Author Archives: Brendan Ballantyne

Ah-nuh-NO-bee

Norman Powell,

DeMarre Carroll,

Terrence Ross,

Rudy Gay,

Landry Fields,

Rasual Butler,

Linas Kleiza,

Hedo Turkoglu,

Jamario Moon,

Jason Kapono,

Morris Peterson,

Joey Graham.

Wow. What a trip down memory lane that list is for a Raptors fan. A total mish-mash of characters that just spews ineptitude and mediocrity. You may be wondering why I decided to remind you of these players that quite frankly are very forgettable (or memorable for the wrong reasons). Well you see, each of these players has one thing in common: they have each started a regular season opening game at Small Forward for the Toronto Raptors. Read more

2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 2. Nashville Predators

Part 30 of 31 in our NHL previews where Waind, Burgess and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Each of our previews will be given to you in order of where we collectively power ranked that team.

Check out our other previews:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils, #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. Los Angeles Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes, #19. Philadelphia Flyers#18. New York Rangers, #17. Calgary Flames, #16. Boston Bruins#15. Ottawa Senators#14. San Jose Sharks#13. Toronto Maple Leafs#12. St. Louis Blues#11. Montreal Canadiens#10. Edmonton Oilers#9. Columbus Blue Jackets#8. Anaheim Ducks#7. Dallas Stars, #6. Chicago Blackhawks#5. Minnesota Wild, #4. Tampa Bay Lightning, #3. Washington Capitals

2016-17 Recap

Record: 41-29-12 (94 points) 4th in Central Division (17th Overall)
GFPG: 2.93 (11th)
GAPG: 2.73 (15th)
PP%: 18.92 (16th)
PK%: 80.91 (15th)
Corsi for %: 51.1% (8th)

The 2016-17 regular season was quite underwhelming for the Predators. Injuries and slumps from key players saw them barely squeak into the playoffs as the second wild card team in the Western Conference. But they quickly flipped the script in the postseason and looked like an entirely new team in the process. After sweeping through the experienced Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, Nashville steamrolled their way to the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup Final appearance after a couple of 6 game series victories over the Blues and Ducks. Losing to the defending Cup champion Penguins was certainly a disappointment, but it was a playoff run that opened the eyes of the hockey world to the city of Nashville and its hockey-rabid fans. The Predators were a Cinderella team last season, and the excitement and expectation is sure to be high heading into 2017-18.

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2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: #5. Minnesota Wild

Part 26 of 31 in our NHL previews where Burgess, Waind and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Starting from the worst, we’ll be giving you the reasons why we ranked each team where we did.

Check out the other parts to this series:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils, #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. Los Angeles Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes, #19. Philadelphia Flyers#18. New York Rangers, #17. Calgary Flames, #16. Boston Bruins#15. Ottawa Senators#14. San Jose Sharks#13. Toronto Maple Leafs#12. St. Louis Blues#11. Montreal Canadiens#10. Edmonton Oilers#9. Columbus Blue Jackets#8. Anaheim Ducks#7. Dallas Stars, #6. Chicago Blackhawks

2016-17 Recap

Record: 49-25-8 (106 points) 2nd in Central Division (5th Overall)

GFPG: 3.24 (2nd)

GAPG: 2.54 (7th)

PP%: 20.98 (9th)

PK%: 82.95 (8th)

The story of the Minnesota Wild’s 2016-17 season is definitely centred upon the team’s incredible 12 game win streak that broke a franchise record. As expected, a 12-0-1 stretch does well to contribute to a team’s standing come playoff time. The Wild finished with 106 points and the second best record in the Western Conference. This positive jump sort of came out of nowhere, as the Wild finished with just 87 points the season prior, but things just finally began to click for this team. Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker each blew their previous career-high point production out of the water, while Eric Staal returned to the 65 point plateau for the first time since 2011-12. The Wild received consistent goaltending from Devan Dubnyk and were an exciting team to watch in the regular season. But come playoff time, the Wild were unable to generate the energy they  had shown prior, and dropped an opening round series to the St. Louis Blues in 5 games, something Head Coach Bruce Boudreau has become all too familiar with.

