The Golden Knights won’t go head to head with Calgary until the end of January, but here’s what you need to know about the Flames as the 2017-18 regular season nears.
Calgary’s 2016-2017 Season
The Flames had an up-and-down year but ultimately landed back in the playoffs as a wildcard, getting swept by Anaheim in an early first-round exit. The Flames will look to improve on last year’s 13-13-3 record against Pacific Division teams after a productive offseason.
Most of the team struggled out of the gate, including the Flames’ two superstars, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Though many consider Gaudreau’s 18-goal and 61-point season a “down” year, he led the team in points despite missing 10 games. Monahan finished the year on fire, scoring 36 points in the final 40 games to finish the season with 27 goals and 58 points. He added four goals in the playoffs.
The team’s second line of Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik combined for 145 points. Tkachuk (13-35—48) had a promising rookie season and would have been in the running for the Calder Trophy any other year. Backlund had a phenomenal year, scoring career highs in goals (22), assists (31) and points (53). There’s really nothing Backlund did not do for this team last year, and he could be a Selke nominee in the near future.
Last summer’s four-year, $18 million signing of Troy Brouwer proved to be a massive mistake; the forward contributed just 13 goals and 25 points in 74 games and was an all-around disappointment.
Most Significant Offseason Moves
Flames general manager Brad Treliving had an aggressive offseason, bringing in four new players to take this team from an off-and-on playoff participant to a contender.
The most obvious adjustment was in the crease. Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson were shipped out in favor of newcomers Mike Smith (Arizona) and Eddie Lack (Carolina). Smith, 35, could be an excellent fit behind Calgary’s strong defense, especially considering this could be his best and last chance to go after the Stanley Cup. Lack has one year remaining on his deal and will have a chance to prove himself. The duo gives Calgary’s goalie prospects time to develop, making both solid stopgap options at the very least.
Perhaps the most aggressive move, however, was trading for Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic. He did not come cheap, but the first-round and two second-round picks were worth the risk given the value he brings to the blue line. He rounds out an excellent top-four on a team-friendly contract and just now is entering his prime.
Lastly, the Flames landed highly-coveted NCAA free agent Spencer Foo, coming off a dominant 38-game performance for Union College (26-36—62). Foo, a right winger, had his choice of at least 10-15 teams but chose Calgary, a team severely deficient in depth on the right side.
Previewing Calgary’s 2017-2018 Lineup
There’s a good chance last season’s top-line trio of Gaudreau, Monahan and Micheal Ferland will remain intact this year, and the same can be said of Calgary’s productive two-way second line of Tkachuk, Backlund and Frolik. With Sam Bennett and Kris Versteeg as the only other true forward locks, players like Curtis Lazar, Matt Stajan, Freddie Hamilton, Mark Jankowski, Emile Poirier, Foo, Brouwer, etc. will have to battle in training camp for the remaining slots. However, there’s a chance head coach Glen Gulutzan will move Tkachuk to the third line in the hopes that he’ll spark Bennett’s offensive game. That would give the team three threatening lines while also giving someone like Jankowski a shot alongside Backlund and Frolik. Bennett has lined up between Gaudreau and Ferland in preseason action and has found success. On the back end, the sixth defensive slot is vacant, though Brett Kulak appears to be the frontrunner over Matt Bartkowski, Tyler Wotherspoon, Rasmus Andersson, Dylan Olsen, etc. Here are some possible line combinations for the Flames’ 2017-2018 season:
Calgary is hopeful its offseason moves can translate into a Stanley Cup run. Treliving made bold moves because he believes this team is ready to contend now. Aside from the off-ice arena controversy, the main question facing the Flames is whether the new goaltending tandem will be effective enough to take this team into the later rounds of the playoffs. The answer to that question may not present itself until the postseason. But one thing is for sure: Calgary is coming.