It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.
Team: Calgary Flames
How they did last season: 35-40-7 (77 points), 5th in the Pacific, 12 in the Western Conference. Did not make the playoffs.
Notable acquisitions: RW Troy Brouwer, G Chad Johnson, RW Alex Chiasson, G Brian Elliott, head coach Glen Gulutzan
Notable departures: C Joe Colborne, head coach Bob Hartley
When they will play the Caps: Oct. 30 in Washington; March 21 in Calgary
Analysis: The Calgary Flames looked like they were a year ahead of schedule as they made the playoffs in 2015, but they took a step back in 2016 by failing to reach the postseason. At first glance, it seems pretty simple to figure out why.
Calgary was dead last in the NHL in goals against last season, allowing 3.13 goals per game. They were also dead last in the penalty kill with a paltry 75.5 percent success rate. The Flames were statistically horrendous defensively and much of the blame has to go to the awful goalie tandem of Jonas Hiller (.879 save percentage, 3.51 GAA) and Karri Ramo (.909 save percentage, 2.63 GAA).
The goaltending will certainly be better this year as the Flames turn to Brian Elliott in net. After splitting time with Jake Allen in the regular season for St. Louis, Elliott was spectacular in the playoffs for the Blues. Calgary has made it clear Elliott will be the guy for them this season by bringing in backup Chad Johnson. Elliott has been a tandem starter for much of his career, so it will be interesting to see if he can handle a heavier load with the Flames. Still, he couldn’t possibly be worse than what the team had last season.
But the problems in Calgary went much deeper than just the goaltending. After their success in the 2014-15 season, teams figured out the Flames’ system of stretch passes in the neutral zone and Calgary simply could not adjust, giving up the fourth-most turnovers in the league. That failure to adjust ultimately cost head coach Bob Hartley his job and now Glen Gulutzan will take over a young team looking to return to the postseason.
Gulutzan comes from the Vancouver Canucks where he has spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach under both John Tortorella and Willie Desjardins. He was an NHL head coach before, leading the Dallas Stars for two seasons. While there, he was praised for his development of the younger players such as Jamie Benn and Cody Eakin. Given Calgary’s stable of young talent, it’s not hard to figure out why Gulutzan was ultimately hired to coach the Flames.
There's obvious potential here with Elliott in net, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and T.J. Brodie on the blue line and Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan up top.
Season prediction: The Flames are about to find themselves in salary cap hell once restricted free agents Gaudreau and Monahan are finally re-signed. Both players are due for big raises which will make the contract Calgary just gave Troy Brouwer really sting.
Brouwer's contract will pay him $4.5 million per season and he looks slotted to play right wing on the team’s top line. His cap hit currently sits as the highest cap hit among the team’s forwards. That will change once Gaudreau and Monahan re-sign, but his contract indicates the Flames may be relying a bit too much on the 30-year-old veteran who managed just 39 points in the regular season in 2015-16.
Those contracts will push the Flames right to the edge of the ceiling leaving Calgary with zero flexibility when it comes to bringing in more offensive talent which they need if Brouwer doesn't live up to the billing as a top-line player.
Still, the Flames have enough pieces in place to overcome that for the time being. Elliott represents an enormous upgrade in net which will help mitigate the defensive issues that proved to be Calgary’s weakness last season.
It’s always hard to predict what a new coach will bring to a team, but so long as Gulutzan brings a less predictable system that what Hartley did last season, the Flames have enough talent to compete for a spot in the Pacific’s top three and should return to the postseason.
MORE HOCKEY: WHERE DOES GALIEV FIT IN?
See other team previews:
— Boston Bruins
— Buffalo Sabres
— Detroit Red Wings
— Florida Panthers
Montreal Canadiens (coming Aug. 19)
Ottawa Senators (coming Aug. 20)
Tampa Bay Lightning (coming Aug. 21)
Toronto Maple Leafs (coming Aug. 22)
Carolina Hurricanes (coming Aug. 23)
Columbus Blue Jackets (coming Aug. 24)
New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
Washington Capitals (coming Aug. 30)