The Calgary Flames are entering 2019-2020 with designs on winning it all, as you might expect from all 31 NHL teams. But this time, Calgary stands a more-than-fair chance of making the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in about a decade and winning it all.
The Flames finished first in the Western Conference last season and shocked the world with a first round playoff exit, essentially mirroring the Tampa Bay Lightning’s stunning ouster in the Eastern Conference.
Calgary didn’t do much in the off-season in terms of changing the roster, which is good because this is a solid bunch. Goalie Cam Talbot was signed to a one-year contract after Mike Smith headed to Edmonton, while Milan Lucic was landed in a swap that sent James Neal to the Oilers.
“What we’ve tried to do a little bit this summer and even going into last year was the introduction of a lot of young players over the last year,” general manager Brad Treliving said. “We think we’ve got some good young players here. A lot of them got their feet wet last year and we’re looking for them to continue to grow.”
Johnny Gaudreau lit the lamp for a career-high 36 goals last season, finishing with 99 points. That made him the second-best left winger in the NHL behind Brad Marchand. He’s the most effective pure scorer on the Flames and he’ll see plenty of time in five-on-five and on the power play. That will boost his value exponentially.
Matthew Tkachuk blew his standard points production out of the water in 2018-2019, putting up 77 in 80 games. He had 11 goals on the power play, one more than 2017-2018, and a career-high 207 shots on target. Tkachuk also delivered 104 hits, but he’s a restricted free agent and things could stall up. The intent is to get him to camp on time, of course.
Centre Sean Monahan continued the 2018-2019 trend of exceeding expectations with a career-high 82 points in 78 games. The 24-year-old had a dozen goals on the power play and should be up for plenty of production this season thanks to exposure to Gaudreau. That combination has proven lethal for the Flames.
Elias Lindholm fleshes out that top line for Calgary and, like the aforementioned, put up career-high totals last season. The 24-year-old Boden native had 27 goals and a monstrous 51 assists for 78 points. In 2017-2018, he managed 44 points. His previous career-high was a 45-point campaign in 2016-2017.
The Flames enter 2019-2020 with the Norris-winning Mark Giordano playing some of the best hockey of his career. The 35-year-old posted a career-high 74 points last season, including 17 goals, and was a big part of Calgary’s effective offence. His resolve and ability to rush the puck forced the issue for many an opponent.
Noah Hanifin put up a career-high 33 points and finished with a plus-18, the first time in his career he’s been a plus-player overall. Despite being just 22-years-old, Hanifin has a wealth of experience in the Calgary system. That will serve him well as the Flames look to bring up some fresh faces on the blueline.
Rasmus Andersson is one such player. He emerged last season with 19 points in 79 games and looked every bit like a top-four guy. 20-year-old Juuso Valimaki could see an uptick in ice time in 2019-2020. The same goes for Oliver Kylington, who produced eight points in 38 games last season.
With Smith out of the picture, it’s up to David Rittich to carry the load in Calgary. He split time with Smith last season and was always going to be the guy in the Flames’ crease, but is he ready? Talbot can help shoulder the load, which could set up an interesting dynamic for the team.
Rittich went 27-9-5 last season but didn’t start a playoff game. That could change this time around, which would go a long way to solidifying his role. He should earn about 50 starts this season.
The Flames have all the pieces in place to make another shot at Stanley Cup glory. This time around, they’ll hope for a more post-season luck. They hit a hot hand in Colorado, but there’s plenty to build on and the young blood in Calgary suggests the potential for a deeper, better run.
Photo credit: NHL