Counting down the final 30 days to puck drop on the 2014-15 NHL season, Sportsnet previews all 30 NHL teams in reverse order of how we believe they will finish the regular season.
A dozen reporters and analysts from Sportsnet’s hockey brain trust — Doug MacLean, John Shannon, Chris Johnston, Damien Cox, Mark Spector, et al. — submitted a list ranking all the teams in order of how they think the NHL season will shake out. We crunched the numbers and will be unveiling our consensus standings prediction from worst to first.
Calgary is our 29th-ranked team.
2013-14 finish: 35-40-7, 77 points, 27th overall.
Leading scorer: Jiri Hudler (54 points)
General manager: Brad Treliving
Head coach: Bob Hartley
Captain: Mark Giordano
Opening night starter: Jonas Hiller
Key acquisitions: Hiller, Deryk Engelland, Mason Raymond, Devin Setoguchi
Key departures: Mike Cammalleri, Lee Stempniak, T.J. Galiardi
Off-season grade: C+. When you are in the stage of Calgary’s rebuild, it isn’t even fair to grade a GM’s work on July 1. Hiller is a nice pickup, a guy with something to prove who will give the Flames solid NHL goaltending 60 nights this season. Engelland brings some depth and toughness, but at a very high price (three years, $8.7 million). Raymond will chip in his 35 points and up the team speed, while Setoguchi is an inexpensive reno project who will turn into a second-round pick at the deadline if all goes well.
Greatest strength: Work ethic. Nobody did more with less than head coach Bob Hartley last season. His team played a league-high 49 one-goal games, a sign they were in almost every night against teams that the standings say were the Flames’ superiors. With that level of commitment and work ethic, Calgary still finished 27th. So imagine what would happen if they take their foot off the collective gas. Hartley and stellar captain Mark Giordano must find a way to retain that mindset in a season where the Flames might not have as strong a roster as they did last year. Not only is dogged perseverance Calgary’s strongest trait, it could be all that separates them from falling even further in the standings.
Greatest weakness: Offence. Calgary finished 23rd in NHL scoring last year with 2.46 goals per game and ranked 24th on the power-play. The problem is, Cammalleri led the team with 26 goals, and he moved on to New Jersey. Hudler will have to keep up a pace that marked his best year in five seasons, while super rookie Sean Monahan will have to find a way around the sophomore slump. Also, Giordano and Michael Backlund each had career years in 2013-14, helping the Flames to survive. Minus Cammalleri, the pressure is on for no one to fall back — and Setoguchi to re-discover his touch — or goals might be tough to come by in Calgary.
Biggest story line to watch: The kids. Monahan is a stud, despite a sophomore campaign to navigate. Sam Bennett, drafted fourth overall in June, will have a shot here too. But the most fascinating prospect is Hobey Baker winner Johnny Gaudreau, who showed he had no problem playing at the world championships level when he scored 10 points in seven games this past spring for Team USA. He is listed at 5-foot-9, 150 pounds — inordinately small for a 21-year-old with NHL pedigree. Is he good enough to be this small in the NHL? Can he hold up his end of the Flames’ sandpaper identity? Does he need to prove he can survive in the AHL first? Or is this Flames roster just not strong enough to hold Gaudreau and Bennett off of it this season?
2014-15 prediction: Calgary is deep into the start of a rebuild here. They’ll try like heck, but their solace will be in having a nice spot in the Connor McDavid lottery, not in any playoff aspirations this season.