Top 6 forward
I can’t quite figure out what kind of team the Flames are. I’m starting to think they don’t, either.
The Flames possess a decent top 6 but are lacking in a true superstar game-breaking talent. They need to draft Jarome Iginla 2.0. Easier said than done, I know, I’m just calling it as I see it. The Flames had 3 guys who scored 20 goals for them last year, but no one cracked the point per game mark.
They were led in forwards by Matthew Tkachuk, Mr. Turtle himself. He deserved the beating Zack Kassian laid on him last year for going after our top guys and then refusing to answer for it with a fight. That’s cheap and dirty. That being said, you gotta admire his 23-38-61 in 69 games. It’s worth noting, however, that that’s 11 goals and 16 points down from the previous season. Not to mention his +/- went from +14 to -5. Not good.
Then there’s “Johnny Hockey” Johnny Gaudreau. Putting aside the fact his nickname is lame, he put up 18-40-58 and a -10 in 70 games. Those would be good boxcars if it weren’t for the fact that the season prior he put up double the goals and 99 points in 82 games, with a +18 to boot. That’s a huge tumble offensively and defensively.
No wonder rumours persist that the Flames are trying to trade him. Good luck with that, though, as there’s not a lot of teams in this cap climate that can take on a $6.75 million hit for the next 2 seasons. He’ll likely rebound a bit next season, though, as his shooting% was only 8.6%, which is well off his career average of 12.1%, right around the NHL average. That 99 point season is likely an outlier for him, though.
Finishing off the top scorers is top sniper Elias Lindholm. His stats also took a pretty big dive, though – are you starting to sense a theme here? I am. He may have scored 29 goals – which is great, and a career-high – but his point totals nosedived to 54 from 78 2 seasons ago. His +/- also cratered, from +30 to -8. Brutal.
And that’s their top 3 players. You better believe that kind of underachievement will crater your team’s chances of going anywhere. The weird thing is that only Tkachuk is under 25, so Lindholm and Gaudreau you should be able to count on for consistency.
1st line C Sean Monahan is next in line with 22-26-48 and a -16 in 70 games this past season. If you guessed that’s worse than 2 seasons ago, you’re right. Monahan was 34-48-82 and a +7 in 2018-19. 4 players who regressed. Shooting% is only 1% off his career average, so while he has room to improve it won’t be enough to move the needle a lot.
Rounding out the top 6 is Andrew Mangiapane, and here we come across the lone bright spot for the Flames last season. The 24-year-old has 1 more year before he hits his PPY, and he put up 17-15-32 and a +4 in 68 games last season. 15.6% shooting percentage, though, 2% higher than his career average and 3% higher than the NHL average. He’s flirting with the 20 goal mark but tough to say whether he’ll make it or not.
There’s also grizzled veteran Mikael Backlund, who cycles between crossing the 20 goal mark and finishing short of it. Unimpressive for 690 NHL games. He did 16-29-45 with a +3 last season, 2 fewer points from 2 seasons ago, and 5 fewer goals. Oh, and +/- was +34 2 seasons ago. So – 5 out of 6 top 6 forwards regress defensively and offensively? Yeah, that’s a recipe for failure. Unlikely they’ll get back to their previous highs, too. Oilers top 6 will only improve next season, so we’ll take this one.
Bottom 6 forward
The Flames bottom 6 is, IMO, underwhelming and unimpressive. The 3rd line is made up of failed 1st round draft pick Sam Bennett at center, who put up a whopping 12 points last season, after putting up 27 the season before, in 19 more games. He’ll put up more with more games, you say? The 2018-2019 PPG of 0.38 points per game vs. last season’s PPG of 0.23 points per game says otherwise.
On the one side is Milan Lucic, who put up the same 20 points in Calgary he put up in Edmonton the season before. He is, of course, a physical player, but is that worth $5.25 million a year? Not to me. Then there’s youngster Dillon Dube, who played 20 more games last season than the 25 he did the season before and put up a pretty solid 16 points in those 45 games. This was, however, buoyed by a 10% shooting % which is 1.5% more than his career average.
