Ari Yanover is co-manager of SB Nation's Calgary Flames site, Matchsticks and Gasoline. I had a chance to do a brief Q&A with her to get to know the Flames a little better before tonight's game in Columbus. Here's what she had to say.
Andy Newman: Starting off 3-2 has to instill some confidence, but what's it like looking at the Pacific Division and seeing so many possible Stanley Cup contenders? That's a feeling we're familiar with after years in the Central and trying to overcome Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, and Nashville each season. Can Calgary make a mark this year?
Ari Yanover (Matchsticks & Gasoline): This year? Probably not. Of the Flames' three wins, two have come solely on the back of our goaltenders. You may have heard about Hiller having a 49-save night the other day, and we're definitely not anticipating winning many games that way. That said, I don't think the Flames are going to be in a bad position within their division when they're ready to compete. The Kings could remain scary for a long time, but you never know; the Flames actually beat them in the season series last year. The Ducks are one of those teams that, for whatever reason, just haven't been able to get over the hump, and while players like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are still amazing, they probably won't be in their primes when the Flames (hopefully) enter their window. Then there are teams like the Sharks, who just had an all around bizarre off-season, and the Canucks, who look to be on the decline (maybe not this year, but soon). That just leaves the Coyotes and the Oilers, who the Flames can probably compete with.
So this isn't really going to be the season for the Flames, but when they're ready, the Pacific Division might look a whole lot friendlier to them.
AN: This isn't your father's Flames roster. Who are you expecting to really lead the charge this year?
AY: The Flames probably aren't going to score that many goals this year, so on the offensive side of things, it looks a little bleak. That said, our current leading scorers are pretty much the guys I would be expecting: our top defence pairing, Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie. Both had career seasons last year, and look to only be building on that (Brodie especially - watch out for him). There are a handful of guys coming into their own, like Mikael Backlund and Sean Monahan, that I expect to start going as the season picks up (though I wouldn't be surprised if Monahan can't match his rookie totals).
As for veterans, Jiri Hudler was great for us last year, and it doesn't look like a lot has changed in that department. Mason Raymond also looks like he was a great off-season addition. And fingers crossed for Curtis Glencross, who's in a contract year, and Johnny Gaudreau, who hasn't gotten it going yet, but hopefully that's just a matter of time.
AN: Is Jonas Hiller legit? He had some good years with the Ducks, but not enough to stick around. Is he your goalie of the future, or at 32-years-old, is he just an above average stopgap until someone else comes along?
AY: I can't see Hiller being the goalie of the future. He's great for us right now, and is a massive upgrade on our goaltending last year, but without a crystal ball, he looks like an above average stopgap currently splitting time with Karri Ramo (neither has established themselves as a #1 yet, because both have been putting out great performances).
The Flames look like they're prepping for their prospects. Circumstances are pointing towards Joni Ortio, the AHL's top rookie goalie last season, being in the NHL next season. Jon Gillies has put together a few great years at Providence College, and with him now in his junior season, he could be turning pro soon. In the meantime, the Flames have added Hiller to their goalies in order to create competition with Ramo, and give the Flames a legitimate chance to be in a game every single night.
Of course, since Hiller is the most veteran goalie in Calgary now, he could play himself into an extension, but by the time the Flames are ready to compete, he'll probably be entering his late 30s, and likely won't be much of a force then.
See what I had to say about the Jackets over at Matchsticks and Gasoline!