2020 was not a good year for most things. Between a global pandemic, numerous lockdowns, economic uncertainty, and so much more, there were fewer moments of joy for most than there were in previous years.
For the Flames, a similar story emerged. A marginal season ended prematurely, and while they won their first round series against the Winnipeg Jets, they were unable to generate much against the Dallas Stars, who ended up beating them handedly. 2020 was not a great year for the Flames, and they will be hoping for better once the clock strikes midnight.
The New Year provides an opportunity to reflect on the year that has past and an opportunity to set some new goals for the upcoming year. With the season starting in just a few weeks, we thought we would create some New Years resolutions for GM Brad Treliving, coach Geoff Ward, and the Flames.
GM Brad Treliving
Work some cap magic
The Flames are buttressed right against the cap ceiling going into the season. With just over $200,000 to play with, the team will need to be creative about how to save money throughout the course of the season. The team has no real wiggle room to sign another player should there be an injury, and will need to find some space to account for upcoming performance bonuses built into some entry-level deals. Going into the new year, Treliving will have to work his magic to ensure the team is cap compliant.
Coach Geoff Ward
Develop team chemistry
Something changed between 2018-19 and 2019-20. The team quite simply was not as good. The top line was a shadow of its former self, and the team relied on the third line of Dillon Dube, Sam Bennett and Milan Lucic to generate the bulk of the scoring through the playoffs. Yikes!
Going into this season, Coach Ward and his team will need to work hard to get the team to play better. Be it finding a way for Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan to get in closer to the net or finding a way to help Mark Giordano get his Norris Trophy winning mojo back, Ward will have a lot of work on his hands trying to develop a winning culture within the organization.
This is an easy one. Gaudreau put up half as many goals last season as he did the year before. On top of that, his advanced stats numbers were down substantially across the board. Fundamentally, Gaudreau could not got to the front of the net nor could he find either Monahan or Elias Lindholm to create chances in the offensive zone.
Gaudreau is an offensive catalyst, and someone who the Flames will need to get production from if they hope to be successful this season. Whether Gaudreau plays with Monahan again or is put with different linemates, he needs to find a way to get the puck to the back of the net.
Find a way to the front of the net again
Although Coach Ward talks about Sean Monahan’s strong two-way game, the fact of the matter is that he excels when he is able to get chances right in front of the net. When he can do that, Monahan is an elite sniper in the league. A player with a wicked release who can reliably beat almost any goalie in the league.
Last season, he just did not get to the front of the net reliably. As outlined by Bill Tran previously, his median shot distance was nearly three feet back last season as compared to the year before. He needs to find a way to get back into the danger zone.
Develop into an elite centre
Coach Geoff Ward has talked over and over again about the plan to move Lindholm to centre. They tried it briefly last season with some success, but then went back to the top six that we are all used to. This season, they seem ready to try that plan again. If the plan is for the Flames to play Lindholm as a centre, he needs to be able to excel in that role.
Transitioning to a new position takes time and hard work, and the Flames will need Lindholm to be able to do so effective. If he can, it creates immesne opportunities for the team. They can roll three incredible lines, and can deploy them all in different situations. Lindholm will need to be at his best, and work to develop into a top centre over the course of the season.
Lean into a new role
When Matthew Tkachuk went down with injury in the post-season, the Flames looked lost. Not only were they down an elite player, they seemed to lose a big piece of their identity. Like it or not, Tkachuk is the heart and soul of this team, and this season he needs to really lean into that role.
This season, he may not be playing with Mikael Backlund, with the Flames maybe looking to utilitze his immense offensive talents more effectively at 5v5. Tkachuk will need to show that he is even better away from Backlund than he has been with him.
Prove the haters wrong
Andrew Mangiapane was one of the Flames’ best players last season, but you wouldn’t know that if you don’t watch the team. Even after a season where he was first in Corsi for percentage, expected goals for percentage, relative expected goals for, and more, many still see him as too small and not skilled enough to be an offensive threat in the NHL.
Mangiapane needs to show that last season was not a fluke, and that he can really be a bona-fide top six player for the Flames. There is a tendency for players who play alongside Backlund to look better than they are (we see you Michael Frolik, Sam Bennett, etc. etc.). This season, there is a good chance that he won’t play as much with the Swedish star. Mangiapane will need to show that he is as good as we know he can be.
