Risk Factors: Calgary Flames edition

From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Calgary Flames:

1. Where are the goals going to come from? The Calgary Flames didn’t exactly starve for goals last season – other teams in the Pacific Division, like the Canucks, Oilers and, heck, even the Kings finished below them in goals-per-game average. But when you finish 23rd out of 30 teams in filling the net throughout the course of 82 games, it’s certainly worth bringing up for the following season.

Mike Cammalleri is gone, and so are his 26 goals from last season – a team best. He signed with the New Jersey Devils as an unrestricted free agent, which means his scoring touch is now in another conference. The Flames have added Mason Raymond and Devin Setoguchi this summer. Not necessarily players known to be models of consistency. They’ve shown flashes and potential and promise, yes. Doing it year after year after year has been a different story.

But next in line, behind Cammalleri last season, was rookie Sean Monahan and his 22 goals. Not bad, considering Calgary’s sixth overall pick from 2013 only turned 19 years old just after the start of last season.

But what of those dreaded sophomore slumps? Can Monahan improve on his total from a season ago? Better yet, can he avoid falling off that same pace he was scoring at a year ago?

The Flames might have a not-so-secret weapon. If there are some in the hockey world, for whatever reason, still unaware of 21-year-old Johnny Gaudreau, then it won’t take long for him to make a lasting impression. He might be what some folks would classify as “undersized” at 5’9″ tall and 150 pounds.

But he possesses immense skill and has shown this pre-season that he can score goals – some pretty ones dating back to the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton, B.C. – and set them up, too.

“The thing with Johnny,” Flames GM Brad Treliving recently told the Calgary Herald, “is that with the puck on his stick he’s an NHL player. You can see the instincts. They’re obvious. So now it’s OK, the game’s also played without the puck.

“I think for him it’s just a question of feeling his way around. He’s an intelligent guy. You can almost see his brain working ‘What can I get away with and what can’t I?’ To me he’s just sorting it out.”

Perhaps the Flames have the young talent to turn their offensive fortunes around. Only one real way to find out though. For a team that had only two 20-goal scorers in 2013-14, this is area is still a concern heading into this season.

2. Hiller needs to find his game.

The Flames went out on the first day of free agency this past July and landed themselves a goalie. A puck stopper capable of being the No. 1 guy, in Jonas Hiller, with a cap hit of $4.5 million, according to Capgeek.com.

The 32-year-old Hiller expressed frustration about how his time with the Anaheim Ducks concluded, especially after finding himself in and out of the crease during the playoffs, when his starting job was taken away, at first by Frederik Andersen and then John Gibson.

With a career save percentage of .916 and goals-against average of 2.51, the Flames get an experienced starting goalie, and that has, for the most part, been lacking since the retirement of Miikka Kiprusoff.

From Kristen Odland of the Calgary Herald:

Hiller comes in, challenging Karri Ramo who is technically the incumbent No. 1 netminder after falling into a consistent groove last season.

It’s unclear at this point how many games the Flames intend to use him for but last season, he made 50 appearances for the Ducks and had 29 wins.

Still, Hiller feels it’s important to have a good working relationship with Ramo.

If the Flames are to have an outside shot of competing for a playoff position this year, stability at that position could go a long way.

“At the end, you always have to compete no matter where you go, but definitely, I felt like I have a chance here,” Hiller told the Globe and Mail. “It’s a young team with a lot of talent around. I hope my experience over the last years in different leagues, in different situations, can help out the team.”

And on a team that might have difficulties offensively, goaltending becomes even more necessary for success. If Hiller struggles to find his game, the Flames could find themselves quickly extinguished.

3. Flames need captain Giordano healthy

Mark Giordano is now 31 years old – he celebrated his birthday just last week — but is coming off his best season in terms of point production in the NHL. He scored 14 goals and 47 points. Consider, too, he missed 18 games due to injury.

There in lies a risk. He’s another year older. And when you finish second on a team in total points – 20 of those came on the power play – while playing on the back end, it shows just how valuable you are to a team.

