Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano says the team’s upgrades will help them push the pace even more this season.
The arrival of defenceman Dougie Hamilton and right-winger Michael Frolik means their new teammates can play quality — not quantity — minutes.
“What it does do is add so much depth to our team and add so many different options,” Giordano said. “Last year we had guys playing close to 30 minutes on the back end and forwards playing well over 20. Where the depth helps is you limit those minutes so every shift, you are full out.
“The strength of our team is our hard work and being able to go full out every shift.”
Under head coach Bob Hartley, the winner of the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL’s top coach in 2014-15, the Flames’ relentless, buzzing attack and their willingness to block more shots than any other team in the league helped end a five-year playoff drought.
A second-round loss in five games to the Anaheim Ducks was the deepest Calgary (45-30-7) had gone in the post-season since their appearance in the Stanley Cup final in 2004.
Calgary opens the 2015-’16 regular season at home Wednesday against the Vancouver Canucks — the team they eliminated in six games in the first round — with great expectations from their fan base.
The most suspenseful position is in goal as Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo and Joni Ortio are all on one-way contracts.
Hiller played the majority of the regular-season games and started in the first round of playoffs. Ramo took over for Hiller early in the second series versus Anaheim.
Whatever tandem the Flames go with, Hartley will continue the philosophy of he who wins plays the next game, and he who loses gets the hook.
Not every team can have a Carey Price, so the belief is two goalies jockeying for starts gives the Flames a level of goaltending that can win a championship.
“We want someone to carry the ball,” Hartley said. “This business is about winning.”
Wily veteran Jiri Hudler, last season’s Calder Trophy nominee Johnny Gaudreau and 20-year-old centre Sean Monahan, who’s entering his third NHL season, make up a formidable top line for Calgary.
Early indications are heralded rookie Sam Bennett and Frolik will flank Mikael Backlund on the second line, which gives Calgary a solid top six.
The emergence of Micheal Ferland as a punishing deterrent late last season and his re-signing is an important ingredient for a team expected to be fit and fast again, but not very beefy.
Hamilton’s presence offsets the loss of T.J. Brodie to a broken finger to start the season. The 22-year-old Hamilton was paired in the pre-season with Giordano, a Norris Trophy candidate until a season-ending torn biceps Feb. 25.
Giordano, Brodie, Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman were all green-lighted to jump into the rush and shoot the puck a lot last season, which made Calgary’s attack difficult to contain.
Brodie’s temporary absence creates an opening-day roster job for defencemen such as Tyler Wotherspoon or Jakub Nakladal to join Deryk Engelland on the third defensive pair.
Russell, the NHL’s leading shot-blocker last season, said on the first day of training camp the Flames need to improve their puck possession numbers. Giordano agrees to a point.
“We’d like to hold the puck in the other team’s zone a lot more than we have in the past, but last year when we weren’t possessing the puck and the other team was, we were eliminating a lot of scoring chances and weren’t giving up much,” the captain explained.
“They had the puck on the outside and that’s fine, but for sure offensively we have to do a better job of holding it and creating more plays behind their net and stuff like that.”
The Flames have established a reputation as a team hard to put down with 24 of their 97 points last season earned when trailing after two periods. Their challenge this season is to maintain that culture.
“I think our guys are pretty aware of what we have to do to win games and why we were successful last year, but if we’re not our coaches hammer it into us pretty good,” Giordano said.
“The mistake you can get into as an organization is allowing guys to feel pretty comfortable and I don’t think we have that here.”
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press