Sean Monahan

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Flames – Oilers rivalry is worth getting excited about again

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This post is a part of Flames day at PHT…

For about a recent 10-year period, the rivalry between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers — known as the Battle of Alberta — had really just become about the past.

It was about old memories, a trip back in time to when both clubs were battling it out, particularly during the 1980s and into the early 1990s, for hockey supremacy in that Canadian province. That’s because, over this more recent stretch, the Flames and Oilers had been mired in mediocrity in the Western Conference.

From 2006 to 2016, the Flames had made the playoffs five times, advancing to the second round only once and the team’s success that season under Bob Hartley was in no way going to be sustainable long-term. The Oilers, well, they made the Stanley Cup Final in 2006 and then endured 10 straight seasons out of the playoffs. For both franchises, that is a far cry from their glory days and fiercest battles against each other.

Technically, the rivalry still existed during this 10-year downturn. But it was never really worth getting too excited about. At one point, there was hope from Oilers executive Kevin Lowe that perhaps the outspoken Brian Burke would help rekindle the rivalry when he joined the Flames a few years ago.

It appears, however, that has all changed.

Both teams not only made the playoffs last season, which is a positive sign, but have rosters that should allow them to build on those steps forward when the upcoming season gets underway.

After management changes, coaching changes and getting the No. 1 overall selection in four out of six years — Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov are no longer with Edmonton — the Oilers appear like they are turning a corner following the second year of the Connor McDavid Era and with the play of Cam Talbot in goal last season.

The Flames? Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau anchor their offensive attack, with Matthew Tkachuk set for his sophomore season after an impressive rookie campaign as a teenager. The Flames have also done a nice job of building a strong group of defensemen, particularly their top four, with the summer addition of Travis Hamonic to join Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton.

Does Calgary now have the best defense in the NHL? That’s up for debate, but it’s still a solid blue line, with their top four under contract for at least another three years. (Giordano has five years remaining on his deal and Hamilton has another four years.)

Acquiring Mike Smith to take over the starting duties in net (he’s under some pressure) and adding Eddie Lack as a capable No. 2 are also moves that indicate the Flames feel they are, within this cycle of the organization, ready to compete for the West.

Not only should both clubs remain competitive over the next few years, but the star power they both contain helps grow the rivalry, as well.

McDavid is, well, McDavid.

For the Flames, Johnny Hockey isn’t the biggest player on the ice but with his slick hands and ability to evade larger defenders, he’s shown capable of producing at a point-per-game pace over a long season and doing so with some flair for the fans. Monahan, only 22 years old, was recently listed as one of the top 20 centers in the NHL, and has scored at least 20 goals or more in each of his four seasons.

The Flames and Oilers won’t have to wait long to renew the rivalry. With star players involved, steps taken in the right direction by both franchises last season and higher expectations in 2017-18, they will face each other on Oct. 4 in Edmonton to kick off the new season.

This next chapter in the Battle of Alberta shouldn’t have to rely on nostalgia.

Under Pressure: Mike Smith

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This post is a part of Flames day at PHT…

Goaltending has been a major issue for the Calgary Flames in recent seasons and for the second year in a row they have completely overhauled the position, bringing in two new faces in an effort to fix it.

Replacing Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson this season (after Elliott and Johnson replaced Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio the year before) will be the veteran of duo of Mike Smith and Eddie Lack.

Both goalies are looking to rebound with a fresh start in a new city.

Smith, acquired in an offseason trade with the Arizona Coyotes, is going to be the starter and is going to have the most pressure on him.

Not only because the Flames are still on the hook for the remainder of his contract (more than $11 million over the next two seasons) but because he is going to be playing behind a defense that is going to be one of the best in the NHL, led by Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton and Travis Hamonic. That is an outstanding group and even average goaltending should make the Flames one of the toughest teams in the league to score against.

Smith, however, has not always performed at that level in recent seasons.

Looking at his past three years total his even-strength save percentage of .920 places him 38th out of 61 goalies that have appeared in at least 50 games, while his overall save percentage of .911 places him 45th out of that group (his new backup, Eddie Lack, is 46th over that same stretch). Even if you look at only his performance from this past season in Arizona (a .914 save percentage) it wouldn’t be that big of an upgrade over what the Flames were getting out of the Elliott/Johnson duo.

Now, that was good enough to get the Flames into the playoffs and make them a middle-of-the-pack team when it came to preventing goals.

But the Flames are at a point now where their objective should be more than just simply “make the playoffs” or be an average defensive team.

If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have traded for a 35-year-old goalie and been willing to pay him more than $11 million over the next two seasons.

This is a team that has what should be on paper one of the best quartets of defensemen in the league, it has some outstanding young forwards that are just now entering the prime of their careers (Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Backlund) and some emerging young stars in Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett.

They are clearly in what they believe to be a “win-now” mode with a chance to compete in the Western Conference.

For them to do that they are going to need a big season from their new goaltender.

Looking to make the leap: Mark Jankowski

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This post is a part of Flames day at PHT…

When the Calgary Flames picked Mark Jankowski with the No. 21 overall pick in the 2012 draft it certainly raised a lot of eyebrows. It was the very definition of an “off the board” pick and was pretty much immediately panned by basically every draft analyst.

Things did not get much better during Jankowski’s for most of his first three seasons at Providence College where his production was decent, but not the level you would expect from a first-round NHL draft pick and top prospect.

Over the past two years, however, things have started to turn around for him in his development. After averaging more than a point-per-game during his senior season at Providence, Jankowski played his first full season of pro hockey during the 2016-17 season and had an extremely promising year for the AHL’s Stockton Heat.

