Conference are all Canadian teams, heralding from towns where curling and Canadian football are kings, and a young hockey franchise just doesn't stand a chance of breaking into an already saturated sporting market...
Sigh... First Winnipeg, then Edmonton, and now Calgary. Although to be fair to Edmonton, had I not already picked the Florida Panthers as my dark horse team for this coming season, I might go with the Oilers. Granted, my pick of the Panthers is based solely on them finishing 29th last season, the same place the Colorado Avalanche finished the season prior. Which might be known in some circles as "fuzzy logic", but I'm sticking with it.
But Calgary... oh
Alberta has a thing for rebuilding. But the plan doesn't seem to be quite as focused in Calgary as it is in Edmonton. And they're of course in the Pacific Division. What with the Battle of California, perennial over-achievers the Phoenix Coyotes, and perennial under-achievers the Vancouver Canucks, there's not a whole lot of room for upward mobility in the Division. Which is perhaps why the Flames would appear to have folded their hand, saving their chips for next round. You know, the round with the really good draft class.
Too bad the Sabres are way ahead of them there.
So did the Flames do nothing? Well, I mean it wasn't exactly a Winnipeg offseason, but at the same time it's hard to see the moves they did make suddenly casting them into the spotlight. "What moves did they make?" you say. Well, glad you asked.
The award here has to go to Mason Raymond. I know, I know. Brandon Bollig is going to be a Flame next season as well, but unless we're talking about literal splashes and throwing him through a hole cut in a frozen Canadian pond, I'm just going to gloss over that. The signing of Bollig will of course have an impact, as will that of fellow heavyweight Deryk Engelland, but we're talking about a positive impact here. And Mason Raymond should at least be that. He wasn't in line for the Rocket Richard or anything like that, but he did score 45 points, with 19 goals and 26 assists. There's some nice symmetry here too, as outgoing forward Michael Cammalleri had 26 goals and 19 assists. Same point totals, and before you go pointing out that Cammalleri had 7 more goals, keep in mind that Raymond played for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season, and I feel that any goal scored in a Leafs sweater should count double.
Speaking of outgoing forward Michael Cammalleri... The Flames lost forward Michael Cammalleri! I'm pretty sure he accounted for like a third of their goals last season.
Honorable mention for biggest splash goes to goaltender Jonas Hiller, acquired in free agency after he left Anaheim. Since being pretty well excellent from 2007-2011, he has regressed to being pretty well average the last three seasons.
Curiously, before the Hiller signing, people seemed to think last year's backup goaltender Karri Ramo would be taking over starting duties. Ramo, who didn't do terribly in 40 games last season, sporting a .911 save percentage, but whose experience before that consisted of four seasons in the KHL. Prior to that he played parts of three seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, posting a sub-.900 save percentage in each of them. I'm gonna go ahead and call him a career journeyman.
Jonas Hiller, the crease is yours.
What's the opposite of a splash?
Deryk Engelland. This move only makes sense if you stay focused on Brian Burke's hair and repeat the words ‘grit' and 'truculence' over and over, like a mantra. Along with the earlier acquisition of Brandon Bollig and his curious recently signed contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Calgary Flames have managed to make themselves bigger, more physically intimidating, and worse, all at the same time.
I personally loved the signing of Engelland, if only because it spawned articles like this one:
The Flames signed Engelland for three years and an average of $2.9 million per (about 400k more than Glencross will be making this year btw) in a move that was largely regarded as one of the biggest head-scratchers of the day.
When Engelland was signed, I remember plenty of adjectives being used to describe him on TSN including "policeman," "hard-nosed," "gritty," and "enforcer." Sadly, it is hard to measure how effective one polices the ice in a given game, especially when he is hardly allowed on it, so we will just have to take them at their word.
Also, I am sure by now we all know that Deryk Engelland isn't - as Ryan described our old buddy Laddy Smid yesterday - 'Mr.Corsi', but did you know he is also a human boat anchor? [Flames Nation]
Not really. That pretty much summed it up. Cammalleri lost in free agency, Raymond, Hiller, and Engelland won in free agency. Oh, and then a month and a half after the frenzy of the first day of free agency, the Flames did sign Devin Setoguchi. Not really the type of acquisition to send out any shock waves, and the fact it took Setoguchi so long to find a buyer probably says a lot, but it could at least be a solid move for the Flames. Got him for cheap on a one-year deal, he's still only 27, and last year saw a career-low shooting percentage limit him to only 27 points, so he's due to bounce back. Perhaps. Plus Calgary have holes to fill on the right wing, as well as everywhere else in the lineup. So who knows?
