The Calgary Flames have been busy this summer, filling the off-season with a number of changes that could push them to contention.
The biggest addition was forward James Neal, who signed a five-year deal in July that pays him $5.75 million a year. He had 44 points in 71 games with the Vegas Golden Knights last season and has more than sampled playoff hockey, so he’ll want more of the same in Calgary. The probability is that Neal will end up on the top line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, which could make for one of the most formidable units in hockey.
“For me, I want to win,” Neal said after signing his deal. “I’ve been really close the last few years to winning a Stanley Cup. Once you get a taste, you want more. We have great goaltending in [Mike Smith], and we have great guys up front and a good [defence] corps. I feel like we’re really close to winning, and for me, I hope I can be that little piece that they’ve been missing.”
Another piece of the puzzle could be new coach Bill Peters, who was hired after the firing of Glen Gulutzan in April. Peters spent four seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes as head coach and is familiar with new Flames like Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin, who joined Calgary in June.
“I think we’re deeper than we were at the end of the year, but it comes down to the individual performance and collective performance,” general manager Brad Treliving said. “It’s the execution. That’s what the whole game is about, is how well you can execute, how well, hopefully, you can find chemistry.”
That chemistry may take time, as the significant changes amongst the Flames could take some getting used to.
Many of the same pieces are in play, with the likes of Gaudreau and Monahan holding the fort. Gaudreau had a career-high 84 points last season and Monahan also set career-highs, even as he missed eight games due to injuries. With Neal a potential linemate, look for those stats to uptick.
And then there’s Matthew Tkachuk, who had 24 goals last season despite spending the bulk of it on the second line. The 20-year-old has the benefit of seeing time on the admittedly-struggling power play, which should see improvement under new assistant Geoff Ward, but injuries are a problem. Tkachuk has missed 20 games over the past two seasons, so he’s a calculated but advisable risk.
The Flames made the right additions to their already-impressive arsenal of offensive talent and that should mean a boon for goal-scoring in Calgary for 2018-2019. If they can moderate their offensive flourishes with tight defence and quality goaltending from workhorse Smith, they’ll find themselves in the dance once more.