It seems to happen every year. Teams that looked out of it spring back to life. Perennial contenders slide into the “has been” category, and lots of teams simply spin their wheels year after year. So who are the best teams going forward? I am going to spend the next 31 days breaking down each team to sort it all out.
This team by team breakdown separates them into three groups. Contenders, Pretenders, and League Filler Teams. Lets get started
The Calgary Flames are a team that went from looking like they had held onto veterans like Miikka Kiprusoff and Jerome Iginla for far too long and that they were going to suffer through an Edmonton-Like eternal rebuild. Then, with Kiprusoff retiring and Iginla finally being moved at the end of the 2012-13 season, they simply had no choice. At the beginning of the next year they brought in Brian Burke as the interim GM and President and he brought in Brad Treliving at the end of that season. What have they done since then and how will they look going forward?
During the previous regime under Jay Feaster, the Flames had a mix of good and bad at the drafting table. Drafting Sven Baertschi in 2011 and Mark Jankowski in 2012 were decent picks in draft years that did not produce many elite players. Jankowski is starting to produce decent 3rd line numbers in Calgary and Baertschi is just now starting to play with consistency, albeit in Vancouver. There were better players available but at the time no one had Nikita Kucherov as a first rounder so it is hard to criticize Calgary for missing him as well.
However, the Flames did discover an elite gem in the fourth round in 2011 taking Johnny Gaudreau with the 104th overall pick.
The last draft year of Feasters reign, 2013, saw them drafting Sean Monahan 6th overall. Monahan has developed perfectly as the top line center and is perfect Captain material after Mark Giordano calls it a career or gets moved.
Their second first round pick that year at 21st saw them draft Emile Poirier. Poirier has had off ice issues and has not developed beyond a depth AHL player. The draft of Poirier was an extreme “off the board” pick. Poirier was listed at 39th in the CSS final 2013 North American Skater rankings. Once you take into account European skaters as well, Poirier should have been a 3rd round pick at best.
2014 saw the drafting of Sam Bennett 4th overall and while it is worth noting that in a redraft Nikolah Ehlers would be taken ahead of him, Bennett was the consensus choice at the time and is starting to show flashes of what he can be. It is far too early to judge him yet.
In 2015 it was Matthew Tkachuk at 6th overall and that is a pick that will be paying dividends for many years to come. His speed, skill, and grit are a large piece of the Flames current success.
Beyond the first round, the Flames have drafted nothing of note since 2012.
In the Jay Feaster era (2010 – 2013) the vast majority of trades were all of the minor variety. The one exception was a trade with the Montreal Canadiens on January 12, 2012. The Flames acquired Micheal Cammalleri, Karri Ramo, and a 2012 5th round pick (Ryan Culkin) for Rene Bourque, Patrick Holland, and a 2013 2nd round pick.(Zachary Fucale). This trade wound up being very good for Calgary as they not only got Cammalleri, they got to move the underperforming and mercurial Bourque out.
Trades in the Burke / Treliving era involved the long delayed trades of some veterans that need to be moved. They swiftly traded Jay Bouwmeester to the St Louis Blues and Iginla to the Pittsburgh Penguins. At this point in his career Iginla only returned two minor league players and a late first round pick and Bouwmeester much less but it started the much need overhaul.
After moving these players the new management made a number of small tweak moves on their roster. Starting in 2014 the management began making bolder moves to improve their team. The 2015 entry draft saw them trade for a budding super star in Dougie Hamilton. To land him they send a 2015 1st round pick (Zachary Senyshyn), and two 2015 2nd round picks (Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Jeremy Lauzon). This trade could have been a much more even trade if Boston had not drafted so terribly that year.
Overall the Flames have shown a willingness to make big deals to improve their team even at a high cost. The additions also of Mike Smith and Travis Hamonic have Calgary looking very solid and built for a playoff run.
The Flames have an outstanding young team with very good balance. They have holes in the bottom six and could use some work on their depth scoring. They also lack a high quality back up and at present they are pinning all their playoff hopes on the health of Mike Smith. At 35 years of age this may be an Achilles heel for the team.
Calgary has wisely locked up their young talent and spent their money on players who are in or entering their prime. The Mark Giordano contract is expensive for a player who is starting to decline but with the cap going up and with the leadership he brings this won’t be a huge issue for the team. The contender status will be reevaluated next year when there is a better idea of the goaltending situation behind Smith. If Jon Gillies or Tyler Parsons develop into their potential then Calgary will be a force for the next 5-7 years.