The Calgary Flames endured a mediocre campaign in 2017-18, finishing the year with a 37-35-10 record. They finished fifth in the Pacific Division and 11 points shy of a playoff berth. It was a disappointing result that followed a 94-point campaign the year before. Johnny Gaudreau led the team with a career-high 84 points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the lack of secondary scoring. Centre Sean Monahan was the only other Flame to top 50 points last season (64).
The Flames were busy this off-season and did their best to avoid the pitfalls of last year. Calgary signed free-agent winger James Neal to a five-year, $28.75 million contract. They also moved defenseman Dougie Hamilton to Carolina in a blockbuster trade. The Flames sent Hamilton, Michael Ferland, and prospect Adam Fox to the Hurricanes in exchange for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. Lindholm and Hanifin are both former No. 5 overall picks from the 2013 and 2015 NHL Entry drafts, respectively. They have both flashed their potential at the pro level but neither has the NHL pedigree of Hamilton. It’s too early to grade the Flames’ off-season, but Neal, Lindholm, and Hanifin are all set to play major roles for the team this year. The depth of the Pacific Division will be a difficult obstacle for Calgary to overcome on their road back to the postseason.
➕ Noah Hanifin (Trade)
➕ Elias Lindholm (Trade)
➕ James Neal (Free Agency)
➕ Derek Ryan (Free Agency)
➕ Austin Czarnik (Free Agency)
Gaudreau and Monahan are set to lead the way for the Flames’ offense again this season. The two played over 920 minutes at 5v5 together last season, posting a 55.22 CF% and 32 scoring chances per 60. The Flames outscored their opponents 96 to 56 when Monahan and Gaudreau were on the ice last season. The newly-acquired Lindholm is expected to debut with the two of them on Calgary’s top line. His production has been consistently around a half a point per game in the NHL. While that’s nothing to scoff at for a 23-year-old, he has struggled to take his production to the next level. The Flames will hope to unlock his full potential this season.
Calgary is expected to reunite the second line of Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik to start the season. The trio doesn’t produce offense at the same rate as the premier second lines in the league, but they were an incredibly-effective shutdown line last season. They posted a 59.06 CF% at 5v5 together and surrendered just 22 scoring chances per 60. Despite their effectiveness at 5v5 this unit is ideally the third line on a contending team. However, at just 20-years-old, Tkachuk could flip that script if his offensive game continues to grow. His development will play a key role in improving the team’s secondary scoring this season.
Originally thought to be acquired to skate on the top line, Neal will instead make his Flames’ debut on line three. This is less of a knock on Neal’s game as it is an effort to strengthen the depth of Calgary’s attack. Neal has remarkably scored 20 goals in each of his 10 NHL seasons. His reliable goal-scoring is a welcomed addition to the team, and he should see ample time on the powerplay. The Flames also signed free-agent Derek Ryan to be the team’s third-line centre. The 31-year-old scored 15 goals and added 23 assists in what was only his second NHL season in 2017-18. Given his time spent with the Hurricanes, Ryan could end up alongside Lindholm at some point this season. Dillion Dube projects to make his NHL debut on the Flames’ third line after having a standout season with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets.
The Hamilton trade opens the door for coach Bill Peters to reunite the pairing of Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie. Though they were attached at the hip in years prior, Giordano and Brodie played apart from one another for the entirety of last season. They are both extremely effective at 5v5 and they give the Flames the second-best defensive pairing in the league, according to Corsica. Hamilton’s departure also allows Giordano to slide back onto the Flames’ top powerplay unit. The notion of Brodie and Giordano playing together is exciting but is reliant on the young Hanifin carrying the second pair.
After a couple of mediocre seasons to start his career, Hanifin’s game took a step forward last year. He picked up 10 goals and 22 assists while playing just 18:52 a night. His 56.5 CF% last year was impressive but it benefited from a 63.1 offensive-zone start percentage. He won’t see as sheltered of a role this year as he moves into the Flames’ top-four. It remains to be seen how he holds up under the added responsibility, but there is reason to be optimistic. While his game isn’t what you would call flashy, Travis Hamonic is a solid complement to the offensively-minded Hanifin. Hamonic is strong in his own end and has carved an eight-year career out of being defensively responsible. He was second to only Giordano in shorthanded ice time last season and will continue to be an integral part of that unit.
Right-handed Michael Stone shares many of the same qualities as Hamonic and could get swapped into the top-four at a moment’s notice. Like Hamonic, Stone possesses little offensive upside but is effective in his own end. Juuso Valimaki is expected to join him on the third pair on opening night. The No. 16 overall pick of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft had 45 points in 43 WHL games for the Tri-City Americans last season. He is an above-average skater and a capable two-way defenseman. Calgary’s high hopes for him undoubtedly played a role in the decision to move Hamilton. It will be interesting to see how long he can hang with the big club.
Mike Smith has remained a consistent and effective NHL goaltender in the twilight of his career. The 36-year-old posted a .916 SV% in 55 starts for the Flames last season. He ended the year with a respectable 25-22-6 record. A groin injury forced him to miss 13 games last season and gave Calgary a look at backup David Rittich. Rittich was unable to take advantage of the opportunity, posting a lowly .904 SV% in 21 appearances. While he may not be a threat to Smith’s job, he should see more work than the average backup. The Flames will look to limit Smith to about 60 starts in an effort to prolong his aging career. He won’t steal many games for the Flames this year, but Smith’s still a serviceable starter. Don’t be surprised if they acquire a more capable backup than Rittich at some point this season.
|Sean Monahan (30)||Johnny Gaudreau (49)||Johnny Gaudreau (75)||Sean Monahan (9)|
|Johnny Gaudreau (26)||Matthew Tkachuk (38)||Sean Monahan (63)||Matthew Tkachuk (7)|
|James Neal (26)||T.J. Brodie (35)||Matthew Tkachuk (58)||Johnny Gaudreau (6)|
- 21. Johnny Gaudreau — LW6
- 68. Sean Monahan — C20
- 105. Mark Giordano — D24
- 132. Matthew Tkachuk — LW23
- 139. Mike Smith — G22
- 183. James Neal — RW38
- 201. T.J. Brodie — D53
- 208. Noah Hanifin — D54
- 234. Mikael Backlund — C51
- 256. Elias Lindholm — RW52
Predicted Pacific Standings
A lack of secondary scoring was the bane of Calgary’s season in 2017-18. They did their best to address this issue in the off-season, but it won’t be enough to keep up with the top of the Pacific Division. They could end up a wild card team by season’s end, but there’s too many questions surrounding this team to project them for anything more than that. Gaudreau and Monahan can only do so much for the Flames. Breakout years from Tkachuk, Lindholm, and Hanifin would go a long way towards getting Calgary back to the post-season.