Another summer has come and gone, and we’re back for another season of Calgary Flames hockey! The Flames enter the 2021-22 season with mixed expectations following a disappointing shortened season in the North Division as they finished fifth and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2017-18. There are a lot of storylines to break down on this team heading into the season, so let’s get right into it.
Departures and Arrivals
- G David Rittich (Trade Deadline to TOR)
- F Sam Bennett (Trade Deadline to FLA)
- D Mark Giordano (Expansion Draft to SEA)
- F Derek Ryan (UFA to EDM)
- F Josh Leivo (UFA to CAR)
- D Nikita Nesterov (UFA to Russia)
- F Joakim Nordstrom (UFA to Russia)
While many were expecting big changes to come to the Flames core in the offseason, that just wasn’t the case as the majority of regulars are still in town. The most noticeable change will obviously be the departure of long-time captain Mark Giordano who was selected by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. The loss will hurt the team on the back end, but could also be a good signal for change to come with the team. Losing Derek Ryan’s steady play to the Oilers could also hurt as well.
- F Tyler Pitlick (Trade with SEA)
- D Nikita Zadorov (Trade with CHI)
- G Dan Vladar (Trade with BOS)
- F Trevor Lewis (UFA)
- F Blake Coleman (UFA)
- F Brad Richardson (UFA)
- D Erik Gudbranson (UFA)
As mentioned above, the expected sweeping changes never took place and as such we see a roster that mostly added spare parts to fill things out. The biggest acquisition was the signing of two-time Stanley Cup champion Blake Coleman from the Tampa Bay Lightning to a six year contract. The other acquisition to watch this year in my opinion will be Dan Vladar who the Flames got from Boston. He has already won the backup job in the preseason and has played some very solid hockey in his appearances. While he won’t take the #1 job from Jacob Markstrom any time soon, it does seem that he will be very reliable as a backup.
Other than those players, the Flames were clearly motivated to fill out their roster with grittier veteran players rather than skill as they added a number of low-event defensive skaters to the team. If anything the team will be tough to play against, but probably not the most entertaining to watch.
One of the big storylines to watch this season will be the three Flames forwards all on contracts that expire after this season. Those forwards are Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Andrew Mangiapane.
Gaudreau will be the one of most interest as he is set to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) after this year while the other two will still be restricted free agents. With the possibility of Gaudreau departing at the end of the year, the Flames will have to remain realistic about their likelihoods of success over the course of the season. If they aren’t in a playoff spot or even just around the bubble, there should definitely be consideration towards moving him as a deadline rental to a contender. Of course re-sigining him to a long term deal would be the preferable option, but if the Flames clearly aren’t a contender themselves, they may need to make a very tough decision.
The Matthew Tkachuk storyline will also be a keen follow throughout the season. With rumors of him “wanting out” surfacing at times in the last six months, there will be much interest in how the Flames handle negotiations with him. Some very smart work by his agent/uncle has resulted in Tkachuk being eligible to receive a $9M qualifying offer after this year which he will surely take. That will walk up right up to be a UFA after the 2022-23 season which is probably the worst case scenario for the Flames. I expect they will do everything they can to keep him around and get him on a long term deal. This was a player who many envisioned to be the long-term captain of this team, but they need a bounceback season from him before they can commit to that.
Andrew Mangiapane’s situation on the other hand shouldn’t be a cause for concern, more so we are just wondering what his contract will look like if he continues to break out at the NHL level. After scoring on a 26 goal pace and shining for Team Canada at the World Championships, expectations are very high for the 2015 6th round pick as he enters in a no-questions-asked Top 6 role for the first time.
Hot Start Needed
If there’s two things you can guarantee about the Calgary Flames in October, it’s that they will always lose their opening game (haven’t won since 2009-10) and that they will always be mediocre in their first ten games. The Flames haven’t had more than five wins in their first ten games since the 2010-11 season.
A good start will be desperately needed this season more than ever, as any sort of middling or struggles out of the gate will likely bring the “Trade Gaudreau?” questions out in full force. Calgary will have a challenge out of the gate as they play 13 of their first 19 games on the road, however just one of their first 17 games are against an opponent that made it past the first round of the playoffs last year. The Flames could be sitting in a decent spot if they are able to grab some early season road victories against bad teams. Calgary will also have a stretch with 25 of 40 games at home from mid December to March.
Calgary will also have to deal with a compressed schedule with 20 games in 39 days once their season finally beings on October 16.
3 Flames to Watch in 2021-22
1. Matthew Tkachuk
After dealing with a tough season last year, there will be high expectations on Tkachuk for a bounceback season. He earned some high praise from Darryl Sutter late in training camp as he was given a few days off after a pair of solid performances against the Oilers and Jets. He was particularly dangerous against the Oilers, picking up three points and looking highly engaged. As already mentioned, Tkachuk is heading into a contract year and will be looking to match or even top his previous career highs to earn himself a big payday. It looks like he will be partnered with Elias Lindholm and either Blake Colmean or Johnny Gaudreau this season on the Flames top line, so the opportunities will be there for him.
2. Oliver Kylington
After a very strong training camp and preseason, Kylington earned a spot on the club out of camp and really looks like he’s taken a step so far this year. After a number of seasons of being passed up and moved down the depth charts, Kylington looks to have cemented himself into Calgary, but will now need to keep it going into the regular season as the demands on him will grow. He was among the best players on the Flames in the preseason statistically and by the eye test, and while you always have to take preseason results with a grain of salt, you can’t write off the progression his game showed this fall that we haven’t seen in the past. If he keeps this up, there is no logical reason why he shouldn’t be in the lineup on a regular basis, but the Flames haven’t always been the most logical with their personnel decisions.
3. Sean Monahan
In my opinion, the Flames chances of success this year will rely on Monahan having some sort of return to his 2018-19 form. At this point we know what he is and what he isn’t. He is a finisher that has a good quick shot in front, but can’t really drive play or generate much otherwise. If Monahan can be a 30 goal scorer again while being at least marginal at both ends of the ice, the Flames will find themselves in a far better position than previous years. Likely slotted as the 2C behind Elias Lindholm, the Flames should have a pretty solid top six with Monahan playing to his potential. The big thing to watch will be his health as he seems to have played through some sort of injury almost every year recently.
Predictions for the Season
Before the 2020-21 season, I wrote a lengthy article about how it felt like it was a Boom or Bust year for the team, with both options extremely possible. It ended up being the Bust year and it sort of feels like the Flames are in a similar position this year.
Ultimately I see the team finishing somewhere from 91-96 points, and fighting for the final playoff position in the West, whether that happens to be the final wild card spot, or third in the Pacific if the Division ends up being weaker.
I think Johnny Gaudreau will have a big year, hitting at least a point per game again and perhaps pushing close to 90 points if healthy. Elias Lindholm will surpass 30 goals easily for the first time in his career, and I would not be shocked if he hits 40 goals.
On the blue line, I think Rasmus Andersson will hit the 40 point mark, especially if he becomes a regular on the powerplay which most signs pointed to during the preseason.
Ultimately I have this Flames team squeaking into the playoffs and bowing out in the first round yet again, because this team loves mediocrity.
How many wins do you think the Flames will have in 2021-22?