At 22 years old and going into his 3rd NHL season, he’s the 1 bright spot on the line, though. Even then, with only 70 NHL games under his belt, it’s hard to say for sure whether he takes a step forward or not. He’s flirting with the 20 goal mark, though, so IMO likely with more games played next season he reaches it.
4th line center is manned by 33-year-old Derek Ryan, who last season put up 29 points in 68 games, close enough to a full season. Why this guy is the 4th line center and not Sam Bennett, I don’t know. If I were Geoff Ward I’d do it in a heartbeat. Even then, Ryan regressed from 38 points the season prior.
His wingers are both new to the organization, Joakim Nordstrom, who put up has only cracked the 10 goal mark once and only cracked the 20 point mark only once, not so coincidentally in the same season. This screams “generic bottom 6 forward” to me. The other newcomer is Dominik Simon, who put up 2 straight seasons of 20 points – 28 and 22 respectively – for Pittsburgh. +/- has gone from +8 to -9, so that’s no good. Will he put up secondary offence in Calgary next season? Hard to say for sure, but on paper at least it looks good.
Rounding out the bottom 6 is extra guy Josh Leivo, who got lost in the shuffle in TO for years before 2 seasons of part-time play with the Canucks putting up 18 and 19 points in 49 and 36 games respectively. Unless training camp says otherwise, he should easily beat out Nordstrom for a regular spot. Why dailyfaceoff has him as an extra guy and not Nordstrom I don’t know. Can he do the same thing in Calgary? Hard to say as this is the worst team he’ll have played for in his career. But if he’s got a chance anywhere, it’s in Calgary.
Still, the Oilers have 5 guys who can put up 20-30 points without breaking a sweat, 1 who can put up 20 goals and 30 points as a PP specialist, and 2 extra guys who could easily get 20 points apiece if they were regulars. Calgary’s only got 3 guys good for 20 points a season (barely, in Lucic’s case) and 2 maybes if things work out for them. Thanks for taking that terrible Milan Lucic contract off our hands, though. That was really cool of you. This is a pretty easy decision.
Calgary’s defence corps is…..interesting. That’s the word I’m going to use. Mark Giordano is the workhorse on D for the Flames, but at 37 years old and just shy of 900 NHL games it’s fair to ask how much longer he can keep it up without “flaming out” (*comedic drumroll*). Also, it’s worth noting that Giordano won the Norris trophy in 2019 by putting up 74 points in 78 games, but again under the theme of regression, just like his forward brethren Giordano proved that season was a fluke by putting up a whopping 31 points in 60 games.
Still very good, but a regression of 43 points, over half of what he put up 2 seasons ago. Not good. And the Flames better hope he doesn’t age off the roster yet, as he’s still signed for 2 more seasons at a $6.75 million cap hit. Ouch. His partner for the longest time was TJ Brodie, but after letting him walk in free agency to TO, the Flames signed forgettable righty Chris Tanev from Vancouver to replace him. Tanev has a history of putting up no more than 20 points, while IMO Brodie will improve to 30 points next season.
Obviously, this is a step down. Then there’s Noah Hanifin. He put up 22 points in 70 games. In a covid-shortened season, he might put up a little more than that considering his shooting % was 0.6% off his career average, but don’t expect more than 25 points at absolute most out of him, and 22-23 is probably the reasonable expectation. I could see him putting up more 1.5 seasons from now when he hits the age of 25, but for now, he is what he is.
Hanifin’s partner is Rasmus Andersson, who put up the same 22 points in 70 games Hanifin did. Andersson is 24, which is a little young for me to project any more than that in a covid-shortened season. Given another couple of seasons, IMO Calgary will have a really solid D corps on that 2nd pairing, but for now, both are still a little young to be anything more than unspectacularly under the radar.
The 3rd pairing for the Flames is astonishingly young. 23-year-old Oliver Kylington is a former 2nd round pick from 2015 who has been gradually playing the soft competition to learn the ropes in the NHL. He’ll probably be a full-time NHLer next season after playing 48 games last season. He’s only got career stats of 5-10-15 in 87 career NHL games. He’s probably good for about 10 points next season.