He told NHL.com earlier this month that one of his goals last season after being sent to the AHL was to be a dominant player in the league.

“Last year,” Jankowski reflects, “was a good one for me. After I was sent down to Stockton, I had it in my mind that I wanted to start dominating games and as the year wore on I think I got closer and closer to doing it. Every shift I wanted to make an impact. Every time on the ice I wanted to affect the outcome, whether by scoring a goal, winning a big face-off or a quick stick in the D-zone.”

He ended up leading the team in goals (27) and total points (56) and was one of the league’s best rookies.

Now the next step for him is finally breaking through and getting a full time look at the NHL level.

It is not going to be easy.

The Flames were a playoff team a year ago and are bringing back a pretty deep roster that won’t have many open spots, especially at Jankowski’s natural position of center where the team already has Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett and Matt Stajan. Important to keep in mind that Monahan and Bennett are both nearly the same age as Jankowski and are already established NHL players.

Whether he makes the roster from the start or gets a look later in the season it still looks like he has a chance to turn out to be a better player than was originally believed on the night he was picked by the Flames.

Poll: Are Preds favorites in West?

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This post is part of Predators Day on PHT…

The Nashville Predators qualified for the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the second Wild Card team in the Western Conference. But it’s not about where you start, it’s where you finish, and the Preds made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

Led by a phenomenal group of defensemen like Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm, the Predators were able to knock off the Blackhawks, Blues and Ducks before losing to the Penguins in six games.

Now, it’ll be interesting to see if they’re able to translate the Stanley Cup run into regular-season dominance and more postseason success.

As of right now, they still have the same top four defensemen on their roster. They also added former Canadiens blue liner Alexei Emelin to fold.

Also, don’t forget that on top getting acclimated to his new surroundings last year, Subban also missed 16 games with an upper-body injury. If his postseason success carries over into the regular season, you can expect him to be a whole lot better in 2017-18.

Up front, GM David Poile was able to add a few interesting pieces via free agency. Nick Bonino, who is coming off back-to-back Stanley Cup championships with Pittsburgh, will add some quality depth down the middle. His two-way style should make him an ideal candidate to center the second or third line.

Poile also signed veteran Scott Hartnell, who was bought out by the Blue Jackets. He’s back in Nashville after spending the first six years of his NHL career there. The veteran winger had 13 goals and 37 points in 78 games with Columbus last season.

Are those moves enough to propel them to another Stanley Cup Final berth in 2018? Well, lets look at the competition.

On paper, the Chicago Blackhawks seemed to have taken a step back this offseason, as they traded away Artemi Panarin, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Scott Darling and Marcus Kruger. Marian Hossa has a mysterious allergy that will keep him out for the year, and Brian Campbell hung up his skates to join the team’s front office.

The San Jose Sharks were able to re-sign Joe Thornton, but they lost Patrick Marleau to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Other than losing Marleau, their roster hasn’t changed too much this summer.

Like the Sharks, the Anaheim Ducks didn’t make a huge acquisition this offseason. They managed to retain potential free agent Patrick Eaves, who they acquired from Dallas at the deadline. Still, they should be plenty competitive in the West this season.

The Edmonton Oilers ended their long playoff drought last spring thanks to Connor McDavid and Cam Talbot. Edmonton swapped Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome and they signed Jussi Jokinen in free agency. All things considered, the Oilers should be ready to make a run, but how far can this young group go?

The Calgary Flames are another intriguing team. They got off to a slow start last season, but their roster eventually came to life and it’s easy to see why. They’re loaded with quality defensemen like Dougie Hamilton, Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic, who they got from the Islanders during the draft. They also have Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk  leading the way up front.

The Stars went into last season with plenty of expectation, but they ultimately missed the mark completely by not even making the playoffs. This summer, they added goalie Ben Bishop and winger Alexander Radulov. Those two moves should help them get back on track.

The Minnesota Wild got off to a great start last year, but they weren’t able to sustain that once the playoffs came around. On paper, they still have a very talented roster that could compete with any team in the conference.

The St. Louis Blues went through a bit of a transition phase last season, but they still managed to finish in the top three of their division. It might be a bit of a stretch to consider them as legit candidates to win the West, but they aren’t far off.

How do the Predators stack up against these teams? Are they the favorites to make it to the Stanley Cup Final?

Alright, I’m turning things over to you. Cast your vote in our poll and feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section below.

Flames plan to start year with the Ferland, Monahan, Gaudreau line

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The Calgary Flames signed restricted free agent Micheal Ferland to a two-year contract this week and seem really excited about his potential in the coming seasons, with general manager Brad Treliving saying (via Postmedia’s Kristen Odland) “the sky is the limit” for him going forward.

He also added that the team plans on starting training camp with him skating on a line alongside star forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, and then they will go from there.

It’s an interesting mix because Gaudreau and Monahan are high-skill players (two of the the best and most productive in the league) while Ferland is more of a bull in a china shop kind of forward that hits everything that he can.

But he also has some skill to his game (he did score 15 goals this past season) and has worked well with that duo in the past.

In 2016-17, for example, they spent more than 250 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time together and were one of the Flames’ most impactful lines, outscoring teams by a 16-10 margin and controlling the shot attempt differential. In close to 400 minutes over the past two seasons it’s a 21-16 goal edge with a 52 percent Corsi for that line (data via Puckalytics). Given the success it certainly makes sense to start the year trying it out.

Expectations in Calgary are going to be through the roof this season. Not only because they have a promising young core coming back from a playoff appearance, because they went out this summer and picked up two key pieces in defenseman Travis Hamonic in an effort to build a Nashville-style top-four on defense that can control the game, but also because they went out and picked up Mike Smith to hopefully solidify their goaltending position.