The Calgary Flames have not made it out of the first-round since 2015 and have not made it beyond the second-round since 2004.
Despite having steadily competitive teams over the last five years, the Flames never seem to be able to put it all together. Part of that could be a lack of quality goaltending, but they did their best to address that this offseason. They have not had a goaltender post a SV% above .920 in a season since Miikka Kiprusoff had a .920 in 2012. In an effort to solidify their crease for the future, Calgary gave Jacob Markstrom a six-year deal worth $36.0 million ($6.0M AAV). Markstrom will be 31-years-old in January and is coming off of the best season of his career. He was 23-16-4 with a 2.75 GAA and .918 SV% in 43 games. While even his best year wasn’t over .920, the Vancouver Canucks weren’t exactly defensively sound in 2020–they gave up the third-most Scoring Chances and High-Danger Scoring Chances Against/60.
If you take a deeper dive into the numbers, you’ll find Markstrom 10th in GSAA (6.65) and 13th in HDSV% (.836). This move should help Calgary for at least a few years, and it helps bridge the gap to Dustin Wolf, who looks like the goalie of the future for the Flames.
Markstrom wasn’t the only former Canuck who moved to Alberta in October. Veteran defenseman Chris Tanev was inked to a four-year deal worth $18.0 million ($4.5M AAV) and will help replace @TJ Brodie, who left for the Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency.
Projected Forward Lines
With another first-round exit, there were a lot of questions surrounding the Flames’ core group of forwards and whether or not they are capable of getting the job done. In the playoffs, their top-line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm struggled to a 39.1 CorsiFor% and generated just four High-Danger Scoring Chances in 10 games. Of the eight lines that played Min.500 TOI together in 2020, Calgary’s top-line had the lowest 45.5 GoalsFor% and averaged the fewest GoalsFor/60 (2.36). Still, given the success that their second and third lines had in the postseason, it seems highly likely that Gaudreau-Monahan-Lindholm will remain together to begin 2021.
It might be time to consider Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Andrew Mangiapane as the Flames’ top-line. They scored more goals together at 5v5 than the Monahan line, despite playing 155.3 less TOI. Of the 31 lines who played at least 300 minutes together, they were 10th in GoalsFor% (57.9) and averaged the ninth-most GoalsFor/60 (3.74). This line was just as good as Hyman-Matthews-Marner, so this is a legitimately elite line.
The trio of Milan Lucic, Sam Bennett and Dillon Dube cranked things up in the postseason. In 100 5v5 TOI together, they had a 50.0 CF%, 57.14 GF%. Bennett nearly matched his regular-season total of 12 points in 10 playoff games and may never fully live up to his No.4 overall billing, but could be one of the league’s most effective third-line centres if his development continues. This is also important because they’re getting some production out of Lucic. If he’s being physical and picking up points with some regularity, then his $6.0M AAV cap-hit doesn’t sting quite as badly.
The Flames’ fourth-line could be solid too. Having Derek Ryan centre your fourth line is a luxury. They recently signed Joakim Nordstrom to a league-minimum deal, but he was part of one of the worst lines in hockey in 2020. The third spot is up for grabs, with Glenn Gawdin a favourite to land it. The former fourth-round pick is a smart offensive player with the two-way ability that will allow him to break into the NHL on the fourth line. In his fifth year in the WHL, he amassed an outrageous 125 points (56G / 69A) in 67 games and showed he can do it at the AHL-level in 2020. He led the Stockton Flames with 47 points (16G / 31A) in 53 games.
Projected Defensive Pairings
The Flames’ blueline should be pretty easy to figure out. Tanev comes in for Brodie and skates with Mark Giordano on the top-pair. Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin stick together as the second-pairing after a strong postseason. Lastly, Juuso Valimaki and Oliver Kylington make the permanent leap to the NHL to replace Erik Gustafsson (signed with PHI) and Travis Hamonic (UFA).
Brodie to Tanev should be a pretty seamless transition. Both have similar profiles as mobile, puck-moving defenseman with Brodie being the more agile of the two. Offensively it’s a downgrade but Tanev will help eat up the penalty kill minutes left by Hamonic.
Hanifin spent most of last season with Hamonic but spent the playoffs with Andersson because Hamonic opted out. They saw some time together during the regular season as well and were miles better than with Hamonic. Hanifin-Hamonic were among the league’s worst D-pairs in Goals Against/60 (3.06) but that number improved with Andersson (2.41). Overall, the GoalsFor% went from 45.0 percent with Hamonic to 54.3 percent with Andersson, so this will be a much-improved second-pair in 2021. Gustafsson and Brodie’s departure also means more power-play time for Andersson.
Valimaki missed all of 2020 with a torn ACL but will be up to speed when the NHL starts in January because he’s currently playing overseas with Ilves Tampere (Liiga). He’s hit the ground running so far, leading the team with eight points (2G / 6A) in seven games. The 22-year-old has produced numbers at every stop throughout his career and will likely do the same in his first full NHL season. Expect him to be a big part of one of their power-play units and is definitely one of the young defensemen to keep an eye on in 2021. Kylington is similar in the way that he’s a smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman but won’t produce the same high-end stats as Valimaki. The passing skill of both of these defensemen should make them an effective third-line pairing that shouldn’t spend too much time in their own zone.
Salary Cap Figures via PuckPedia.com
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