Can they find stability in the crease?
The Flames are entering their seventh year since they had a rock-solid bona fide No. 1 goalie the ilk of Miikka Kiprusoff between the pipes. Some have been OK, and most have been forgettable since ‘Kipper’ retired in 2013. Cam Talbot will be the 13th stopper to get a shot. The UFA signing had a good run with the Rangers and two years in Edmonton before his game went south the past two seasons. He’ll share the crease with David Rittich, who had impressive stretches last season before losing the crease to Mike Smith in the playoffs. Rittich is younger with potentially a brighter future, but both he and Talbot will get a good chance to seize the No. 1 job by playoff time.
Are they quick and heavy enough?
The Flames have both speedsters and rugged pests in their lineup that won the Western Conference regular season a year ago. But by and large, they’re not a fast or physically assertive team compared to the top 10 or 12 Cup contenders. That fact was exposed in a five-game first-round loss to the Colorado Avalanche. The Flames had a tough time matching up against a speedy lineup and weren’t physical enough to wear the Avalanche down. That’s the book on beating Calgary. The only significant addition to the roster is Milan Lucic, who is about the same plodding speed as the guy he replaced, James Neal. Lucic’s physical presence will make the Flames tougher to play against, but will the lack of speed hold Calgary back again?
Can they find another gear?
The old saying goes, you have to lose first to learn what it takes to win. The Avalanche certainly delivered that message in April, humbling a Calgary attack that was the second-most potent during the season. After the fourth straight loss, many key Flames were criticized for not finding a way to raise the bar to playoff standards. Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund, even Mark Giordano were shadows of their regular-season selves at crunch time. Did they push too hard during the season and run out of steam? It sure looked that way. With a roster that’s mostly intact, we’ll see. But it might take until April to find out for sure.
Stanley Cup Odds: 15/1
Juuso Valimaki’s summer injury will keep him out of the lineup for most or all of the season, so cross him off the list. Dillon Dube had a great camp a year ago but couldn’t produce in 25 NHL games. An outstanding run in the AHL, however, suggests he’ll get an extended big-league look in the bottom six.