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The Hockey News’ 2018-19 Season Preview: Calgary Flames

A roster refresh, a blockbuster trade and an off-season coaching change gives the Flames hope they can reignite the ‘C’ of Red.

The Hockey News’ 2018-19 Season Preview series dives into off-season transactions, best- and worst-case scenarios and one burning question for each team in reverse order of Stanley Cup odds.

Stanley Cup odds: 18-1

Key Additions: James Neal, LW; Noah Hanifin, D; Elias Lindholm, LW; Derek Ryan, C; Austin Czarnik, LW

Key Departures: Dougie Hamilton, D; Micheal Ferland, LW; Matt Stajan, C; Kris Versteeg, LW; Nick Shore, C; Matt Bartkowski, D; Tanner Glass, LW

CGY
CGY

BEST-CASE SCENARIO
Most of Calgary’s young forwards set career highs last season, yet the Flames’ offense fell to 27th overall from 16th the year before. That’s because there was precious little contribution from Calgary’s depth forwards. In fact, the fourth line of Matt Stajan, Troy Brouwer and Curtis Lazar scored just 12 goals in 209 combined games played. GM Brad Treliving went to work boosting Calgary’s top six with the acquisitions of James Neal and Elias Lindholm, and that in turn will push depth down to the bottom two lines. The signings of Derek Ryan and Austin Czarnik, whose best-case upside is as the next Jonathan Marchessault, should give the Flames scoring on all four lines.

The blueline was supposed to be one of the best in the league, but T.J. Brodie struggled on the left side, Travis Hamonic wasn’t a good partner for him, and Dougie Hamilton’s spotty play in his own end and propensity for lazy penalties offset his 17 goals, which tied for the league lead. Noah Hanifin comes over from Carolina in the Hamilton trade, and Brodie is back on the right side with Mark Giordano. So, oddly, Calgary’s blueline looks better even with the loss of the league’s top goal-scoring defenseman.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO
Under deposed coach Glen Gulutzan, the Flames lacked identity. They weren’t a big or mean team, they didn’t play with speed or intensity, and they lacked discipline and fortitude. Sure, Calgary became a “possession” powerhouse and directed a lot of shots at the opposition’s net, but its impressive Corsi rating even had stats geeks wincing. That’s because the Flames set a post-lockout high of 1,232 missed shots in one season. That’s more than 15 per game. If the Flames did have an identity, it’s that they were a perimeter team.

New coach Bill Peters plans to change that, but it might be easier said than done. There could well be serious flaws in the two-way games of Calgary’s highest-paid players, which won’t be so easy to correct. But with three ex-Hurricanes coming over with Peters, his message may have a smoother reception.

The one thing Treliving didn’t address is the crease. Mike Smith is 36 and had a lousy finish to last season after he was the team MVP in the first half. Smith has missed large chunks of the past three seasons with injuries. The plan is to make David Rittich and Jon Gillies battle for the backup job and hope one rises to the occasion.

BURNING QUESTION
Does Sam Bennett take the long-awaited step forward this season?
Drafted fourth overall in 2014, Bennett got his first cup of coffee in the NHL at the tail end of the 2014-15 campaign and at the most crucial time of the year. Coming into the lineup with one game remaining in the season, Bennett’s play in his one-outing audition saw him slot into the Flames’ post-season lineup, where, as an 18-year-old, he chipped in three goals and four points in 11 games. The performance led to honest excitement about Bennett’s upside come a full rookie season, and, truth be told, he was more than mediocre as a freshman: 18 goals, 36 points and a spot in the middle of the lineup. Not bad.

Bennett’s two seasons since, though, have been trying. After flirting with the 20-goal plateau as a rookie, Bennett has managed only 24 in the two seasons since and missed time can’t be blamed for that. He’s played 163 of a possible 164 games. Bennett isn’t making up for a lack of lamp lighting with overall offense, either. He has posted consecutive 26-point seasons and he’s been mired in the bottom six in each of the past two campaigns.

However, there is still plenty of belief in Bennett’s ability, even if it is starting to wane. Peters unlocked some great potential in players such as Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, and he could do the same with Bennett, who could be an excellent asset for the Flames if he puts it all together at the highest level.

THE HOCKEY NEWS’ PREDICTION: 1st in the Pacific Division. The Flames’ already impressive possession metrics should get stronger under Peters, but look for an upgraded offense and improved blueline to result in a sizeable leap up the standings for Calgary. They should be playoff bound once again, and with home ice advantage in their back pocket.

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