Keep giving the Backlund Bump
For the last few years, Backlund has been a fixture as the second line centre. In that role, he has had numerous wingers, all of whom he has been able to make look good. For the last few, he has played alongside Matthew Tkachuk, and the two along with Mangiapane have developed into one of the best shutdown lines in the league.
This year that line combination may shift. The Flames may look to either Tkachuk, Mangiapane, or both to take on a more offensive role. With Lindholm likely moving to centre, Backlund will almost certainly see new linemates. Ever a selfless teammate, Backlund will be looking to help the team succeed, and his role is to make the guys he plays with look better. Whether he has Bennett, Dube, Monahan, or someone else, his objective should be to keep making them look as good as his flow does.
Take another big step forward
For the last three seasons, Dube has been one of the best players at camp, and each year he has had his struggles in the regular season. Through the playoffs, however, he was a standout performer, putting up four goals and an assist in 10 games.
Going into the regular season, he will be looking to build on that success. While he did face other team’s third and fourth lines, he may be ready for a more difficult assignment. However, knowing his work ethic and compete level, he will be up for the task.
Be a net positive player, both on and off the ice
At 32, Lucic is a few years removed from his big bruising days when he played for the Boston Bruins. He struggled in the opening part of the season when he seemed a step behind the rest of the play. However, as the season wore on and especially in the playoffs, Lucic was able to really get going alongside Bennett and Dube. Both guys also credited Lucic’s ability to create space on the ice with their ability to succeed.
Going into this season, Lucic will be looking to replicate his post-season success. While he likely won’t be the guy scoring most of the goals, he can help to crash and bang down low and create chances for his linemates. The key for him will be to not drag his linemates and teammates down. Making the smart moves to stay with the play, staying out of the penalty box, and helping his linemates to create chances will go a long way to helping him have a great second season with the Flames.
Bring playoff Bennett back
Every year, Bennett has a rough regular season, but once the playoffs begin, he goes into overdrive, putting the team on his back and willing them to win. He becomes a completely different player, which was again on display in last year’s playoffs.
He needs to learn to bring this into the regular season. This year, the Flames will play a lot of high intensity games against Canadian opponents, which should hopefully help him get going. It doesn’t matter what it takes, it would be great for the Flames to finally get that version of Bennett in a regular season game.
Bring stability with rotating linemates
With the very tight schedule, GM Brad Treliving has talked about his plan to use his taxi squad regularly. They are not expected to just come to practice then sit in the stands and eat the delicious Saddledome popcorn. For Derek Ryan, he will likely be playing alongside different guys night in and night out. With Ryan almost certainly going to be the fourth line centre for the Flames, he will be expected to bring some stability to the bottom group. With his veteran presence and good nature, this should not be too difficult.
The Flames have signed an impressive two-way forward in Josh Leivo. Not only is he able to create immense amounts of offense, putting up 19 points in 36 games last season, he was one of the Canucks’ best defensive forwards last year, and was matched up against some of the best other team’s had to offer. The potential for him to be great in Calgary is absolutely there.
The big question for Leivo is his health. He has yet to play a full NHL season, being sidelined last year with a fractured kneecap. While he may take some time to get back to game shape, having not featured in any of the Canucks’ playoff games, if he can stay healthy, he could become a fixture in the Flames’ top six. Salud!
Become a regular feature for the Flames
Dominik Simon has joined the Flames, after having spent his entire NHL career playing with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Going into this season, he will likely be fighting for a spot on the team with Joakim Nordstrom and Glenn Gawdin. However, he has been around the league a number of seasons, even spending time playing alongside Sidney Crosby. With his previous career numbers and NHL tenure, he is likely to be the final regular forward for the team, but he will need to continue performing through the season in order to remain in the lineup. This will be his ambition no doubt.
Earn a starting role
As with Simon, Joakim Nordstrom will be looking to find a role on this Flames team this season. However, given his poor run of form last year which saw him put up just seven points in 48 games, he is likely on the outside looking in. However, being in a new city is an opportunity turn over a new leaf and really compete to be the twelfth forward in Calgary. Nordstrom will be looking to show why the Flames chose to give him a shot this season.
