Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2017-18, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2017-18 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2017-18 Calgary Flames.
Puck Drop Preview: 2017-18 Calgary Flames
The Calgary Flames 2016-17 season was filled with many highs and lows, from lengthy losing streaks and poor goaltending, to a franchise record 10-game winning streak. As usual, the Flames had a rough start to open the year, going a lousy 4-5-1 in October. This can partly be attributed to the players having to learn the different systems of new head coach Glen Gulutzan. To make matters worse, superstar Johnny Gaudreau had a slow start due to sitting out training camp because of a lengthy contract dispute.
A bright spot from last season was the emergence of rookie Matthew Tkachuk. Tkachuk had quite the campaign, putting up solid numbers and making his presence felt league wide.
Perhaps the most noteworthy story from the 2016-17 season was in the crease for the Flames. After acquiring Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson last summer, Calgary thought they had finally solved their goaltending troubles. They were wrong. Both goalies struggled throughout the season, and although they each had winning streaks, the duo was average at best.
After an impressive 10-game winning streak helped clinch the first wild card spot in the West, Calgary faced the Ducks in the first round of the playoffs. Despite outplaying Anaheim in almost every game, the Flames were swept out of the first round.
After yet another disappointing ending to their season, the Flames were once again on the hunt for a new goaltending duo. On June 17th, they acquired Mike Smith from the Coyotes in exchange for now unrestricted free agent Johnson, Brandon Hickey, and a conditional third round pick. Once they got their starter, Calgary later acquired Eddie Lack from Carolina to be Smith’s backup in 2017-18.
With their biggest need taken care of, the Flames set out to shore up another major hole on their roster: Defense. Aside from the top pairing of captain Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton, the defense looked pretty bleak. However, on June 24th, the Flames traded the Islanders a plethora of future draft picks for Travis Hamonic. With that single trade, Calgary now boasts one of the best defenses in the league with Giordano, Hamilton, Hamonic, and TJ Brodie.
2017-18 projected Line Combinations
The top six is pretty much set in stone, but the bottom six is where things get interesting. Bennett should be the thirrd line left wing as he seemed to player better on the wing last season. Jankowski and Lazar should both be mainstays on the team this upcoming season. As for the fourth line, Versteeg provides a bit of speed to help create some space.
Mark Giordano – Dougie Hamilton
T.J. Brodie – Travis Hamonic
Scratches: Matt Bartkowski
As previously mentioned, the Flames shored up their top four by acquiring Hamonic earlier in the summer. The third pair should be set as well, as Kulak appears to be ready for a full time role. Stone will make for a good fifth defenseman, as he fared quite well with Brodie down the stretch last year.
Smith, 35, will get the majority of the workload as the starter, something he’s more than used to. Last season in Arizona, Smith played in 55 games and posted a 19-26-9 record, with a 2.92 goals-against average, and a 0.914 save percentage. While those numbers aren’t exactly sparkling, they should improve greatly behind the far superior Flames defense.
Players To Watch
While he didn’t win the Calder Trophy, Tkachuk was a force to be reckoned with in his rookie year. In 76 games, Tkachuk put up 48 points (13 goals, 35 assists) on a line with Backlund and Frolik. However, Tkachuk gained more attention league-wide for his physical play, often showing he wasn’t afraid to throw hits or fists. Expect Tkachuk to take another step in his development this season, while making even more enemies with his gritty style of play.
It was far from a memorable year for now 20-year-old Sam Bennett, as he struggled to find consistency at centre ice. In fairness, Bennett spent most of the season with different linemates, so he wasn’t exactly put in a position to succeed. Late in the season, Bennett finally seemed to have found his footing when he was switched to the wing. He and Versteeg seemed to build a chemistry that continued into the playoffs. Hopefully, Bennett can build on that playoff performance, and take the next step in his development. Currently a restricted free agent, Bennett will most likely be playing this upcoming season on a bridge contract.
If anybody needs to have a big year, it’s Curtis Lazar. After being acquired during last season for a 2017 second round pick, Lazar had major expectations placed on him. He did not live up to those expectations, as he struggled to even get ice time. Coming in to the new year, Lazar needs to have a great training camp and an even better start to the season to keep his job in the NHL.
Players On The Rise
Once coined a long-term project, Jankowski finally appears to be ready for a spot on the big club. Jankowski had a great year in Stockton, tallying 56 points in 64 games. The 2012 first round pick should be able to secure a job on the Flames roster this year, especially if Bennett remains on the wing leaving a vacancy on the third line.
Is there anyone more excited about the Hamonic addition than Brodie? After spending last season with multiple partners, Brodie will finally have some stability this year. Brodie will no doubt benefit from having Hamonic as his partner, and will easily top his miniscule 36 points from 2016-17.
Players On The Decline
While his veteran leadership in the locker room is useful for the young players, Matt Stajan’s on-ice career is rapidly winding down. The NHL gets younger with each passing year, and Stajan has shown he can no longer keep up. The upcoming season will probably be his last, and will be spent entirely on the fourth line.
Brought partly due to his reputation as as playoff performer, Brouwer was anything but last April. Brouwer did nothing remotely close to justifying his whopping $4.5 million cap hit, and it appears it’s only going to get worse. If he doesn’t improve greatly this year, he may just spend most of the season in the press box.
2017-18 Calgary Flames Season Prediction
There is no doubt that the Flames are a better team now than this time last year. With the Hamonic and Smith additions this off-season, 100 points is definitely attainable. While they probably won’t win the Pacific Division, finishing second or third is a very realistic possibility.