The Calgary Flames missed the playoffs for the seventh time in the past nine seasons, and they have brought in a new coach to help turn the tide.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Flames team that has good talent at the top of the roster, but may be in line for another major deal or two to shake up the squad.
The first big change of the offseason was to bring in a new head coach, and Bill Peters comes from a Carolina team that had the best shot differentials in the league, but couldn’t buy a save (or a goal, for that matter). If Peters can keep the Flames on the right side of the shot counts then they will have a chance to be in the playoff picture.
There is also a long-term consideration that goes into this summer, as the Flames currently have no picks in the first three rounds of the draft, a terrible situation for a team that didn’t even make the playoffs. But, the Flames also have the wherewithal to acquire picks, if they wish, by moving out a proven player or two.
Generally, there should be enough talent here to compete for a playoff spot, but their goaltending situation was precarious last season and their depth wasn’t effective enough when it mattered.
With a new coach and potentially a handful of new players, though, they could enter next season with elevated expectations.
Brad Treliving/Bill Peters
Johnny Gaudreau – The 24-year-old winger had the best season of his career, putting up a career-best 84 points while generating a career-best 2.84 shots per game.
Sean Monahan – Despite playing through injuries that required post-season surgery, the 23-year-old centre tied a career-high with 31 goals and set a new career-best with 64 points.
Mark Giordano – Alongside Dougie Hamilton, Giordano anchored what may have been the best defence pairing in the league. Even without massive point totals, Giordano had a dominant season.
Troy Brouwer – The downward trend of his career has accelerated and the veteran winger managed just six goals and 22 points last season, the worst production of his career.
Curtis Lazar – On one hand, it was fairly unreasonable to have significant expectations for Lazar, but the Flames thought enough of him to spend a second-round pick to acquire him from Ottawa and protected him in the expansion draft. So, two goals in 65 games was less than ideal.
Sam Bennett – Following a tough 2016-2017 season, Bennett didn’t see his production rebound, managing just 11 goals and 26 points. The Flames were surely expecting more at this point from the fourth pick in the 2014 Draft.
FREE AGENT FORWARDS
He’s small, but Johnny Gaudreau has established that it doesn’t hold him back at the highest level. He’s quick, elusive and creative, and his 287 points over the past four seasons ranks 13th in the league. He’s the star that drives the Flames attack.
It’s one thing that Sean Monahan put up 31 goals and 64 points, another fine offensive season that fits with that he’s done in his career, but he also required four surgeries (wrist, groin, hips x 2) after the season. He’s been a solid complement to Gaudreau on the top line, and now it’s time for the Flames to find a suitable right winger to really make this line click.
In two NHL seasons, Matthew Tkachuk has established that he’s both an impressive productive two-way winger, but he’s also one of the most aggravating players to play against. He took a step forward offensively in his second season, and he’s only 20-years-old, so Tkachuk should continue to get better.
He probably doesn’t get the requisite amount of public recognition, because he’s never scored more than 53 points in a season, but Mikael Backlund is one of the top two-way centres in the game. He starts more of his shifts in the defensive zone, faces top competition, and consistently generates the best shot differentials – over the past five seasons, only eight forwards have a better relative Corsi than Backlund among those that have played at least 3,000 5-on-5 minutes.
Micheal Ferland has taken major steps forward and had a career-best 21 goals and 41 points last season, but the Flames may be better off with a more skilled option alongside Gaudreau and Monahan, leaving Ferland to still have a positive impact on the third line, where his physical presence and heavy shot can provide value.
A feisty player who has good skills, Sam Bennett has not been able to put his game together at the NHL level, effectively regressing since his rookie season. He’s still only 21, so maybe patience is going to be rewarded at some point, but after back-to-back down seasons, it’s hard to be anything more than cautiously optimistic about Bennett’s future (and it’s certainly possible to feel that it could be worse).
In a season with miserable percentages (6.0 SH%, 94.9 PDO), Michael Frolik saw his point production drop from 44 to 25, year-over-year, but he’s still a solid contributor to the Flames’ great two-way line with Backlund and Tkachuk.