2017-18 Outlook

List of Additions: Matt Cullen, Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Kyle Quincey, Daniel Winnik

List of Subtractions: Eric Haula, Martin Hanzal, Alex Tuch, Jason Pominville, Marco Scandella, Darcy Kuemper

The Wild’s outlook on 2017-18 involves some questions – like if last year was just a flash in the pan or not – but there’s no denying the depth that this team possesses up front. It’s also clear that Devan Dubnyk has put the shaky Edmonton Oiler days far behind him, and he’s going to provide them with consistency in the net, which is huge. While this team lost some pieces in the offseason, the additions they brought in should be able to provide what may have left and will help maintain their balance throughout. What the Wild seem to lack is that elite high end talent. When they signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter a few years ago to mega-contracts, that was the expectation of them. While they’re still good NHL players, they can’t be considered studs. It’ll be interesting to see the progression of this group so we can get an answer on if last year’s “wild” regular season was the real deal, or maybe just a bit of luck.

X-Factors:

Team MVP: Devan Dubnyk

Devan Dubnyk has certainly found a home in Minnesota. Ever since being traded for a 3rd round pick from Arizona during the 2014-15 season, Devan Dubnyk has looked like a brand new goalie. In Dubnyk’s 171 games with the Wild, he has the second most wins (99), third best save percentage (.924), fourth best goals against average (2.17), and second most shutouts (15) among NHL starters. And after completing another 60+ start year last season, Dubnyk has solidified himself as a consistent, reliable starter in this league. The Wild rely on the towering goaltender for elite play more than anyone on their team, and with the loss of solid backup, Darcy Kuemper, to the Kings in free agency, expect Dubnyk to be the man pushing the Wild towards a playoff spot once again.

Team’s Strength: Scoring Depth

The 2017-18 season was an offensive explosion for this Wild team, and with that it was also a coming out party for a number of players. Mikael Granlund is most notable as he pushed up against the 70-point mark last season, after a career high of just 44 previously. But the entire theme of this Wild team is a balanced, “score-by-committee” culture. Mikko Koivu seems like he’s been around forever, and the Captain can always be relied upon to produce respectable offensive numbers. Eric Staal is another vet that’s shown he’s found his offensive stride after a successful debut season with the Wild, leading the team with 28 goals. Other veterans like Chris Stewart, Matt Cullen, Tyler Ennis and Zach Parise have proven they have what it takes to contribute in this league. Plus, there’s the presence of a younger core of players like Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker that have an impressive offensive spark as well. This team will run four solid forward lines at teams and they can beat you with skill and speed, or use their size and grind. The forward group is a clear strength for them.

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Team’s Weakness: Health

The Wild are fortunate that they have the depth that they do, because their team is having challenges with keeping their players on the ice. Zach Parise is the headliner for their health issues, as he’s been forced to miss 48 games over the course of his past four seasons with the team. But it’s not just Parise, in the early goings of this season, the Wild have seen Marcus Foligno, Niederreiter, Coyle and Granlund, in addition to Parise, all placed on the IR. Injuries are an issue for all teams to deal with, but the Wild have been in pretty deep with them as of late.

Rookies/Farm:

The Wild have a couple of notable rookie forwards they have added to their team for this season. The first being Joel Eriksson Ek, who had made an appearance after a call up last year, but this will be his first full season. Eriksson Ek is a 20 year-old Swedish centreman who was selected 20th overall by the Wild in the 2015 draft. He did manage to put up 7 points in his 15-game trial last season, but he’ll be seeing bottom six minutes for now.

The second rookie is 20 year-old American forward, Luke Kunin. Kunin is getting his first taste of NHL hockey this season after splitting last year with the University of Wisconsin and the AHL’s Iowa Wild. Kunin was the 15th overall selection of the Wild in 2016 and was captain of the U.S. World Junior Championship team that won gold this past winter.

