CALGARY — The Calgary Flames enter the 2018-19 season different and deeper, the result of extensive work done over the summer by general manager Brad Treliving.
Gone after two years is coach Glen Gulutzan, replaced by Bill Peters, who spent the past four seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes.
The GM has also brought in several new faces up front, including a pair of top-six right wingers in Elias Lindholm and veteran sniper James Neal. They should help out Calgary’s existing forwards, as Treliving said on of his club’s issues last year was the reliance on too few players to do too much.
Lindholm and defenceman Noah Hanifin, fifth-overall picks in 2013 and 2015 respectively, were acquired in June in a trade with Carolina that sent defenceman Dougie Hamilton, winger Micheal Ferland and prospect Adam Fox the other direction.
Neal, 31, who has at least 20 goals in each of his 10 seasons, brings much-needed playoff experience having played in the last two Stanley Cup finals. He joins an organization that has only got past the first round of the playoffs twice in the last 30 years.
A new-look third line featuring free agent signings Derek Ryan and Austin Czarnik, two fast and skilled players, means Sam Bennett, 2014 fourth-overall pick, and Mark Jankowski, coming off an 17-goal rookie season, drop to the fourth line in place of older veterans Troy Brouwer (bought out), Matt Stajan (Germany) and Kris Versteeg (KHL), who were not productive last year and are no longer with the team.
On the blue line, Hamilton’s 17 goals are gone, but it means TJ Brodie reunites on the top pairing with Mark Giordano, which is where he has played the best hockey of his career. The smooth-skating Hanifin, 21, will look to continue his upwards progression, playing on the second pairing with Travis Hamonic.
HEAD COACH: Bill Peters, first year. Went 137-138-53 in four seasons with Carolina.
LAST SEASON: 37-35-10, missed playoffs.
Johnny Gaudreau: The exciting and dynamic left-wing is a catalyst of the offence with linemate Sean Monahan.
Mark Giordano: Almost 35, the longtime captain has yet to lose a step. He logs big minutes on the top defensive pairing and is the team’s backbone.
Matthew Tkachuk: Impassioned, surly, but highly skilled too, the 20-year-old winger is always noticeable, creating offence, while also getting under opponents’ skin.
THE BIG QUESTION: Can veteran goaltender Mike Smith stay healthy?
Smith is the clear No. 1, and the 36-year-old has demonstrated he’s still capable of playing at a high level. But his workload will have to be managed, and the club’s back-up options don’t inspire confidence.
David Rittich stumbled badly when pressed into service as a starter last season when Smith missed a month with an injury. Minor league prospect Jon Gillies who didn’t fare much better. Rittich starts the seaosn as No. 2, but if this area ends up being an issue, the team could trade for a more experienced back-up to lessen Smith’s workload.