After doing the Canucks on Wednesday and the Oilers yesterday, we finish off the Canadian teams by looking at the Flames today. Calgary improved their greatest area of need over the summer, picking up goaltender Brian Elliott from the Blues. They could be looking to build on a disappointing last year, provided Johnny Gaudreau is actually in the lineup. Here’s Mark Parkinson of Matchsticks & Gasoline to outline what to expect this coming season.
1. Sean Monahan was just locked up for six years and $6.375M per year. Is Monahan the first-line centre in the Flames' future, or will Sam Bennett overtake him?
I think Monahan is who the Flames envision being their true, #1 centre for the time he remains in Calgary. Sam Bennett still has a bit to grow in his game, but is on the right track. Bennett had a great first full season last year and he benefited from some time spent on the wing as well (playing time with Monahan and Gaudreau). That could help him seeing Mikael Backlund had one of the best seasons he's ever had as a pro at the faceoff dot. I don't think Calgary would have sunk that kind of money into Monahan if he wasn't going to be the #1 guy, plus they're betting on Monahan and Gaudreau being the faces of the team for a VERY long time. Monahan's offensive numbers have improved every year he's been in Calgary, but his faceoff % has gone up as well. He was 51% at the dot last season, which was up from the previous 2 seasons. Maybe down the line Bennett could move up and challenge for the Flames’ #1 centre spot, but for the foreseeable future, #23 is the top line centre. And if you think about it, it's not a bad problem for the Flames to have.
2. The Flames were aggressive in redoing their goaltending, trading for Brian Elliott and signing Chad Johnson. How confident are you in the improvement this tandem will bring?
Well, it only can go up from last season, so there's that. Elliott is a proven winner and had an amazing season last year and Chad Johnson has shown flashes as a backup. Last season's goalie situation for the Flames was an absolute nightmare. Ramo was the best of the 4 that played, but he got hurt in the middle of the season. Not to mention he was put on waivers during the first month of the season and thankfully cleared and was able to return once Jonas Hiller got hurt. And speaking of Hiller, he was an unmitigated disaster between the pipes. There were times it looked like he wasn't even interested in being on the ice. Joni Ortio had such a small sample size last season and was inconsistent and Backstrom was literally nothing more than insurance. None of the 4-headed nightmare were a guarantee to come back so the acquisitions of Elliott and Johnson make sense. It would seem that Elliott will be the starter and Johnson will be his relief. Both are solid pickups for the Flames and should add some stability and help the Flames get back to the playoffs. But in the end, they're both backstops until Jon Gillies is ready to make the jump.
3. Dougie Hamilton had a bit of an up-and-down first season in Calgary. Are you expecting a more solid season from him? How important is Hamilton's progress to the overall success of the Flames in 2016-17?
Dougie Hamilton looked like he played 2 different seasons on the ice, but his numbers were fairly even across the board. He had a career high in points (43), games (82) and shots (190). On the negative side he was a -14. I think that was a good season considering he was adjusting to moving to a new team in a COMPLETELY different media market. I live outside of Boston and scrutiny on athletes and teams here is over the top. I think moving from a place like Boston may have been culture shock and he needed to adjust. Even though his numbers in 2015-16 were very close to his last year in Boston, he plays in a different system in Calgary. Calgary defencemen are expected to score and be a huge part of the offence, where in Boston they aren't necessarily a focal point of the offence. I think his 43 points will grow from last season and he needs to be consistent to be a big part of Calgary's success in the future. I think there's a little more pressure on him to produce this season with the likes of Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie putting up big numbers as well. He's still young and I'm sure the Flames aren't looking at the short term with Hamilton. He's locked up for the next 5 seasons and should be a huge piece of the Flames defence.