Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2018-19, where Last Word On Hockey 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 2018-19 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2018-19 Calgary Flames.
Puck Drop Preview: 2018-19 Calgary Flames
After making the playoffs in the 2016-17 season, the Calgary Flames took a step backward in 2017-18. The Flames finished with a record of 37-35-10 for 84 points, finishing 11th in the Western Conference. They also finished fifth last in goal scoring last season finishing with 216 goals for. It was shocking to see as the Flames have a good young core, as well as traded for starting goaltender Mike Smith as well as steady defenceman Travis Hamonic in the off-season. The trades were supposed to solidify an already impressive defence group as well as finally solve their goaltending woes. However, Smith was forced to miss a month due to a lower-body injury in February. He struggled upon his return posting a 2-5 record with a 3.32 GAA and a .885 save percentage.
The team as a whole struggled for the final two months posting a record of 9-16-2 while being outscored 91 to 62. They also had the third worst powerplay percentage over this span with abysmal 14.1%. Lack of goal scoring ended up being the demise of the Flames and is something they needed to look at going into the off-season.
It’s been a very busy off-season for the Calgary Flames with one goal in mind. Bring in more offence. They did just that by making one of the biggest trades of the summer at this years NHL entry draft by trading Dougie Hamilton, Michael Ferland and prospect Adam Fox to the Carolina Hurricanes for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. Both players were RFAs when acquired and while Hanifin and the Flames have still yet to come to terms, Lindholm locked into a six-year deal worth $29.1 million.
In a lesser but more recent trade, the Flames sent prospect Hunter Shinkaruk to the Montreal Canadiens for prospect Kerby Rychel. The Flames then signed Rychel to a one-year two-way contract worth $650k. Both players were drafted in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and have yet to live up to their potential. A change in scenery might do wonders for both players.
The Flames made a splash in free agency signing one of the of top free agents available James Neal to a five-year $28.75 million contract. Neal is a prolific goal scorer, scoring at least 20 every year of his career. He is exactly the type of player the Flames need as they look to bolster their offence.
They also agreed to terms with depth centre Derek Ryan to a three-year $3.125 million contract.
Other notable signings: Austin Czarnik (two years, $2.5M), Jon Gillies(two years, $1.5M), Mark Jankowski(two years, $3.35M), Garnet Hathaway (one year, $850k), Brett Kulak (one year, $900k) and David Rittich (one year, $800k).
2018-19 Projected Lineup
Curtis Lazar-Derek Ryan-Austin Czarnik
The top line features a potent offensive attack with last years top two leading scorers Johnny Gaudreau (84 points) and Sean Monahan (64 points) being joined by newcomer James Neal. Gaudreau and Monahan will both benefit from having a legit scoring presence on the right side after spending most of last season with Michael Ferland. It could prove to be one of the most potent scoring lines in hockey.
The second line features a balance of offence and defence. All three players possess good two-way games but are also no slouches on offence all hitting over 40 points last season. They will surely be a tough line to play against, especially Matthew Tkachuk who is one of the biggest pests in the NHL.
The third line of Bennett, Jankowski, and Frolik could be an interesting one. It’s not your classic shutdown line but all are capable of playing the role. Frolik has always been known for his two-way abilities and is an upgrade to the line over Garnet Hathaway, who spent most of the year with the duo last season. Which in turn should help spark Bennett and Jankowski’s offence, as they both were disappointing last season. All in all, its another solid two-way line behind the Backlund line, which is needed in today’s game.
The fourth line could obviously see some changes but right now it looks like it will be filled by newcomers Austin Czarnik and Derek Ryan, as well as workhorse Curtis Lazar. This line features a balance of scoring and shutdown ability. All three players also have the ability to move up and down the lineup as needed giving the Flames a very versatile lineup.
Noah Hanifin-Travis Hamonic
Brett Kulak-Michael Stone
With Dougie Hamilton out of the picture, the Flames may look to go back to a top-pairing of Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie. The two had great success playing together before the arrival of Dougie Hamilton. Brodie is a natural left defenceman but played the best years of his career on the right side. The transition should not prove to be difficult for the veteran.
