Did you forget that the Flames finished with the best record in the West last year? You probably did, because if you cut a loud fart and winced you missed their playoff appearance. They were done in five games against the Avs, as they watched Nathan MacKinnon do a full Cirque de Fuck You and were helpless to stop him. They even got a good playoff performance from Mike Smith, which didn’t matter because Mac K was taking 40 shots per game just by himself. Will it get better this season? Let’s find out…
50-25-7 107 points (1st in Pacific, lost in 1st round)
3.52 GF/G (3rd) 2.72 GA/G (9th) +66 GD
53.9 CF% (5th) 53.2 xGF% (7th)
19,3 PP% (18th) 79.7 PK% (21st)
Goalies: After a season where the fans were clamoring for “Big Save” Dave Rittich to take over for Mike Smith, he eventually did and wasn’t really all that impressive. That left the door open for Smith to take the playoff starts, which went well for him but not the team. This time around, the Flames will give the job to Rittich full-time and hope his career .909 in 66 career games are just a starting point and not an indication of what he is. At 27, one wonders how much room there is for growth, and if this is his prime, it might not be enough to take Blasty through multiple rounds in the spring. Given the way Bill Peters teams play though, it can probably get them through the regular season.
The interesting card here is Cam Talbot, who will start as the backup. Talbot simply died of exhaustion in Edmonton, getting 73 and 67 starts in successive seasons before coughing out most of his organs the past two seasons. But it was only two seasons ago that Talbot was putting up .919s and .924s with the Oilers, and possibly with spot starts at the beginning of the season he can rediscover some type of that form. He could be just cooked, but he’s worth the risk as a backup and safety net.
If neither work out, the Flames will definitely be in the market for a goalie at the trade deadline, or pray to God that Tyler Parsons lights up the AHL and can be rushed up to Alberta. But that would be the height of desperation, and even their ability to get anyone at the deadline is going to be complicated with their cap situation.
Defense: This seemed like the strength of the Flames all season…and then MacKinnon burst through the walls and declared he was here to fuck shit up before flipping over the whole buffet and draining the keg himself. And now the Flames appear to just be running it back.
They have to do that, because the plan was to introduce Juuso Valimaki into the lineup, but his knee when blooey while training in Finland in August and now the Flames are fucked without the customary enjoyment. The only hope for change is continued growth from Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington, which they actually should get. If one or both can start to take on second pairing responsibility, the Flames should be ok.
Maybe. Because even though Mark Giordano put up a Norris campaign, he was nowhere near the Avs top line in that first round immolation. It looked exactly like when Joakim Noah won Defensive Player Of The Year with the Bulls and then spent the playoffs getting his neck stepped on by Nene (now let’s all picture MacKinnon with Nene’s dreads). Gio is 35 now and if the spring was some kind of signal of a tumbledown the hill, the Flames could be in serious trouble. And it can happen fast. Ask Duncan Keith. Gio has already proven he’s dragged around TJ Brodie to any kind of competence, and if he can’t do that anymore then this unit could be in serious trouble.
Forwards: The big question is when, and possibly if, Matthew Tkachuk is going to rejoin the fray, as he’s still unsigned. More and more RFAs seem to be coming into the fold, but it’s now crunch time to get him in before the season.
Without him, this outfit is even more top-heavy than it already was. There’s Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan at the top, and Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik on that unique checking/scoring line, but that’s about it. Elias Lindholm can join either, and put up 78 points at 23. They’ll need Dillon Dube to show a lot more than he did in his first toe-dipping at the top level. We’re talking about a team that took Milan Lucic on, so you know there are major holes in the bottom six. Which only get larger if someone has to rise up to replace Tkachuk. And if he’s anything like his dad–and he’s everything like his dad–he’s going to go into the tank as soon as the ink is dry on the new paper (or more accurately, demand his bathtub of chicken wings in the dressing room).
They’re short up top, but in Gaudreau and Monahan and a hopefully not-blob-like Tkachuk can mostly outscore it.
Prediction: Lucky for the Flames, the division still blows. San Jose and Vegas will be good, but they can harvest on Vancouver, EdMo, LA, Anaheim, and Arizona enough to comfortably remain in the top three. You could squint and see where if Giordano is stumbling through a quick decline, and Rittich isn’t up for it, and Tkachuk never matches last year, it could be a disaster. All of that is possible, but I wouldn’t bet on likely. 107 points again seems a bit beyond them, but a comfortable 98-100 is probably still on the table, given that Peters always has his teams getting more chances than they give up. And in Calgary, unlike his Carolina days, he has the horses to finish them. But this team needs or needed one more half-step to truly become a power. Maybe it was Valimaki. Maybe it’s another goalie. Maybe it’s a player from nowhere. It doesn’t feel like they got it.
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