A 32-year-old winger who seems to have been passed by the faster game, Troy Brouwer still has two years left on his deal. He could be bought out, but may still be kept in a fourth-line role.
Curtis Lazar has good speed, but hasn’t been able to fulfill his potential at the NHL level, managing 15 goals in 245 career games. He’s probably fighting for an NHL job at this point, but is still under contract for next season.
2012 first-round pick Mark Jankowski was on a relatively slow development plan, playing four years at Providence College plus a year in the AHL, before getting called up early last season. He did score 17 goals in 72 games, which is a good start, but the question is whether he’s capable of handling more responsibility, or with Monahan and Backlund already in-house, whether Jankowski will even get that opportunity.
Picked up from Ottawa after starting his career in L.A., Nick Shore has been an intriguing fourth-line centre. He does typically post solid possession numbers, with very little offence (15 goals in 236 career games), but he’s an entirely reasonable option to fill that spot with the Flames.
An agitator who plays a physical game, Garnet Hathaway played a career-high 59 games last season and the 26-year-old could very well hold down a regular job, but the 26-year-old is probably still at the stage of his career where he’s battling for a roster spot.
The one major need for the Flames is to find a right winger to play with Gaudreau and Monahan on the top line. Via free agency, maybe James Neal would fit that spot; that would also likely be an expensive proposition, but the Flames do have cap space . It’s possible, too, that left wing prospect Andrew Mangiapane warrants a look in a scoring role because he had 46 points in 39 AHL games.
Otherwise, Calgary could venture into the trade market. The Flames don’t have a pick in the first three rounds of this year’s draft, so they can’t very well offer up picks to acquire talent, but if they use some of their defensive depth, they could possibly find a suitable winger, and maybe even recoup a pick or two.
Teams like Detroit (7), N.Y. Rangers (7) and Montreal (6) have excess picks in the first three rounds of this year’s draft, so those might be suitable teams to target. Montreal, with four second-round picks, could offer a young winger and a couple of picks and that might reasonably address needs for both clubs.
FREE AGENT DEFENCEMEN
A rare talent, 24-year-old Dougie Hamilton is a smooth-skating, 6-foot-6, right-shot rearguard who tied for the lead among defencemen with 17 goals last season. Paired with Mark Giordano, Hamilton was part of what may have been the league’s best defensive pairing, and was the more offensive component of the duo, generating a career-high 3.29 shots per game. He has also missed just one game in three seasons since arriving in Calgary.
There are occasionally rumours about Hamilton being available in trade, and presumably it’s because he would bring a massive return, and for a team missing its first three picks in the draft, Hamilton would offer some hope of recouping some picks as well as adding additional young talent. That would be some blockbuster deal if it ever came to pass.
34-year-old captain Mark Giordano has been a steadying influence in Calgary, and even though last season’s total of 38 points counted as his fewest in a full season since 2011-2012, Giordano remained a two-way force and he played more than 23 minutes per game for the eighth consecutive season. There may come a time when age catches up to Giordano, and he is under contract for four more seasons, but he’s still really effective.
A puck-moving defenceman who surpassed 30 points for the fifth straight season, T.J. Brodie struggled with new partner Travis Hamonic, and that could make Brodie an expendable piece on the Calgary blueline. For one thing, the Flames have some prospects looking to push for a spot and Brodie, a 27-year-old on a very reasonable contract for two more seasons, would likely yield a decent return.
His first season in Calgary did not go well, and that’s troubling since his last season with the Islanders was no prize either, but Travis Hamonic seems likely to get another shot for redemption under a new coach. At the very least, it would seem that the Flames have to try Hamonic with a different partner because the Brodie-Hamonic pairing was a problem area for the Flames.
The Flames obviously have some affinity for Michael Stone, but he’s now an overpaid third-pair defenceman, making $3.5-million against the cap while playing less than 17 minutes per game last season. He’s still under contract for two more years and his numbers on the third pair didn’t suggest that he should be getting more responsibility.
24-year-old Brett Kulak made it as an NHL regular last season, playing in 71 games, but he also played 13 minutes per game, so he’s still on the roster bubble, especially with some quality prospects on the way.