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Key Player: Mikael Granlund

Last season, the 25 year-old Granlund finally appeared to grow into the expectations that were placed on him after being made the 9th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. Remember when he did this? 

Granlund is known for his playmaking talent, but finally started putting the puck in the net last year as well with 26 goals, second on the team behind Eric Staal. The Wild had a hell of an offensive season last year and a large portion of that was because of Granlund’s emergence as a legit, consistent threat. Granlund needs to come back just as good or better than last year to prove that production was no fluke, and the Wild as a whole need to do the same.

Our Rankings:

  1. Ballantyne: 11th
  2. Burgess: 2nd
  3. Waind: 4th

While I’m not necessarily drinking the Minnesota Wild “Kool-Aid” as much as Burgess and Waind are this season, I am a fan of their depth. I just don’t want to write this team off as a Cup contender after what was a seemingly out of nowhere amazing regular season. The playoffs were a failure for them last year, and I doubt we’ll see another 12-game win streak from them once again. They have the pieces up front, a solid enough defense corps, and a high-end goaltender; so they’re a playoff team in my mind. But anything more than that? I’ll need to see it before I believe it.

2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 8. Anaheim Ducks

Part 24 of 31 in our NHL previews where Burgess, Waind and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Each of our previews will be given to you in order of where we collectively power ranked that team.

Check out our other previews:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils, #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. Los Angeles Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes, #19. Philadelphia Flyers, #18. New York Rangers, #17. Calgary Flames, #16. Boston Bruins, #15. Ottawa Senators, #14. San Jose Sharks,#13. Toronto Maple Leafs,#12. St. Louis Blues,#11. Montreal Canadiens,#10. Edmonton Oilers, #9. Columbus Blue Jackets

2016-17 Recap

Record: 46-23-13 (105 points) 1st in Pacific Division (6th Overall)
GFPG: 2.72 (17th)
GAPG: 2.44 (3rd)
PP%: 18.73 (17th)
PK%: 84.70 (4th)
Corsi For %: 49.6 (18th)

The Anaheim Ducks are coming off yet another impressive season, which saw them on top of the Pacific Division standings for the fifth consecutive year. But unlike 2015-16, the Ducks were able to force their way back to the Western Conference Finals after a sweep of the Calgary Flames and a seven game series win over the electrifying Edmonton Oilers. Although the Ducks fell to the Predators in six games, they proved that they still belonged that deep in the playoffs.

Ryan Getzlaf had a resurgent year and an incredible postseason, while Jakob Silfverberg and Rickard Rakell continued their upward progression. Rakell led the NHL in game winning goals and was fifth in even strength goals and Silfverberg posted a career high 23 goals and 49 points. 2016-17 was the first season that goalie John Gibson was the clear-cut number one, following the trade of Frederik Andersen the offseason prior. Gibson managed to post a career best .924 save percentage which was good for fifth in the NHL. The Ducks defense did a great job limiting goals against all season, and head coach Randy Carlyle is clearly more comfortable in Anaheim. Although this team didn’t manage to get over the hump and reach the finals, there’s reason to believe they could be back.

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2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 11. Montreal Canadiens

Part 21 of 31 in our NHL previews where Burgess, Waind and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Each of our previews will be given to you in order of where we collectively power ranked that team.

Check out our other previews:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils, #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. Los Angeles Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes, #19. Philadelphia Flyers, #18. New York Rangers, #17. Calgary Flames, #16. Boston Bruins, #15. Ottawa Senators, #14. San Jose Sharks, #13. Toronto Maple Leafs, #12. St. Louis Blues

2016-17 Recap

Record: 47-26-9 (103 points) 1st in Atlantic Division (7th Overall)
GFPG: 2.76 (15th)
GAPG: 2.44 (4th)
PP%: 19.57 (13th)
PK%: 81.12 (14th)
Corsi for %: 51.3% (7th)

The Canadiens are coming off of what was a pretty impressive year from a regular season standpoint, capturing an Atlantic Division title after improving 21 points on their 2015-16 season total. This was largely because they received excellent performances from Carey Price throughout the entire season following a year he only managed to make 12 starts due to injury. This just goes to show how important Price is to this team, and frankly, how he is the only reason they have a chance at success.