Bring back the young and fresh
Whether it was Father Time catching up to him or just simply bad luck, Giordano was not the same player he was the year before when he took home the Norris Trophy. Going into this season, there is only one thing he is hoping for: to return to the form he was in the year previous. If he can do that, the Flames will make Jacob Markstrom‘s life much much easier.
Prove he can be a top pairing defenceman
Rasmus Andersson has played with almost everyone in the Flames’ defense corps. However, it was clear over the last season that playing him with Giordano made the most sense. However, breaking up the pairing of the captain with T.J. Brodie was tricky, as the latter did not look nearly as effective with anyone else.
This season Andersson will be gunning for that top pairing role. He will need to prove that he is ready for the increased responsibility, but given how well he did last year, it feels like this is his year.
Find his role
Noah Hanifin was the big piece in the deal that sent Dougie Hamilton to Carolina, and the Flames thought they would be getting a top defenceman in that deal. They got Noah Hanifin, who has been decent, but far from elite. The big issue with Hanifin is he doesn’t seem to be particularly good, or bad for that matter, at anything. He’s a decent defender, he is decent offensively, he can play on the powerplay or on the penalty kill, but does nothing exceptionally well.
This year, it would be great for Hanifin to find himself an area where he excels. Ideally, if he can develop into a fixture on the second powerplay unit and help get that going, it would be a great fit. He played the third most powerplay minutes among Flames defencemen last season, and had the most high danger chances of the three. For Hanifin, settling in as the quarterback of the second group would be a strong aspiration for 2021.
Show how good he can be
When Chris Tanev was brought into Calgary this offseason, the reaction among fans was very mixed. Some lauded his play as an elite defensive defenceman, while others saw an aging veteran whose best years were behind him. Having played with Quinn Hughes for the last couple seasons, Tanev benefitted from having a strong defensive partner.
Coming into a new team with a new partner and new systems will be an adjustment for him, but he should be hoping that this year he can show why Calgary trusted him enough to sign him. He should be looking to make the most of this new opportunity, and find a home on the Flames’ blueline.
Prove he is an NHLer
Oliver Kylington has in purgatory between the AHL and the NHL, too good for the former, not good enough for the latter. Having not played a game since the Trade Deadline and having a long wait before signing his new deal, Kylington will be looking to prove that he can be a legitimate NHL caliber defenceman for the Flames. That should be his only goal.
Continue his strong run of play from Finland
The Flames sent five players out on loan this year, but Juuso Valimaki stole the show. Ending his time with Ilves in Liiga with 19 points in 19 games, Valimaki was the best defenceman in the league, and by some accounts the best player.
Having spent last season on the IR, Valimaki will be looking to make up for lost time and make a name for himself in the NHL. He will absolutely be hoping that when the clock strikes twelve, the calendar changes over but his incredible play, both offensively and defensively does not disappear.
Push for a regular spot in the NHL
Nikita Nesterov has not suited up for an NHL side since 2017, when he was playing for the Montreal Canadiens. This year he has been tempted over from CSKA Moscow, and he will be looking to find a role for himself with the Flames.
For Nesterov, he will be competing against Kylington for that role, and will need to work extra hard to earn the lion’s share of starts. Having put up 23 points last season, he will be looking to bring both offense and defense to the team when the season starts up in a couple of weeks.
Be the bona-fide NHL starter the Flames need
For the first time ever, GM Brad Treliving has gone out free agent fishing and caught himself a proven NHL veteran starting goalie. Markstrom was in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy last year, and has proven himself to be an elite netminder in the league. Coming into Calgary, he needs to continue the impressive run of form that he had in Vancouver and be just as good, if not better, than he was last season.
Earn back the starting job
Every year Big Save Dave starts the year off strong then just after Christmas picks up a knock and struggles to the finish line as the second string netminder. Having lost the job mid-season to Cam Talbot and Mike Smith, this year, the Flames have opted to bring in a new netminder to handle the majority of the games.
David Rittich is a competitive guy, and he will absolutely be pushing to get that starting job back, even as part of a tandem. In the final year of his contract, Rittich will be looking for a new, and hopefully more lucrative contract, and will need to show the Flames and the rest of the league why he is worth it. Pushing for more starts should be top of mind for Rittich.
Photo credits: Calgary Flames