Our Calgary Flames 2021-22 Preview is a part of our 2021-22 NHL Team Preview Series. Starting September 9th, we have covered one team per day in the leadup to the 2021-22 season. After a crazy busy offseason with a ton of player movement we need something to help summarize what happened and give an outlook of the impact on each team. Make sure to check back each day for the next team in the list!
For more content, check out our weekly podcast where we cover the biggest storylines, trends, and memorable moments from around the NHL! And, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to keep up to date with our content and league happenings.
The 2020-21 season was a major disappointment for the Calgary Flames, both on and off the ice. On the ice, the Flames finished with a 26-27-3 record, 4 points out of a playoff spot in the North Division. They made a coaching swap mid-season, replacing Geoff Ward with Darryl Sutter 2.0 which led to almost exactly the same performance (11-11-2 before the swap, 15-15-0 afterwards). They had a -5 goal differential, finishing tied at 20th in goals for but a more respectable 16th in goals against. This is a general trend for the team, finishing in that 15th-20th spot around the league indicating a perfectly mediocre season. And is there anything more Calgary Flames-esque than being perfectly mediocre? Not quite good enough for the playoffs, not quite bad enough for a rebuild?
Mediocre was felt through most of the lineup as well. Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk were good offensively, all in the 40 point range, but especially with Gaudreau and Lindholm, you might want another 10 points out of them. Sean Monahan only had 28 points in 50 games. Sam Bennett had 12 in 38 games before being traded. Perhaps the only forward who wasn’t bad to just okay was Andrew Mangiapane, who continued to push his way up the lineup with his energetic, engaged playstyle and got 32 points in the 56 game season.
I mentioned off the ice being a disappointment as well. There was a major leadership power struggle in the locker room during the year. Aside from the coaching change shaking things up, a significant event which saw Matthew Tkachuk supposedly at odds with the Flames locker room and team culture. After an incident against the Toronto Maple Leafs which saw Jake Muzzin flip a puck at Tkachuk and the rest of the team didn’t really respond or get involved, Tkachuk reportedly became frustrated with the team. He was unsure of what they wanted his role to be and if the team would even support Matthew in his gameplay antics.
The Calgary Flames lost longtime captain Mark Giordano to the expansion draft this offseason. With the locker room issues from this past season now having a coaching change and a team captain change, will any of this be able to unify the locker room and find a mutual compromise between Matthew Tkachuk stirring things up and the team supporting him?
The upcoming captaincy decision is going to be a critical moment for this version of the Calgary Flames. Matthew Tkachuk has clearly been the emotional and mental leader of this team with his ability to manage the momentum and direction of games on his own and at times get the team to rally around this energy he creates. We see the difference in team performance when Tkachuk is out of the lineup or struggling. Does Matthew Tkachuk get the C and the team goes in that direction or does Monahan or Backlund (currently the other 2 A’s) get to wear the C, taking the team in a direction away from what Tkachuk brings to the team and possibly alienating him even further?
The team’s ‘new’ coach, Darryl Sutter, and the offseason acquisitions lead me to believe the Flames will head a more Matthew Tkachuk direction. Nikita Zadorov, Tyler Pitlick, and Blake Coleman are all physically involved players that seem to support that type of engagement provided by Tkachuk.
This power struggle and how the team and locker room fill this leadership void is, in my view, the biggest story for the Calgary Flames moving into 2021-22. If they can’t even find common ground and unite the locker room, how do they expect to break free from mediocre?
Calgary Flames Roster Additions
Calgary Flames Roster Subtractions
Calgary Flames Roster Overview
Darryl Sutter eventually clued in and made a positive impact on this team by putting Johnny Gaudreau-Elias Lindholm-Matthew Tkachuk together as the team’s top line. In the closing 10 games of the season, Gaudreau had 15 points, Tkachuk had 13 points, and Lindholm had 7 points. There is no reason that these 3 shouldn’t start the season together again as this combination worked and is a great trio on paper, with Tkachuk being able to provide the physical deterrence for when Gaudreau is around and Lindholm is a solid first line centre that is capable enough defensively to round out the line. With a full season together, assuming they somewhat maintain their pace from last season, the Flames should be able to push their way above mediocre offensively.
After an extremely disappointing season, Sean Monahan needs to find a way to bounce back both for his own reputation as well as being able to help the team get some scoring depth. I’d like to see him with Andrew Mangiapane and Dillon Dube on his wings. Mangiapane is rapidly rising through the tier list among NHL players and finding a niche as an energetic, high event, and exciting player. He will be taking on a bigger role this upcoming season, possibly even being a leading candidate for getting an A on his jersey. His 18 goals and 32 points last season are perfect production levels for a second line winger and could be just the boost needed to revitalize Sean Monahan.
