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Writers Roundtable: What Awaits The 2018-19 Calgary Flames?

There’s a lot to go over with new faces arriving, old faces coming back healthy and the ultimate question being whether this is a playoff team or not.

NHL: Preseason-San Jose Sharks at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s our first Writers Roundtable of the season and what better time than right before the season starts? We’ll take a look at the Flames preseason, expectations for the 2018-19 season and many more exciting and in depth topics. So dig in and see what awaits the 2018-19 Calgary Flames!

1. The Flames had a very busy off season. What are your overall thoughts on the moves they made as it pertains to the upcoming season and who has the potential to have the biggest impact on the roster?

MGMacGillivray: I’m a big fan of the moves the Flames made this offseason. I think we’ve already seen a lot of potential in the players they’ve acquired. Elias Lindholm looks like he’ll slot in as the first line winger, and if preseason is any indication, then he’ll fit well. Noah Hanifin looks like a stud. James Neal will obviously be a huge boost to the scoring. Austin Czarnik will be an interesting player to watch as he had some great flashes in preseason.

MarkParkinson14: As the self confessed “biggest Micheal Ferland fan” I was disappointed to see him shipped out at the draft, but what the Flames got in return will no doubt make this team better for the upcoming season and in the future. Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau will have a legit big time forward up front with them in either Lindholm or James Neal. The addition of Noah Hanifin allowed the Flames to move Brett Kulak and Hanifin was nothing if not impressive in the preseason. All in all, I’m very happy with that the Flames did this off season.

MilhouseFirehouse: Treliving’s traditionally never been a quiet GM over the offseason, and tradition certainly continued. Buying out Brouwer was the obvious big choice. As much as people crowed to trade Brodie there was no return value for him, so he swapped Hamilton as the piece that could actually fetch a return. Hopefully Neal can address the goal scoring issues, and with a long-term deal he’ll have plenty of attempts to do so. As for biggest impact, I’ve got to go with Elias Lindholm. No offense to Neal, but he hasn’t consistently played on the top line wing in any of the his previous four NHL stops since his Evgeni Malkin days. The spot with Gaudreau and Monahan is Lindholm’s to lose, and if he’s the guy that can finally be a long term fit there, it’ll go a long way towards impacting the club’s success.

Renu@RaeSahota: BT shook things up and off went Dougie and Ferland – and in came Hanafin and Lindholm. Dougie and Gio just couldn’t gel as top 2-D the way I thought they would, but I’m a huge fan of TJ Brodie, and so far so good. I’m most impressed with Gully being let go, and Peters being brought in for some old school tough love. Nobody likes sticks being thrown at them – might break their bones (it’s a Gully reference for those of you who forgot).

2. The preseason goaltending was nothing to write home about. Is it too early to panic?

MGMacGillivray: It certainly doesn’t inspire confidence but it might also be too early to consider panicking. The pre-season was a mish-mash of games including the China games, and it there wasn’t any easy way for the goaltenders to get into a rhythm. We’ll see how they start the season.

MarkParkinson14: I’m with Michael here. It wasn’t pretty for sure, but you have to think that a fully rested and hopefully healthy Mike Smith can return to the form he showed for most of last season. What Calgary can’t do is ride him like they did in 2017-18. Either David Rittich or Jon Gillies needs to step up and be able to take some of the load off of Smith’s shoulders. Rittich was servicable in the backup role last year, but his preseason wasn’t very good.

MilhouseFirehouse: When it comes to preseason, it’s always too early to panic. Or, in some cases, rejoice. Everything before the first real puck drop has to be taken with a grain of salt, and that includes the inclusion of Valimaki and Dube with the big league club to start the year. Mark is correct in that they need someone to lighten the load from Smith, one as a look ahead to see what they’ve really got for young goaltending, and two to keep Smith hopefully healthy down the stretch by not overexerting him.

Renu@RaeSahota: I might be the only one who still believes in Mike Smith – even after a loss to the Canucks .. Flames aquire him via an under the table deal from the Yotes – leaves a sour taste in the mouth. However, if the Flames D can stay clear of his lane of vision – he’ll stop 100% more pucks. He’ll stretch it out for his last year in the NHL. I have confidence in our backups for when Smitty needs a breather. Borrow my ventolin.

3. Sean Monahan is healthy after an injury plagued ending to the 2017-18 season. What does a healthy Monahan mean to the Flames this year?

MGMacGillivray: A healthy Monahan gives the Flames a #1 centreman. Last year I predicted he’d have 40 goals and he was well on that pace before being slowed down by injuries. Again if he stays healthy, I think he could get close to 40 goals.

MarkParkinson14: Monahan set a career high in points last season, all while playing hurt for a good portion of the year. A healthy Sean Monahan should EASILY eclipse the 70 point mark this season and having someone like Neal or Lindholm up top with him should only make things better for the Flames alternate captain.