Max Pacioretty once again had a quietly excellent season as the Habs offensive leader, as number 67 accounted for 67 points – 35 of which were goals. 2016-17 was also the debut of Shea Weber in a Canadiens uniform, who provided a stabilizing presence for their blueline and was relied upon for 25:04 per game, three minutes more than any other skater on the team. Due to the superiority of the Metropolitan division last year, the Canadiens drew a playoff matchup with the 102-point New York Rangers who fell into a wild-card position, and ultimately lost to them in the first round in 6 games.

Shea Weber Read more

2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 14. San Jose Sharks

Part 18 of 31 in our NHL previews where Burgess, Waind and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Starting from the worst, we’ll be giving you the reasons why we ranked each team where we did.

Check out the other parts to this series:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils, #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. Los Angeles Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes, #19. Philadelphia Flyers#18. New York Rangers, #17. Calgary Flames, #16. Boston Bruins, #15. Ottawa Senators

2016-17 Recap

Record: 46-29-7 (99 points) 3rd in Pacific Division (11th Overall)
GFPG: 2.67 (19th)
GAPG: 2.45 (5th)
PP%: 16.67 (25th)
PK%: 80.66 (18th)
Corsi For %: 50.5 (10th)

Following a year that culminated with an unexpected Stanley Cup Finals appearance, the Sharks managed to find their way back to the postseason, claiming the third spot in the Pacific division. This standing left them in a first round meeting with the young Edmonton Oilers that proved to be too much to handle, as they were eliminated in six games. The Sharks were carried by the usual suspects in 2016-17, as Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton provided the offence we’ve come to expect. Starting goalie Martin Jones put up a solid year in his second season as the Sharks starter, finishing 6th in Vezina trophy voting, proving he is a legit, reliable starter moving forward. The Sharks downfall in this season was their secondary scoring production. After a dreadful debut for Mikkel Boedker, and an injury to Tomas Hertl contributing to what was almost a bottom third finish in goals per game for the team.

2017-18 Outlook

List of Key Additions: errrrr, nobody?

List of Key Departures: Patrick Marleau, Mirco Mueller, David Schlemko, Tommy Wingels

The San Jose Sharks obviously didn’t do anything to help themselves this offseason, all you need to do is take a look at their offseason additions and subtractions. This means making the playoffs this season could be one of the more challenging times in a while. If you can believe it, this Sharks franchise has only missed the playoffs twice dating back to 1997. That’s 17 of the last 19 seasons(!!!). The common denominator for that stat? That was the rookie season of Patrick Marleau, who will be suiting up with another team (Toronto) for the first time in his career. The Sharks still have a solid core despite the loss of Marleau and I believe that they’ll be right there in the race for a playoff spot at the end of the season, but it’s going to be tight. Their offence this season comes with a fair amount of questions, so don’t be shocked if they’re on the outside looking in.

X-Factors:

Team MVP – Brent Burns

After a 2015-16 season that included a 75 point outburst, few would’ve believed that Burns could top that unreal production. But the “bearded one” is coming off of a 76 point season, that included a jump from -5 to +19, and we were quickly shown that Burns had another gear. This showing led to Burns being awarded the Norris trophy as best Defenseman in the NHL. Very well deserved for Burns, as this was a season that included him leading all defensemen in goals, points (9th among all skaters) and leading the entire league in shots on goal. Burns’ ability to produce high end offensive numbers as a defenseman is extremely rare and it’s why he’s the go to guy in the Shark tank.