The Flames have a very veteran defensive corps, with 24-year-old TJ Brodie already having played almost 200 NHL games.

Injuries happen in hockey. They’re unavoidable. Last season, a broken ankle suffered in late October kept Giordano out of the lineup. Well after his return, Giordano, who almost Canada’s Olympic hockey team, went on a tear, racking up a nine-game point streak.

Given his point production alone, the Flames need a healthy Giordano. It’s vital to what success they might have, and that includes on the power play.

The risk: If he can’t stay healthy, the Flames lose their best defenseman, arguably their best player.

PHT Morning Skate: Stamkos best of an era; Russian Rangers revival

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Steven Stamkos is the best shooter of the salary cap era. (Raw Charge)

• What active NHLers are Hall of Fame worthy? Here they are, ranked. (Yardbarker)

• Pittsburgh has players who rank among the best, worst at converting shots into goals. Who are they? (Pensburgh)

• Russian invasion fueling Rangers revival. (Featurd)

• Why the folding of the National Women’s Hockey League could be best thing for the sport. (AZ Central)

• Panthers view Bobrovsky signing as needed element for return to playoffs. (NHL.com)

• It’s time to move on from Jon Gillies. (Matchsticks & Gasoline)

• Competition aplenty as under-the-radar depth piece Nicolas Aube-Kubel re-signs with Flyers. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• NHL stands out when strengths of major pro leagues are pondered. (StarTribune)

• The latest on the changes and improvements coming to NHL 20. (Operation Sports)

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Seattle close to naming Ron Francis as GM

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SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle’s NHL expansion team is close to an agreement with Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis to become its first general manager, a person with direct knowledge tells The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team had not made an announcement.

The expansion Seattle franchise is set to begin play in the 2021-22 season as the NHL’s 32nd team.

After longtime Detroit GM Ken Holland went to Edmonton, adviser Dave Tippett left Seattle Hockey Partners LLC to become Oilers coach and Vegas’ Kelly McCrimmon and Columbus’ Bill Zito got promotions, there was a limited pool of experienced NHL executives to choose from for this job. Francis fits that bill.

The 56-year-old has been in hockey operations since shortly after the end of his Hall of Fame playing career. All of that time has come with the Carolina Hurricanes, including four seasons as their GM.

Carolina didn’t make the playoffs with Francis in charge of decision-making, though his moves put the foundation in place for the team that reached the Eastern Conference final this past season.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Provorov’s next contract presents big challenge for Flyers


Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher has been busy overhauling his roster this summer and still has two big jobs ahead of him when it comes to re-signing restricted free agents Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov.

With close to $14 million in salary cap space remaining, he should have no problem in getting them signed and keeping the team under the salary cap.

Konecny’s situation seems like it should be pretty simple: He is a top-six forward that has been incredibly consistent throughout the first three years of his career. The Flyers know what they have right now, and they should have a pretty good idea as to what he is going to be in the future. There is not much risk in projecting what he should be able to do for them.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Provorov, on the other hand, presents a far more interesting challenge because he is still somewhat of a mystery whose career seems like it can go in either direction.

Along with Shayne Gostisbehere, Provorov is supposed to be the foundation of the Flyers’ defense for the next decade and entered the league with much fanfare at the start of the 2016-17 season. From the moment he arrived the Flyers have treated him like a top-pairing defender and pretty much thrown him in the deep end of the pool.

At times, he has flashed the potential that made him a top-10 pick in the draft and such a prized piece in the Flyers’ organization.

During his first three years in the league he has not missed a single game, has played more than 20 minutes per game every year, and over the past two seasons has played the fourth most total minutes in the NHL and the third most even-strength minutes. The Flyers have also not gone out of their way to shelter him in terms of where he starts his shifts and who he plays against, regularly sending him over the boards for defensive zone faceoffs and playing against other team’s top players.

In their view, based on his usage, he is their top defender.

