Calgary Flames

Flames Sunday Census: Assessing Calgary’s newest players

The Calgary Flames went into the offseason knowing that a retool was inevitable. Expectations were that the Flames would make big splashes in the offseason—after all, they had just lost Mark Giordano to the Seattle Kraken from the expansion draft. Tweaking the roster was a must, and the Flames added plenty of new faces. Blake Coleman might be one of the better free agent adds in a long time, but the Flames also added a bunch of players with less than stellar track records. Which ones might end up with good debut seasons as Flames? We asked, you answered.

Looking at the newest Calgary Flames

The Flames added a whole bunch of new faces to the organisation this offseason. Coleman was by far the biggest move both in terms of dollar amount and on-ice value. He’s a surefire top-six player and will be with the Flames long-term. However, with the Flames expected to go all-in—as hiring Darryl Sutter to coach is the team’s “hail mary” to contend with there current core—they ended up making a few moves that went from head-scratchers to all out hair-pulling.

The team went from being connected to Jack Eichel and had serious reasons to be frontrunners for the Buffalo Sabres star, to adding one depth player after another. Most recently, they rounded out their blueline with the additions of Erik Gudbranson and Michael Stone.

This offseason has been the culmination of the Flames taking one step forward, one step back, one step forward, one step back. For all we know the Flames aren’t quite done pacing in the front offices yet, but this current roster isn’t exactly inspiring the masses.

To be fair to the team, it’s worth waiting to see what the on-ice results are. This roster is essentially a Sutter blueprint and we might be in store to seeing actually good shutdown and highly defensive hockey. If the Flames can execute, they’re gambling on shutting down other team’s offences over improving theirs.

There’s still some new Flames outside of Coleman (who should undoubtedly have a solid season) that might have good seasons under the Sutter system. Selecting four and putting them onto this week’s poll, we had: Tyler Pitlick, Trevor Lewis, Nikita Zadorov, and Daniel Vladar. Other new faces were left off the poll, in lieu of not expecting too much out of the likes of Gudbranson, Brad Richardson, or Andy Welinski yet.

Nikita Zadorov

With 38% of the votes, Zadorov garnered the most votes from the poll. Known for being a defensive defender, he can play the same role on the second pairing as Chris Tanev will play on the first. This could be the type of partner Rasmus Andersson needs to get back into his rhythm. There’s a lot to critique about his play, and there’s a lot to like. Using player cards from, we can take a look at seeing where he best contributes.

Evidently, even strength defence is Zadorov’s forte, and that will be where he can thrive under Sutter’s coaching tactics. The area—or areas—of worry include pretty much everywhere else he plays. His usage in Chicago won’t perfectly matchup with his usage in Calgary, but there’s still lots to discern about his play. The Flames’ penalty kill could be a much better environment for him compared to what he had with the Blackhawks. Should he take less frequent trips to the penalty box compared to years past, then he might be a very serviceable defender.

Compared to other defenders on the team, Zadorov is far from the worst option. With Sutter, he might even be in a position to genuinely thrive. We’ll see how it goes soon enough, but Zadorov is definitely a player the Flames will need to step up.

Daniel Vladar

Coming in second on the poll with 33.2% of the votes, Vladar could be in line for the next step in his goaltending progression. With a limited sample size with the Boston Bruins of just five game, he had a couple of solid outings and one horrendous performance with eight goals against. He’ll be the Flames’ backup being Jacob Markstrom, and there’s reason to believe he can be formidable in that role.

Vladar’s limited NHL experience is a bit of a question mark, but his AHL track record is pretty solid. Treating him as you would any goaltending prospect, he’s right where he should be heading into this season as an up and coming NHL backup. And we all know Sutter’s going to play Markstrom as much as he possibly can, so Vladar shouldn’t expect to see any more than 20 starts as an upper limit, barring any injuries.

He’ll go into the season knowing that his workload will be small, but he also knows he’s the go-to backup. He’ll have less question marks with his game preparation as Adam Werner likely won’t be pushing for starts at the same level Jeremy Swayman did in Boston. Vladar knows what’s expected of him and provided he continues his development progression, he could be in store for a good season as the Flames’ second option.

Tyler Pitlick

Calgary will be Pitlick’s fourth team in as many seasons, previously playing for Dallas, Philadelphia, and Arizona. Currently expected to play on the third line, Pitlick will be a player that’s also relied on for his defence over his offence. His results in Arizona were lacklustre, but he had some degree of defensive upside. He’ll probably see his minutes reduced to a bottom-six level, and with any luck he can play shutdown hockey.

There’s essentially no room for him on the Flames’ power play, but he can be relied on for his penalty killing. Although his results when defending on the penalty kill don’t look spectacular, like Zadorov, Pitlick is a player that might benefit from playing in Calgary’s system.

At the very least, his role is clear and well-defined. The Flames shouldn’t have to worry about suddenly seeing Pitlick playing with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau (no offence, Dominik Simon). If Pitlick fits into the role that’s already carved out for him, he can be an effective player as a part of Calgary’s current high-defence strategy.

Trevor Lewis

Lewis was brought into the Flames with likely influence from Sutter. Their history together with the Los Angeles Kings includes two Stanley Cups after all. Pardon the repetition, but here is another player that’s expected to play defence-first hockey.

Not too unlike Pitlick, Lewis’ results also highlight that he’s a better defensive forward than he is at producing offence. The difference between them is that Lewis will likely hold down fourth line duties. Having Sutter as coach could lead to Lewis easily playing all 82 games as well, with him potentially taking a spot away from the Flames’ prospects.

However, just like Pitlick, Lewis has his role defined as well. Another player that’s going to be used on the penalty kill and have otherwise limited minutes. We’ll see if his age will become a factor in his on-ice results as the Flames would hope he doesn’t trend further in the wrong direction.

In defence of the Flames

Let’s recap a bit here, the Flames’ offseason has been baffling. With no tangible results in acquiring goal scorers—their biggest area of struggle last season—other than Coleman, the Flames are hedging their bets that the top line can do the bulk of the scoring while the second line will chip in here and there. At this point, no one is expecting the third or fourth lines to be contributing much to goals whatsoever.

The Flames are fully embracing Sutter brand hockey, and they are willing to spend a whole year experimenting. Should this work out in the end, that’d be good news for the Flames as they could make it into the playoffs mimicking the Islanders’ style of defensive hockey.

However, if it doesn’t work and the Flames don’t thrive with defence-first hockey, then the saving grace is that most of these players are all on one-year contracts. If the Flames miss again, a lot of contracts will be immediately off the books and it’s at least good knowing the 2022 NHL Draft is one of the deepest in years.

The Flames have fully signalled that they are going to embrace defence over offence this season. Most people have their expectations tempered by now, but here’s to hoping this strategy pays off anyway. If there’s any coach that could best utilise the current Flames roster, Sutter is the guy. Let’s see how these new Flames will do.

Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

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