Are you ready? We’re back to the 82-game regular season format, which means more joy and also more pain. It’s a roller coaster of emotions every season because there are always surprises, and the good ones can make us feel like geniuses while the bad ones feel like belly flopping into an empty pool.
But we’re all gluttons for punishment, so we might as well stay as informed as we can to later rationalize why the fantasy hockey gods hate you. Yes, they specifically hate you.
2021-22 Fantasy Outlook: Calgary Flames
Last season: The Flames looked good on paper. They poached Chris Tanev and Jacob Markstrom from a division rival. Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau were supposed to have bounce-back seasons. But the script literally flipped on the Flames in just their fifth game, prompting a players-only meeting and a season-long struggle marred by stories about a locker-room divide. Geoff Ward was fired 19 games later. Monahan struggled again and an overworked Markstrom couldn’t cover up a mediocre defense. They gave up on Sam Bennett only to see him excel with the Panthers. The Flames have either failed to make the playoffs or advance past the first round in six of their seven seasons under GM Brad Treliving, and since 2014-15 rank 20th in points percentage.
Best option: Elias Lindholm, C
Lindholm has been an under-the-radar gem for the Flames, amassing 179 points in 207 games over the past three seasons. His ceiling isn’t as high as Gaudreau’s or Matthew Tkachuk’s, but Lindholm is more consistent with his offensive contributions and over the same period ranks second in power-play points and fifth in shorthanded points. It’s no fluke; his even-strength possession numbers are some of the best in the league, and according to naturalstattrick.com has finished with a 5v5 CF% above 50 percent every season since his rookie year even though his teams have not always been particularly good. THN’s Pool Guide is projecting Lindholm to lead the Flames in scoring at 73 points, followed by Tkachuk, Monahan and Gaudreau, all of whom are projected to finish with 66 or less. Lindholm may be a safe pick in fantasy but there should be a premium on players you can count on.
Hidden gem: Andrew Mangiapane, LW
Mangiapane personifies what the Flames want to be under Darryl Sutter: not particularly talented, but able to punch well above their own weight and grinding their way to wins. He finished fourth in scoring on the Flames, fell one goal shy of tying Lindholm and Gaudreau for the team lead and ranks third in 5v5 CF% over the past three seasons (min. 150 GP) behind only Tkachuk and Mark Giordano. His playing style and versatility is a very good fit for Sutter’s Flames and will likely average between 16-18 minutes per game in a top-six role. He’s projected to score 50 points per THN’s Pool Guide, making him a sneaky mid-round option after all the first-line forwards have been taken.
Goalies: Miikka Kiprusoff routinely played 70-plus games for Sutter and he’ll have to resist the temptation with Markstrom, whose play was clearly impacted by fatigue and injury. That’s probably the number one concern going into the season, especially without an experienced backup in 24-year-old Daniel Vladar. Markstrom played 60 games just twice with the Canucks, and over the past six seasons ranks 31st with a .912 Sv%, which can win you games but perhaps not a lot of them. When Markstrom is on his game he can be brilliant, but it’s hard to count on him given his injury history and a Flames defense that features only one player – Tanev – who is over 26 years old. Vladar is short on experience but in 78 AHL games holds a 36-26-13 record with a 2.33 GAA and .917 Sv%, and asides from an eight-goal debacle (four were on the power play) against the Capitals, Vladar showed some flashes of potential. If Markstrom gets injured, I suspect Vladar will be a popular pickup.
Outlook: At best, the Flames will be a playoff contender but definitely behind the Golden Knights and Oilers. The Canucks look better on paper and it’ll likely be a dogfight between them for the final playoff spot, and it’s tough to gauge if the Flames are even well-suited to play Sutter’s signature style, even with the addition of Blake Coleman. There are just too many different factors, both on and off the ice, that prevent the Flames from being reliable options in fantasy. The ceiling may be high but the floor is probably lower than you think; for example, Gaudreau could be an elite point producer again in a contract year and demand a lucrative extension, or he could also get shipped out at the trade deadline – both are distinct possibilities.