The Calgary Flames have missed the postseason as many times as they have made it in since their 2004 Cup run. More recently it has been six times in the last ten seasons where they have not made it, and now the Flames enter ’21-’22 off a notable offseason. Former captain, Mark Giordano, who spent 15 seasons in Calgary is now with the Seattle Kraken via the expansion draft. The Flames however were able to bring in a number of new faces. They shelled out a six-year deal to lure Blake Coleman away from the Tampa Bay Lightning. In addition to two trades to boot. Including picking up defenseman Nikita Zadorov from the Chicago Blackhawks. Along with Goaltender Dan Vladar from the Boston Bruins.
As far as locking up their own guys, the Flames were able to do that as well. Forward Dillon Dube was re-upped on a three-year bridge deal worth just south of seven million dollars. The 23-year-old had 11 goals a season ago along with 11 assists. In this year’s draft, Calgary selected Harvard-bound Matthew Cornonato at 13th overall. Last season with the Chicago Steel in the USHL, he was three goals shy of averaging a goal a game in 51 games. Ted Donato has himself a sniper coming to Cambridge, Mass.
A major storyline with this team all season will be Johnny Gaudreau, entering the final year of his current deal, his future status with the team will be a talking point for months to come. After a sub .500 year in the North Division, the Flames return to the Pacific Division. Can the Flames make it back to the postseason in the traditional division alignment? That remains to be seen.
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Eight of Calgary’s top ten point producers from a season ago are all back. Then add in Coleman who would have ranked sixth on the team a year ago in points, fifth in goals. Granted, the Flames ranked middle of the road a season ago in goal production so take of that what you will. In a division with the likes of John Gibson, Connor Hellebuyck, Thatcher Demko, and Robin Lehner, goals are at a premium. At the same time, scoring right at a league-average pace in goals will unlikely cut it if this Flames squad has any true postseason ambitions. Look for Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, Dube, and Matthew Tkachuk to lead the way in the goals department most likely.
The Giordano absence will loom large for this defensive unit. With that said, however, Calgary has some quality options for their top two pairings. Last season the Flames paired Chris Tanev with Noah Hanifin. Before a shoulder injury knocked the latter out for the season, the two were buzzing together. Even without the Boston native, Tanev had a plus-15 rating on the year on a Flames team with a negative five-goal differential. It would be wise to run it back with this duo but as the top pairing this year.
In the event that pairing is locked in, Calgary’s No. 2 pair will almost certainly look like the new face Zadorov alongside the right shot of Rasmus Andersson. Zadorov a year ago in Chicago did not do much in the points department. Despite that, the 6’6 Russian managed to finish with a plus-one rating, 19-plus minutes of time on ice, and had 190 hits in 55 games. In an 82 game season, that number would have been north of 280, a career-high. This would leave Juuso Välimäki and Erik Gudbranson on pair three, with Michael Stone as the reserve.
The new face in the goaltending conversation in Calgary is one “Darth” Vladar. The 24-year-old was an odd man out so to speak in Boston, so the Bruins opted to move him here for the price of a future third-round pick. He made five starts a season ago in the NHL, going 2-2-1 with a goals-against of 3.40. Jacob Markstrom is also back for his second year with the team. Last year he put up his second-best season in terms of goals-against average, but could only do so much, finishing with a record of 22-19-2. Hopefully, Darth Vladar can take some of the pressure off of Markstrom and the pair complements each other well in the best-case scenario.
Hanifin almost certainly will have high expectations put on him as a member of the Flames. As the key piece in the trade that sent Dougie Hamilton to the Carolina Hurricanes, that may always be the case. Now more than ever with Giordano off to Seattle as well. His probable partner Tanev will likely be the new No. 1 guy on the back end. However, if Hanifin can pick up where he left off a season ago with him, that would be gigantic for this team’s success.
Brad Treliving and the Flames front office made a huge gamble with Coleman’s contract. Six years and nearly 30 million for a player who has never reached a 40 point season can be classified as a bad contract. The reason they brought him in, however, is firstly the fact he is off of back-to-back Cup wins with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Having a guy who has lived through what it takes to win at the highest level in any dressing room is invaluable.
Secondly, Coleman was likely a global pandemic stopping the ’19-’20 season dead in its tracks away from back to back 20 goal 200 hit seasons. His contract has the potential to age horrendously, especially with it being littered with no-movement clauses. If Coleman however can be a key contributor on both ends of the ice, that could go a long way.
Biggest Question Facing the Flames
Without question, Calgary seems poised for a better year than what they had a season ago. The goaltending situation feels pretty good unlike in most years which is big. Along with a number of solid players in the forward and defensive group. The real question is how far can this team ultimately go? Even with the improvements, the Pacific Division at the top, and more so the Western Conference, is stacked. Even if Darryl Sutter’s squad makes the jump, how many teams are there that will simply be better when the chips are down?
With a shift back to the traditional four divisions, Calgary could have a better time trying to make the postseason. Although the Vegas Golden Knights are the class of the division, there are a number of teams that lack direction or just are not all there yet. These include the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, and the brand new Kraken. With that said a postseason birth is a realistic expectation for this year’s Flames team. However the same cannot be said about a deep playoff run unless something crazy happens. Say along the lines of a certain Boston University Center currently begging to leave western New York being Calgary bound.
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