From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.
1. Where are the goals going to come from? The Calgary Flames didn’t exactly starve for goals last season – other teams in the Pacific Division, like the Canucks, Oilers and, heck, even the Kings finished below them in goals-per-game average. But when you finish 23rd out of 30 teams in filling the net throughout the course of 82 games, it’s certainly worth bringing up for the following season.
Mike Cammalleri is gone, and so are his 26 goals from last season – a team best. He signed with the New Jersey Devils as an unrestricted free agent, which means his scoring touch is now in another conference. The Flames have added Mason Raymond and Devin Setoguchi this summer. Not necessarily players known to be models of consistency. They’ve shown flashes and potential and promise, yes. Doing it year after year after year has been a different story.
But next in line, behind Cammalleri last season, was rookie Sean Monahan and his 22 goals. Not bad, considering Calgary’s sixth overall pick from 2013 only turned 19 years old just after the start of last season.
But what of those dreaded sophomore slumps? Can Monahan improve on his total from a season ago? Better yet, can he avoid falling off that same pace he was scoring at a year ago?
The Flames might have a not-so-secret weapon. If there are some in the hockey world, for whatever reason, still unaware of 21-year-old Johnny Gaudreau, then it won’t take long for him to make a lasting impression. He might be what some folks would classify as “undersized” at 5’9″ tall and 150 pounds.
But he possesses immense skill and has shown this pre-season that he can score goals – some pretty ones dating back to the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, B.C. – and set them up, too.
“The thing with Johnny,” Flames GM Brad Treliving recently told the Calgary Herald, “is that with the puck on his stick he’s an NHL player. You can see the instincts. They’re obvious. So now it’s OK, the game’s also played without the puck.
“I think for him it’s just a question of feeling his way around. He’s an intelligent guy. You can almost see his brain working ‘What can I get away with and what can’t I?’ To me he’s just sorting it out.”
Perhaps the Flames have the young talent to turn their offensive fortunes around. Only one real way to find out though. For a team that had only two 20-goal scorers in 2013-14, this is area is still a concern heading into this season.
2. Hiller needs to find his game.
The Flames went out on the first day of free agency this past July and landed themselves a goalie. A puck stopper capable of being the No. 1 guy, in Jonas Hiller, with a cap hit of $4.5 million, according to Capgeek.com.
The 32-year-old Hiller expressed frustration about how his time with the Anaheim Ducks concluded, especially after finding himself in and out of the crease during the playoffs, when his starting job was taken away, at first by Frederik Andersen and then John Gibson.
With a career save percentage of .916 and goals-against average of 2.51, the Flames get an experienced starting goalie, and that has, for the most part, been lacking since the retirement of Miikka Kiprusoff.
Hiller comes in, challenging Karri Ramo who is technically the incumbent No. 1 netminder after falling into a consistent groove last season.
It’s unclear at this point how many games the Flames intend to use him for but last season, he made 50 appearances for the Ducks and had 29 wins.
Still, Hiller feels it’s important to have a good working relationship with Ramo.
If the Flames are to have an outside shot of competing for a playoff position this year, stability at that position could go a long way.
“At the end, you always have to compete no matter where you go, but definitely, I felt like I have a chance here,” Hiller told the Globe and Mail. “It’s a young team with a lot of talent around. I hope my experience over the last years in different leagues, in different situations, can help out the team.”
And on a team that might have difficulties offensively, goaltending becomes even more necessary for success. If Hiller struggles to find his game, the Flames could find themselves quickly extinguished.
3. Flames need captain Giordano healthy
Mark Giordano is now 31 years old – he celebrated his birthday just last week — but is coming off his best season in terms of point production in the NHL. He scored 14 goals and 47 points. Consider, too, he missed 18 games due to injury.
There in lies a risk. He’s another year older. And when you finish second on a team in total points – 20 of those came on the power play – while playing on the back end, it shows just how valuable you are to a team.
The Flames have a very veteran defensive corps, with 24-year-old TJ Brodie already having played almost 200 NHL games.
Injuries happen in hockey. They’re unavoidable. Last season, a broken ankle suffered in late October kept Giordano out of the lineup. Well after his return, Giordano, who almost Canada’s Olympic hockey team, went on a tear, racking up a nine-game point streak.
Given his point production alone, the Flames need a healthy Giordano. It’s vital to what success they might have, and that includes on the power play.
The risk: If he can’t stay healthy, the Flames lose their best defenseman, arguably their best player.