Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2020-21, 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 2020-21 Stanley Cup pick. Today the series continues with the 2020-21 Calgary Flames.
2020-21 Calgary Flames
The Flames finished third in the Pacific Division with a 36-27-7 with 79 points to finish third in the Pacific Division. Calgary had a game in hand before the season paused due to COVID-19. They beat the Winnipeg Jets in the qualifying round in four games to advance to the Western Conference quarterfinals. The Flames pushed the Dallas Stars to six games in the first round, but lost the last three of the series.
Calgary ended the 2019 calendar year and started 2020 with a combined 14-7-2 mark that put them into Stanley Cup playoff position. This was impressive considering the Flames made a coaching change in the middle of the season. Bill Peters was fired after previous racially charged incidents involving Akim Aliu while he was coaching in the AHL. Geoff Ward came in on Nov. 29 and the team rallied. He went 24-15-3 and the longtime assistant gained the trust of the locker room.
The Flames weren’t able to repeat as Pacific Division champions, but general manager Brad Treliving gave Ward the full-time job in the summer. There was some rumbling of a roster reshuffle during the off-season, but none of those big moves came to pass.
Rumours were the order of the day Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan had their names tossed around in trade deals. There was plenty of talk that the Flames would tear down their squad before keeping some of their main cogs. However, there were a few changes as a number of Calgary Canucks… check that… Vancouver Canucks came over in free agency. The big move was landing goalie Jacob Markstrom from their division rivals. Calgary also picked up Josh Leivo and Chris Tanev from Vancouver.
The team’s defence will have a different look after letting T.J. Brodie and Erik Gustafsson walk in free agency. Travis Hamonic also did not re-sign, but he still remains on the market. There could be an outside shot that he returns to the team on a short-term contract.
Extra: Dominik Simon
Gaudreau and Monahan know they have to pick up the pace and definitely in the post-season. “Johnny Hockey’s” playoff struggles almost had him dealt out of town. However, the top line can turn it on and be one of the better top lines in a Canadian or Pacific Division if they match what they did in 2018-19. Lindholm just missed out on reaching the 30-goal mark and would have done so if the season continued. Gaudreau saw his production get cut in half from 36 goals to 18 last season.
Tkachuk also saw his production dip from 34 goals in 2018-19 to 23 last season. However, Mangiapane stepped up with a career-high 17 goals from the left. Backlund would have likely matched or surpassed his 47-point total from 2018-19 had the season been completed.
Bennett led the team in scoring with five goals during the extended post-season. His continued strong play bolstered the Flames in the playoffs. Dube almost equalled his regular-season goal total (six) in the playoffs (four). Lucic is still trying to find the form that he had with the Boston Bruins and live up to the impossible deal the Edmonton Oilers gave him.
Nordstrom came over from Boston and served as a role player with the club. He’ll slide into the left side of the bottom line anchored by Ryan, who contributed double-digit goals from the bottom six. Leivo and Simon will likely fight it out for that spot on the right side on the final line.
Extra: Nikita Nesterov
Giordano struggled last season with just five goals after winning the Norris Trophy in 2019. He didn’t score in the post-season and missed games last season. Andersson was the leading scorer on defence during the playoffs with three goals as he had a career-high. It wouldn’t be surprising if Giordano gets paired up with Tanev on occasion.
Hanifin is hoping to reproduce the 10-goal season from the 2017-18 season with the Carolina Hurricanes. He was also held scoreless during the post-season like Giordano. Tanev has been a steady, stay-at-home defender in his tenure with the Canucks. He’ll be a boost at the back for a team that has solid offensive defencemen.
Kylington and Valimaki will likely get more time to shine with Brodie, Hamonic and Gustafsson not being back. The duo has limited NHL experience, so mistakes are to be expected. Kylington played 48 games last season and split time between the big club and the Stockton Heat. Valimaki got into one game last season with the club. Nesterov comes over from the KHL to offer an experienced blueliner to help the group along.
Extra: Louis Domingue
Markstrom was angling for a deal with the Canucks, but Thatcher Demko‘s emergence pushed him out the door. The Swede went 23-16-4 with a 2.75 goals-against-average and .918 save percentage. He’s hoping to live up to the six-year, $36 million deal he inked in the off-season. Rittich started out well again but faded down the stretch as he did in 2018-19. Cam Talbot came in and shouldered the load for the stretch run and the playoffs. The Czech goalie can be a capable backup if Markstrom is injured.
Players to Watch
He’s heard the rumours off-season about being traded and he wants to bounce back. He and Monahan’s struggles came to a head in the playoffs in their exit. The Flames won the division in 2018-19 when he, Monahan and Giordano were producing at career-best rates. The Boston College product can get back to 30 goals and that would be huge for Calgary.
It’s put up or shut up time for the young defenceman. Calgary went through a drastic makeover and dropped a trio of veterans in order to be cap-compliant. Treliving and Ward are putting their faith in Kylington and Valimaki to be a dynamic third pair. He’s still a restricted free agent, but will likely re-sign a short-term deal.
Prediction for 2020-21 Calgary Flames
The Flames didn’t get production from Gaudreau, Monahan and Giordano and that likely cost them a shot at the division. If they can get those points to return, Calgary could challenge for the Pacific or be comfortably into a Canadian Division spot. The bottom six’s playoff production could be a big boon if the top lines struggle. There are also concerns about the young backend of the defence. Markstrom and the other former Canucks will hopefully mesh well with their new teammates after coming from their division rivals.
The 2020-21 Calgary Flames should be in position for the post-season if things go their way.