With how bad the North Division was on paper, not making the playoffs was going to be a huge disappointment for the two teams that were not the Senators. The Flames finished in fifth place, in a season which saw them dismiss Geoff Ward for Darryl Sitler, only to be a .500 team under both coaches. The Flames survived major trade rumors in the offseason and now come into training camp with a similar team. Can they defy the odds now? The division is weak again.
Offseason additions: F Blake Coleman, D Nikita Zadorov, F Tyler Pitlick, D Erik Gudbranson, D Trevor Lewis, F Brad Richardson, G Dan Vladar.
Offseason subtractions: D Mark Giordano, F Derek Ryan, F Josh Leivo, F Joakim Nordstrom, D Nikita Nesterov, F Buddy Robinson.
Johnny Gaudreau remains a Flame as he enters the final year of his contract. Gaudreau led the team with 49 points. It could be a bit concerning that Gaudreau only scored 19 goals despite riding a seventeen shooting percentage. A question may emerge on who will be his center. Sean Monahan has collapsed over the past few years. His ten goals and 28 points in 2020-21 could push him down to the third line. For a guy that had 82 points in 2018-19, this is a shocking change in events. Elias Lindholm took more face-offs than anyone in Calgary last year. He tied with Gaudreau for the team lead with 19 goals and had 47 points. There is a situation where Lindholm centers the first line with Gaudreau and maybe Matthew Tkachuk on his side. Tkachuk had 132 hits with 43 points. You do not want one of your top wingers to lead the team in penalty minutes, but Tkachuk did, with 55. Leading the team in even strength goals was Andrew Mangiapane, with 15. He added three more on special teams and had 32 points. His 19.8 percent shooting rate was certainly unsustainable. On the opposite side of the spectrum from Mangiapane was two-way center Mikael Backlund. Backlund had 50 more shots but half of the goals. His 6.3 shooting percentage has to change next year. This past season ended Backlund’s streak of earning Selke votes in four consecutive seasons. Stanley Cup champion Blake Coleman comes to Calgary. He could center the third line or play wing on the second. Coleman is an analytical darling and scored 14 goals with 31 points for Tampa last year. 2016 2nd round pick Dillon Dube had the best production of his career so far, with 11 each of goals and assists. He will get to play with a good center, no matter who it is. The Flames paid a pick to Seattle to get Tyler Pitlick, who the Kraken picked from Arizona. He is not much more than a defensive bottom-six winger who had 11 points and 81 hits in 38 games last year. With expectations all the way off, Milan Lucic was not half bad. He scored 10 goals in 56 games, for his highest scoring pace since 2016-17. He used his physically, with 139 hits. Of course, he is still overpaid, but Lucic showed that he can be good enough to be an above-average fourth line player. It will be interesting to see if Glenn Gawdin can make the starting lineup. Gawdin had had AHL success but had just 13 points in 22 games there last year. He had one assist in seven NHL games. Trevor Lewis went from a professional tryout to playing every game for the Jets. It was on the wing and averaged less than 10 minutes a game, but still unexpected. He could have a very similar role in Calgary. Veteran Brad Richardson would be a stable fourth line center. He is very good at face-offs and is a fine defensive player. Brett Ritchie is back after playing in 32 games for the Flames last year. He recorded eight points.
The Flames were hit as hard as anyone during the expansion draft, losing captain Mark Giordano. He was still a quality defenseman, leaving the Flames lacking a top-four defender. Chris Tanev was a revelation after coming over from the rival Canucks. He was arguably a top-five player defensively. He also cut down from 41 penalty minutes to just six. Tanev does not bring much offensively but he is still very good. Noah Hanifin is going to need to step up this year. His offensive production dipped last year but the Flames would trade that for great defensive numbers. Rasmus Andersson signed a big deal after a promising start to his career, but he lost all of that last year. His xG% dropped to 47.04. On the bright side, Andersson did have 21 points. Big defenseman Nikita Zadorov comes in after a year in Chicago. He had 190 hits for the Blackhawks and is a very good defensive defenseman. Former first-rounder Juuso Valimaki came back from a torn ACL to play in 49 games. He had a very good Corsi percentage of 54.1% with a 53.54 xG%. The Flames just gave Erik Gudbranson a one year deal for a bit under $2 million, signaling that he will play. Gudbranson is an analytical nightmare but is a very physical defenseman, leading to him continually getting NHL opportunities. Gudbranson may play over Oliver Kylington, who played in 48 games in 2019-20 but got into just eight last year. Back is Michael Stone for his sixth season as a Flame. He has been a depth defender for the past three seasons.
The Flames signed Jacob Markstrom before the season after believing that he was a victim of awful defense in Vancouver. Well, he had his worst save percentage in his first year as a Flame since before he was a Canuck. His .904 SV% needs to get better, although his 2.66 GAA was actually an improvement. The new backup in town is…. Dan Vladar. The Flames paid a third-round pick for the third goalie of the Bruins, who has a .886 save percentage in five career NHL games. He did have a .923 in 10 AHL games and was dominant in the AHL in 2019-20, but this is still a massive risk to take on as a backup full-time.
Johnny Gaudreau – Elias Lindholm – Matthew Tkachuk
Blake Coleman – Mikael Backlund – Andrew Mangiapane
Dillon Dube – Sean Monahan – Tyler Pitlick
Milan Lucic – Brad Richardson – Trevor Lewis
Extras: Glenn Gawdin, Brett Ritchie
Noah Hanifin – Chris Tanev
Nikita Zadorov – Rasmus Andersson
Juuso Valimaki – Erik Gudbranson
Extras: Oliver Kylington, Michael Stone
The Pacific Division is very bad, so bad that it will certainly take a top-three finish to make the playoffs. Are the Flames good enough to do that? They should be in the running, but I have them in fourth place. A very near miss is coming for them.