The Calgary Flames’ young core put it all together this season with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk all having career years. As did Mark Giordano, who at age 35, took home his first Norris Trophy. Their emergence led to a first place finish in the Western Conference which was good enough for a second place tie with Boston in the league.
Additions: Milan Lucic, Byron Froese, Brandon Davidson, Cam Talbot
Subtractions: James Neal, Mike Smith
The biggest change to the Flames forward lineup is the James Neal for Milan Lucic swap. If Neal returns to his minimum 20 goal production he had before joining the Flames, this could look like a lopsided deal but Neal clearly wasn’t working out in Calgary. In a bottom-6 role, Lucic can still be a strong forechecker but to expect him to get back to the way he played in Boston is unrealistic. The Flames have some great top-end talent but it’s their depth that is really impressive with the 2nd-highest ranked bottom-6 forwards in the league.
Will Giordano put together another Norris Trophy campaign? Will Noah Hanifin develop into the player everyone expected he could be when he was made a 5th overall draft pick? There are plenty of question marks for this d-core but even with a slight regression they should be one of the stronger units out there.
Going into the playoffs last season, goaltending was expected to be a big issue for the Flames until Mike Smith turned back the clock and threw up a shutout in Game 1. They may not have won another game but goaltending couldn’t be blamed. This year, they’re bringing back David Rittich but let go Smith in favor of Cam Talbot. Will a Rittich/Talbot combination be good enough to keep the Flames in contention? Only time will tell.
The Point Prediction:
The Flames will once again rule the Pacific Division but unlike last year they won’t be taking home the top spot in the West, settling for second. They better keep their eye on the prize though because Vegas will give them a run for the Pacific.
(Photo by Rob Marczynski/NHLI via Getty Images)