With the NHL season now just underway, we continue our look at what each team has done this summer and what to watch for in the year to come. Next up is a look at the Calgary Flames.
Last Season: 37-35-10 record (84 points), fifth in the Pacific Division (missed the playoffs)
Remaining Cap Space: $1.35MM per CapFriendly
Key Subtractions: D Matt Bartkowski (free agent, Minnesota), F Troy Brouwer (buyout, Florida), F Micheal Ferland (trade with Calgary), F Tanner Glass (free agent, Bordeaux, Ligue Magnus), D Dougie Hamilton (trade with Calgary), D Brett Kulak (trade with Montreal), F Jaromir Jagr (free agent, Rytiri Kladno, Czech Republic), F Nick Shore (free agent, unsigned), F Matt Stajan (free agent, EHC Munchen, DEL), F Chris Stewart (free agent, retired after signing in the Czech Republic), F Kris Versteeg (free agent, Avangard Omsk, KHL)
[Related: Flames Depth Chart From Roster Resource]
Player To Watch: D Mark Giordano – The 35-year-old has been a workhorse on Calgary’s back end for the better part of a decade. However, he has shown some signs of slowing down which likely played a role in their decision to acquire Hanifin, sacrificing one of their better right-shot defenders in Hamilton in the process.
With Hanifin now in the picture as well as T.J. Brodie, the Flames now have three legitimate top-four defenders that are natural lefties, not to mention youngster Juuso Valimaki who impressed in training camp. With that in mind, it’s going to be worth watching to see if Calgary tries to scale back Giordano’s ice time after he averaged nearly 25 minutes of playing time per night. They certainly have the depth to back down his playing time and with four years left on his contract (including this one), thinking long-term would be a wise strategy.
With Hanifin in the fold and locked up long-term, there will be a changing of the guard on that top pairing at some point. How quickly will it come or will Giordano be anchoring the top pairing for a while yet?
Key Storyline: Goaltending in Calgary has been a question mark since the days of Miikka Kiprusoff. Veterans like Brian Elliott and Jonas Hiller had some good moments but Mike Smith was viewed as an improvement when they brought him in a year ago. However, he also wasn’t able to get the job done and his injury late last season was quite damaging to their playoff hopes.
Between Smith, 36, and David Rittich, who has just 22 games of NHL experience, there are still legitimate questions about their goaltending situation, both in the short-term and long-term. Can Smith stay healthy and give them decent netminding throughout the full season? Can Rittich or Jon Gillies pick up the slack if Smith falters or gets injured and is one of them going to be able to take on the number one job in the next year or two?
Given those questions, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Calgary monitoring the trade market for goalies throughout the season. If a controllable starter happens to become available or even a more proven option as a backup, the Flames will probably find themselves in the mix before too long. If not, they’ll be a team to watch in free agency next summer.
Overall Outlook: With the additions of Neal and Lindholm, Calgary’s offense should be a lot better than the group that placed 26th in the league in goals scored last season. That alone should pick them up a few more wins and if Smith avoids the late-season injury this time around, they’re certainly going to be in the mix for a Wild Card spot in what has quickly become a very tight Pacific Division.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.