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Season Preview

Flames season preview: Giordano looks to lead Cup run

Norris winner brings stability; goalies among concerns

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

The 2019-20 NHL season begins Oct. 2. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Calgary Flames.

 

Coach: Bill Peters (second season)

Last season: 50-25-7; first place Pacific Division, lost to Colorado Avalanche in Western Conference First Round

 

5 KEYS

 

1. Tkachuk getting up to speed

Matthew Tkachuk was a restricted free agent before he signed a three-year, $21 million contract with the Flames (average annual value of $7 million) on Wednesday. The 21-year-old forward must quickly get caught up before Calgary's regular-season opener against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on Oct. 3 (9 p.m. ET; ALT, SNW, NHL.TV).

Tkachuk tied for second on the Flames with 34 goals and was fourth with an NHL career-high 77 points in 80 games last season; his two goals in five games led Calgary forwards during the Stanley Cup Playoff loss to the Avalanche. Tkachuk also plays a grinding style that infuriates other teams and helped him finish second among Calgary forwards with 29 penalties drawn last season.

Video: Matthew Tkachuk lands at No. 17 on the list

 

2. Lucic's fit

Forward Milan Lucic was acquired in a trade from the Edmonton Oilers for forward James Neal on July 19, and now it's up to Peters to see where the 31-year-old fits best. Lucic scored 16 goals in 161 games the past two seasons, including six in 79 games last season, the fewest in his 12-season NHL career. But in the right situation, Lucic could have enough left to provide secondary scoring, and his size (6-foot-3, 231 pounds) would be an asset as a net-front presence on the power play.

 

3. Goaltending rotation

The Flames likely will continue their timeshare approach to the position, with Cam Talbot replacing Mike Smith this season as David Rittich's partner. Talbot signed a one-year contract July 1, and Smith signed with the Edmonton Oilers the same day.

Rittich was 20-4-4 with a 2.49 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in his first 31 games last season, but he faded down the stretch, going 7-5-1 with a 2.88 GAA and .895 save percentage in 14 games after Feb. 4, and was Smith's backup during the playoffs. 

Talbot had a 3.40 GAA in 35 games with the Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers last season, but his 73 wins from 2016-18 were tied for fourth among NHL goalies, five fewer than Sergei Bobrovsky's League-best 78.

Video: Flames, Jets unveil Heritage Classic jerseys

 

4. Improving the penalty kill

The Flames led the NHL with 18 shorthanded goals but were tied for 19th on the penalty kill at 79.7 percent; it was 76.3 percent at home. Exacerbating the problem was their 246 times shorthanded, tied for 10th most in the NHL. 

More disciplined play would take the onus off the penalty-killers, as could less aggressively hunting for scoring chances while shorthanded. It's something Peters and his staff likely will focus on during training camp.

 

5. Giordano remains a top defenseman

Mark Giordano was voted the winner of the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the NHL last season as a 35-year-old. His 74 points (17 goals, 57 assists) nearly doubled the 38 he had in 2017-18, and his plus-39 rating led the NHL. Giordano averaged 24:14 of ice time; he and John Carlson of the Washington Capitals were the only NHL defensemen last season to average at least three minutes per game on the power play and at least 2:30 per game on the penalty kill.

Giordano will turn 36 the day of the Flames' season opener at the Avalanche on Oct. 3. He'll be depended on just as much as last season, and the Flames will need him to perform at close to the same level.

Video: Mark Giordano takes the No. 3 spot on the list

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

 

Making the cut

The biggest battle in camp could be to see which wings fill out the fourth line with center Derek Ryan. Dillon Dube, Andrew Mangiapane and Austin Czarnik might be the front-runners in a race that also could include Alan Quine and Ryan Lomberg.

Dube made the opening night roster last season but was sent to Stockton of the American Hockey League after he scored one goal in 20 games. The 21-year-old had 39 points (15 goals, 24 assists) in 37 AHL games and earned his way back to the NHL late in the season. Mangiapane had 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in 44 games last season, and the 23-year-old scored Calgary's first goal in Game 1 against the Avalanche. Czarnik finished the season with six assists in his final 10 regular-season games, and the 26-year-old played in his first Stanley Cup Playoff game.

 

Most intriguing addition

What level of impact can Lucic have this season? Although his 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) tied for the fewest of his NHL career, the Oilers had 52.61 percent of shot attempts at 5-on-5 when he was on the ice last season, fourth among Edmonton forwards, and was better than Neal (51.49 percent). Lucic won the Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011 and can provide leadership and experience.

 

Biggest potential surprise

Jon Gillies has been a solid goalie in the AHL for four seasons but hasn't had many opportunities in the NHL. With the Flames looking for long-term consistency at the position, the 25-year-old has positioned himself as a solid option if Rittich or Talbot falter.

 

Ready to break through

Rasmus Andersson could be an option for the top defense pair. The 22-year-old right-hand shot saw some time there with Giordano last season, and he had 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) and a plus-17 rating in 79 regular-season games and three points (one goal, two assists) in five playoff games. He earned the trust of the coaching staff as his ice time went from an average of 15:44 during the regular season to 18:37 during the postseason. If Peters wants to use a right shot with Giordano, rather than a left shot like TJ Brodie, he could opt for Andersson ahead of Michael Stone or Travis Hamonic.

 

Fantasy sleeper

Talbot (average draft position: 165.5) had at least 31 wins in consecutive seasons (2016-17, 2017-18) for the Oilers prior to last season and has bounce-back appeal with the Flames in a potential timeshare competition with Rittich. -- Pete Jensen

 
PROJECTED LINEUP

Johnny Gaudreau -- Sean Monahan -- Elias Lindholm

Matthew Tkachuk -- Mikael Backlund -- Michael Frolik

Sam Bennett -- Mark Jankowski -- Milan Lucic

Andrew Mangiapane -- Derek Ryan -- Dillon Dube

Mark Giordano -- TJ Brodie

Noah Hanifin -- Travis Hamonic

Brandon Davidson -- Rasmus Andersson

David Rittich

Cam Talbot

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