On paper, the Calgary Flames look to be one of the best teams in the National Hockey League in 2018.
After falling out of the gate initially, the Calgary Flames had a strong second half heading into the playoffs with a 45-33-4 record and the first wildcard in the Western Conference. However, like in the 2015 playoffs, the Flames struggled against the Anaheim Ducks and were swept in the first round. General Manager Brad Treliving knew he needed to mix things up to push his team over the edge and he’s made upgrades that on paper make the Calgary Flames one of the deadliest teams in not only the Western Conference, but the entire league as well.
In terms of offense, Calgary for the most part decided to stick with what they have. The Flames finished the season 16th in goals scored (2.71 per game) and 10th in powerplay percentage (10.2%). Those numbers may not jump out on paper, but the Flames have a lot of options when it comes to scoring. For starters they have their two star forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Gaudreau, 23, has been with the Flames since the 2013-14 season after being drafted 104th overall in the 2011 NHL Draft and spending three years at Boston College. In his short NHL career Gaudreau has not only been selected to the All-Star game 3 times, but as of last season has won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy presented to the player with the best type of sportsmanship and professionalism. Speaking of last season, Gaudreau led the Flames in scoring despite having a down year in terms of goal scoring. In 72 games played Gaudreau tallied 18 goals and 61 points. Compared to his 30 goal campaign in 2016, I think Gaudreau has the skill to easily crack 30 again next season and potentially even break his career high. For a player who is among the league’s smallest, he sure makes up for it in terms of talent.
Monahan has been the other star forward in his short NHL career. Monahan, 22, has spent his four year NHL career with the Flames after being drafted 6th overall in 2013. After getting off to an excellent start in his rookie season tallying 22 goals, Monahan has already become one of Calgary’s most consistent players. In his 4 NHL seasons Monahan has consistently scored at least 20 goals hitting his career high at 31 in the 2014-15 season. Last season Monahan finished second on the team in scoring and leading the team in goals with 27 goals and 58 points in 82 games. At just 22 years old and locked up under contract for the next 6 years, Monahan will likely continue to be the franchise player the Flames wanted him to be and could potentially one day be the team’s next captain.
Aside from their two star forwards, the Flames have a plethora of options when it comes to scoring. Young forwards Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk have been excellent in terms of secondary scoring for Calgary. Tkachuk specifically had a big rookie season and will be looking to build off of it in 2018. Tkachuk, 19, jumped straight to the NHL after winning the Memorial Cup with the London Knights in 2016 and finished fifth on the team in scoring. In 76 games Tkachuk scored 13 goals and 48 points while accumulating 105 penalty minutes. He is a gritty forward who has proved he won’t take anything from any opposing player while also being able to get to the dirty areas and still score some sweet goals. Couple these young players with more veteran players such as Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik and Kris Versteeg and the Flames can successfully roll out four lines with scoring capability.
Defense is where the Flames will truly shine next season. Not only did they already have one of the better defensive cores in the Western Conference, but Brad Treliving went out and traded New York Islanders’ defenseman Travis Hamonic, along with re-signing Michael Stone, who the Calgary acquired from the Arizona Coyotes at the trade deadline. After these moves, the Flames defensive core has an excellent window for about the next three years. Captain Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, TJ Brodie, Travis Hamonic and Michael Stone are signed for the next three years giving them on paper, one of the best units in the National Hockey League. The question is, can this translate into the play? Last season the Calgary finished the season with 14th best defense in the league allowing 219 goals. A player like Hamonic should help the defense get even better next year. Hamonic, 26, has spent the past 7 years in the New York Islanders organization and developed into one of the league’s most underrated defensive defensemen. Hamonic is a gritty, strong defensemen who can shutdown a team’s top pairing while also occasionally chipping in scoring. Combine this with Giordano and Hamilton’s offensive abilities and the Flames have an all around stacked defensive core that will make them one of the best teams in the Western Conference.
The biggest question for the Flames, like so many other teams, will be there goaltending. After inconsistent seasons from both Brian Elliot and Chad Johnson, Calgary decided to overhaul their entire crease. The Flames have brought in both Mike Smith and Eddie Lack. Smith, 35, had spent the last six seasons in the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes organization where he had mostly mediocre to poor records. In Smith’s defense, he didn’t get much help from the Coyotes in this case and could benefit well from a fresh start. Lack, 29, has spent the last four seasons in the NHL splitting time between the Vancouver Canucks and Carolina Hurricanes. Although he’s never been a true starter, Lack has excelled in the backup role and that’s exactly why the Flames signed him. Although this tandem is most likely a bridge gap for Calgary’s hopeful franchise goalie Tyler Parsons to become NHL ready, this tandem in front of an exceptional defense and stacked offense can succeed.
PREDICTION: Despite the improvement in the Pacific Division and uncertainty of the Flames goalie situation, I still believe that Calgary will be one of the better teams in the Western Conference and the league. Unless injuries decimate the team or the new goalie tandem falls apart, this team should be an absolute lock for the playoffs.