Fix the goaltending? Check. Solid 3-4 defensive pair? Check (I think). Younger guys a year older and a year better? Why not?
It seemed the pieces were in place for an improved Flames team this year, with Mike Smith building a bridge to the goaltenders of the future and Travis Hamonic here to make us all forget about Dennis Wideman. Sam Bennett was rewarded/challenged with a new short-term contract designed to bring out his best. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan were set to continue to their rise to the level of league elite. And you know what? A lot of good things happened.
Gaudreau’s been in the top ten in points this year. Monahan eclipsed the 30-goal mark. Matthew Tkachuk chipped in 24. Smith has been the game-saver and game-stealer the club needed. Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton have been weapons from the point. So why then, is the headline on this blog “That’s that” and not “What’s next”?
Where to start?
Well, there’s no place like home. A laughable 15-17-4 record at the ‘Dome pretty much automatically disqualifies the team from post-season contention. But why so bad at home with a road record that’s among the league’s best? Your guess is as good as mine. There was talk about “playing a simpler game on the road,” or perhaps head coach Glen Gulutzan overthinking line matchups. I think it came down a combination of the Flames getting uptight with the growing futility in their own barn coupled with the opponents’ lack of fear coming into the building.
Offensively, the problem can be traced to the power play and a lack of scoring past the top six. Sam Bennett needs to be closer to 50 points that 30. Matt Stajan, Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg have hit their sell-by dates. Curtis Lazar is a quality person, but the move out of Ottawa has done nothing to boost his productivity. As for the power play, the less said about that the better. Dave Cameron was brought in for the sole purpose of injecting life into this seemingly perpetual problem. He has failed. Draw your own conclusions.
T.J. Brodie is an interesting case study in himself. After a career high 11 goals in the 2014-15 season, his goal production has dried up. He and Hamonic struggled to work together in the early going and while Hamonic’s game has come around, Brodie remains a liability in his own end.
So what to do? For starters, Stajan and Versteeg take care of themselves thanks to expiring contracts. As loathe as the Flames have been to use buyouts, it may be time to pull the plug on Brouwer. I can’t see anyone else wanting an aging, slowing player at his price point, meaning the team would have to eat salary anyway to get a deal done. Bennett, Brodie, and Lazar would all have some appeal for a GM thinking a change of scenery might help those players, especially at the attractive term and price points all three have.
None of this turns the Flames into a contender right away. For Brodie’s spot, I’d promote Rasmus Andersson next year. The vacant bottom six forward spots can be a rolling audition for the Andrew Mangiapanes and Spencer Foos of this world. There ain’t much in the way of high-end talent coming in the system, and this year’s draft won’t help. Still, with a handful of goals from the power play and the bottom six, enough of those losses and loser points can be converted to at least get the Flames back to the position of competing for a playoff spot.