ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Calgary Flames were the lesser team in their second-round playoff tilt against the Anaheim Ducks. They were younger, less experienced, less prolific … oh and their advanced stats weren’t great – which is always the case it seems.
But were they a fluke, or are they a team with staying power? Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau seemed to think the latter.
“You give that big line a chance and they put it in, and (Johnny) Gaudreau scares you every time he touches the puck,” Boudreau said. “I think they’re a team that in the future when those guys get a little bit more experienced (depending on) what they do in the offseason as a team … is going to be very good next year. “
Just the eyeball test would indicate that this could indeed happen. Between Gaudreau, center Sean Monahan of the 31 goals, rookie Sam Bennett and forward Micheal Ferland, this Flames team has a nice little core up front.
Mark Giordano will be solid next season on defense, though Calgary’s depth on the lower pairs of its blueline is ‘meh’ at best.
But really was this a team that just needed a taste of the playoffs to move forward, or is it next year’s Colorado, which made the postseason and then fell off as many predicted.
Unlike the Avalanche, which doubled-down on its philosophies and missed the playoffs this year – though they did have a ton of injuries – the Flames have the chance to adapt.
They saw first-hand what a big, strong team that possesses the puck like Anaheim can do through a seven-game series. Calgary was a garbage goal here and there from winning maybe one more game, but that type of play was unsustainable against the Ducks, and probably wouldn’t have led to a 3-1 'games deficit' comeback or a series victory over Chicago in the next round.
There’s something that needs to be changed. Do they know this, or are they going to continue the same principles?
Even for a hockey writer who sits in the press box, it was clear this type of rope-a-dope style without a game-stealing goaltender couldn’t sustain. The management group surely knows this. Flames coach Bob Hartley may have his series of detractors around the league, but he has been around hockey long enough to know what works and what doesn’t.
“The investment that we put into those young players in the playoffs, whether against the Canucks or this one against the Ducks, it’s priceless,” Hartley said. “Now they know how hard you need to suffer to win some games. The pace, how unbelievable the pace is. Now they know. It doesn’t mean that it’s guaranteed success. It’s another page in our book. Obviously I liked the way this group moved forward this year. We still have a long way to go. This playoffs was a huge investment for them and also for the entire organization.”
What can the Flames do this offseason to improve? It may sound crazy, but Jiri Hudler, the team’s leading scorer is going to be an unrestricted free agent after next season. He’s 31 years old and makes $4 million – which is actually reasonable. But do you deal him when his value is high to get multiple pieces that can help? He just set a personal best by 19 points with 76 in 2014-15.
In all honesty, that’s a better question for the Flames to have this summer than bemoaning a loss in the draft lottery, which is where we all expected them at the start of the year.
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