2020-21 Calgary Flames Season Preview
It’s a pretty simple preview when it comes to the offence: they need to score more. Easy right? Well if you look at the 2019-20 Calgary Flames you will see that scoring goals isn’t as easy as it seems. The team that took to the ice last season finished 20th overall in the league with a mere 204 goals for. That’s just not enough. The Flames “high powered offence” from 2018-19 also dried up as Calgary didn’t have a player in the Top 10 in points either. Their closest entry to the category was Matthew Tkachuk’s 61 points (33rd in the league), a herculean 49 points behind Leon Draisaitl for the top spot in the NHL. As for the rest of Calgary’s big guns: Johnny Gaudreau finished 46th (58 points), Elias Lindholm 57th (54 points) and Sean Monahan was 79th in the league with 48 points.
For this season to even remotely be a success, the Flames desperately need point production from not only those four players, but from Mark Giordano and Mikael Backlund as well. All of the Flames to scorers were down last season and maybe the high water mark of 2018-19 was an aberration, but either way the Flames need more “career” type years from these guys if they are going anywhere.
We understand 2019-20 was kind of a hot mess with the Bill Peters situation and the Covid-19 pandemic putting the season on hold, but plenty of other NHL stars played well and produced much better than Calgary’s best skaters.
So, for the 2020-21 Flames to make a dent in the league they need a few things to happen, besides their total point collecting. They need to continue to be a strong PP unit, something that dogged them in the past. Calgary was a very respectable 21.3% with the man advantage last year, good for 12th in the NHL. If the Flames were to tweak that PP unit a little bit it could be even better. A line of Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk, Sean Monahan and Rasmus Andersson could cause headaches for the opposition. Dropping a player like Mark Giordano off that line would save him minutes and allow him to concentrate more on anchoring the PK instead of helping with the offence or even give him limited minutes with the second PP unit. To me that seems like an easy fix. Load the top line and punish teams for taking penalties.
The second thing that will help the Flames and I believe this whole heartedly (and I’m not the only one, so this isn’t a hot take), Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau need to be split up. Gaudreau would be much better suited on a line with Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk. Think back to when Gaudreau and Monahan were paired with Micheal Ferland. There was speed, scoring and muscle on one line. A Gaudreau/Lindholm/Tkachuk line would be like that, but WAY more potent. It would also take some of the pressure off Monahan as he looked invisible for a lot of last season and struggled to create his own offence. A move like that, however, would essentially force Monahan into a bottom six role as there’s no way Mikael Backlund should be dropped down. He anchors that second line perfectly and that’s where our next key comes. The Flames will need a production boost from that grouping and that should not be a problem. Backlund has been a consistent piece to that line for years and Andrew Mangiapane started to really come into his own last year. It then becomes who do you slot beside them? Is it Sam Bennett? Does he get rewarded for his playoff play (though he likes playing centre as opposed to the wing) or do you leave Matthew Tkachuk down on that line to recreate the new look 3M Line and send Bennett up top to play with Gaudreau and Lindholm? What it all comes down to is Geoff Ward being willing to tinker and mix things up. Really, only the 3M Line was reliable last season, so there has to be some mixing of players to get the perfect combinations to further the Flames playoff chances/runs.
While most of this has been concentrated on the forwards, Calgary’s defence should provide more firepower this season as well. We understand this isn’t the free wheeling days of Bob Hartley’s offensive minded defence, but Calgary needs more points from the blue line. Mark Giordano is never going to have a season like his 2018-19 Norris Trophy campaign, but that still doesn’t mean he can’t be a contributor. If you look at the defence as a whole, it comes down to Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin taking that next step. Both are young defencemen, but have the capability to put the puck in the net. In nine less games than 2018-19, Andersson had three more points (22) and shot the puck more in 2019-20. He had a career high 124 shots on goal and you can expect to see that number rise with what should be an increasing role with Calgary’s defence. Hanifin, offensively, had the worst season of his career last year with the exception of his rookie year with Carolina. Now while you may look at that as a slippery slope, the prior season of 2018-19 with Calgary was the best of his career (33 points). So there was an upward trend with Hanifin prior to last year. The unknown in this is Juuso Valimaki. The young Finnish player is finally healthy and if his numbers in 19 games in the SM-liiga with Ilves Tampere are any indication he should be a key member of the Flames this season. In his limited action overseas, Valimaki is a point per game player with two goals and 17 assists.
These are all “what if’s” and “could be’s,” but IF things pan out, the Flames could really make some noise in 2020-21. The North Division won’t be a cake walk as Edmonton was a beast last season, along with Winnipeg and Toronto. New foes create new challenges, but the Flames (on paper) have the man power to play extremely well when they want to. And therein lies the problem. Calgary, at times, looks lethargic on the ice and like they don’t want to be there. In a short season, with 20 games total against Edmonton and Vancouver and a team like Toronto, there isn’t much room for error.
In conclusion: Score more. Keep up the PP. Shake up the lines to create difficult matchups. Will any of this happen? Who knows. But the window on this group is closing and they need to make a solid push now to justify attempting to keep this core together beyond the 2021-22 season.
by Mark Parkinson