The Calgary Flames were a surprising contender last season, but avoiding a step back will be tough.
COACH: Bob Hartley
2014-15 RECORD: 45-30-7, 97 points (third in Pacific, lost to Ducks, 4-1, in second round)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.89 goals-for per game (6th); 2.60 goals-against per game (14th); 18.8 power play pct. (11th); 80.6 penalty kill pct. (20th); PDO: 101.6 (4th); Corsi For pct.: 46.8 (26th); Fenwick For pct.: 47.7 (24th); face-off pct.: 47.4 (26th)
NOTABLE ARRIVALS: F David Schlemko, F Michael Frolik, D Dougie Hamilton
NOTABLE DEPARTURES: F Max Reinhart, F David Schlemko, F Brian McGrattan, D John Ramage, D Raphael Diaz
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – Jiri Hudler
Sam Bennett – Mikael Backlund – Michael Frolik
Lance Bouma – Matt Stajan – Josh Jooris
Mason Raymond – Markus Granlund – David Jones
Mark Giordano – T.J. Brodie (injured)
Dennis Wideman – Dougie Hamilton
Kris Russell – Ladislav Smid (injured)
OUTLOOK: From 2013-14 to 2014-15, the Flames improved by 10 wins, 20 points and jumped six spots into the West's sixth playoff berth. Using a mix of young, developing talent, a handful of veterans and a lunchpail mentality, Calgary made its way to the second round of the playoffs last season before running out of gas against the top-seeded Ducks.
A big reason for the Flames’ climb up the standings was the emergence of their offensive game. Rookie Johnny Gaudreau posted 64 points en route to a Calder Trophy nomination, and sophomore Sean Monahan and veteran Jiri Hudler notched 31 goals apiece, while winger Lance Bouma and defensemen Dennis Wideman, T.J. Brodie and early Norris Trophy contender Mark Giordano all had career seasons (though Giordano’s was cut short by a torn biceps). Calgary's goal total climbed by 35 to 237, sixth-best in the league, over the course of last season, and it could improve if rookie Sam Bennett, the fourth overall pick in 2014, becomes another steady contributor. Free agent forward Michael Frolik will provide two-way depth in a middle-six role.
The other side of the ice, however, shows a bit of an anomaly. The Flames gave up an average of 2.6 goals per game (17th in the NHL), though a more alarming number is the amount of shot attempts they surrendered per game. At 62.52, Calgary's Corsi Against/60 was second-worst only to Buffalo. In order to rectify that number, the team added 22-year-old defenseman Dougie Hamilton from Boston to alleviate the pressure on Giordano. That respite won’t happen right away as Brodie suffered a broken bone in his right hand during a preseason game and will miss the first three to six weeks of the season. Ladislav Smid (neck) is not expected to see action until mid-October. As Opening night approaches, their two spots were up for grabs among prospects Tyler Wotherspoon, Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington and Jakub Nakladalor and veterans Ryan Wilson, Douglas Murray and Aaron Johnson.
The talent is there for Calgary to continue its ascent up the West standings, but unless the Flames can correct the holes in their game, a regression isn’t out of the realm of possibility, either.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Sam Bennett
The fourth overall pick in 2014, Bennett found himself playing in a big spot during the Flames’ postseason run, getting into 11 of their 12 games and chipping in three goals and four points. The offensive flash is there, and with some added bulk to his 19-year-old frame, he’ll be better suited to show it off. He’ll end up on a line with at least one veteran (Jiri Hudler, Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik) who can help him adjust to the rigors of a full NHL season.
PREDICTION: 98 points, second in Pacific