The Calgary Flames took a significant step forward in 2014-15.
After earning their first postseason berth since 2009, the Flames followed up their impressive regular season with a first-round victory over the Vancouver Canucks, sending them to the Western conference semifinals for the first time in over a decade.
Calgary’s memorable 2015 is set to continue at this year’s NHL Awards. The club has four members nominated for various awards, and a good chance at netting at least a couple of them.
With the ceremony set to take place on June 24, let’s take a look at the club’s chances:
Mark Giordano: NHL Foundation Player Award
The Flames captain was tabbed as an awards front-runner for much of the season before seeing his 2014-15 campaign come to an early end due to a bicep injury. But Mark Giordano won’t have a chance at the award many thought he’d claim – the James Norris Memorial Trophy.
Rather, he’s been nominated for the NHL Foundation Player Award, given to the player who best balances high-level performance with a devotion to their local community.
Giordano’s nomination was earned through the many charitable contributions carried out by organizations he’s founded. He and his wife launched a program called “5-for-5″ in 2011, partnering with Habitat for Humanity to build houses in five different countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, India, the Philippines, and one closer to home in Cochrane, Alberta). He also began a new program recently called Team Giordano, through which he donated $100,000 to support three Calgary schools.
Calgary’s captain has proven over and over again just how committed he is to this city, and it’s no surprise he’s seen his efforts put in the spotlight. He may lose out to New York’s Henrik Lundqvist – who’s involved in 28 different nonprofit organizations through his Henrik Lundqvist Foundation and the Garden of Dreams Foundation – but it’s clear Giordano’s efforts are worthy of praise either way.
Jiri Hudler: Lady Byng Memorial Trophy
The 2014-15 season was undoubtedly the best of Jiri Hudler‘s eight-year career. The 31-year-old found new life alongside young guns Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, and posted his best ever stat line in the process – 31 goals, 45 assists for a total of 76 points (the eighth-highest total in the league).
Hudler’s impressive performance went beyond his offensive game. He blended his elite scoring with exemplary sportsmanship, earning him a Lady Byng Memorial Trophy nomination. He has some stiff competition in the category, however. He’s up against two-time Stanley Cup champion Anze Kopitar and four-time Lady Byng-winner Pavel Datsyuk.
The veteran Flame was fantastic for Calgary this season, but it’ll be tough for him to beat out Kopitar or Datsyuk. Of the three, Hudler racked up the highest number of penalty minutes, finishing with 14 PIM as opposed to 10 for Kopitar and only 8 for Datsyuk. Hudler’s 14 is still an absurdly low total, especially considering the central role he played in Calgary’s high-energy offence, but it’s still a key factor in determining the Lady Byng winner.
That being said, Hudler also played at a higher level offensively than either Kopitar or Datsyuk – finishing with around 10 more points than either of them – and he also played 15 more games than Datsyuk. Thus, there’s a case to be made that Hudler remained at a similar level in terms of sportsmanlike play while excelling more in other areas of his game, so he could very well finish as the award’s recipient.
Bob Hartley: Jack Adams Award
While Hudler’s chances are somewhat up in the air, Flames head coach Bob Hartley’s aren’t so slim.
The veteran bench boss was simply superb for Calgary in 2014-15, taking a team many thought would languish in the league basement all the way to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. His efforts earned him a nomination for the Jack Adams Award as the league’s best head coach.
Hartley has some formidable competition in Nashville’s Peter Laviolette and New York’s Alain Vigneault. Laviolette guided the Predators into a position as one of the league’s best clubs in his first season in Nashville. Vigneault, fresh off of leading the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with the club, led New York to their first President’s Trophy in over 20 years last season.
However, both coaches surely had strong teams to work with, full of veterans and established stars capable of putting in banner efforts.
Hartley came into a far different situation. Fresh off of a rebuilding effort that saw longtime captain Jarome Iginla leave and young guns Monahan and Gaudreau take up residence in Calgary, the Flames were not supposed to be good for a long time. But Hartley went to work, pushing his young stars forward and teaching them along the way, and watched his team get steadily better over the three seasons they spent together.
He became known as a coach who gets the absolute maximum out of every one of his players, whether they be veterans like Hudler and Matt Stajan or young role-players like Lance Bouma and Micheal Ferland.
Despite the fact that every NHL pundit projected Calgary to finish outside of the playoff picture in 2015, the Flames proved their doubters wrong and became one of the Western conference’s top clubs by the end of the postseason. They don’t look content to wilt any time soon either, as their young gunners continue to mature into legitimate superstars.
After winning championships at every level he’s been a part of – a Swiss championship with the ZSC Lions, an AHL Calder Cup with the Hershey Bears, and a 2001 Stanley Cup with Joe Sakic and the Colorado Avalanche – Hartley’s coaching acumen is unquestionable. He’s undoubtedly one of the best in the game, and this could be the year he finally gets the recognition he deserves.
Johnny Gaudreau: Calder Memorial Trophy
The one award Flames fans are surely most excited and anxious for is the Calder Memorial Trophy.
After watching rookie Sean Monahan top the 20-goal mark in his first campaign back in 2012-13, Calgary was again treated to a show when Johnny Gaudreau arrived on the scene last season. Gaudreau was brilliant in his rookie campaign, tallying 24 goals and 40 assists for 64 total points – the second-highest total on the Flames’ roster.
Gaudreau’s impressive sum was one of the best all-time marks in Flames history. It ranks as the third-highest rookie total after Joe Nieuwendyk’s 92-point effort in 1988 and Theoren Fleury‘s 66 points in 1990. More importantly, Gaudreau’s total was the highest rookie sum from any Flame since Iginla hit 50 points back in 1997. Calgary has been starved for an elite young scorer for the past decade, and they’ve finally found that in Johnny Gaudreau.
The New Jersey native rose through the ranks over the course of the season to eventually finish as the highest-scorer among all rookies. Ottawa Senators forward Mark Stone (also nominated for the Calder this season) joined him at the top after picking up his scoring over the latter half of the season.
He followed up his strong regular season by leading the Flames in postseason scoring as well (tallying 9 points in 11 games), playing a pivotal role in Calgary’s first-round victory. His 9 points reigned as the highest postseason total among rookies all the way until the end of the Stanley Cup finals, when Blackhawks forward Teuvo Teravainen earned his 10th point (after playing seven more games than Gaudreau).
The young Flames winger is far from a lock for the award, as Stone put forth an equally impressive scoring effort and Florida’s Aaron Ekblad (the 2014 draft’s first-overall pick) had one of the finest seasons all-time for a rookie defenceman. However, Gaudreau found his footing on a team many had counted out, and, unlike the 6’2″ Stone or the 6’4″ Ekblad, he had to battle much harder for his success, standing only 5’9″.
Gaudreau not only excelled in his first season as a Flame – he became a driving force for the young team, playing a central role as the club emerged as a dark horse late in the season and into the playoffs. Stone and Ekblad had strong seasons for their respective clubs, but neither played as pivotal a role, and neither raised their team to the same elite level.
If Gaudreau does hear his name called on June 24, he’ll be the first Flame to earn the Calder in over two decades, and only the fourth to ever win the award.