The second pairing brings in newcomer Noah Hanifin and the steady Travis Hamonic. The Flames could refer to this pairing as 1B as it would be a top pairing on a ton of other NHL teams. Hanifin is an exceptional puck mover who is only just scratching the surface. His defensive abilities could use a little work, however. At only 21 years of age and already three years experience in the league, the best is yet to come from Hanifin and still has a lot of time to grow as he has not even entered his prime yet. Pairing him with the defensive specialist Hamonic will only help further develop his game.
The third pairing features Brett Kulak and Michael Stone, for now. Stone had a terrible year last season, while Kulak was a steady and reliable option. While Kulak’s upside may be limited, he is still capable of playing in a bottom pairing role. With Stone’s poor play and his contract (which still has two years left at $3.5 million,) the Flames may look to try to move him out as Rasmus Andersson looks ready for a full-time NHL role. The Flames also have Juuso Valimaki on the horizon, who has nothing left to prove in junior and will be looking to move to the next level.
The biggest question mark on the Flames in their goaltending. Starter Mike Smith had a poor finish to last season as he missed a month to injury and then posted a disastrous 2-5 record with a 3.32 GAA and .885 save percentage in his return. His numbers overall were respectable as he posted a record of 25-22-6 with a GAA of 2.65 and a .916 save percentage. Those numbers would have looked better had he not finished so poorly. He hopes to bounce back and be the goalie the Flames need him to be when they acquired him last off-season. The Flame brought back Jon Gillies to serve as Smith’s backup for the next two seasons.
Players to Watch
The biggest piece coming back to the Flames in the deal that sent Dougie Hamilton to the Hurricanes is coming into the season with something to prove. At only 21, Hanifin already has three years of NHL experience and has improved each and every year. Known for his puck moving ability, Hanifin is able to move the puck out of the zone quickly and efficiently. He also has the ability to quarterback the powerplay. He is also an exceptionable skater. While his play without the puck could use some work, he will most likely be paired with Travis Hamonic who will certainly help with that aspect. Being 21, there is still a ton of time to grow. He will be a very important part of the Flames roster this year, and for years to come.
The other piece the Flames acquired in the Dougie Hamilton deal, Lindholm brings versatility to the Flames line up. A two-way specialist who can play centre or the wing, Lindholm will make things easy for the Flames. Lindholm is a solid 40-50 points scorer as well as an exceptional penalty killer. His ability to play up and down the lineup will be key for the Flames as they look to get back into the playoffs.
The Flames signed Czarnik to a two year deal in the offseason after spending the last three years in the Bruins organization. He doesn’t have a whole lot NHL experience, playing just 59 games where he scored five goals and 12 assists. However, Czarnik has been a force in the AHL over the past three seasons scoring 51 goals and 153 points in 154 games. At 25, Czarnik is just entering his prime year. He will be looking to breakout out for the Flames this season.
If you look at the rest of the Pacific Division, the Flames are easily the most improved team. The Vancouver Canucks are rebuilding, and although the Arizona Coyotes have improved, it’s not to the extent of the Flames. The Edmonton Oilers made a couple of depth signings but there is no reason to believe they will jump back into the mix this season unless Cam Talbot drastically improves his game. That leaves the four teams who made the playoffs last season from the division.
It’s hard to envision that the Vegas Golden Knights will be as good as they were last season. Even though they added Paul Stastny, they lost two of their top point producers in James Neal and David Perron. San Jose and Los Angeles weren’t that busy per say, they did add some pretty big names. San Jose made theirs before the playoffs last year acquiring Evander Kane so this will be his first full season with him. The Kings added Ilya Kovalchuk, and although he is 35 years of age, he still has a knack for putting the puck in the net. Anaheim is an aging team on the decline.
With all this taken into consideration, can the Flames make it back to the post-season?
The answer is yes. The Flames are arguably the deepest team in the Pacific Division after being one of the busiest teams this off-season. They addressed all their needs in the off-season and put together a well-balanced scoring group while playing responsibly in their own end. The Flames will certainly be challenging for a top-three seed in the Pacific next season. At the very least, they will secure a wild-card spot in this year’s playoffs.