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YEARBOOK: The 2019-20 Calgary Flames

The Calgary Flames made bold moves in the hopes their core was on the verge of making big things happen. The result was a stellar regular season but disappointing post-season, but a new season presents a new opportunity.

A year ago, the Calgary Flames made bold moves in the hopes their core was on the verge of making big things happen. And they did...sort of. The result was a stellar regular season but disappointing post-season.

Led by Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan and a superb effort from captain Mark Giordano, Calgary racked up 50 wins en route to its first Western Conference crown in 29 years. But then came a forgettable playoff performance that showed the Flames still have a long way to go to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders – a first-round five-game ousting at the hands of Colorado.

With a need to pare salary for cap purposes, the Flames were handcuffed to the point only minor changes could be made, so they enter into the 2019-20 campaign hoping the lessons of yesterday make for better days ahead.

OFFENSE
Scoring wasn’t a problem, at least not in the regular season. Thanks to career years all over the roster – and almost all from players who are still on an upward trajectory – Calgary was the second-most prolific team and should again have a strong attack. Gaudreau, Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm and Mikael Backlund surpassed the 20-goal mark, while Giordano won the Norris Trophy after a 17-goal, 74-point campaign.

As well, the Flames’ roster depth came through with a handful of third- and fourth-liners hitting double-digits in goals. There was one major disappointment, though: James Neal, signed to a five-year, $28.75-million contract in 2018, netted only seven goals. He was traded to rival Edmonton in July for Milan Lucic, in what was essentially a lateral move. Expectations should be low for Lucic – the lumbering winger has 16 goals over the past two seasons combined.

DEFENSE
Giordano turns 36 as the season opens, but he remains the linchpin on the blueline of a top-10 defensive squad. Giordano deservedly receives plenty of accolades, but the team boasts a very solid defense corps with Travis Hamonic and Noah Hanifin making up a strong second pairing and youngsters Rasmus Andersson, Juuso Valimaki and Oliver Kylington all ready to assume bigger roles. Watch for Andersson to slip into the top pairing with Giordano, a spot he took for parts of last season.

Calgary’s top forwards still need to become better players in their own zone, but that shortfall is easier to overlook when Gaudreau and Monahan are powering a 100-goal line.

GOALTENDING
The biggest change is between the pipes, where the No. 1 job is up for grabs. With Mike Smith departing via free agency, the Flames hand the reins to David Rittich and newly signed Cam Talbot. Rittich, in his second full season, was key to the club’s early success, but he played through a knee injury in the second half and wasn’t as consistent. Talbot, signed to a one-year deal, was supplanted as the No. 1 in Edmonton last season before being traded to Philadelphia.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Surprisingly, Calgary struggled in this department. The power play and penalty kill both ranked in the bottom half. The PK, at least, accounted for an NHL-high 18 shorthanded goals. The power play should improve, given the Flames’ talent level. The penalty kill struggled early, then found its footing before regressing in the playoffs.

INTANGIBLES
If you believe post-season disappointment is key to teams reaching a new level, the Flames are your squad. Gaudreau and Monahan know they must perform down the stretch and into the playoffs after last season’s debacle.

ROOKIES
Both Valimaki and Dillon Dube made last year’s opening roster but didn’t spend the entire season in Calgary. Valimaki, who turns 21 on Oct. 6, was playing very well until a high-ankle sprain cost him two months and resulted in him spending much of the rest of the year in the minors. Dube, 21, faded after 20 games and was sent to the AHL, where he responded with a point-per-game output.

X-FACTOR
Once again the biggest question mark is goaltending. Rittich and Talbot have both shown they can be very good at times, but neither gives off the vibe that the club has a true No. 1. Calgary’s season could go off the rails in a hurry if this area of concern becomes a full-blown problem.

THE BRASS
For good reason, the Flames retained the same coaching staff, led by Bill Peters, and management team. The onus on GM Brad Treliving will be to walk the salary-cap tightrope and hope his goaltending gamble pays off. Treliving has been masterful at re-signing his own players, but this team needs a long-term answer in net.

– Randy Sportak

Stanley Cup Odds: 15/1

Prediction: 1st in Pacific

FUTURE WATCH

1. Juuso Valimaki, D
Age 20 TeamStockton (AHL)
An ankle sprain cut his NHL stint short, but he’s a big body who skates well. Good all-around player.
Acquired 16th overall, 2017 NHL ’19-20

2. Jakob Pelletier, LW
Age 18 TeamMoncton (QMJHL)
Diminutive winger plays hard and has a high skill level and non-stop motor. Durability is a concern.
Acquired 26th overall, 2019 NHL ’21-22

3. Dillon Dube, C
Age 21 TeamStockton (AHL)
Effortless skater had no problem scoring as an AHL rookie. Started last year with the big club.
Acquired 56th overall, 2016 NHL ’19-20

4. Tyler Parsons, G
Age 22 TeamStockton (AHL)
Competitive and athletic. He just needs to stay healthy. Could use some economy of movement.
Acquired 54th overall, 2016 NHL ’21-22

5. Ilya Nikolayev, C
Age 18 TeamYaroslavl Jr. (Rus.)
Good skater who plays a smart and responsible defensive game. Needs test at higher level.
Acquired 88th overall, 2019 NHL ’23-24

6. Martin Pospisil, C
Age 19 TeamSioux City (USHL)
Big bodied forward plays mean, doesn’t shy from contact. Soft hands, but his skating needs work.
acquired 105th overall, 2018 NHL ’20-21

7. Mathias Emilio Pettersen, C
Age 19 TeamDenver (NCHC)
Speedy, creative playmaker put up good numbers as a freshman. Not huge but strong on puck.
Acquired 167th overall, 2018 NHL ’22-23

8. Matthew Phillips, RW
Age 21 TeamStockton (AHL)
Tiny physically but is motivated and aggressive. Slow start to pro game improved in second half.
Acquired 166th overall, 2016 NHL ’21-22

9. Dmitri Zavgorodny, LW

Age 19 Team Rimouski (QMJHL)
Averaged close to a point per game after red-hot start. Nagging injury slowed him down.
Acquired 198th overall, 2018 NHL ’21-22

10. Glenn Gawdin, C
Age 22 TeamStockton (AHL)
Super scorer in junior has NHL upside if he can develop into two-way defensive bottom-sixer.
Acquired Free agent, Nov., 2017 NHL ’21-22

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