At least he can't make 'em any worse though, right?
* * *
1) The Flames seemed to be turning a corner over the last few months of the season, going 19-13-0 in the last 32 games. A sign of great things to come? A statistical anomaly? Totally irrelevant after the off-season moves? In short, are you excited about Calgary's chances this season?
I think the Flames benefitted from two factors down the stretch; first, because of the new playoff format a lot of teams were all-but-assured playoff berths, so they took the proverbial foot off the gas when they came to town. Secondly, the Flames were a hard-working team without a lot of big-name talent, so I think a lot of teams under-estimated them all season.
This season may be rough, work ethic or no work ethic. Mike Cammalleri's gone and he was the team's best pure goal-scorer when healthy. Lee Stempniak was a rock on the power-play and penalty kill, and losing him from that rotation (and from the hard minutes shifts) will be tough to replace. Goaltending will be better, but the forward and defensive groups might both be appreciably worse than in 2013-14.
2) Talk to me about Brian Burke, and grit, and truculence. And by extension, let's chat about the signing of Deryk Engelland.
I don't disagree with the notion that if your team's offensive guns are all going to be smallish finesse players that you need some bigger bodies to make some room for them. The Flames have added guys like Sean Monahan and Joe Colborne prior to last season who aren't small, but had the nice benefit of making 5'9" Paul Byron seem a lot bigger. But there's a world of difference between functional hockey players like Monahan and Colborne, who can be difference-makers, and guys like Engelland, who was a depth guy in Pittsburgh and gets paid like a star in Calgary. Granted, they're a (much) worse team than the Penguins are. The general principle of "good teams need size" isn't terrible, but the devil, as they say, is in the details.
3) The departure of Michael Cammalleri leaves the Flames a bit short on center depth. Is Sam Bennett looked upon to step into the void?
Not really. Cammalleri was only really used as a center last season, and only sporadically. Bennett seems hell-bent on making the team based on recent interviews, but he's not a big kid (yet) and needs to bulk up. Given the many veterans the Flames have signed recently, I can't see Bennett stepping in this year.
4) Aside from Bennett, the most talked about prospect is Johnny Gaudreau. What are the chances of him making the NHL squad? And what other prospects might we see with the Flames this season?
The Flames are in love with Gaudreau because of his pure offensive talent and how hard he competes. They're a bit worried about his lack of size. My guess is they start him off in Adirondack to start the season and see how he does. If the Baby Flames are doing well by Thanksgiving, I wouldn't be surprised if they make a move to open up a roster spot for him.
5) Is there any goaltender debate? Jonas Hiller has been regressing, sure, but Karri Ramo hasn't yet posted comparable numbers even to Hiller's worst years. Healthy competition? Or is the starting spot Hiller's?
Ramo was solid if unspectacular last year, and his play really anchored the team late in the season. The addition of Hiller will give the team better goaltending, if only due to Hiller's reputation pushing Ramo to improve his play and keep progressing. Hiller is probably better than last year's Ramo, but the big question is if the additions of Hiller and new goaltending coach Jordan Sigalet can get even more out of Ramo's game.
6) And lastly, where do you see the Flames ending the season? Ryan Batty over at Copper & Blue dared to say the Edmonton Oilers would finish higher than Calgary. Shall we start a feud? Or maybe you have your sights set higher? Say, 5th place in the division?
By rights, the Edmonton Oilers should be better than the Flames this year. Then again, they should've been last year, too. The Flames are thinner everywhere but in net compared to last year, and outside of having a great top defensive pairing in T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano, the Flames aren't definitively better than the Oilers in any particular area. This year is the year we see if the "losing culture" theory holds water in Edmonton, as the team to the north should really finish ahead of Calgary. That said, I don't think they do. I think Calgary over-achieves again (and Edmonton implodes).