 

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Team’s Strength – Seasoned Veterans

The Sharks are certainly not short of experienced players on their roster, which is an asset they can use to put towards success. This is the third oldest roster in the NHL at an average of 29.1 years old (younger than just Detroit and Ottawa) and the main pieces of this group have been together for a long time. The Sharks have been a perennial playoff team recently, and those appearances have included a number of disappointing playoff exits, but also a Western Conference Championship in 2015-16 too. The likes of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic – who has the best nickname in the league by the way, “Pickles” -and Paul Martin can be relied upon to supply the production they have been for their entire careers and their leadership qualities will be key to this team’s success. While these guys aren’t getting any younger, they each have the ability to uplift the production of their supporting cast on the offensive and defensive ends.

Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 8.30.28 PM.pngTeam’s Weakness – Goal Scoring

The San Jose Sharks finished 19th in goals for last season, which is simply not good enough for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. On top of that, they lost Patrick Marleau in free agency to the Maple Leafs. You’re probably thinking “Marleau is old anyways, it doesn’t matter”, but the fact remains, he was one of four guys to score 25+ goals on this team last year (Burns, Pavelski, Couture). The highest scorers after those four guys? Chris Tierney and Melker Karlsson with just 11. Losing 25% of the group that carried this team’s goal scoring and not replacing him is going to be an issue for them. The Sharks have to be banking on Mikkel Boedker to bounce back from his horrendous debut season. Another player that needs to take a step is forward is Tomas Hertl. Hertl missed 33 games last season due to injury and needs to return to his 2015-16 form when he scored 21 goals.

This team’s defense is solid and Martin Jones is a legit high end starter in the NHL, but they’ll need to find a way to score with regularity in order to keep this group’s dwindling Cup hopes alive.

Rookies/Farm –

No Sharks rookies have cracked the roster for this season, as the youth movement on the current roster is led by a pair of sophomores, 22 year-old Kevin Labanc and 21 year-old Timo Meier. Each made their appearances fairly quietly last year, but this year will look to fill the offensive void up front for the Sharks.

As for the draft, the Sharks took Josh Norris 19th overall in the draft this past offseason, and he’ll play for the University Michigan this season. Norris impressed at the NHL Combine before the draft this past summer and it’s clear the Sharks have an impressive athlete in him. He finished first out of all prospects in five of the events at the Combine including the Wingate Bike test, Pro Agility test (left and right), Vertical Jump and Standing Long Jump. The 6’1”, 190lbs Norris is an impressive physical prospect and his 61 points in 61 games last season with the U.S. National Development Program is encouraging. It’ll be interesting to watch his development going forward.

Key Player – Logan Couture

We know that Joe Pavelski can be relied upon to produce offense, because of his six consecutive 60+ point seasons (not including the lockout shortened season), and Joe Thornton is Joe Thornton, but after that there are questions for the Sharks up front. Logan Couture has shown flashes in years past of taking a step towards being a star, like during the 2015-16 Sharks cup run when he led the team in points with 30 in 24 games, but the Sharks need him to produce at a high level for a full season in order to succeed. Couture has displayed some inconsistencies in large part due to his health. His games played in the past four seasons have been all over the map at 73, 52, 82 and 65 due to various injury issues. But over those four seasons, Couture has managed to put up a solid 0.77 points per game in the regular season. Couture is now 28, so he’s likely not going to show anything more than what we’ve already seen of him, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. It’s just imperative he stays healthy, because now more than ever the Sharks need his production night in, night out.

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Our Rankings

  1. Ballantyne: 15th
  2. Burgess: 16th
  3. Waind: 15th

Although this team has achieved regular season success for many years, they haven’t managed to get over the hump and win a cup with this core, even in the times when they may have been “favoured” to. The Sharks time may be running out. This core has lost a signature piece in Patrick Marleau, and it’ll be interesting to see how this team reacts to that major change. A lot of expectation is still being placed on 38 year-old Joe Thornton after he signed a 1-year $8 million deal in the offseason, but he needs Mikkel Boedker and Tomas Hertl to bounce back and support him as Jumbo Joe can’t do it alone. Burns and Pavelski are incredible talents, and Jones, Vlasic and Couture are solid too, but if this group misses the playoffs…have we seen the end of these Sharks as we know them?

