Flames are in a win now mode which is apparent with the trades for Mike Smith and Travis Hamonic plus signing Jaromir Jagr over the summer. We had much cheaper options there of resigning Chad Johnson while seeing what Rittich and Gillies could do at the NHL level. Rasmus Andersson a right handed shooting dman is knocking on the NHL door instead of giving up as much future as we did in the Hamonic deal. We decided to go for it instead.
So after 31 games we are tied for the last wild card spot. Not the position we hoped to be in at this stage. We wanted to be contenders, now the distance from wild card to contender in the NHL is a fine line with competition being so close. So are our new additions not standing up? Mike Smith has played the 2nd most in the NHL and has very respectable numbers and held us in there after a terrible start. Hamonic has been ok, not good but not bad either. Its been really hard to tell since his d partner has really struggled in his own zone this year. Jagr really hasn't played much due to injury but has been good while in the lineup helping the youngsters of Bennett and Jankowski out.
Our two biggest problems this year so far have been secondary scoring and defensive zone play. So what can we do to get over this hump and become the contender we hoped to be? I think every team looks internally first on this as its the easiest, cheapest and most logical decision.
Our scoring past the top 2 lines has been suspect most of the season. With the Flames highest ever draft pick in Bennett having a terrible start but is turning the corner and playing his best hockey in a Flames jersey. This will be a big boost. He has been a point per game guy in last 9 games. Jankowski who has been in the slow cooker as far as prospects go had a slow start but has shown he deserves to stay in the NHL with a lot of offensive chances. If Jagr can stay healthy i think those two have a great dynamic together as well. So there alone with players on the current roster we can improve the secondary scoring. We do have some options in the minors as well. The most glowing gem right now is left winger Mangiapane who is an AHL point leader in his second year of pro. Another is off season addition Marek Hrvik who has been playing center but is more suited as winger in the NHL. This years points have been a bit off the norm for him being way above anything else he has produced since he turned pro in 2011. Past that we are going on more hope and prayers with some high end draft picks like Klimchuk, Poirer and Shinkaruk. They haven't been bad this year but right now seem more like depth options not upgrades. Off season college addition Foo has been way better of late for the Heat but needs more seasoning for sure. So back to the big club. For the current time being the line of Bennett-Jankowski-Jagr with Hathaway currently filling in nicely there will give us the scoring we need from the 3rd line. Its the fourth line that concerns me. The players currently on it have a grand total of 2 goals. Brouwer has slowly been getting better from the start of the year and has had glimpses of the 4.5 million dollar guy we hoped we where getting even getting his first two goals of the year lately being the only 4th liner to score. When Jagr comes back and if they move Hathaway to that line he could be the best offensive left wing option we have deployed there all year. Sorry to Versteeg here but his 5v5 play just wasn't impressive this year. So that gives us 2 power forwards on the 4th line with most likely Stajan centering. While getting more chances of late Stajan is not the answer to improved 4th line scoring. Lazar has been tried there as well with no success either. Between the two least Stajan prevents more goals than Lazar. Internally we don't have anyone to fill this hole. The Heats biggest weakness is down the center and on the team moving Bennett back to center is the best option but a bad choice. The good news is getting a fourth line center won't cost the farm on the trade market. Bad news is a good one probably isn't available till closer to the trade deadline when teams decide to be sellers.
Now the Flames biggest concern on becoming a contender and the most enigmatic one is our defensive play. We have really good defencemen, ask any analyst. Our goaltending is putting up good numbers. Smith is also like having a third dman. Now is that an issue? I don't believe so. Gulutzan has also been proud of Monahans line 200 ft game. The 3m line are our defensive specialists. Janks line does have some issues in our zone but they aren't terrible and i see Janks continuing to improve there. Stajan and Brouwer our very reliable in our own zone and if Hathaway plays there he is also no slouch in our zone. So its not the players. So it has to be the system. So internally this should be fairly easily corrected but it hasn't been yet in over 30 games so that's concerning. Is a coaching change needed? Now it's usually the head coach that takes the blame here but maybe its an assistant coach. I don't know the answer here but fixing our own zone lays on their shoulders and currently they are not getting the job done.
So to become the contender we want to be besides beefing up our offence in a 4th line center position in a trade closer to the deadline which in reality isn't a massive fix for the club. Flames corrections can be made internally with coaching and how they have the players playing in the defensive zone. This seems almost to easy to go from Wild Card to Contender but we aren't re inventing the wheel here so usually the simple fixes to the design are the most productive.