Or at least was their top defender over the past two seasons.

Given the performance of the Flyers defensively during those seasons, that may not be much of a statement.

The concern that has to be addressed is that so far in his career Provorov has not always performed like a top-pairing defender in those top-pairing minutes that he has been given.

Just because a player gets a lot of playing time and the toughest assignments does not necessarily mean they are going to handle those minutes or succeed within them. That has been the case at times with Provorov in Philadelphia. This is not like the situation Columbus and Boston are facing with Zach Werenski and Charlie McAvoy this summer where both young players have already demonstrated an ability to play like top-pairing defenders and have already earned what should be significant, long-term commitments from their respective teams.

This is a situation where a young, talented, and still very promising player has been given a huge role, but has not always performed enough to justify that much trust.

He is also coming off of what can probably be described as a down season where his performance regressed from what it was in 2017-18. He not only saw a steep drop in his production offensively, but the Flyers were outshot, outchanced, and outscored by a pretty significant margin when Provorov was on the ice no matter who his partner was.

He struggled alongside Shayne Gostisbehere. He also struggled alongside Travis Sanheim, while Sanheim saw his performance increase dramatically when he was away from Provorov.

The dilemma the Flyers have to face here is how they handle a new contract for him this summer.

On one hand, he does not turn 23 until January and clearly has the talent to be an impact defender. But he has also played three full seasons in the NHL, and even when looked at within the context of his own team, has not yet shown a consistent ability to be that player. Every player develops at a different pace, and just because McAvoy and Werenski have already emerged as stars doesn’t mean every player at the same age has to follow the same rapid path. Because they most certainly will not.

It just makes it difficult for teams like the Flyers when they have to juggle a new contract.

They were in a similar position with Gostisbehere a couple of years ago when they signed him to a six-year, $27 million contract when he came off of his entry-level deal. But while Gostisbehere had regressed offensively, he still posted strong underlying numbers and at least showed the ability to be more of a possession-driving player. His goal-scoring and point production dropped, but there were at least positive signs it might bounce back. That is not necessarily the case with Provorov.

Even though Provorov has played a ton of minutes, put up some decent goal numbers at times, and been one of the biggest minute-eating defenders in the league, this just seems like a situation that screams for a bridge contract to allow the player to continue to develop, while also giving the team an opportunity to figure out what they have.

Provorov still has the potential to be a star and a bonafide top-pairing defender.

He just has not played like one yet or consistently shown any sign that he definitely will be one, despite being given the role.

Related: Werenski, McAvoy should be in line for huge contracts

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Capitals re-sign Vrana for two years, $6.7 million

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Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan took care of his biggest remaining offseason task on Tuesday afternoon when he re-signed restricted free agent forward Jakub Vrana to a two-year contract.

The deal will pay Vrana $6.7 million and carry an average annual salary cap hit of $3.35 million per season.

“Jakub is a highly skilled player with a tremendous upside and is a big part of our future,” said MacLellan in a statement released by the team. “We are pleased with his development the past two seasons and are looking forward for him to continue to develop and reach his full potential with our organization.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Vrana was the Capitals’ first-round pick in 2014 and has already shown top-line potential in the NHL. He took a huge step forward in his development during the 2018-19 season, scoring 24 goals to go with 23 assists while also posting strong underlying numbers. He is one of the Capitals’ best young players and quickly starting to become one of their core players moving forward.

It is obviously a bridge contract that will keep him as a restricted free agent when it expires following the 2020-21 season. If he continues on his current path he would be in line for a significant long-term contract that summer.

With Vrana signed the Capitals have under $1 million in salary cap space remaining. They still have to work out new contracts with restricted free agents Christian Djoos and Chandler Stephenson. Both players filed for salary arbitration. Djoos’ hearing is scheduled for July 22, while Stephenson has his scheduled for August 1. If the Capitals want to keep both on the NHL roster on opening night they may have to make another minor move at some point before the start of the regular season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.