Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2019-20, 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 2019-20 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2019-20 Calgary Flames.
2019-20 Calgary Flames Preview
The Calgary Flames enjoyed a successful season in 2018-19. The team had long been building a core of talented players that could turn them into a contending team. This exercise in team-building finally paid off as new acquisitions like Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin played important roles for the team. The Flames self-developed crop of talent broke through as well with Matthew Tkachuk, Sean Monahan, and Johnny Gaudreau all registering career-high seasons. The high powered offense (scoring the second-most goals of any team in the NHL) of Calgary carried the Flames to a Pacific Division crown. Though the Flames put together a regular season to remember, they sputtered in the post-season, falling to the Colorado Avalanche in five games.
The Flames had one of the more head-scratching offseasons in the league. They stayed relatively quiet in free agency (other than the acquisition of Cam Talbot). Calgary then traded James Neal for Milan Lucic. The Flames signed James Neal to a five-year $28.75 million contract last offseason. The veteran winger then endured a nightmare season in which he struggled for the Flames. Lucic is similar to Neal, in that he is a struggling veteran winger who was once a feared goal scorer.
More than any other activity, the Flames offseason has been defined by what they haven’t accomplished. Namely, coming to terms with restricted free agent Matthew Tkachuk. Like many other teams, the Flames are embroiled in an arduous contract negotiation with a talented young star. Calgary has just $7,756,625 of cap room, which may prove to be a tight fit. Tkachuk showed promise in his first two NHL seasons but broke out in a big way last year when he scored 34 goals and added 43 assists. Tkachuk is in line for a big contract and figures to be a piece of the Flames talented young core moving forward.
2019-20 Calgary Flames Projected Line-up
(The projected line-ups represent the team at full strength.)
Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – Elias Lindholm
The Flames feature a strong top-six that powered them to their successful 2018-19 campaign. The group is a mix of high-end skill, grit, and defensive acumen. When the NHL put out their fantasy hockey rankings for top lines in the league, the Flames trio of Gaudreau, Monahan, and Lindholm ranked fourth. Gaudreau led the way with 99 points on the season. Lindholm served as one of the surprises of the season. Acquired as part of the Dougie Hamilton trade, Lindholm decimated his previous career highs. The forward registered 27 goals and 51 assists for 78 points (his previous career highs were 17 goals, 34 assists, and 45 points). Apart from his offensive explosion, Lindholm also received votes for the Selke award, finishing 10th.
The Flames also got high-end production from their second line. With Gaudreau manning the left wing on the first line, Calgary had the gift of being able to deploy Matthew Tkachuk on their second line. Tkachuk led the second line and will do so again for the 2019-20 Calgary Flames if signed in time. The gritty winger is flanked by versatile forwards Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik.
The Calgary Flames bottom six-forward group will be one to watch in the 2019-20 season. The Flames swapped struggling veterans with the Edmonton Oilers when they sent James Neal in exchange for Milan Lucic. Lucic is a long time removed from his peak seasons in Boston, but the Flames hope he can recapture some level of production. Lucic has used his large frame to maintain decent possession stats and was given some defensive responsibility last year in Edmonton.
During the 2018-19 season, Lucic started 56% of his shifts in the defensive zone, the first time in his career that he logged more than 50% of defensive zone starts. Lucic should slot onto a line with scrappy forward Sam Bennett. At the least, the line will be an annoyance for opposing teams to deal with.
The Flames fourth line should be able to contribute as center Derek Ryan pitched in 38 points last season. The Flames also got solid production from Andrew Mangiapane. In his first significant time in the NHL, Mangiapane scored eight goals in 44 games despite averaging just 10:33 of time on ice. The Flames would certainly like to see increased production from him in 2019-20. This could be an issue, however, as Mangiapane joins Tkachuk as an unsigned restricted free agent.
There have been rumors that the Flames may look to move on from Brodie, but for now, he slots into the first pairing along with Mark Giordano. The top pairing produced in a big way for the Flames last season with Giordano contributing 74 points in 78 games. The effort netted him the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenceman. Brodie was no slouch either with 34 points of his own.
