With summer officially coming to an end and training camps set to open across the National Hockey League this week, TSN reporters are getting ready for the preseason by looking at the three biggest questions facing each of the seven Canadian franchises.
Salim Valji tackles the Calgary Flames, who finished fifth in the North Division last season with a disappointing 26-27-3 record after replacing head coach Geoff Ward with Darryl Sutter midway through the year.
1. How does life after Mark Giordano look in Calgary?
The Flames lost longtime captain Giordano to the Seattle Kraken in the Expansion Draft. In addition to replacing the player general manager Brad Treliving called the “conscience” of the team, the Flames will need to replace his on-ice production.
For more than a decade, Giordano was the team’s No. 1 blueliner and a presence in all situations. Last season, he and Chris Tanev formed a formidable top pairing, with Tanev leading all Calgary blueliners in on-ice goals-for percentage and Giordano pacing defenders in points with 26. Over the past five seasons, Giordano is ninth in goals (56) and 15th among NHL defencemen in points (208).
While Flames fans were clamouring for a major move, Treliving opted to acquire the physical Nikita Zadorov from the Chicago Blackhawks and sign depth defenceman Erik Gudbranson. Clearly the organization is hoping that 24-year-olds Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin continue to improve, and that Juuso Valimaki makes a bigger impact in his sophomore season.
It’ll have to be a group effort to replace Giordano’s defending and puck-moving abilities.
2. Can Sean Monahan return to authentic top-six status?
After an 82-point campaign in the 2018-19 season, the former sixth-overall pick’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff.
In 2020, Monahan had his lowest points-per-game output since his rookie season in 2013-14. At times last season it looked like Monahan was in pain when shooting or moving the puck, an issue he hopes was rectified with his off-season hip surgery.
With Elias Lindholm now pencilled in as Calgary’s top centre, Monahan must show he can once again be an effective offensive centre - especially since it’s likely his long-time linemate Johnny Gaudreau will start on a line with Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk.
Monahan’s ability to regain at least some of his form from two seasons ago is desperately needed by a team that doesn’t have many players who can score consistently.
Calgary is also hoping that goalie Jacob Markstrom rebounds after a disappointing debut with the organization. Of the 32 goalies who appeared in least 25 games last season, Markstrom was 23rd in save percentage (0.904) and 15th in goals-against average (2.68) and, according to Natural Stat Trick, was 24th in high-danger save percentage (0.803).
3. Do the Flames have enough offensive punch?
The blockbuster move Flames fans were hoping for never materialized and the organization prioritized depth instead, bringing in the likes of Gudbranson, Trevor Lewis, Brad Richardson, and Tyler Pitlick.
Clearly Treliving is building the team in the Sutter mould of grittiness, hard work, and being tough to play against. While Sutter won two Stanley Cups in Los Angeles with that formula, those teams had more offensive players than the Flames currently have.
Outside of Gaudreau, Lindholm, Tkachuk, and Andrew Mangiapane, Calgary is starved of players who can score consistently.
Players like Dillon Dube, Mikael Backlund, and newcomer Blake Coleman will have to consistently provide offence if Calgary hopes to overachieve.
Then there’s the status of Gaudreau, the long-time Flames star who can become an unrestricted free agent after this season.