The Calgary Flames appear to be rebuilding. After resisting the urge for years, the team sold off high-priced talent at the 2013 Deadline, and barring something extraordinary the club appears destined for the NHL cellar next season. How do they compare to the Oilers?
As with previous pieces, I’ve included one basic statistic at each position on the depth charts below. For forwards, I’ve used points from last season projected over an 82-game schedule, for defencemen time on ice per game in 2012-13, and for goalies their 2012-13 save percentage. Players in italics did not play a significant number of games in the NHL in 2012-13; red indicates numbers come from the AHL or Europe while green indicates a previous NHL season. And again, the same caveat: these depth charts are my best approximation of each team and the line combinations should not be seen as definitive.
Despite the doom and gloom surrounding Calgary, they have pretty decent depth and a serviceable top-nine. The trouble comes at the top of the lineup, as is obvious when compared to Edmonton. Curtis Glencross is a good player, but Taylor Hall he isn’t. Mikael Backlund’s a solid young centre, but he isn’t in the same range as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Mike Cammalleri vs. Jordan Eberle is probably the closest match, but Cammalleri’s also an unrestricted free agent and will probably be elsewhere for the last third of the season or so.
Matt Stajan and Lee Stempniak are both solid players – and typically underrated – but like Cammalleri they’re bound for free agency in the summer and are good bets not to finish the year with the Flames; even if they were the duo of Gagner and Perron are better-suited to second line work.
Calgary’s weakness at centre likely means either Corban Knight or Sean Monahan win a top-nine job out of training camp; I’ve bet on Knight here because he’s a little older. Knight’s a solid prospect and likely has a higher ceiling than Boyd Gordon, but Gordon’s the guy I’d pick to anchor a third line at this point in time. Two of three guys will fill the last top-nine roles – youngster Sven Baertschi, veteran TJ Galiardi and David Jones, the latter coming off a rough year in Colorado. I can’t decide if I prefer that group to the Edmonton equivalents (Hemsky, Jones, Smyth) in 2013-14 – Ales Hemsky’s likely the best of the group but Calgary’s trio have good points.
Regardless, the Oilers win this matchup in a rout based on a top-six mismatch and the likelihood of the Flames’ roster getting gutted by the deadline.
Defence and Goaltending
I’m a big fan of both Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie – the latter was a revelation last season on a pairing with Dennis Wideman – but this is a group with some problems. I like Giordano/Wideman slightly better than Smid/Petry as a tough minutes pairing, but I’m not wild about either set of rearguards for those minutes.
Brodie should be Calgary’s third defenceman, but after that it looks like a toss-up as to whether Kris Russell or Chris Butler switches to the right side on the second pairing and neither guy was especially good in a third-pairing role last season. There’s a trio of good players on the Flames and then a bunch of maybes after that; frankly, if Anton Belov played in Calgary I’d like his chances at breaking into the top-four. Given Edmonton’s depth and the slightness of Calgary’s edge at the top end, I like the Oilers’ group significantly more.
Unless somebody surprises – say, for example, Mark Cundari steps in an solidifies Calgary’s top-four – this is going to be a real weakness for the Flames.
In net, I like Karri Ramo a lot; he’s been dominant in the KHL for the last three seasons. That said, it’s always a gamble to pencil in an unknown as the starter and the depth behind him – career third-stringer Joey MacDonald, Reto Berra and his 0.906 Swiss league save percentage – don’t inspire confidence. It’s a good thing Calgary has a fourth goalie (Joni Ortio, 0.917 save percentage in Finland) because they might need him. Right now, Edmonton is far and away the safer bet between the pipes.
Calgary shed some key players from last season – Iginla, Bouwmeester, Tanguay – and while they’ve done a decent job of filling out the roster with NHL-calibre players they almost certainly won’t be a good team next year. They lack top-end talent in all positions, depth on defence, and anything resembling certainty in net.
Strange things can happen, but the Oilers should pass the Flames by a comfortable margin in 2013-14.
Recently around the Nation Network
Last week was the second anniversary of the death of Rick Rypien; Dmitri Filipovic of Canucks Army remembered him by collecting some perspectives on the tragedy:
In the past two years there have been many, many beautiful words written on both the subject of mental illness, and Rick Rypien himself. I don’t have much else to add that hasn’t already been said. So instead, I’ve decided that on this day, I’d simply pass along some of my personal favourite articles that have been written for those that either haven’t gotten to read them yet, or would like to give them another look. After all, this is a day of remembering for most.
Click the link above to read more, or check out some of my recent stuff:
- 2013-14 Division Rivals: Oilers vs. Coyotes
- 2013-14 Division Rivals: Oilers vs. Sharks
- 2013-14 Division Rivals: Oilers vs. Kings
- Oilers hire Bob Green as their czar of amateur free agents
- 2013-14 Division Rivals: Oilers vs. Canucks
- 2013-14 Division Rivals: Oilers vs. Ducks
- Follow Jonathan Willis on Twitter!