If 2013-14 was the first full season of a comprehensive rebuild, the Calgary Flames found some individual positives amid a lack of group success.
Forward Sean Monahan made the team in his draft year and looks like a keeper, even if he struggled at times after a hot start. Forward Mikael Backlund and defenceman Mark Giordano had great seasons, even if their work was overshadowed by the lack of wins.
There is a new general manager in charge, Brad Treliving, and as long as Brian Burke is part of the management group it might be hard to see the Flames in rebuilding mode for long. There were a few offseason additions to the roster, but top scorer Mike Cammalleri is gone, and the Flames will be picked to finish near the bottom of the Western Conference again.
This season could be more about the development of Monahan, Sam Bennett and Johnny Gaudreau than wins and losses on the Red Mile, with the goal of arriving back in Stanley Cup Playoff contention in swifter fashion than it has taken their Alberta rivals to the north, the Edmonton Oilers.
Here's a look at the projected 2014-15 lineup for the Flames:
Curtis Glencross - Mikael Backlund - Jiri Hudler
Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Devin Setoguchi
Mason Raymond - Matt Stajan - David Jones
Brandon Bollig - Joe Colborne - Lance Bouma*
Paul Byron - Brian McGrattan
Trying to predict what the groups might look like before training camp might be folly, but there is some stability at center. Backlund had a fantastic season based on analytics, and it might be worth moving him up to see if he can provide more offense until some of the other prospects are ready.
Matt Stajan could center the top line, but Backlund and Monahan or possibly another young player could push him into a third-line role. Joe Colborne seems like a good bet to center the fourth line.
There aren't a lot of natural right wings on the roster, but late free agent addition Devin Setoguchi could help. A couple of players might also have to slide over from the left side.
The addition of Setoguchi makes the forward corps more crowded and less likely that another prospect beyond Gaudreau makes the team out of camp. If there is an opening because of an injury, any of Bennett, Markus Granlund, Emile Poirier, Morgan Klimchuk and Ben Hanowski could impress. Even Sven Baertschi could be back in the club's good graces.
The Flames don't need to keep Bennett in the NHL this season, but they did so with Monahan in 2013-14. That will probably be the biggest storyline during camp.
T.J. Brodie - Mark Giordano
Ladislav Smid - Dennis Wideman
Kris Russell - Deryk Engelland
Giordano earned his way into the fringes of the Norris Trophy discussion, especially with the advanced stats-friendly community. He had one of the best Corsi-for percentages relative to his team's average at even strength while facing tough competition and zone-start assignments. He and T.J. Brodie looked like a pairing the Flames can count on for a long time.
Though there are lots of intriguing young options up front, that is not the case on the blue line. Calgary signed Deryk Engelland to a three-year contract that was panned as one of the worst handed out in early July, but he's likely to be a regular for a team with six defencemen on a one-way contract.
The Flames will be considered one of the favorites to end up with a top-two pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and the chance to draft forwards Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, but one of the top two defencemen, Noah Hanifin or Oliver Kylington, wouldn't be a bad consolation prize for a franchise short on top-level prospects at the position.
Jonas Hiller was Calgary's biggest offseason acquisition. Karri Ramo was OK in his first season back in North America, but the other three goalies who combined for 45 starts had sub-.900 save percentages.
Hiller hasn't had a save percentage above .913 in the past three seasons, and he lost his starting job to two rookie goaltenders last season with the Anaheim Ducks. Having League-average goaltending with Hiller and Ramo is an upgrade, but teams expect a little better when they are spending more than $7 million combined at the position.
ALSO IN THE MIX: F Sam Bennett, F Markus Granlund, D Tyler Wotherspoon, D Ryan Culkin, G Joni Ortio
2014-15 FANTASY PREVIEW: FLAMES
Undervalued: Mark Giordano -- Per ExtraSkater.com, Giordano led the NHL in Corsi-for percentage relative to his team's mark when he was not on the ice in 2013-14 (5-on-5, minimum 41 games). That sheds light on how he managed a plus-12 on a team that had the second-worst record in the Western Conference. Only Erik Karlsson (.90) and Duncan Keith (.77) had better points-per-game averages than Giordano (.73) among D-men last season, and he was the only one League-wide with 14-plus goals, 20-plus power-play points, 180-plus shots on goal, and 60-plus penalty minutes, all despite missing 18 games due to injury. The Flames' most valuable fantasy asset packs category-coverage punch and should be targeted in rounds 8-10 of multicategory drafts.
Overvalued: Jonas Hiller - Unfortunately for Hiller, Giordano can't log all 60 minutes per game. The veteran goalie leaves behind a much more favorable situation with the Anaheim Ducks to join an inexperienced Calgary team that gave up the seventh-most goals per game (2.90) in 2013-14. He has proven to be a workhorse goalie in the past, has won 29-plus games three times in his career, and should help the Flames navigate their rebuild. But there are concerns regarding Hiller, who finished outside the League's top 30 in save percentage last season (.911) and lost his job in the playoffs. Buyers beware if drafting him prior to the 15th round.
Sleeper: Johnny Gaudreau -- When you're looking at prospects with potential in the final rounds of your draft, Gaudreau has to be given serious consideration. The 21-year-old left wing, dubbed "Johnny Hockey," led NCAA Division I with 80 points in 40 games and scored a goal in his NHL debut last season. The 5-foot-9 Boston College product may have a tough time producing at such a high rate against Western Conference competition, but a player with his offensive flair should never be counted out. Don't be the fantasy owner who underestimates his potential, especially in keeper leagues.
Author: Corey Masisak | NHL.com Staff Writer