Alberta may as well have been the ‘Boulevard of Broken Hockey Dreams’ during the 2017-18 NHL season. Both the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames entered as strong candidates to win the division and compete for the Province’s first title since 1990. Both team experienced massive steps back and both failed to make the playoffs.
For Calgary, it stings slightly more because the team’s management group went all in. They traded prime assets to get their hands on Travis Hamonic and Mike Smith. Both players struggled mightily at times this season, especially Smith in the second half of the year. Calgary’s depth at forward was non-existent, and far too often what was supposed to be a deep blueline looked bad after their top three options.
The end result? Glen Gulutzan was fired and replaced with Bill Peters, who hopes to turn his hometown team’s fortunes around this winter.
A lot went wrong for the Flames this season, as their secondary pieces were total non-factors for the entire 82-game slate. The top-six forwards and top-three defenders did their job, but after that it seemed like everyone underperformed. Jaromir Jagr could never get going for the club, while Travis Hamonic never seemed right during his first season in Alberta.
Mike Smith, as mentioned, struggled mightily during the second half of the season. That, largely, can be attributed to some lingering injury issues, but he still wasn’t good enough down the stretch. That, in the end, is a big reason why this club missed the playoffs.
The good news in Calgary? All the underlying numbers look good and there was a large degree of bad luck involved with this team. I still very much like their core group, and think the biggest issues plaguing them are relatively easy to fix compared to some other teams. Adding serviceable depth will be huge for this team in the summer.
No surprise that Johnny Gaudreau put together another terrific season. He paced the Flames with 84 points (24-60-84) in 80 games and I thought looked better than at any other point of his young career. With contract issues behind him and the franchise now essentially being in his hands, Gaudreau has seemingly arrived as a true franchise player on the left wing. He’s a blast to watch and will doubtless be one of the most dynamic players in the league again next season.
Every good winger needs a good center, and that is where Sean Monahan comes in. Another core piece, Monahan enjoyed a strong season where he posted 64 points (31-33-64) in 74 games. Monahan is, to me, a legit top line center in the NHL and forms a great duo with Gaudreau. As long as these two are together, the Flames have a legit top line. It’s a lot easier to sleep at night knowing that.
The most underrated player in the west, to me, is Mikael Backlund. His offense doesn’t pop off the page, 45 points (14-31-45) in 82 games, but he’s a complete player. To me, Backlund is one of the best two-way centers in the game and has the ability to post offense while matching up against the opponent’s top weapons. In a division that features Connor McDavid, Anze Kopitar, Ryan Getzlaf and Logan Couture, that’s an important piece.
Pieces To Build With:
Calgary’s top-six forward group is pretty strong and has a lot of pieces to work with. The aforementioned Gaudreau, Monahan and Backlund are joined by uber-pest Matthew Tkachuk and winger Michael Ferland. Defensively, Dougie Hamilton, Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie form a nice trio at the top that is rivaled by few in the NHL.
Travis Hamonic needs to be better in season two, but he’s certainly an option to join that core group if he can bounce back. I wouldn’t bet against him doing just that. Young forward Andrew Mangiapane and defender Rasmus Andersson are both nice pieces that could be full-time NHL’ers in short order, possibly stepping into prominent roles in due time.
In goal, Smith is not a long term option and I wouldn’t be opposed to moving on from the veteran this summer if there was a market for him. I’m a fan of John Gillies and still believe in him as a future NHL’er.
The Flames do not have a pick until the fourth round, where they hold two selections (acquired Florida’s pick in a previous trade). That’s a lot of waiting around for a franchise that doesn’t exactly have the deepest pool of prospects below the professional level. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Flames made a move to jump back into the first round, with Brodie potentially being the bait.
The Flames could use at least two bottom-six forwards for next season, and would do well to add a veteran depth defender too. Assuming they stick with Smith in goal, it’s likely that the team will keep the status quo in goal, although I’d be looking for a new starting option.
Let’s call it three piece: Two bottom-six forwards and a veteran defender.
The Ideal Off-Season:
- Re-sign F’s Nick Shore, Garnet Hathaway, Kris Versteeg and Mark Jankowski, D Brett Kulak and G’s Jon Gillies and David Rittich
- Trade D TJ Brodie to NY Islanders for 12th overall pick and RFA rights to D Brandon Davidson (one-year, $900,000 extension)
- Draft D Ty Smith 12th overall
- Buyout F Troy Brouwer
- Sign C Tyler Bozak to a four-year deal worth $4,250,000 per season
- Sign RW Jannik Hansen to a one-year deal worth $1,100,000
- Sign D Calvin De Haan to a two-year deal worth $4,125,000 per season
Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – Michael Ferland
Matthew Tkachuk – Mikael Backlund – Michael Frolik
Sam Bennett – Tyler Bozak – Jannik Hansen
Kris Versteeg – Nick Shore – Garnet Hathaway
Curtis Lazar, Mark Jankowski
Mark Giordano – Dougie Hamilton
De Haan – Travis Hamonic
Brett Kulak – Michael Stone