Wednesday, September 6, 2017

NHL Preview 2017-18: Calgary Flames

GM: Brad Treliving (since 2014). 4/10
Coach: Glen Gulutzan (since 2016). 6/10

2016-17 record: 45-33-4, 94 points, 15th overall, Wild Card. Eliminated in first round.

Departures: Brian Elliott (G), Chad Johnson (G), Deryk Engelland (D), Lance Bouma (LW), Linden Vey (RW).

Arrivals: Mike Smith (G), Travis Hamonic (D), Spencer Foo (RW), Eddie Lack (G), Luke Gazdic (LW), Marek Hrivik (LW).

Top forwards: Johnny Gaudreau (60-85 points), Sean Monahan (60-85 points), Mikael Backlund (50-65 points), Kris Versteeg (40 points), Michael Frolik (35-40 points), Foo (Hobey Baker candidate, Calder candidate), Sam Bennett (4th-overall draft pick, 2014), Micheal Ferland (15-20 goals).

Must-improve forwards: Troy Brouwer, Curtis Lazar. The former is declining, the latter still has "highly-rated prospect" pedigree. Both need to step it up.

Top defensemen: Mark Giordano (40 points, captain), Dougie Hamilton (40-55 points), T.J. Brodie (35-45 points), Hamonic (30 points).

Goalies: Smith (83/100), Lack (75/100).

Top rookies: Foo, Oliver Kylington (20 years old, D), Mark Jankowski (23, C, 21st overall pick in 2012), Rasmus Andersson (21, D).

Is Mike Smith an improvement over Brian Elliott? Possibly, as his highs and ceiling are higher, but his lows are also much deeper. That February slump will look awful and might deflate the entire team's bubble, possibly leading to Gulutzan's firing. Is Lack a better backup than Johnson? Somehow, I doubt it.

Hamonic solidifies the defense, giving the Flames one of the best top-4s in the league, although no one is on the Nashville Predators' level. Still, Calgary's defensive depth should help Smith get his save percentage above the .910 mark.

The offense is what drives this team, though, enough so that the Flames could make the playoffs in a division where only three teams make it, joining the Cup-contending Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers. Gaudreau and Monahan are elite-level talent, and the rest of the top-9 consists of a terrific supporting cast - on paper. Whether Frolik and Versteeg can continue to provide bang-for-the-buck while Backlund and Bennett provide solid going-forward play remains to be seen, but the odds of that happening are pretty good; that Brouwer regains the form that had Calgary thinking he could be a mid-to-long-term solution on the right wing, however, is a long shot.

Prediction: 3rd in the Pacific Division.

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