2020-21 Calgary Flames Season Preview
Heading into the 2020-21 season, the defence core strikes me as the biggest wild card facing the team. If things go right, I could see them going really well, but I could also see everything completely going off the rails into a pit of chaos. Here’s a look at the additions and subtractions of the Flames defensive depth chart across all levels of the organization:
Added: Chris Tanev, Nikita Nesterov, Connor Mackey, Johannes Kinnvall, Colton Poolman, Alex Petrovic,
Subtracted: T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, Derek Forbort, Erik Gustafsson, Rinat Valiev, Andrew Nielsen
Ordinarily losing four NHL level defenders from your core would spell disaster for an upcoming season, but some free agent signings along with the much awaited return of Juuso Valimaki should be more than enough to cover those losses. While Kinnvall, Poolman, and Mackey were all technically signed before last playoffs, I consider them as new acquisitions since their contracts didn’t start until the 2020-21 league year.
Adding Chris Tanev seems to be a replacement for the Travis Hamonic-type defender on the team as he takes over a more defensive role. At 4 years x 4.5M, his contract is certainly a gamble so we’ll see if he can be worth his cost. Brad Treliving doesn’t exactly have the best track record in free agency.
Losing T.J. Brodie definitely hurt from a fan perspective as he spent parts of ten season and 634 games in a Flames uniform, however it appeared to be time to make a switch on the blue line with the emergence of younger players and the fact that Brodie has really struggled to find success with anyone besides Mark Giordano in his career.
In an ideal world with a cap that had increased the expected amount, I would have loved to find a way for the Flames to have retained Gustafsson but it just wasn’t in the cards.
With the additions and subtractions out of the way, here is how things seem to be shaking down as we move into camp:
Guaranteed NHL Roster: Mark Giordano, Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev, Juuso Valimaki
On the Bubble/Taxi Squad: Nikita Nesterov, Oliver Kylington, Connor Mackey, Michael Stone (PTO)
AHL Bound: Colton Poolman, Alex Yelesin, Alex Petrovic, Carl-Johan Lerby
Europe: Johanness Kinnvall
The top five positions do seem fairly obvious at this point, however the pairings remain anyone’s guess. The 6/7 positions seem to be up for grabs heading into camp although Nesterov and Kylington seem to have the early edge on them.
For me Connor Mackey provides the most interesting player as camp has kicked off. Multiple people in the organization including general manager Brad Treliving and captain Mark Giordano have spoken extremely highly of his play both from early in this camp and from the Return to Play camp last summer. He was also awarded the #3 which is almost always a “NHL number” rather than the traditional prospect number in the 50’s and 60’s. At the age of 24, there isn’t exactly a ton of time for the Flames to develop Mackey, so I would not be entirely shocked to see him get a crack at the roster out of camp.
Oliver Kylington continues to have immigration issues which means his camp will be delayed and could mean the team looks at other options.
Based on what we’ve seen in past seasons and that Calgary is looking at changes this season, here is how I would look to set the lineup, on paper at least:
Hanifin - Andersson
Valimaki - Tanev
Giordano - Nesterov
Kylington (maybe Mackey depending on 58’s immigration situation)
Taxi Squad: Stone
However it looks like the Flames are going with Giordano-Tanev and Valimaki-Nesterov so far through the early portions of camp, but that still could change.
While some may be surprised that I have Giordano on the “third pair” I could actually see much more of a level rotation happening across the three lines this season, with the top line getting more offensive time and the bottom getting more defensive time. It will be important for the Flames to manage Gio’s ice time effectively as a condensed season will put a lot of wear on all of the players. Perhaps curtailing his 5v5 minutes could allow him to be more effective in a powerplay role or on the penalty kill.
Speaking of powerplay, it appears that Rasmus Andersson will get a shot on the top powerplay unit this year as its lone defenceman. Or at least that seems to be the case from the first couple days of training camp. His role has continually grown over the past two seasons and this is the next logical step. He does have a wicked shot when he uses it, so a big season could be in store for him. Also look for Valimaki to get some PP time as well as he quarterbacked his Finnish team this year and looked very good in doing so.