2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 17. Calgary Flames

Part 15 of 31 in our NHL previews where Burgess, Waind and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Starting from the worst, we’ll be giving you the reasons why we ranked each team where we did.

Check out the other parts to this series:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils, #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. Los Angeles Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes, #19. Philadelphia Flyers, #18. New York Rangers

2016-17 Recap

Record: 45-33-4 (94 Points) 4th in Pacific Division (15th Overall)

GFPG: 2.76 (T-15th)

GAPG: 2.70 (14th)

PP%: 20.16 (11th)

PK%: 81.59 (12th)

The Flames impressed last season, returning to the playoffs after falling off in 2015-16, despite extremely unreliable goaltending at times. This past season was head coach Glen Gulutzan’s first at the helm of the Flames and his guidance helped them claim the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference. Unfortunately for them, they ran into a more seasoned Ducks team in the first round and were swept in four games. Although this was a disappointing result, the Flames have shown they have what it takes to be a playoff team, and there’s no reason they can’t build on things heading into 2017-18.

Sam Bennett had an underwhelming season, but the emergence of Matthew Tkachuk overshone this as he provided 48 points as a rookie. Johnny Gaudreau continued to prove he was a steal of a 4th round pick, while leading the Flames in scoring (61 points), even after missing ten games. The goaltending situation in Calgary was awful last season, and the position was a clear priority to upgrade after their signing of Brian Elliott didn’t pan out. Even with this being the case, the Flames still only allowed the 14th most goals per game in the league last season, a pretty average standing, and one that makes you wonder what they could be capable of if they managed to receive some timely saves.

2017-18 Outlook

List of Key Additions: Mike Smith, Travis Hamonic, Jaromir Jagr, Eddie Lack, Tanner Glass

List of Key Departures: Brian Elliott, Deryk Engelland, Chad Johnson, Dennis Wideman, Alex Chiasson

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The Flames acted on their goaltending priorities in shipping out both of their top two (Elliott and Chad – not Ochocinco – Johnson) and bringing in the pair of Mike Smith and Eddie Lack via separate trades with the Coyotes and Hurricanes. The Flames hope Smith is the solid number one they’ve been desperate for since Kiprusoff. It’ll be interesting to see how well he performs in what’s surely a situation where the D corps is the best he’s played with in years, after he’d been left out to dry in the desert for so long. Actually, it’s arguably the best defenseman group in the league as well after the addition of Travis Hamonic to join their solid, preexisting core. The Flames are a team built from the crease out, so that means their top forwards are going to be relied upon heavily because of a lack of depth in terms of scoring. That being said, Gaudreau aside, Sean Monahan has become a reliable 60-point front line option, you know what you’re getting from Michael Frolik, Sam Bennett can’t be any worse than he was last season, Tkachuk will likely take another step, and…the Flames now have the ageless wonder, Jaromir Jagr (Your prayers have been answered, Burgess). If nothing health related hinders the Flames’ top forwards, they should find their way back into the playoffs.

X-Factors:

Team MVP: Johnny Gaudreau

After many questions in the early parts of his career as to whether his game and size will translate to the NHL level, the 2011 4th round pick has developed into the offensive catalyst that sparks the Flames attack. In each of the past three seasons (the only full seasons of his career) Gaudreau has put up at least 60, with an average of 67.6 per season. Gaudreau is a shifty playmaker that lead the Flames forwards in even-strength and power-play ice time last season. He missed 10 games last season after taking a slash on the hand and requiring surgery to repair a broken finger. It’s key for the Flames that Gaudreau stays healthy and contributing for them this upcoming season, because even at just 5’9” 157lbs, there’s no one in their organization that can fill his shoes in terms of offensive impact.

