Calgary Flames season preview: Depth on defense fuels expectation

After an impressive rookie season, forward Johnny Gaudreau looks to continue the Calgary Flames' ascent in the Western Conference.
Russell LaBounty/Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sport

Plus: Calgary bolstered its impressive defensive corps by adding offensive-minded blue-liner Dougie Hamilton from Boston and signed captain Mark Giordano to a six-year, $40.5 million contract extension in the summer. The Flames’ depth on defense serves as a great benefit considering they are already under the gun with defenseman T.J. Brodie sidelined with a broken hand. Calgary can rely on Kris Russell, who won’t be a stranger to blocking shots, while Dennis Wideman provides experience on the back end.

Minus: The Flames’ feel-good story of 2014-15 could easily wilt in the face of an unfamiliar foe: expectation. After enjoying a 20-point increase from 2013-14 to finish in third place in the Pacific Division last season, upstart Calgary vanquished the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the playoffs before succumbing to the Anaheim Ducks. The goaltending carousel of Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo and Joni Ortio could serve as a detriment as the three netminders might not receive enough consistent work to feel at home in the crease.

X-Factor: Johnny Gaudreau

Gaudreau didn’t experience a "sophomore slump" during his days with Boston College. The 2014 Hobey Baker Award winner and 2015 Calder Trophy finalist could go a long way in preventing such an occurrence this season with the Flames due to his nifty skating skills in the NHL’s new 3-on-3 overtime format. At 5-foot-9, 150 pounds, Gaudreau can create space on the open ice and provide a boon in the extra session for Jack Adams Award winner Bob Hartley.

Prediction: Jiri Hudler posted career highs in goals (31), assists (45) and points (76) last season at the age of 31 and could be see a dip in production in 2015-16. Hudler, Gaudreau and Sean Monahan combined for 85 of the team’s 241 goals scored in 2014-15 (35.3 percent), with little consistency behind them. The lack of depth among forwards will likely cause the Flames to take a small step back this season, but the team should remain in contention for one of the wild-card spots.