Brian Elliott will be key to Flames success this season

Oct 7 2016, 7:46 am

Less than a week until the puck drops on the 2016-17 NHL season, the Calgary Flames are looking to put the previous campaign behind them.

One year removed from an exit to the Anaheim Ducks in the West semi-finals, the Flames dropped 20 points in the standings, finished out of the playoff picture, and fired head coach Bob Hartley in favour of former Dallas Stars bench boss Glen Gulutzan.

A new coach and a new system could be exactly what many Flames need to improve in 16-17, with a handful of players expecting to have breakout or career seasons.

Brian Elliott

Simply put, the Calgary Flames rotation of goaltenders last season was abysmal.

Through an 82-game regular season schedule, Calgary allowed 257 goals on 2,377 shots for an overall save percentage of 0.892 for dead last in the NHL. In comparison, the 29th ranked team in the league last year were the Carolina Hurricanes, a full ten points better than the Flames (0.902).

Because of this drop off, the Flames acquired Brian Elliott from the St. Louis Blues at the draft, giving the longtime NHL veteran his first real opportunity to be a clearcut, number one starter in the league.

In stints with Ottawa, Colorado, and St. Louis, Elliott always had tough competition for starts, having only played above 50 games in a season once during the 2009-10 campaign for the Senators. With fellow newcomer Chad Johnson signed as the team’s backup, expect Elliott to start in over 60 games this season for Calgary.

A big part of Elliott’s pedigree has been his outstanding statistical numbers over the past few years.

Winning the William M. Jennings Trophy in 2012 for fewest goals allowed in a season with Jaroslav Halak, Elliott posted ridiculous numbers of a 1.56 goals against average and a .940 save percentage in 38 games. Elliott continued that trend last season with a league best .930 save percentage, and a stellar 23-8-6 record.

As long as he’s able to handle the increased workload and avoid the injury bug, don’t be surprised to see Elliott surpass 30 wins at the end of the regular season.

Sam Bennett

As Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk continue to generate buzz on and off the ice ahead of the season, one player that has been lost in the shuffle a bit remains the highest drafted Flame in franchise history.

After a steady playoff run with Calgary in the spring of 2015, Sam Bennett proved he was ready for a full season of NHL hockey the following fall.

Making the team out of camp, the teenager began the year bouncing between the second and third lines, averaging between 12:00 and 18:00 minutes of ice time a night.

Bennett dazzled the Scotiabank Saddledome faithful on November 7 with his most highly skilled goal of the year, but would only score three more times before a January 13 matchup against the Florida Panthers.

That game would serve as Bennett’s official coming out party to the rest of the league. In just 15:41 of ice time, Bennett was able to find the back of the net four times on five shots, and showed his skill and grit with the puck throughout the game.

Finishing the year with a respectable 18 goals and 36 points in 77 games, Bennett wasn’t anywhere near the Calder Trophy conversation but showed he remains a key piece of this Calgary team moving forward.

A top six role will likely be handed to Bennett to start the 16-17 season, and will be able to pick up some big minutes behind Monahan at centre.

Another potential improvement this year could be new acquisition Troy Brouwer on his wing, as the duo showed great chemistry together during the pre-season.

Dougie Hamilton

Much as the Flames struggled off the hop to begin last year, so too did Calgary’s big trade piece, Dougie Hamilton.

Placed on the top defensive pairing with Mark Giordano while TJ Brodie recovered from injury, the hulking 6’6” defender only posted one goal and a -11 rating over his first nine games in a Flames jersey.

It wasn’t until December that Hamilton was able to find a groove on the second defensive pairing, getting used to a new system under Hartley after coming over from Boston. His second half of the season was like Jekyll and Hyde from his sluggish start, and was able to post sturdy numbers of 82 games played, 12 goals, and 43 points.

Despite putting up solid offensive numbers, Hamilton was part of a defensive core that allowed the most goals in the NHL and was victimized by Western Conference opponents on many nights.

Although, a large part of that could come down to Hamilton’s age (22-years-old) and still coming into his own as a minute munching, two-way defender in the league.

Expect more of the same offensively from Hamilton in Calgary around the 40 to 50 point range, while fans can count on his defensive game growing as he gets older and more mature in Gulutzan’s new system.

Lance Bouma

Injuries have followed Lance Bouma around his entire career, but very few could have predicted the effect they would have on his production last season.

Always an underdog with the Flames, Bouma bounced between Calgary and their AHL affiliates for the better part of three seasons before earning a full-time role with the team in 2013.

During Calgary’s run to the playoffs 18 months later, Bouma was a key contributor during the regular season with 16 goals and 34 points in 78 games, all career highs for the 26-year-old.

Bouma only played in three games to open the 15-16 campaign, before injuries caught up to the Provost, Alberta native once again. It wasn’t until just ahead of the Christmas break before he was able to make his return to the lineup, while he never really found his scoring touch for the remainder of the season.

Ending the year with a mere two goals and seven points in 44 games, last season was a complete write-off for Bouma.

Although it will be a tough task for a newly healed Bouma to replicate his career numbers from the 14-15 season, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Anywhere over 10 goals and 30 points would be welcome news for the veteran winger, as he attempts to wind back the clock ahead of the upcoming season.

Let us know who you think will see a breakout campaign for Calgary this season, and stay tuned next week for a full Flames season preview.