The Calgary Flames are the first team from Western Canada that I will be analyzing. They've been a good team for the past few years, but can't find the right youth-veteran mix that is needed to go far in the postseason playoffs. A team with all the necessary assets offensively and that can count on a young core of forward players. Have they improved their chances with the acquisitions that were made during the off-season?
Let's change habits somewhat and start with the players who have left the club. Lots of moves for the Flames. TJ Brodie, Erik Gustafsson and Travis Hammonic are the defencemen who will not be back with the team. Brodie signed in Toronto, Gustafsson in Philadelphia and Hammonic is still without a contract. Big defensive losses especially for Brodie who, along with Mark Giordano, has long been the defensive face of the team. Losses that hurt and we'll determine whether or not that blue line has improved when we look at the finishes at that position. Austin Czarnik, Mark Jankowski and Tobias Rieder are the three forwards who have left for another team. They leave for the New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres respectively. These players were all part of the bottom 6 last season and have been replaced through the standalone player markets. Much more minor changes on the offensive than on the defensive. In front of the net now, the departure of Cam Talbot and the arrival of Jacob Markstrom confirms David Rittich's number 2 position. However, the Swedish goalkeeper will not have to relax since his second can do very well and he has demonstrated this on more than one occasion. The additions to the attack are far from being game changers, but they fill a need following the numerous starts. Dominik Simon, Josh Leivo and Joakim Nordstrom have been added to the team. They are all not too old players who add depth to the attack. They are not flamboyant players, but they can be of great service to this Western Conference team. The defensive brigade has been added three elements. Personally, I think this defence is slightly weaker than last season. The additions of Chris Tanev, Alex Petrovic and Nikita Nesterov are not quite enough for me. These players could very well make me lie to them as the Alberta team doesn't need backs that are very attack oriented as they already have a tremendous amount of firepower. The biggest upgrade is in front of the net. Jacob Markstrom is superior to Cam Talbot and David Rittich will be in a more suitable role as a second goalie. In my humble opinion, the defence is a little worse than last year, especially offensive wise with the loss of TJ Brodie. The offence remains virtually unchanged. It will be interesting to see if the new faces are up to the task of replacing the old players.
It is now time to have a look at the team in place. The goaltending duo has already been well summarized. If the two men keep the net the way they know how, Calgary could end up with one of the best goaltending teams in the West. At the blue line, this Canadian team is composed of Mark Giordano, Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson and Juuso Valimaki. The latter is a great prospect to assist Mark Giordano. A defensive unit that hopes the arrivals of Chris Tanev and Nikita Nesterov will pay off as Hanifin and Andersson are not able to bring much to the table. Unfortunately for the Flames, they will be somewhat dependent on the performances of Tanev and Valimaki if they want to be successful. Giordano, even though he is ageing, will also have to give good minutes. As mentioned above, the attack remains almost the same. This means that the big guns are back. Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan will still be part of one of the most feisty groups of players in the National Hockey League. Monahan will have to give the Flames more to be competitive in the upcoming season. As for the other two, they played well last year, but for Calgary to claim the big honours, all three will have to be very good. Rounding out the top three are Mikael Backlund, Milan Lucic, Elias Lindholm, Derek Ryan, Sam Bennett, Andrew Mangiapane and Dillion Dubé. There's a lot of depth on that side. The last three players mentioned are quite young and talented. They can be a nice hidden card for the Flames to aspire to go far in the playoffs. In short, a good core of players who can aim very high, but defence remains a weaker point for this team.
To conclude the analysis, here is a brief summary. The defensive brigade has deteriorated slightly, especially in terms of its offensive contribution. Forward’s changes are not noticeable, so effectiveness should remain the same. Big improvements in the goaltending position. Jacob Markstrom will be able to help the Flames more significantly than Cam Talbot was able to do. For these reasons, I think Calgary will have a good chance to go a long way in the playoffs.