The success of the Calgary Flames in 2014-15 will largely hinge on their defense and how much it can improve on what was a dismal season last year.
That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise – defense is, after all, a very important aspect of any team’s game plan. But Calgary’s 238 goals against (2.90 average per game) put the team 24th in the league and shined more light on a glaring weakness in its game.
To put things in perspective, teams such as the Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres finished below them – a not-so-proud accomplishment. It’s also no coincidence that none of the teams ranked 21st through 30th in goals against finished in a playoff position.
Expecting the team to make the jump from being one of the worst defensive teams and missing the playoffs to being a defensive powerhouse and a playoff team is irrational. But with Jonas Hiller toeing the crease as the starter, as well as a healthy and experienced defensive corps, jumping into the top 20 isn’t out of the question.
On the topic of Calgary’s defense, the top six should include something along the lines of Dennis Wideman, Mark Giordano, Ladislav Smid, Deryk Engelland, Kris Russell and T.J. Brodie. That isn’t very different from last year – Engelland is in, while Chris Butler and Shane O’Brien are out – but none of the other five played a full season.
It would be easy to say because the blue line will look nearly identical to that of last season that the team will struggle. But for much of the season the Flames didn’t have each of these six players in the lineup at the same time – instead using call-ups to fill the holes – so it’s unclear what the impact of these players being in the lineup at the same time would be.
One thing is for sure, though: The defensemen – whoever they may be – will have to do more than contribute to the defensive side of the game in 2014. Giordano led the Flames in points from blueliners in 2013-14 with 47 – this despite playing just 64 games. That trend can’t be repeated this season if the Flames hope to eclipse the 202 goals they scored as a team last season.
No one should expect the defensemen to start producing like Erik Karlsson or P.K. Subban, but chipping in an extra 5-10 points will go a long way to helping the team be more successful. Still, likely not a playoff team, but more successful compared to last season.
So in looking at the team as a whole it becomes especially clear just how important Calgary’s defense is to the team’s success. How much and how effectively they can contribute to both the defensive and offensive side will be a huge factor in determining where they finish in the standings.