The Flames top-pairing still faces questions despite their elite production. How long can Giordano defy the odds and continue producing as one of the top-scoring defensive players in the league? The veteran defender will turn 36 in October, long past the prime of most NHL defenceman.
The middle pairing for the Flames presents a versatile unit that is mostly solid. Calgary acquired Noah Hanifin in the blockbuster deal that sent Dougie Hamilton to Carolina. In his first full season with the Flames, Hanifin was given more defensive responsibility than he ever had in Carolina. The defender started his shifts in a near split at 49.9% in the offensive zone, and 50.1% in the defensive zone. This is a stark contrast to the year prior in which 63.1% of his shifts started in the offensive zone, and just 36.9% in the defensive. Hanifin produced 33 points and should look to improve upon this number entering his age 23 season.
Hanifin’s defensive partner, Travis Hamonic, provides a dependable (if unspectacular) presence in the Flames defensive corps. Hamonic scored a career-high seven goals last season but still only put up 19 points. The defender is another name that had previously been rumuored to be on the trade block should the Flames need to create salary-cap space.
The third pairing will be an issue for the Flames this season. Promising blue-liner Juuso Valimaki recently tore his ACL and is considered to be out indefinitely. While the Flames were originally looking to move a defender out to clear cap space, the Valimaki injury likely leaves Calgary looking to add instead of subtract.
The opposite half of the bottom pair will likely be more constant. Rasmus Andersson played his first full season during the 2018-19 campaign and looked like a solid contributor. The 22-year-old defender chipped in 19 points in 72 games, a solid number for a bottom-pairing player.
If a single aspect of the Calgary Flames is projected to be weak, it would be in net. The Flames acquired Cam Talbot to replace a departing Mike Smith. Talbot served as a starting goaltender for the Edmonton Oilers from 2015 until the trade deadline last year. The Oilers ran Talbot hard in 2016-17 when he lead the league in starts, shots against, and saves. Since then, he has never recovered his form. The Flames brought in Talbot to be a steadying presence for likely starter, David Rittich.
Rittich burst onto the scene last year, usurping Mike Smith as the Flames starting goaltender. “Big Save Dave” put together a six-game win streak in November and earned more starts throughout the rest of the season. Although he started hot, Rittich’s numbers fell throughout the remainder of the year. This downturn resulted in Mike Smith starting for the Flames in the playoffs.
Players To Watch
Gaudreau is the very definition of a player to watch. “Johnny Hockey” puts together points in bunches and does so in spectacular fashion. The Boston College product finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting and will look to build upon his career-best season. The left-winger dazzles fans with his stick-handling acumen, passing ability, and offensive instincts. Gaudreau may have a diminutive stature, but is a true giant in the hockey world.
The Matthew Tkachuk contract situation is currently being watched by many, but when the pen hits the paper and Tkachuk takes the ice, he remains a must-watch player. Whether fans love or hate him, the oldest son of Keith Tkachuk presents a unique bundle of skills. Tkachuk scores with ease, is one of the premiere agitators of the league, plays solid defense, and can create space for his line-mates with his grinding play. It is paramount that the Flames sign Tkachuk before the season starts.
David Rittich may be the key to whether the 2019-20 Calgary Flames can replicate last years’ success or not. Rittich is still an unproven commodity and had an up and down year. When Rittich played his best, the Flames ran on all cylinders and looked like a Stanley Cup threat. If “Big Save Dave” resembles the valleys of his play rather than the peaks, Calgary could be in trouble.
2019-20 Calgary Flames Prediction
The Calgary Flames still have the pieces in place to be a strong team. Despite this, they will face adversity early in the season. If Tkachuk and Mangiapane remain unsigned, the line-up will suffer greatly. The Flames will have trouble filling the holes left by their absence, as well as the injury to Valimaki. In Corey Pronman’s NHL farm system rankings for The Athletic, the Flames are rated dead last.
Though they may face questions early in the year, the Flames still play in a relatively weak Pacific Division. Once the team returns to full strength, they should easily make the playoffs and seem primed to make a much deeper run than last year. The 2019-20 Calgary Flames should be an exciting team that competes for a championship.