As we gear up for the 2021 season, we bring you a preview of the other teams in the Canadian Division thanks to writers at our sister SB Nation blogs. Today, we kick off the series with Mark Parkinson, Managing Editor of Matchsticks & Gasoline.
1. The Flames signed two former Canucks in Jakob Markstrom and Chris Tanev. What are you expecting from those two in their first season with Calgary?
Markstrom was clearly the big signing and it shows the Flames weren’t confident going into 2021 with David Rittich as their full time starter. I think the writing was on the wall when Cam Talbot passed him by and was the Flames’ starter in the playoffs. Markstrom has started 40+ games over the last three years and done fairly well, so I’d expect him to carry the main load this season, despite it being a shortened season. Plus, at six years and $6 million per, Markstrom has to be the Flames’ top goalie. Tanev was an interesting signing. I think he just fills one of the roles vacated by T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic. The fan base wasn’t overwhelmed with the signing, but I think he’ll fill a role. The money is pretty high ($4.5) for a guy who’s never had more than a 20-point season. I think expectations should be high for Markstrom as this could be a make or break signing for Calgary’s GM Brad Treliving. His signings haven’t been great and if Markstrom fails at that term and money, it won’t be pretty. I have tempered expectations for a player like Tanev. but maybe a new partner on the blue line will help bolster his production.
2. The Flames have two years left on Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk’s contracts, three on Sean Monahan’s, and four on Elias Lindholm’s. How much longer do you think the Flames window for contention will stay open with this core group?
Well, out of that foursome, I probably only see two of them being around in four years, so I think it’s now or bust for the Flames. Gaudreau is always the bone of contention with the fanbase. For some reason, despite production, it always seems like it’s never enough and part of that is his ghost-like performances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He says he wants to stay in Calgary for the rest of his career, but we all know how that works. I think the world of him as a player, but it would also be INCREDIBLY naïve to think that either party might not be looking to move on in a year and a half. I think the same could be said for Monahan. He’s been struggling to figure what kind of player he is. He became a more physical player last season, but his offence suffered. He’s not a guy who creates his own opportunities, so who knows. As for Tkachuk, he’s going nowhere. He’s the future of this franchise and when his two years are up, I fully expect him to get PAID. He’s the heart and soul of the team and I 100% see him as the future Captain. And since coming here, Lindholm has been the most consistent and reliable player on the Flames roster. You left Mark Giordano out the equation, which is a big piece for the Flames in this next year or two. Either from a contributing role or being a trade piece to bring in an impact player. The Flames are potentially set to lose lots of high end talent in the next two seasons, so it has to be all in now. Unfortunately, I’m not sure it’s completely viable.
3. The Flames lost TJ Brodie and Travis Hamonic in the offseason. Tanev will get one of those spots, but does Rasmus Andersson step into the last remaining top-four spot, or is there someone else waiting in the wings?
Currently, as the roster is set, Andersson isn’t paired with Mark Giordano. I think Andersson is a guy that doesn’t need to be paired with Giordano to have success (à la T.J. Brodie). He’s shown he can hold his own with a different pairing, so I’ll wait a little longer into training camp to see where he ends up. The Flames have a fairly young defence with Juuso Valimaki coming back, so things are in flux. Maybe Calgary does something like pair Andersson and Hanifin up top, drop Giordano down to the second or third pairing to save some tread on the tires and pair him with Tanev like they did with Brodie. That would leave Valimaki paired with either Oliver Kylington or Nikita Nesterov. Whatever happens, Geoff Ward has his work cut out for him to figure out the ideal pairings, which also have a new goaltender behind them.
4. Geoff Ward was thrust into the head coach role last season. What did he change in how the Flames played? Do you envision him being the coach for the whole season?
The Flames see “something” in Ward. I’m not sure he’s the forever coach in Calgary, but he was thrust into an impossible situation last season between Bill Peters and the Coronavirus outbreak. Maybe getting a proper training camp as the head coach will help as he gets to institute his system from the get go. The Flames didn’t play well in the playoffs last year and his coaching was partially responsible for that, so I’m really interested to see how this group hits the ice. With the window closing on some of the Flames’ better players contracts, I’m kind of shocked the Flames stuck with him, but maybe he was rewarded for doing ANYTHING with the crap situation that the Flames ran into last year. Either way he needs to shake up the Flames’ lines and separate Gaudreau and Monahan if Calgary wants to do anything. Doing the same thing again isn’t going to work and what Ward does with his personnel will be telling as to how long his tenure will be. I think he will stay for the entire season. I think it’s hard to fire a coach during a 56-game season. Unless, I guess, the Flames come out the box and lose like eight in a row, then I guess you have to make a move. Ward’s biggest challenge will be keeping the Flames in check with 10 games against the Oilers this season. It will be VERY easy to tell how long Ward will be around based on this core group of Flames players. It’s painfully obvious when they don’t like something.
5. I imagine playoffs are a must, but how far do the Flames have to go for this season to be considered a success?
I think minimum two rounds. Just getting in can’t be the “best case” scenario. I get that there’s new moving parts in the process, but that can’t be an excuse anymore. If they do nothing this season, they’ve wasted All Star talent in Giordano, Gaudreau, Monahan, Tkachuk and Lindholm, which would be a shame. Not that they haven’t done that before (see Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff), but they need a good, solid run to show things are changing. And I don’t mean get to the second round and lose in five games. They need to make some noise, but in the end, I guess just getting back on the ice should be looked at as a success.