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2016-17 NHL Season preview: Calgary Flames

2016-17 NHL Season preview: Calgary Flames

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.


See other team previews:

Pacific Division
— Anaheim Ducks
— Arizona Coyotes
— Calgary Flames
— Edmonton Oilers
— Los Angeles Kings
— San Jose Sharks
— Vancouver Canucks

Central Division
— Chicago Blackhawks
— Colorado Avalanche
— Dallas Stars
— Minnesota Wild
— Nashville Predators
— St. Louis Blues
— Winnipeg Jets

Atlantic Division
— 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)

Metropolitan Division
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)

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Caps prospect watch: Signing season?


Caps prospect watch: Signing season?

The 2018 NCAA Hockey Tournament bracket has been announced and only one Capitals prospect, Brian Pinho, is still in the running.

Providence College was selected as the No. 2 seed in the East Regional and will play No. 3 Clarkson in the first round on Friday, March 23 on ESPNU. The winner will play the winner of Notre Dame-Michigan Tech on Saturday with a chance to advance to the Frozen Four.

The college season is over for the rest of the Capitals' college prospects which begs the question, will any of them sign an entry-level deal with Washington?

In the spring when seasons end for colleges, junior leagues and European leagues, we see a flurry of signings across the NHL as teams sign their prospects and young free agents.

Among the Caps' college prospects, the most likely candidate to sign would be Shane Gersich. Gersich just wrapped up this third season at the University of North Dakota, finishing second on the team in goals (13) and tied for third in points (29). The Capitals will certainly make a push to sign him considering his talent and because if he returns to college for a fourth year, he stands to become a free agent on Aug. 15, 2019.

Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald reported Wednesday that North Dakota was still awaiting Gersich's decision on whether he planned to return to college.

Quinnipiac defenseman Chase Priskie is in a similar situation, but it he has decided to head back to school for another season.

“That wasn’t a season I’d want to leave on,” Priskie told the New Haven Register. “When I came here as a freshman I saw our senior class, Garteig, St. Denis, Soren Jonzzon, and they left such a legacy that guys still talk about them. Same for Sam Anas and Devon Toews. They were all such great players and some of the best people for our program. When I leave, I want to be talked about like they are.”


Other prospect notes:

  • For Pinho, now a senior at Providence, this marks an opportunity for him to finish his college career the same way he began, with a national championship. “I don’t think I realized at the time how hard it is just to get back to the tournament,” Pinho told the New Haven Register. “So that’s something we older guys have been telling the younger guys. You never know when you’re going to be back and you have to make the most of it when you’re there.” (You can read the full feature on Pinho here)
  • The end of the season may suddenly be near for goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov. Metallurg Magnitogorsk finds itself down 3-1 in its series with Ak Bars in the KHL playoffs meaning their season could be over as early as Friday. Of course, the big news to watch after that is whether or not Samsonov would come to North America. If he does, he would most likely go to Hershey to play for the Bears. With only 10 games remaining on Hershey's schedule, however, the sooner Samsonov's team is ousted from the playoffs, the better. At least from a Washington perspective.
  • All three of Washington's WHL prospects have reached the WHL playoffs. Moose Jaw (Dmitriy Zaitsev) finished with the best record in the league and will play Prince Albert in the first round. Swift Current (Beck Malenstyn) finished second in the East Division behind Moose Jaw and will play Regina. Everett (Garrett Pilon) won the U.S. Division and earned the top seed in the Western Conference. They will play Seattle in the first round.
  • Dmitriy Zaitsev remains out after taking an illegal hit last week. He did not play in either of Moose Jaw's final regular season games, but was a full participant in practice on Wednesday.
  • Adam Carlson has found his groove in Kansas City. Playing for the Mavericks of the ECHL, he won each of his two starts this past week allowing only one goal on 43 shots. He was named the 2nd star of the game for both games.
  • Madison Bowey recorded an assist on Friday and two more for Hershey on Saturday for three over the weekend in his first week back with the Bears. Bowey has spent the majority of the season with the Caps, but the additions of Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek at the trade deadline meant there were just too many bodies up in Washington and not enough playing time to go around. As Bowey is waiver exempt, he became the odd-man out and was sent to the AHL. It would not be surprising to see him recalled by Washington when the NHL playoffs begin.
  • Defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler brought his goal total up to five for the season with two goals against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Monday. The Bears really wanted to emphasize his offensive game this season to see if Siegenthaler could be developed into a two-way player. His strength is definitely is on the defensive end of the ice, but he will be a more versatile player if he can also be a threat offensively as well. You can see the highlights of Siegenthaler's two-goal game here:

  • Forward Hampus Gustafsson was recalled to Hershey last week and did not wait long to make an impact. He scored his first career AHL goal on Friday. He also added an assist making that game his first career multi-point game as well.
  • Tyler Lewington was suspended two games by the AHL for a punch he delivered to Bridgeport's Scott Eansor in Friday's game.

Who are the Caps' top 10 prospects? Find out here in this week's updated rankings 

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John Carlson gets the better of John Klingberg in duel of top defensemen


John Carlson gets the better of John Klingberg in duel of top defensemen

One week ago, the hockey world was captivated by the matchup of Alex Ovechkin and Patrik Laine, two players battling for the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer. Tuesday's matchup between the Washington Capitals and Dallas Stars once again pitted two competitors locked in a point battle together in John Carlson and John Klingberg.

Carlson and Klingberg entered Tuesday's games with 59 points each, tied for the league lead in points among defensemen. In a 4-3 win for Washington, both defensemen delivered phenomenal performances as each recorded two points, two assists for Klingberg and a goal and an assist for Carlson.

Tuesday's game was the latest example this season of Carlson rising to the occasion. He has been at his best when he has been needed the most such as when he was averaging 27:46 of ice time a night while Matt Niskanen was out injured.


Carlson's ability to deliver has not gone unnoticed by his teammates.

"John's having just a whale of a year, obviously," Niskanen said. "Monster year. Production, been carrying the load all year. He's been just a stalwart back there for us. He leads the way."

"The numbers don't lie, he's been having an unreal season," T.J. Oshie said. "Definitely on the points side of things, but maybe some parts that don't get talked about, the defensive side of things. He rarely loses a battle. It's very encouraging, it gets the bench going when he plays like that."

After the game, Carlson tried to downplay the notion that he elevated his game in response to playing against Klingberg.

"No," Carlson said when asked if he was motivated by the points race. "I think the guys do a good job of pumping that up in the locker room. I just want to go out there and win. I think we played a good game tonight so that's most important."

But while his words were subdued, his play was anything but.

Despite both players getting two points, Carlson got the better of his counterpart by scoring the game-winning goal in the third period, a one-timer slap shot to beat goalie Kari Lehtnonen, to lead Washington to the win.


Carlson may say he was not motivated by Klingberg, but his play certainly seemed to suggest otherwise.

"I think they both know, they know the stats," Barry Trotz said. "They know who they're lined up [against]. They're proud athletes. You're in a business where there's a lot of alpha males. That's what it is."

Of course, Carlson may not need a matchup with Klingberg to motivate him.

In the final year of his contract, Carlson has picked a good time to set new career highs in goals, assist and points. With a cap hit of just under $4 million, the 28-year-old blueliner will be due a significant raise in the offseason. That price tag continues to climb with every good performance as Carlson continues to cement himself among the league's top defensemen.

"Obviously he's very motivated," Trotz said. "He's in the last year of his contract. He'll be motivated. He's putting out points. He's gotten better and better. He's more poised every year. When he's intense and detailed in his game, he's a top defenseman in the league and he shows it."