West preview…Can the Flames score?

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Our western conference preview stops in Calgary to look at the rebuilding Flames. They lost their leading goal scorer, Mike Cammalleri to New Jersey, and once again the biggest concern will be goal scoring.

The Flames played the most 5×5 minutes of any team in the NHL last year, but they only scored 136 goals and gave up 172. The only teams who were outscored at 5×5, but made the playoffs, were Philadelphia (144-150) and Montreal (130-135).

The Flames have to improve 5×5 if they have any hopes of making the postseason.

Losing Cammalleri will make it difficult to improve their EV scoring, but they are hoping their off-season additions will fill the void. Most Flames fans were happy to see the Flames bid adieu to Shane O’Brien, Chris Butler, T.J. Galiardi,  Blair Jones, Joey MacDonald,

The new faces include: Mason Raymond, Devin Setoguchi, Jonas Hiller, Deryk Engelland, Brandon Bollig and Hobey Baker winner Johnny Gaudreau.

Raymond scored 19 goals with the Maple Leafs last season, his highest total since 2010, and the Flames are hoping a return to his home province will keep him rolling. Raymond tallied 10 goals in the first 28 games, but only 9 in the final 52. He should get plenty of PP time to try and reach 20 goals for the second time in his career.

Setoguchi was a bust in Winnipeg, but he’d been a consistent 20-goal scorer in the five previous seasons (had 13 in 2013, which prorates to 21 in full season).

Gaudreau is getting a lot of hype, but his biggest obstacle will be his lack of size. The kid can score, he had 80 points in 40 games last year for Boston College, but many young players have struggled when they face NHL-size defenders. The Flames need scoring so he should get ample opportunities to produce.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Like the Oilers, the Flames lack size and experience down the middle.

Mikael Backlund, Sean Monahan, Matt Stajan and Joel Colborne are the likely centres.

I doubt their lines remain the same all season, losing teams rarely keep the same lines, but here’s a good projection for opening night.

Curtis Glencross-Backlund-Jiri Hudler

Glencross was on pace to score 24 goals before he was injured, which would have been his third 24+ goal season. Hudler led them in scoring with 54 points, and the Flames are hoping he can top 60 points this year. Backlund has only scored 30 points once, 39 last year, so the Flames lack of punch down the middle will hurt them.

Gaudreau-Monahan-Setoguchi

Due to Monahan and Gaudreau’s inexperience they might not play together on the road, but at home Bob Hartley could get them favourable matchups and zone starts. They all have skill, but their play away from the puck will be the issue.

Raymond-Stajan-Jones

Theoretically this could be the second line. Stajan has the most experience, he and Backlund could switch lines, allowing Hartley to use his three most veteran forwards on one line and give them the toughest minutes.

Brandon Bollig-Colbourne-Lance Bouma/Brian McGratton

Our pal, Kent Wilson from Flamesnation.ca is likely having nightmares looking at this line. Bollig’s numbers weren’t that bad in Chicago, but it was Chicago, and it will be a challenge for the fourth line not to have gaudy possession numbers.

STRENGTH OF THE TEAM

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The Flames’ strength is their blueline, specifically their top pair of Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie. They faced the toughest minutes every night and started in their zone a whopping 43% of the time. Despite that, Giordano put up excellent offensive numbers.

He tallied 14 goals and 47 points in only 64 games. Pro-rate that over 80 games and only Erik Karlsson and Duncan Keith would have scored more. He also has a great shot and uses it often. He had 180 shots in 64 games. Amongst defenders, only Keith Yandle and Erik Karlsson averaged more shots/game.

Brodie complements Giordano well, and he’s a solid puck mover. I’m curious to see if the Flames keep them together all season, or if they split them up at times to try and have two effective pairings.

If you are a fan of the WOWY statistic, which shows how players produce playing with or without Giordano, then you’d be extremely impressed by Giordano’s WOWY. (courtesy of Wilson).

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Every player performed better when they were on the ice with Giordano. Monahan has the biggest impact WOWY Giordano, so it will Hartley try to get Monahan on the ice with him even more often this season?

Dennis Wideman and Ladislav Smid could the the second pair, while Kris Russell and Deryk Engelland will make up the third pairing. (I wonder what irks Wilson more, the 4th line or the Engelland contract?)

They also have young Tyler Wotherspoon. The 57th pick in 2011 played 14 games for the Flames last year, but I sense they are leaning to give him some more seasoning in the AHL.

GOALIES

The Flames signed Jonas Hiller to a two-year deal worth $4.5 million/year this summer. Their goaltending wasn’t very good last year.

Karri Ramo started 37 games, Reto Barra had 27 starts while Joey McDonald and Joni Ortio started nine each. They combined to post a .902 SV% and a 2.90 GAA. They simply weren’t good enough.

Ramo was the best of the bunch, .911 SV% and 2.65 GAA, and he will tend the twine with Hiller. Only Florida and Edmonton allowed more EV goals than the Flames’ 172, so they need better goaltending.

The concern with Hiller is that over the last three seasons his SV% has been .911, .913 and .910. The previous four seasons he averaged .921. He hasn’t been the same goalie since his hip injury and vertigo issues.

SYNOPSIS

The Flames have more questions than answers. Their players compete extremely hard, but they don’t have the talent to match the top teams in the western conference and pacific division. I expect their rebuild to continue for another season, ending with a 7th place finish in the pacific.

The good news for Flames fans is that despite the re-vamped lottery system, which doesn’t favour lower seeded teams as much, the Flames should have a great chance to draft one of Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel or Noah Hanifin.

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  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Flames had the edge over the Oilers last season because they worked harder and their work ethic was better. Hopefully this season the Oilers will rectify that and make sure they slam the Flames every chance they get – starting with the season opener. Last season opener I went to vs Flames we won 4-0 let’s do it again and again guys. They were a worse team than us last season but they battled harder. We need to do the same but 100% more. Regardless of the final standings, beating the Flames and Canucks is HUGE.