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5 Questions: Calgary Flames

With Johnny Gaudreau signed, focus turns to Brian Elliott, right wing

by Aaron Vickers / NHL.com Correspondent

An NHL season is filled with twists and turns for each of the League's 30 teams. Here are five of the major questions that could define the 2016-17 season for the Calgary Flames

 
How good can Johnny Gaudreau be?

The 23-year-old left wing, who signed a six-year contract Monday, led the Flames in scoring last season and was tied for sixth in the NHL with 78 points (30 goals, 48 assists) in 79 games. Gaudreau has represented Calgary at the NHL All-Star Game in each of his first two seasons. He scored two goals and had two assists in three games for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey 2016, raising the expectations for his third season in Calgary. It will be interesting to see how he responds to the expectations to come with the contract. 

 

Can Brian Elliott stabilize the goaltending?

The Flames were 30th in the NHL last season with a save percentage of .898 and had a League-high 3.13 goals-against average. They hope they've remedied those problems with Elliott, acquired from the St. Louis Blues on June 24 for a second-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and a conditional third-round pick in 2018. In 41 regular-season games for St. Louis last season, Elliott was 23-8-6, led the League with a .930 save percentage and was tied for second with a 2.07 goals-against average. Among goalies with at least 50 NHL games played since 2011-12, Elliott is first in GAA (2.01) and second in save percentage (.925; Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils leads at .926) and shutouts (25; Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings is first with 28).

Video: VAN@CGY: Elliott robs Skille with pad save

 

Who will play right wing on the top line?

Two seasons ago, the line of Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler was among the NHL's most productive. The Flames signed Monahan to a seven-year contract reportedly worth $44.625 million (average annual value $6.375 million) on Aug. 19, and signed Gaudreau Tuesday. However, Hudler, a pending unrestricted free agent, struggled for much of last season before being traded to the Florida Panthers on Feb. 27. He signed a one-year contract with the Dallas Stars on Aug. 24. Alex Chiasson, acquired from the Ottawa Senators, likely will get the first chance to play on the top line. Troy Brouwer, who signed a four-year contract reportedly worth $18 million (average annual value $4.5 million) on July 1 could be next in line should he fail to develop chemistry with second-year center Sam Bennett.

 

How will Glen Gulutzan do as coach?

The Flames fired coach Bob Hartley on May 3 after finishing last season 35-40-7, fifth in the Pacific Division and 10 points behind the Minnesota Wild for the final wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. Gulutzan, who spent the past three seasons as an assistant with the Vancouver Canucks, was hired June 17. It's his second NHL coaching job; he ran the Dallas Stars from 2011-13. In two seasons under Gulutzan, the Stars went 64-57-9 and failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

 

Which prospect(s) will step up?

The Flames have seen several young players emerge since undertaking a full rebuild in 2013. Significant contributions from Monahan, Gaudreau and Bennett have helped speed up the process, which saw the Flames qualify for the playoffs in 2015. However, another wave is required to continue the push. Forwards Hunter Shinkaruk, Mark Jankowski and Matthew Tkachuk, the No. 6 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, could represent that next wave if they show they can step into the lineup and contribute.

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