The Calgary Flames rode a wave of scoring and some timely goaltending to winning the Pacific Division. After that, it was a rough five game elimination at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche. Calgary never could get that critical goal when they needed it as Philipp Grubauer shut the door at every turn.
Is there a blueprint to beating Calgary? Are there reasons Calgary may experience a burn err flame out of sorts this year? Why, yes there are. Here are just five of them.
First, trading for Milan Lucic probably was not optimal.
This was destined to come up right away. Though, Lucic provides some intangibles and should bounce back from 20 points in 79 games, he is not the player he once was. While him and Bill Peters will surely get along, Calgary needs and perpetually will need more depth scoring this year. There are moves Calgary could have made but they are too close to the salary cap.
Lucic can be a net front presence and play somewhere around 14-15 sheltered minutes a night. After that, his effectiveness is lost. So, maybe a bottom-six even strength role with some extended power play time. What the Calgary Flames needed was a top-six player that could play 16-17 minutes plus along with ample power play time.
The new winger for the Calgary Flames also takes far too many penalties which is a problem for a Calgary team that can get undisciplined at times. If Milan Lucic is overplayed, this becomes a bad thing for Calgary and quickly.
Second, Calgary is up against the salary cap and more moves could come.
That is the scary part. Though, Calgary has $9.9 million to play with, the reality is they do not. The Flames have several restricted free agents including Matthew Tkachuk – who will cost plenty of dollars. There is Sam Bennett to consider. Also, David Rittich would have to be the presumed “1A” goalie at least over Cam Talbot, who was just signed.
This likely means a prominent player will have to be traded. It may be T.J. Brodie or Michael Stone if Calgary can find a taker. Brodie is the more attractive candidate to be moved as Stone has been a defensive albatross the past few seasons. Brodie offers a little more upside offensively at the very least. The problem is Calgary has almost zero leverage in a trade so they will not get an adequate return. Basically, Flames management would hope for something close to equal return in the form of a scoring forward.
Even Michael Frolik might be moved at this juncture. Those are the kind of options Calgary is considering and all could have an adverse effect on the team in 2019-20.
Third, was the Elias Lindholm breakout a fluke?
If this is the case, Calgary is in real trouble. For the regular season, Calgary finally found their RW1 to complement Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Lindholm finished with 78 points (27 goals) in 81 games. So many categories exploded for Lindholm in the right direction last year. For example, goals ballooned to 27. He shattered his career high of points (previously was just 45). His on-ice shooting percentage at even-strength was 12.2% last year. Even his possession metrics were around 55%. Yet, come the playoffs, everything went wrong. Lindholm had just two points in five games as Colorado pummeled Calgary’s top line again and again.
Is Lindholm’s near 15% shooting percentage sustainable? Maybe, it is. However, his career numbers in Carolina were near 9%. If something occurs in the middle and Lindholm shoots a bit less – that may mean five or six less goals and perhaps 10-20 less points. Calgary needs 70-80 point Lindholm if they expect to make the playoffs. That may be easier said than done.
Lindholm will get the ice time again early on but the pressure will be on him – fairly or unfairly.
Fourth, can Calgary get enough goaltending from Cam Talbot and David Rittich?
This is a big unknown. Talbot barely played after the trade deadline last season for Philadelphia. Sure, he practiced a good bit. As for Rittich, he faltered badly down the stretch as Mike Smith had to take over into the playoffs. Smith is now gone and replaced by Talbot.
After the All-Star Break, Rittich was 8-5-1 with a 2.89 goals-against average and .898 save percentage. It was like he turned into a pumpkin (2.47 GAA, .918 save percentage, 19 wins before break). His home numbers are crazy (13-2-4 but just an .885 save percentage and a goals-against over 3). Calgary scored just over four goals a game at home but allowed over three. They played a bit more run and gun at home. Think like St. Louis but with a little more offensive firepower.
That can be dangerous given Calgary may not score quite that much this season. Their goaltending must be more consistent – particularly at home. The wildcard is Rittich. Can he be that guy? The answer is unknown, and Talbot may not be the ideal goalie to fall back on if things go south.
Finally, has Calgary improved at all?
This may be the biggest problem. If anything, the Flames have gone backwards. There is no tangible upgrade at forward. Goaltending takes a step back as well. Furthermore, if they trade a T.J. Brodie, their defense takes another hit it does not need to.
Also, Calgary is hoping players that took major steps forward last year can sustain their production in 2019-20. As Vegas found out, that is not so easy of an ask. While the Flames still have Monahan and Gaudreau, the supporting cast may not be quite up to the task. Can they deliver again?
Consider that most bottom teams in the Pacific upgraded some and this could be a recipe for disaster. Maybe it won’t be. There is one certain thing with Calgary. They are not going to be boring this season – not by a long shot.
By Chris Wassel