Two of those prospects may be ready for NHL jobs next season. 21-year-old Rasmus Andersson has put in two strong developmental seasons in the AHL and is due for a long look next season. 2017 first-round pick Juuso Valimaki had an outstanding season in the WHL, and he may be talented enough to make the jump. Those would be two significant, and cost-effective, additions.
|NAME||GP||W||L||T||SV%||EV SV%||2018-19 CAP|
FREE AGENT GOALTENDERS
|NAME||GP||W||L||T||SV%||EV SV%||2017-18 CAP||STATUS|
Before suffering a groin injury, Mike Smith was having one of the best seasons of his career, posting a .921 save percentage in 47 games through mid-February. Once he got hurt, though, the Flames’ season fell apart and Smith wasn’t the same when he came back from injury, managing a .880 save percentage in eight starts.
The 36-year-old is heading into the final year of his deal, and is probably set to be the starter next season. Given what happened last season, though, there will be pressure on the backup to be better.
25-year-old David Rittich emerged as the top backup for the Flames, but he ran hot and cold. He could very well be a bona fide backup, but there were some bumps in the road during his rookie season.
The expectation for some time has been that 24-year-old Jon Gillies would be the goaltender of the future for the Flames, and he’s been solid in the American Hockey League. He got into 11 games with the Flames last season, and had some trouble, but he’s still in competition with Rittich for that spot. Calgary needs one of them to show that they can play at an NHL level.
|Juuso Valimaki||D||43||14||31||45||+15||Tri-City (WHL)|
|Adam Fox||D||29||6||22||28||+3||Harvard (ECAC)|
|Tyler Parsons||G||28||.902||Kansas City (ECHL)|
|Dillon Dube||C||53||38||46||84||+17||Kelowna (WHL)|
|Rasmus Andersson||D||56||9||30||39||+20||Stockton (AHL)|
|Oliver Kylington||D||62||7||28||35||-12||Stockton (AHL)|
|Jon Gillies||G||39||.917||Stockton (AHL)|
|Andrew Mangiapane||LW||39||21||25||46||+17||Stockton (AHL)|
|Morgan Klimchuk||LW||62||19||21||40||+1||Stockton (AHL)|
|Matthew Phillips||C||71||48||64||112||+20||Victoria (WHL)|
|Glenn Gawdin||C||67||56||69||125||+61||Swift Current (WHL)|
|Adam Ruzicka||C||63||36||36||72||+21||Sarnia (OHL)|
|Spencer Foo||RW||62||20||19||39||+6||Stockton (AHL)|
|Hunter Shinkaruk||LW||63||17||15||32||+3||Stockton (AHL)|
|Zach Fischer||RW||46||22||14||36||+13||Spokane (WHL)|
No first-round pick
The Flames have approximately $62.5M committed to the 2018-2019 salary cap for 15 players.
First-line right winger, depth wingers and defence
WHAT I SAID THE FLAMES NEEDED LAST YEAR
One top-nine forward, one top-four defenceman, two more defencemen, two goaltenders
Travis Hamonic, Brett Kulak, Mike Smith, Eddie Lack
Sam Bennett, Curtis Lazar, T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton, Rasmus Andersson
PROJECTED 2018-2019 DEPTH CHART
|LEFT WING||CENTRE||RIGHT WING|
|Johnny Gaudreau||Sean Monahan||James Neal*|
|Matthew Tkachuk||Mikael Backlund||Michael Frolik|
|Sam Bennett||Mark Jankowski||Micheal Ferland|
|Garnet Hathaway||Nick Shore||Troy Brouwer|
|Andrew Mangiapane||Dillon Dube||Curtis Lazar|
|Morgan Klimchuk||Glenn Gawdin||Spencer Foo|
|LEFT DEFENCE||RIGHT DEFENCE||GOALTENDER|
|Mark Giordano||Dougie Hamilton||Mike Smith|
|Rasmus Andersson||Travis Hamonic||David Rittich|
|Brett Kulak||Michael Stone||Jon Gillies|
|Juuso Valimaki||Justin Falk*|
|Oliver Kylington||Josh Healey|
Scott Cullen can be reached at email@example.com