Calgary Flames

Flames Sunday Census: Offseason improvements for the Calgary Flames

As the Calgary Flames look forward to the Seattle Expansion Draft, they’ll have a lot of work to do once they find out which Flame will turn into a Kraken. While their 2020–21 season results were utterly disappointing, there were signs of good hockey towards the end of the year. What does Brad Treliving and the team have to prioritise as they prepare for the 2021–22 season? We asked, you answered.

The Flames need to improve everywhere

The truth about the Flames is that they are on the cusp of having a team that can contend for the Stanley Cup, yet they are seemingly always a few steps behind when looking at their roster composition. The pieces that they are apparently missing are the ones that they need to turn from a bubble playoff team to a perennial powerhouse.

As other teams start emulating the success of teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Colorado Avalanche, and the Vegas Golden Knights, the building blocks for team that can consistently make deep runs into the playoffs become clear.

For the Flames, they’re missing a bit in all positions, so what should they aim to do this offseason?

Upgrading the offence

By a large margin, the top-six was voted as an area that needed the most improvement. There’s good reason for that too. The Flames’ biggest struggles revolved mostly around a lack of goals. When the whole team couldn’t find the back of the net, they were often on the losing end of the scoresheet despite playing well enough with defence and goaltending.

Among the biggest decisions for the Flames will be which of their superstars they are going to be keeping around long term. The message in the organization is clear right now though: they are in win-now mode. Bringing on Darryl Sutter to coach for an extended duration is the antithesis of a signal to rebuild. There’s no telling what will happen over the next couple of seasons, but with 100% certainty the Flames will be trying to compete.

That means they’ll do everything they can to keep their best players around, which includes extensions to both Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk are likely high up in their priorities. Keeping them with Elias Lindholm provides them with a solid first line trio. The Flames have been keen to dismiss rumours of moving Tkachuk, and have been vocal about their desire to keep Gaudreau—and Gaudreau expressing his desires to stay with Calgary too—which leads to speculation that Sean Monahan may be the player on the outs.

While Monahan has played through numerous injuries over the last four seasons, he’s currently a name tied to various trade rumours. This is not new, as he was rumoured to be part of the package offered to Columbus for Josh Anderson. With the Flames having a good deal of depth down the middle, with Lindholm, Mikael Backlund, Glenn Gawdin and hopefully Derek Ryan, Monahan may be the piece to be exchanged for additional top-end talent on the right wing. Without many NHL calibre right shot wingers, moving Monahan to add there through a big trade may make the most sense.

There are a few options there that can drastically change the roster composition. Examples include looking to the Buffalo Sabres and making a bid for Jack Eichel or possibly Sam Reinhart. But moves like these will ultimately lead to bigger reconfigurations of their team.

On the second line, Andrew Mangiapane‘s emergence as a top-six forward bordering on elite even strength play can really give them confidence in their forward group as well. There are zero circumstances next season where Mangiapane should ever be spotted on the third line. If they opt to improve their top-six internally, then making Mangiapane a permanent fixture of the second line is a great place to start.

For the bottom-six, it’s fairly obvious that things can be better across the board. While Milan Lucic and Ryan had reasonably good years, they are not the players that the Flames want to depend on to fill out depth scoring. They can be good complementary pieces, but they should not have to be drivers of depth ofefnce. Ideally, the Flames would be able to see the likes of Gawdin, Adam Ruzicka, and Matthew Phillips become full time NHLers without having to look elsewhere for bottom-six talent.

Improvements on defence

There have been musings that the Kraken might be taking a good look at Mark Giordano if he’s left exposed. If this ends up being the case, the Flames will have a sizable gap to fill. However, despite the possible loss of one of the top defenders, it seems as though this isn’t as big of a concern compared to the forward improvements.

The Flames have to hope that Rasmus Andersson is able to rebound from this past season, as if Giordano really does get selected, then the defensive corps will see heavy minutes go to Chris Tanev, Noah Hanifin, Andersson, and one more player who’s able to elevate their game. At this point, it’s not unreasonable to pencil in Juuso Valimaki.

The third pairing would likely see Connor Mackey and one other player, whether it’s Oliver Kylington or someone else. There’s the obvious issue of not actually knowing who the Kraken will select from the Flames yet. It could be Giordano, or it could be someone like Kylington, Ryan, or Phillips. However, if Giordano remains a Flame past the expansion draft, then it’s simple enough to just shift everyone down a spot, and there’s less to worry about.

Who is backstopping as the backup?

Lastly, the area that voters seemed to not mind too much in terms of a pressing need is the backup goaltender. The starter’s net definitively belongs to Jacob Markstrom for the foreseeable future, and whoever the Flames look at for the backup spot could be anyone who’s willing to sit on the bench more often than not.

And while many fans did not see this as a priority, not having a competent backup could be a major issue for the Flames this coming season should Markstrom miss games. The trend for strong teams has been to have two capable netminders who can win games when called upon, and the Montreal Canadiens are a prime example of this with the team being carried by Jake Allen when Carey Price was injured.

While it seems unlikely that the Flames will go back to David Rittich, it does seem like finding and paying for a competent backup is high on the priority list for this summer. Goaltenders like Jaroslav Halak or Chris Driedger could be options that the Flames look at. Realistically there are always available backups in the goaltender carousel, but having a competent backup is definitely going to be a must-have heading into the next season.

Waiting for the first domino to fall

In non-expansion offseasons, the process of preparing for the next season is a lot more straightforward. However, there’s a looming question mark over what the Flames will have to do to fill the gap left by the expansion draft, but it all depends on who is selected.

Of course, the Flames can get to handling things that are more certain like determining which free agents to try to keep or let go, but there’s still the overall sense that the real work begins after Seattle forms its team. In any case, the Flames do have lots that they can do to improve their lineup. We’ll see soon enough which areas get addressed and which ones are ignored.

Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images

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