Mikael Backlund, a strong two-way centre and penalty killer, takes the third line, likely with Blake Coleman and Tyler Pitlick on his wings. This could be a sneaky good third line as both Coleman and Pitlick are hard-nosed players with a penchant for physical engagement while still being able to pitch in on the offensive side of things. Coleman produces well enough to take some second line and powerplay time, so I wouldn’t be surprised if him and Dube swap for periods if the Flames need some energy or momentum. Coleman seemed to thrive in a more limited role with Tampa Bay so I would prefer to see him play in this third line for the most part but the Flames are not as deep as Tampa Bay.
Calgary is very much a three-line team on forwards as their likely fourth line, Milan Lucic-Trevor Lewis-Brett Ritchie, does not and should not get much ice time. This is more of a ‘beat ‘em up line, with Lucic and Ritchie being very physical players. None of them have much offensive upside, though Lucic did put up 23 points last season.
Byron Froese and Glenn Gawdin are also a couple of options for the fourth line forward spots, and I expect them to be rotated in quite frequently as most of that bottom line is not everyday NHL players.
The Flames have a couple of interesting forward prospects that they might want to give an NHL shot this season. Connor Zary would look good in the middle six and provide a scoring flare after his impressive AHL debut last season, scoring 7 points in 9 games. Jakob Pelletier is another interesting player to watch for his offensive talent in the QMJHL, though he isn’t expected to make the NHL quite yet as he has not even made a debut in pro hockey. As the Flames look to increase the size of their lineup, 6”4’ Adam Ruzicka could find himself in a regular NHL spot this season after making his 3 game debut in 2020-21.
The loss of Mark Giordano to the expansion draft is huge for this blue line. Giordano had been with the Flames for 15 seasons and captain of the team for 8 of them.Not only has this created a leadership void on the team, it has also created a leadership void for the defense.
Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev spent a lot of time together in 2020-21 on the same pairing and excelled, with numbers in the mid 50%’s in available metrics. These two will eat the bulk of the tough minutes, kill penalties, and shut down the opposition’s best players.
But, there was a bit of an offensive side to Giordano’s game that neither Hanifin or Tanev can really replace. Calgary will be looking to Rasmus Andersson to fill that and take over as the primary powerplay quarterback full-time in 2021-22. He sort of split this spot with Giordano last season, but with no other real options, that duty falls squarely on Andersson’s shoulders. Nikita Zadorov and Juuso Valimaki will be competing for the other spot on the second pairing. Valimaki is an incredibly promising young defender but he admittedly struggled in 2020-21, especially after the coaching change. In Giordano’s absence, the Flames need Valimaki bounce back.
Nikita Zadorov is a solid defensive defender who fits the theme of a focus on physical play the team is looking for. He will help this Flames team wear down the opposition’s attack.
Another defender who may be running out of chances is Olvier Kylington. The 24-year old defender is always in the list of players to watch to have a breakout year, but he never really does. Kylington usually struggles to keep a regular place in the lineup. He will be primarily battling with Connor Mackey for the 6/7 spots on defense. Mackey got 3 points in his 6 games with limited ice time in 2020-21.
The signing of Erik Gudbranson and re-signing of Michael Stone do nothing but confuse me. Gudbranson fits right in with the whole “let’s get physical” theme of the offseason, but he is not a great defender and this team does not want to be shoving younger defenders needing a chance down the roster yet again. These two will compete for bottom 6 spots, and will likely get them. Those spots should really be going to Kylington and Mackey, though.
Jacob Markstrom wants to be a bit better than he was in 2020-21. He was slightly above average. His 2.68 GAA is fine, but the .904 SV% could use some work. Markstrom is a workhorse and wants to play as many games as possible, which is exactly when he is at his best. Barring injury issues, look for Markstrom to try and play 65 games.
He may have to as well, since Calgary doesn’t really have a proven backup to provide some relief. As it stands right now, the likely backup is Dan Vladar, who has 5 games of NHL experience with an .886 SV% and 3.40 GAA.
The offseason isn’t over yet so Calgary may still make a move for a legit backup. Or, they saw something in Dan Vladar that the statline doesn’t reflect.
Calgary Flames 2021-22 Prediction
3rd-4th Pacific Division
If everything goes right, Calgary could be competing for the top two spots in the division. I think the more likely scenario based on past performance and depth issues is easily right in the middle of the division. The Flames will be a hard team to play against and could grind their way to some extra points if the high end scoring talent is slumping or unable to produce.
Thanks for reading our Calgary Flames 2021-22 Preview. Want to find more previews? Check to see if your team has been covered yet in our 2021-22 Season Preview Series.
Did you know we have a podcast? Click here to head to our episodes feed and see where you can listen to us talk hockey!