It’s been a busy offseason in for the Calgary Flames organization, as they have improved their roster through trades, free agent signings, and a brand new coaching hire.
After finishing last regular season with a record of 35-40-7, fifth-worst in the entire NHL, the Flames are looking for a bounce-back campaign in all three zones of the ice.
Calgary comes into the 2016-17 NHL season as 60-1 long shots to win Lord Stanley’s Cup and it will be interesting to see if the Flames can keep pace in the often turbulent Pacific Division.
Ahead of Calgary’s season opener at the new Rogers Place in Edmonton on Wednesday, here’s what you can expect from the Flames in 2016-17.
Calgary’s biggest forward moves of the offseason didn’t come on the draft floor or on the phone, but occurred in meeting rooms at Scotiabank Saddledome.
Cornerstone centre Sean Monahan, and more recently sniper Johnny Gaudreau, were locked up to long-term contracts with big paydays guaranteed for the young phenoms.
Gaudreau inked a six-year, $40.5 million deal this week that will see the New Jersey native earn $6.75 million per season, while Monahan signed a seven-year, $44.6 million deal worth just under $6.4 million per year.
Last year was a breakout season for Gaudreau after finishing sixth in league scoring with 78 points in 79 games, while Monahan scored over 20 goals for his third straight season with 63 points over 81 games.
Both will be stationed on Calgary’s top line and will provide the majority of the Flames’ offensive output, and could see a rotation of right-wingers throughout the season including grinder Michael Ferland.
Rookie sensation Matthew Tkachuk will start the season on the Flames roster, though it’s yet to be seen if he’ll stay past the nine-game milestone or be returned to the OHL’s London Knights. Tkachuk will likely begin the season on the Flames’ second line, alongside Sam Bennett and offseason acquisition Troy Brouwer, who have been able to establish some great chemistry during the pre-season.
Despite the loss of depth players like Joe Colborne, Mason Raymond, and Josh Jooris, Calgary’s third line will remain the same from 2015-16 with Lance Bouma, Mikael Backlund, and possibly Michael Frolik playing a checking role this year.
Rounding out Calgary’s crop of forwards are new signing Kris Versteeg, Alex Chiasson, Freddie Hamilton and veteran Matt Stajan, who will see bottom line duty with players like Linden Vey, Hunter Shinkaruk, and Brandon Bollig, who are all currently in the AHL.
|Johnny Gaudreau||Sean Monahan||Michael Ferland|
|Matthew Tkachuk||Sam Bennett||Troy Brouwer|
|Lance Bouma||Mikael Backlund||Michael Frolik|
|Kris Versteeg||Matt Stajan||Alex Chiasson|
Plenty of returning faces on the Calgary blueline this season, as the entire defensive squad from last April has elected to remain with the club.
Into the second season of a six-year contract signed last summer, captain Mark Giordano will try to continue his all-star like output from the last couple of years. Giordano finished third in team scoring last season with 56 points in 82 games after a sluggish first few months of 15-16.
TJ Brodie has established himself as one of the most underrated blueliners in the league with another season of 40-plus points, and can either play on the right side with his usual defensive partner Giordano, or can also be bumped down to the second pairing to spread out the offence.
Dougie Hamilton returns for his second year donning the Flaming ‘C’, and is expected to see an increased role if Brodie moves throughout the lineup or injuries occur.
After a trying season, which included a lengthy suspension for cross-checking linesman Don Henderson to the ice, Dennis Wideman will try to return to his 2014-15 season form where he scored 56 points in 80 games. Limited to just two goals and 51 games last year, it will be interesting to see if Wideman can pick up his game after the turn of the calendar as he is a prime trade candidate this winter with an expiring contract.
Veteran Deryk Engelland is also in a contract year, while he will likely be placed on the third pairing with the best name in hockey, Jyrki Jokipakka, who was brought to the team in the Kris Russell deal.
Longtime seventh defenceman Tyler Wotherspoon will begin the season with the AHL’s Stockton Heat and could see some stints with the big club, while rookies Brett Kulak and Oliver Kylington might also get a look, along with vet Nicklas Grossmann who was signed from a PTO this week.
|Mark Giordano||TJ Brodie|
|Dennis Wideman||Dougie Hamilton|
|Jyrki Jokipakka||Deryk Engelland|
After sporting a league-worst .892 save percentage, Calgary’s four-headed goalie monster of Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo, Joni Ortio, and Nicklas Backstrom were all shown the door at the end of the season.
With two open spots between the pipes, Calgary made a huge deal at the 2016 NHL Draft, bringing in St. Louis Blues netminder Brian Elliott in exchange for two draft picks.
Sporting the league’s top save percentage at the end of last season, Elliott gets his first crack at an NHL starting goalie job while the Flames get their first clear-cut, number one backstop since the Miikka Kiprusoff days.
Backing up Elliott this season will be ex-Buffalo Sabres goalie Chad Johnson, who performed admirably last year after starter Robin Lehner went down with injury, picking up a 22-16-4 record and a .920 save percentage in 45 games.
Jon Gillies could also see his first taste of NHL action if either Elliott or Johnson get injured, as the 22-year-old American gets ready for his first complete season of AHL play in Stockton.
One year removed from winning the Jack Adams Award for NHL Coach of the Year, the axe came down on Bob Hartley in May after four seasons in the Stampede City.
Taking his place behind the bench will be former Dallas Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan, who has spent the last two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks under Willie Desjardins.
Known as a players coach, Gulutzan has created a reputation around NHL dressing rooms as a very open and communication-based coach, but one that also commands respect and attention from his players.
Tkachuk will be the Flames rookie with all the attention this season, as he put on an impressive performance at the Pentiction Young Stars tournament and preseason. The question will be asked, is he ready for the rigours of an NHL season at 18-years-old?
Young AHL’ers who could also impress with call-ups this year include forwards Shinkaruk, Mark Jankowski, and Emile Poirier, along with defenders Kulak and Kylington, and Gillies between the pipes.
What to Expect?
Last year was a harsh reminder that the Flames remain in a lengthy rebuild and continue to restock their cupboards for the future.
Despite having two of the game’s brightest offensive stars in Gaudreau and Monahan, the Flames still lack a bit of depth up front and remain one of the youngest squads in the NHL.
Bringing in Elliott and Johnson to shore up the net will likely do wonders for Calgary, and each have the potential to steal some games throughout the year.
Although a playoff berth isn’t out of the picture, Flames fans shouldn’t be expecting a deep run into the postseason this spring.
However, a realistic expectation would be between 85 and 90 points with Calgary in the playoff conversation into the stretch drive of the 2016-17 season.