As the first weekend of NHL training camps comes to a close and the first exhibition games are about to be played (split squad games between the Flames and Edmonton Oilers on September 21) management teams will begin finding out the answers to questions about their roster. From the Flames’ perspective there are few questions about the roster that need to be addressed in camp. A very successful off season that saw the Flames bolster their defense corp with the addition of Dougie Hamilton and add secondary scoring help with the signing of Michael Frolik sees the team left with two questions. Before discussing the two questions fans should note that the answer to the following questions may not be determined until the regular season games are played.
The Flames’ biggest question mark lies with the franchise’s prized rookie Sam Bennett. Specifically, is Sam Bennett ready to take on a full time role as a center in the NHL’s tough Western Conference? According to an interview Brad Treliving conducted with TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Sam Bennett will be playing center throughout camp. The Flames want Bennett to learn his natural position. Within the Western Conference depth is needed at center to succeed. From the top of the West (Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues) to non playoff teams (Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings) skill, size, hockey sense and depth exist at center. Indeed, Bennett is ready to contribute as he has showed in the 2015 playoffs. If the pre-season shows that Bennett is ready to make his contributions from the center position then even without playing a regular season game the Flames season will be off to a strong start.
The other significant question that the Flames have is will they have a true number one goalie coming out of camp? Yes, Jonas Hiller started 52 games last season but Karri Ramo and Joni Ortio both showed that they could be relied on when duty called. Specifically, Ramo went 15-9-3 with a 2.60 goals-against average and .912 save percentage in 34 appearances. Ramo’s performance in Bob Hartley’s platoon system earned him a one year $3.8 million contract. Many believe that the Flames’ goaltending will be the team’s achilles heel in the 2015-2016 season. I believe achilles heel is strong criticism for a goaltending tandem that went to the second round of the playoffs last season. Indeed, Flames’ coaches and fans would love for Hiller or Ramos become a standout number one goalie like Miikka Kiprusoff once was for the franchise but that is not realistic for the current netminders.
The Flames held the League’s seventeenth ranked goaltending statistics last season, behind a stronger defense corp this season those numbers are bound to improve. There is no doubt the Flames have depth and veteran experience in goal. One thing to watch as camp progresses is if Ortio beats out one of the veterans for a roster spot; thus, making Hiller or Ramo expendable to acquire depth at another position. Whatever two goalies break camp, fans should not be worried about them or the platoon system that will likely be used to play them. As was already mentioned, the Flames’ strong defensive unit will help improve goaltending numbers. As the Flames showed last year with their knack for third period comebacks, their goalies do not necessarily need to win the team games they just cannot lose the games on their own.
Considering the state of rival teams (Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers) heading into the first full week of camp, I would say the Flames are in pretty good shape when the questions about their 2015-2016 roster are considered. The most important questions about the Flames will not be answered until the end of the regular season. Fans of the Flames will be eagerly waiting the answer of the following questions: Will the team be able to build on last season’s surprise success? Will the defensive unit be as good as advertised? Will the line of Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Jiri Hudler be as offensively potent as last season? Will Gaudreau be impacted by a sophomore slump? Most important, will the team need less third period comebacks to win games and spare the cardiac health of its fanbase?