Our Calgary Flames 2020-21 Preview is part of a one-a-day series covering the entire NHL. Click here for the rest of the teams in the leadup to another action-packed NHL season!
This team has spent a couple of years near the tipping point of being a great team, but they just haven’t been able to push themselves over the top. This past season, two main factors emerged as key reasons why.
First, the team had had years of struggling in net since Miikka Kiprusoff’s career came to an end and 2019-20 was no different. David Rittich was looking promising after 2018-19 season but he struggled in 19-20, eventually being usurped by Cam Talbot for the starter’s role. Talbot himself is not the most consistent goalie around and has largely struggled since his breakout year in 2016-17 with the Edmonton Oilers.
Second, the team’s driving offensive force, Johnny Gaudreau, regressed in a huge way. He had a 99 point campaign in 2018-19, dropping to 58 points (albeit in 70 games) in 2019-20.
His performance raised questions about his ability to be ‘the guy’ on a team. Johnny had been the target of criticism for his playoff performance in the past, as he tends to be shut down easily and does not drive momentum or carry play all that well. What last season has shown is that Gaudreau may be best suited in a role where he is a complimentary player and not relied on to drive the team’s play.
To answer the first question, the Flames are keeping David Rittich as a backup, Cam Talbot has left and signed in Minnesota, and Calgary has brought in Jacob Markstrom to take the starter’s role. After a stellar campaign where he stole countless games for Vancouver, made huge, momentum swinging saves on a nightly basis, and was arguably the team’s MVP over the last couple years, Markstrom finally got paid. Signing a 5-year, $6 million contract in Calgary, the Flames are hoping that the 30-year old Markstrom is now in his prime and is primed to bring stability, reliability, and a consistent, game changing performance to help push the team into contender status.
For the second question, the team may have to look from within. While Johnny Gaudreau does not appear to be a suitable play driver, Matthew Tkachuk has taken strides forward in his game to fill that role. It is clear that Tkachuk is the heart and soul of this team. Leading the Flames offensively with 61 points in 69 games, Matthew clearly controls the momentum and emotional side of the game while on the ice, as evidenced by his antics with Zack Kassian, and his ability to draw penalties, among other things. 2020-21 will put the spotlight on Tkachuk to see if he will take full control of this team on the ice.
Calgary Flames Roster Overview
The biggest question on forward for the upcoming season is if Matthew Tkachuk ‘takes over the team’, so to speak. Johnny Gaudreau will hopefully bounce back offensively and contribute more, since the Flames do need his production from the top forward line. But as I mentioned before, Johnny may be better suited in a complimentary role where the focus and pressure is off of him.
Aside from them, the Flames are solidly built and have a strong top-6 forward group. With Mikael Backlund, Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan, Dillon Dube, and Andrew Mangiapane available, Calgary can match up with the best of them. One added bonus is the two-way prowess of some of these players, as Backlund and Lindholm are solid two-way forwards when they need to be.
The emergence of Andrew Mangiapane is welcome from the team as his presence as a battler and gritty force is relied upon in a variety of situations. Although his scoresheet impact is still being worked on (32 points in 68 games last season), he is well on his way to proving he can stick around on the team’s top two lines.
With a few of the bottom-6/depth forwards leaving the organization, there are now some spots for new players to make an impact. Josh Leivo, Joakim Nordstrom, Dominik Simon are recent signings looking for a new role, while prospects Glenn Gawdin and Adam Ruzicka (if he has a strong showing in whatever camps/pre-season the league holds) could easily find themselves in the mix for these spots as well.
They’ll be competing for just a few spots, since some top-6 potential fowards will be pushed down and the team already has a few players locked down into these roles, including Milan Lucic and Sam Bennett. I don’t think anyone expects too much out of Milan Lucic at this point, but his chance to come in with the Flames in a smaller on-ice role with more focus on his off-ice impact was a great opportunity for his career and he is a valuable part of the Flames’ leadership group as they try to turn the corner into contenders.
On paper, the Flames defense is a question mark for the upcoming season. The loss of TJ Brodie, Erik Gustafsson and likely Travis Hamonic have left a couple huge holes to fill, and among the players remaining, Mark Giordano is 37 now and not getting any younger. Giordano is only one season removed from winning the Norris Trophy in 2018-19, but in a league that is continuously getting younger and faster, Gio is likely soon going to find himself falling behind even more.
Calgary brought in Chris Tanev, Nikita Nesterov, and Alex Petrovic to cover those gaps. Now make no mistake, Chris Tanev is a solid, reliable warrior on defense and will help immensely in the defensive zone and penalty kill somewhere in the top-4 but he won’t be able to entirely fill the shoes of Brodie and Hamonic. There is the offensive side of the game that Tanev does not often contribute towards that Calgary will need to find a new source of.
Enter the youth infusion. Calgary has a trio of young defenders who have been taking or are poised to take big steps forward this season with the departure of Brodie, Gustafsson, and Hamonic. Rasmus Andersson has been excellent the last 2 seasons, and his 20 points could see an increase with more ice time, especially on the powerplay in Gustafsson’s absence. Juuso Valimaki unfortunately missed the entire 2019-20 season due to injury, so his entry into the Flames’ lineup as a regular has been long overdue. And, Oliver Kylington will have the chance to become a mainstay, as he has played in 38 and 48 games with some time in the AHL in the last 2 years.
Jacob Markstrom, enough said. The Flames have found their projected and hopeful starter for the long term by bringing in Markstrom. He has shown an ability to make huge saves, he can be a momentum changer from the crease, and the team’s hopes for a deep playoff run are being placed on his shoulders. The hope is that David Rittich will be able to rebound in a reduced role, which will be especially important in 2020-21 if the schedule is compressed and teams play a lot of back-to-backs.
Calgary Flames 2020-21 Prediction
1st – 3rd North Division
This is a strong team, the addition of a better goalie and hopeful development of defense and forward depth could give this team a boost in the standings in this North Division. Expect them to be a major competitor in Canada this season.
That concludes our Calgary Flames 2020-21 Preview. Check to see if your team has been covered yet in our 2020-21 Season Preview Series.
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