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Season preview: Calgary Flames

Revamped goaltending must come through for return to Stanley Cup Playoffs

by Aaron Vickers / NHL.com Correspondent
At a glance

2015-16 record: 35-40-7, 77 points, 5th in Pacific Division, 12th in Western Conference

2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Did not qualify

Additions: F: Troy Brouwer, Alex Chiasson, LW Matthew Tkachuk; G: Brian Elliott, Chad Johnson,

Subtractions: F: Joe Colborne, Derek Grant, Josh Jooris, Mason Raymond, D: Jakub Nakladal; G: Niklas Backstrom, Jonas Hiller, Joni Ortio, Karri Ramo

 

Projected opening night lineup


Forwards
Johnny Gaudreau -- Sean Monahan -- Alex Chiasson
Matthew Tkachuk -- Sam Bennett -- Troy Brouwer
Micheal Ferland -- Mikael Backlund -- Michael Frolik
Lance Bouma -- Matt Stajan -- Garnet Hathaway
Freddie Hamilton
 
Defensemen
Mark Giordano -- TJ Brodie
Jyrki Jokipakka -- Dougie Hamilton
Dennis Wideman -- Deryk Engelland
Tyler Wotherspoon
 
Goalies
Brian Elliott
Chad Johnson
Jon Gillies

After qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2014-15, the Calgary Flames took a step back last season, when they won 10 fewer games and finished 10 points behind the Minnesota Wild for the second wild card from the Western Conference.

The dip largely was because of goaltending struggles. Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller, Joni Ortio and Niklas Backstrom each started at least three games, and they combined to allow an NHL-high 240 non-empty net goals, 10 more than any other team. Ramo's .909 save percentage was 43rd among the 58 goalies to play at least 20 games last season but was the best among the four to play for the Flames last season.

General manager Brad Treliving addressed the goaltending during the summer, trading for Brian Elliott from the St. Louis Blues and signing unrestricted free agent Chad Johnson. Elliott had a 2.07 goals against average and .930 save percentage last season; Johnson had a 2.36 goals against average and a .920 save percentage with the Buffalo Sabres.

Other holes remain in Calgary's lineup.

Johnny Gaudreau, who led the Flames and was tied for sixth in the League with 78 points (30 goals, 48 assists) in 79 games, was a restricted free agent, but signed a six-year contract on Monday. While he fills the hole on the left side of the top line, the Flames have been unable to fill the void on the right side that was created when Jiri Hudler was traded to the Florida Panthers on Feb. 27.

It's unclear if left wing Matthew Tkachuk, the No. 6 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, is ready to step into a full-time NHL role. Hunter Shinkaruk, 21, will aim to help Calgary's depth at forward.

Treliving signed unrestricted free agent right wing Troy Brouwer, 31, to try to bolster forward depth, and it's likely he will play on a line with second-year center Sam Bennett to start the season. Treliving also acquired right wing Alex Chiasson in a trade with the Ottawa Senators with the hope that he can rediscover the form that saw him score 13 goals in 79 games with the Dallas Stars in 2012-13.

Chiasson will get the opportunity to do so under one of his former coaches in Dallas.

The Flames hired Glen Gulutzan on June 17 to replace Bob Hartley, who was fired May 3. Prior to spending the previous three seasons as an assistant with the Vancouver Canucks, Gulutzan coached the Stars from 2011-13.

Video: VAN@CGY: Tkachuk jams home rebound for PPG

 

Why they should make the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Elliott stabilizes the Flames' biggest weakness from last season, and the young core of Monahan, Gaudreau and Bennett will take another step forward.

 

Why they could miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs

After Gaudreau, Monahan (27), and Mikael Backlund (21), the only returning Flames forward to score more than 15 goals last season was Bennett, with 18. The Flames get significant offensive contributions from their defense, but they can't afford a lack of secondary scoring. 

 

Breakout candidate

Bennett. The No. 4 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft had 18 goals and 36 points in 77 games as a rookie last season while playing primarily at left wing. The 20-year-old is expected to play at his natural center position this season, and an emphasis has been placed on him playing alongside a veteran influence. 

Video: CBJ@CGY: Bennett lays out Calvert along the boards 

 

On the hot seat

Left wing Micheal Ferland. After he had three goals, five points and a Flames-best 50 hits in nine games during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he had four goals and 18 points in 71 games last season.

 

Trophy candidates

Mark Giordano (Norris); Gaudreau (Lady Byng)

 

Quotable

"Even if we're in the middle of the pack goaltending-wise last year then we would've made the playoffs. I'm not blaming those guys. It was a tough situation for all three guys. It just didn't work. We don't need Brian Elliott to be Superman here. We just need Brian Elliott to be a good goalie. We don't need him to steal games. We just need him to be solid and make big saves when we need it … give us a chance every game. If he does that, that's what we're looking for." -- assistant general manager Craig Conroy.

 

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