One of last season’s biggest surprises, the Calgary Flames quietly went about their business dominating the pacific division before being unceremoniously dumped from the playoffs in the first round. Let’s preview what the team’s 2019-20 season should look like:
First Key Game: Vancouver Canucks – October 5th
Odds to win the division
17:4 (t-2nd overall) (via Betway)
Is this a bet worth taking?
The Flames won the Pacific last season and have a sold chance to repeat. That’s not to say they won’t be challenged by the likes of San Jose and Vegas but there’s a strong belief they can capture consecution division titles.
The Flames would at worst be a reasonable bet to take the Pacific crown. The Sharks lost some key pieces (Pavelski, Donskoi) Vegas are still a threat and Vancouver will look to take a step but if Calgary can stay healthy, and get some goaltending, they should have a great chance to repeat.
Keys To The Season
Story to watch
Will the Flames burn out again in the postseason? Calgary had an incredible regular season last year, finishing first place in the western conference. They looked poised for a long playoff run provided their goaltending showed up. Which it did. As for the rest of the team… the Flames and the President Trophy winning Lighting were both bounced in the first round last season, (Calgary in 5 games to Nathan Mackinnon… I mean, the Avalanche). The first time ever both conference champs have been ousted that early.
Much like the Stanley Cup favourites in Tampa, the Flames will predominately be judged on what they do after the regular season. Barring a rash of injuries they should finish top three in the Pacific, and be considered a contender. That said, both their netminders lack significant playoff experience. Hopefully for Flames fans last year’s early exit will serve as a lesson or motivation rather than a harbinger of things to come.
Can their goaltending tandem get the job done? Last year it was Mike Smith and David Rittich splitting time in the crease for Calgary. With Smith moving on to Edmonton, playing alongside Mikko Koskinen, the Flames brought in former Oiler Cam Talbot to work with Rittich.
While he was predominately the starter in Edmonton, Talbot has had experience as a backup with the Rangers where he played behind Henrik Lundqvist, so this shouldn’t be new to him. He could perhaps even garner the lion’s share of games if he can turn things around, but it would seem like Rittich would be given that opportunity first as the incumbent, especially after going an impressive 27-9-5 last season. This would however, be his first go as ‘the guy’. Regardless, one of them will need to step up if the Flames want to challenge in a tough Pacific Division.
Player to watch
Sean Monahan: The Flames number one center certainly looked the part last season and at just 24 has plenty of prime years left. He need look no further than his own division to understand how the likes of Getzlaf & Kopitar have carried their teams with a complete ‘200 foot’ game, leading them to Stanley Cup glory. Monahan will have to take another step for the Flames to hoist Lord Stanley’s mug.
He’s improved his point production every year, and after an impressive 82 points in 78 games last season, he managed just 2 in the five game defeat at the hand of the Avalanche. Colorado star Nathan MacKinnon was other-worldly in that series, so expecting those numbers may be a bit much. That said these are the kind of guys he has to go against and at least try to match. If your top centre only has just two points in 5 games, it’s going to be very tough to win a series, let alone the Cup.
A legitimate number one goalie. The Flames rode the tandem of Rittich and Smith last season to mixed results. With Smith moving on, maybe Rittich steps up and becomes that guy, or perhaps Cam Talbot regains some of the form he showed in Edmonton, but until then the Flames will simply have to hope for the best between the pipes.
They have a solid core upfront with Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and… Milan Lucic? An impressive blue line bolstered by defending Norris winner captain Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Noah Hanifin and Travis Hamonic. A top tier ‘tender seems the only missing piece. Not that Mike Smith was to blame for their playoff loss last season, but until they get the kind of netminding the other contenders in the west have, especially as both are largely unproven in the postseason, they’ll continue to find themselves an impressive also ran.
If the Calgary Flames were an animal, what would they be?
A Sasquatch. There’s a lot excitement surrounding them, and the expectations of what could be. A ton of people believe in them, while others are more sceptical. The truth remains to be seen…