MilhouseFirehouse: Hitting career numbers while requiring two hernia surgeries, a groin surgery, and a wrist surgery is no easy feat. We can only expect those numbers to go up with all the injuries now taken care of.

Renu@RaeSahota: Nobody even knew Sean Monahan was nursing his ailments. He stuck it out last season, probably should’ve had the 4 surgeries sooner. He’s back in tact and ready to go with his left shot. Limited to 76 games, but still had 31 goals – as long as he keeps shooting and watches out for that tendonitis he should easily surpass 64pts, upwards to 82pts for sure – that’s a goal a game.

4. Here’s the obligatory beginning of the season question on Sam Bennett: is his time in Calgary just about up or is this his breakout year?

MGMacGillivray: He had a decent preseason, but ultimately I think you were hoping to get more from a 4th overall pick than a bottom six forward. The Flames have enough skill now that they can’t just spoonfeed him top six minutes, he has to earn them and so far he hasn’t. If the Flames decide to trade Bennett this year, I wouldn’t be shocked.

MarkParkinson14: It’s over. Bennett hasn’t shown ANY improvement for a 4th overall pick. Sometimes you just have to admit you’re wrong and that’s what the Flames need to do here. He hasn’t warranted the top line minutes people are saying he deserves and Bennett couldn’t carry a 3rd or 4th line, so what are the Flames to do? Deal him, that’s what.

MilhouseFirehouse: It’s a tough call. Everyone wants to trade your sub-par players, but who wants them? What is the return on Sam Bennett at this point? Certainly not a 4th overall pick or someone equivalent. The depth additions in the bottom six might help Sam’s case this year once he’s set with better linemates. We all know the difference between Backlund when he had David Jones versus Backlund when he has Tkachuk, maybe that’ll be the case with Bennett and some younger better blood playing with him. If it isn’t, they can’t hang onto hope forever.

Renu@RaeSahota: Shadow of first rounder disappointment over Sam Bennett, his +/- is way below zero – maybe flipping his numbers to 39 – same as his 2-yr contract ($3.9M) will help him out of the deep freeze.

5. Are the Flames a playoff team and if not, why?

MGMacGillivray: I say Yes, but as usual it’ll hinge on the goaltending. This year the Flames look to have a skilled enough forward and defence core that they don’t need Mike Smith to be outstanding, they just need him to be consistent/reliable. Calgary has the depth scoring and a strong defence core, with goaltending that’s even just average, they should get into the playoffs in an uninspiring Pacific Division.

MarkParkinson14: Yes, with the caveat that they have some things to fix. The PP can’t be as atrocious as it was last season. Calgary also needs to put pucks in the net in 5 v 5 situations as well. Mike Smith can’t stop, say, 30 out of 32 and his offence not show up. With the moves that Calgary made in the off season they should be much better, which SHOULD mean they make the playoffs.

MilhouseFirehouse: Yes, but where they wind up seeding is anyone’s guess. Before Karlsson and Pacioretty wound up in the division, it might have been a different story. This division’s going to be a log-jam this year with points being spread amongst the top few teams and more than a few things beyond their control might have to fall their way if they want to do anything besides “just sneak in to get kicked out in four games” this time.

Renu@RaeSahota: Bill Peters seems like a straightforward coach – he might be playing with the lines right now, but once he puts James Neal top line the Flames should be good to go as a playoff contender. Won’t have a goalie situation if we’re always in the O-zone.

6. Which player is the most important on the roster and why?

MGMacGillivray: I feel like the pretty obvious answer is Mike Smith, so I’m going to go in a different direction and give two other players. Both happen to be the players acquired in the Dougie Hamilton trade. 1. Elias Lindholm because if he can provide the true first line forward that the Flames have lacked since Iggy, Johnny and Monny could be pushed to totally new heights. 2. Noah Hanifin because Travis Hamonic really struggled last year with Brodie, so if he can find chemistry with Hanifin, the Flames will get a second really strong pairing.

MarkParkinson14: I’m going with Mike Smith. All preseason the Flames had some fire power and proved they could score, now they need to show they have the right guy between the pipes. Smith was the team MVP for most of last year until he got hurt and in the end, ultimately, was overused. The Flames will need to learn how to manage the 36 year old properly if they plan on playing hockey in late spring.

MilhouseFirehouse: Just to try and go outside of the obvious Mike Smith box, let’s go left field and say Tkachuk. He seemed to be the only motivated face on the roster after Smith went down last year, does he have the talent, leadership ability, and fire to drag the team along if they hit the skids again this year? As goaltending goes, so will the Flames, and in the case it goes down again somebody outside the blue paint has to step up.

Renu@RaeSahota: You can’t ignore Tkachuk. I named him MVP last season as well. Energy, drive, whatever it is the kid can score, and knows how to get under opponents skin. Glad he’s on our team. His skill is just an afterthought.