Rounding out the regulars is 2017 1st rounder Jusso Valimaki. At the time of this writing, he’s put up 15 points in 15 games in the SM-Liiga, and although NHLe says he’ll put up 37 points in the NHL, that’s not happening without some serious 1st unit PP time when you’re only playing on the 3rd pairing. Assuming he makes it past training camp, this’ll be his rookie season and you don’t want to put too much pressure on him or keep expectations too high.
The extra guy is Russian Nikita Nesterov, a rather forgettable player who in 132 NHL games at the age of 27 has never put up more than 3 goals or 12 points in a season. Pretty standard extra guy, when you think about it.
Assuming Giordano’s age doesn’t catch up with him, the production of the Flames’ top 4 is comparable to the Oilers. However, where the difference comes is in the bottom pairing. While Kylington and Valimaki might comfortably put up 20-30 points between them, Tyson Barrie on the Oilers can easily put up 30 points all by himself.
Throw in another 15 points from Kris Russell and maybe another 10 from extra guy William Laggeson and we can see where the scales tilt to, even if you want to put in 5 points from Nesterov. Good top 4, but not quite enough depth to win.
Special teams: Edmonton PP #1, Calgary PP 12. Edmonton PK #2, Calgary PK 8.
Calgary “won” the free agency sweepstakes for Jacob Markstrom. I put that in quotation marks because although the prize might’ve been the top goalie available, in the NHL landscape he’s a career average NHLer. Anyone with a career sv% of .911 and a career GAA of 2.80 is nothing better than average.
This means that the Flames now have the dubious distinction of paying an average goaltender elite goaltender money. They also gave him an NMC and have him signed until he’s 36. Both REALLY bad ideas. Now if he sucks they can’t even send him down to the minors after he clears waivers – unless he gives them permission to do it. Good luck with that.
He replaces Cam Talbot in the Flames platoon, who actually did a bit better than Markstrom did last season. The other important consideration is that Markstrom will be platooning on a team with a worse D corps than the team he came from, which means his numbers are more likely to reflect that.
If it weren’t for the fact that Ottawa signed Matt Murray to $6.25 million a season, the Markstrom deal would’ve been the worst free agent signing of 2020. I predict this contract will not age well and become a great burden for the Flames – for sure by the last season, possibly another season or 2 before. This one will come back to haunt them.
In fact, if you compare the career stats of Talbot and Markstrom, the Flames just paid big bucks for a guy that is at best no better than Talbot and at worse a slight step down. Talbot’s career sv% is .915 to Markstrom’s .911, and his career GAA is 2.61 to Markstrom’s 2.80.
The only thing Markstrom had over Talbot is that Markstrom is 3 years younger. However, at least Minnesota had the good sense to sign Talbot to a 3-year contract at $3.67 million per year. That’s much closer to the value of either guy.
These kinds of screwups will continue until GMs learn that just because there’s a shiny free agent available, doesn’t mean he’s worth big bucks or a long term contract. Markstrom will not move the needle for the Flames in any meaningful way, you heard it here first.
Anyway, platooning with Markstrom is David Rittich, A 28-year-old Czech goalie who is essentially a poor man’s Jacob Markstrom, with a career sv% of .908 and a career GAA of 2.82. At that age he’s unlikely to get better, despite having played only 115 NHL games. Two goalies that are essentially clones of an average NHL goaltender. That’s not a good tandem.
But the million-dollar question is is it better than the Oilers tandem of Koskinen-Smith? Well, Koskinen only has 97 NHL games to his resume but at least his numbers have improved every season of his career. Last season he flirted with elite numbers, could he move into that vein this season? Maybe. Unlike Markstrom-Rittich, the D behind the Oilers tandem should actually improve a little from last season. I’ve made my feelings about old balls Mike Smith well known.
Both teams have warts in their goaltending corps. Let’s call it a draw.
Winner: None. It’s a tie.