Team’s Strength: Defense

This Flames D-corps is a crazy deep group. It’s clear they’ve decided to adopt the philosophy that “defence wins championships”, and it has gotten them to a point where they arguably have the best top-4 in the league. Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton and a trade for Travis Hamonic gives them a balance of young and old, high end guys that can each contribute on the offensive end on a fairly regular basis (Hamonic less so). The resigning of Michael Stone just magnifies the embarrassment of riches they have on the blue-line as they have five different guys they can throw out on the ice that can play high-teens minutes in their sleep. Mike Smith’s numbers were trash in Arizona over the past few years, but playing behind this group should be a stabilizing presence.

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Team’s Weakness: Right Wing

It’s no fluke that the legendary Jaromir Jagr chose to join the Flames recently, it’s because there’s opportunity for a top-six role. The current right side depth chart of the Flames forward group is Michael Ferland, Michael Frolik, Jagr and Troy Brouwer. Frolik is a solid player, but he’s never had more than 45 points in a season in his career. While Ferland and Brouwer are coming off of seasons of just 25 points each (they’re paying Brouwer three more years at $4.5 million per, ouch). Even though Jagr has over 1700 games of proven NHL production, he’s still 45 years old, so you never know, this could be the season time finally catches up to him. Bottomline, the Flames right side lacks impact players and has questions to be answered, hopefully for them they can find someone who steps up and exceeds in their role.

Rookies/Farm: After Matthew Tkachuk’s impressive Rookie campaign last season, he remains the “kid” on this Flames roster as their are no new rookies making the jump this season, at least out of camp. But a lack of rookies does not mean a lack of young talent on this team, as the Flames’ Sam Bennett, Johnny Gaudreau, Dougie Hamilton (when is he just going to be Doug?), Sean Monahan, and Tkachuk are all 24 or younger, so there’s nothing to worry about in that respect.

As for their prospect stable, Spencer Foo was a nice addition this past offseason. Foo was signed as an undrafted free agent as the Flames scooped him from Union College of the NCAA after attracting a lot of interest league wide. The 23-year old is a bit older than your typical prospect, but his 62 points in 38 games last season give the Flames reason to believe Foo at least has the chance to one day fill in one of the their glaring holes at right wing.cut1

The Flames used their 16th overall pick in the most recent draft to select Juuso Valimaki from the Tri-City Americans of the WHL. Valimaki is a defenseman, so the Flames certainly aren’t needing his services at the NHL level anytime soon, but his 61 points in 60 games last year is certainly a nice talent to have tucked away for their blueline in the future.

Key Player: Sean Monahan

Monahan has became the go-to number one centreman for the Calgary Flames, and is the linemate of left-winger Johnny Gaudreau. Still just 23 years old, Monahan has established himself as a reliable, consistent offensive source for this Flames team. Over the past three seasons, Monahan has put up 62, 63 and 58 points with 27 goals being his floor over that period of time. With a lack of offensive depth down the middle at the centre position, aside from Mikael Backlund, Monahan’s role could not be more defined. It’s key Monahan shows up for the Flames to experience any postseason success, but they shouldn’t have to worry about him.

  1. Ballantyne: 14th
  2. Burgess: 21st
  3. Waind: 17th

This is a team that’s built for playoff hockey with their deep defensive lineup, but the question is, can they get back there? I think they can. I believe the Flames made a solid move adding Mike Smith and that he’ll regain some of his old form playing behind a more stout defensive unit. Glen Gulutzan now has more familiarity with his group, and they should have a better chance to create on offence due to further growth from their key young players within his system. The Flames proved last year they could make the playoffs with inconsistent goaltending, if they get any semblance of something good from Smith they’ll be fine, and you can pencil them into a wild-card spot.

Burgess and Waind ranked this team too low for my liking. I just can’t wrap my head around putting a team any lower on this list than 14 when they will always have one or more reliable, battle tested defensemen like Giordano, Brodie, Hamilton and Hamonic on the ice. As long Johnny Hockey, Monahan and the boys up front pot their fair share of goals, we’ll see these Flames burning teams come spring.

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