The Calgary Flames made some big off-season changes over the summer, including changing coaches and trading away defenceman Dougie Hamilton and forward Michael Ferland.
They’ve got some new faces on the club this year, with high-scoring veteran forward James Neal entering the fold along with the players they got in return for Hamilton and Ferland in forward Elias Lindholm and defenceman Noah Hanifin.
A couple of rookies also cracked the opening day roster, with Dillon Dube and Juuso Valimaki making the team.
We asked a number of Calgary Flames beat writers what their thoughts were on the hometown team this season and they were pretty uniform in their predictions. We asked them for their prediction on where the Flames would place in the standings, what the keys were to the season and what problems they might encounter.
We’ve got three early entrants and here’s what they had to say: (we’ll add more as they send them our way)
Standings Prediction: Top three in Pacific
Keys to the season: Depth
Calgary is in an interesting team this year in that their season could go either way. With the most depth up front since 2008-09, the Flames should boast a strong, four-line attack for the first time in a decade.
Potential problems: Divisional strength, goaltending
On the other hand, Calgary plays in one of the most challenging divisions in the league, including rivals like Anaheim, San
Jose, Los Angeles, Edmonton, and Las Vegas. It also doesn’t help that the Flames goaltending is a huge question mark, featuring 36-year old Mike Smith as the team’s only established NHL puck stopper.
If the goaltending falters, it could undermine what is otherwise a pretty strong roster. If, on the other hand the netminding is solid, Calgary is a good bet to finish in the top three of the Pacific.
- Kent Wilson writes about the Calgary Flames for The Athletic. His work has also appeared at FlamesNation.ca, the Calgary Herald, Hockey Prospectus, and The Score.
Prediction: Third in the Pacific Division
Keys for the Season: Forward depth
The Flames made a lot of changes after a disappointing 2017-18 season, jettisoning their entire coaching staff and several established players – notably Dougie Hamilton and Micheal Ferland. They’re arguably a less-talented team than they were a season ago, but their off-season signings and trades have definitely made them a more balanced team. Their forward depth should make them competitive in the Western Conference, while they could become a scary-good group if their new-look power play can click.
Potential Problems: Top D pairing, goaltending
Two things could derail their season, though. If TJ Brodie can’t rekindle his old magic on the top pairing with Mark Giordano, suddenly the defensive group looks a bit shaky. Their starting goaltender turns 37 years old before the end of the season, and his backup is still relatively untested.
- Ryan Pike has covered the Flames and the NHL since 2010 for FlamesNation.ca, The Hockey Writers and The Sporting News.
Standings Prediction: Third in the Pacific Division
Keys to the season: Chemistry
For the Flames, it’s obvious – they need to get on the same page. Upgrades are dandy and all, but with three new coaches (including the head honcho) and with at least eight new players (including two rookies), the locals will want to find chemistry as quickly as possible. That’ll be fun to watch.
Potential problems: Goaltending. Not because Mike Smith is bad – he’s not – but he’s a starter that turns 37 this season. Meaning backup David Rittich had better be able to shoulder more minutes than ever. Last winter, he struggled when Smith got hurt and the workload was transferred to him.
- Scott Cruickshank covers the Calgary Flames for The Athletic
Standings prediction: Third in the Pacific Division
Keys to the season: Just win, baby. That, and score more goals.
And good goaltending the entire year. Improve their powerplay. Play with increased intensity. Be tougher to play against. Play faster.
There were more than a few areas of concern that general manager Brad Treliving needed to address in the summer, which turned out to be one of his most aggressive ones yet. The pieces he added — James Neal, Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm, Derek Ryan and Austin Czarnik — should help take care of some of their main issues while new head coach Bill Peters wants them playing a more up-tempo, puck-possession style. Change is good and the Flames experienced a lot of it in the off-season. Training camp surprises Dillon Dube and Juuso Valimaki also give plenty of reason for optimism.
Potential problems: Goaltending depth
On the other side, if the team doesn’t get good goaltending from Mike Smith or is forced to rely on their back-up netminder David Rittich or Jon Gillies (who’ll start the season in Stockton with their AHL club), they could be in trouble. Neither has a convincing NHL resume or proven experience as a No. 1 NHL goalie.
- Kristen Anderson is a Calgary Flames beat writer for Postmedia