The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we look at the Calgary Flames.
Calgary Flames 2019-20 Rewind
Record: 36-27-7 (79 points); third place in Pacific Division; eighth place in Western Conference
Leading scorers: Matthew Tkachuk (61 points), Elias Lindholm (29 goals)
After finishing the 2018-19 season as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference (where they lost in the First Round), the Flames took a little bit of a step backwards during the 2019-20 season. Coach Bill Peters resigned early in the season after a history of player abuse and racist remarks surfaced, the offense regressed across the board, and the team ended up on what would have been the playoff bubble in a normal season.
During the league’s Return To Play, the Flames beat the Winnipeg Jets in the qualifying round and then lost in the First Round to the Dallas Stars in six games.
Jacob Markstrom (free agency), Chris Tanev (free agency), Dominik Simon (free agency)
Cam Talbot (free agency), T.J. Brodie (free agency), Mark Jankowski (free agency)
3 Most Interesting Calgary Flames
• Matthew Tkachuk. You hate Tkachuk when your team has to play against him but you absolutely love him when he plays for your team. The best way to describe Tkachuk as a player is that he is a younger, Western Conference version of Brad Marchand. He is going to do everything in his power to annoy, disturb, skate on the line, rattle cages and cause chaos, while also having the talent and production of a first-line star.
He has already proven to be a 30-goal, 70-point player in an 82-game season while also driving possession at an elite level.
Now he is entering what should be his peak production years in the NHL. How much more is he capable of?
[MORE: 2021 NHL schedule notes: Stats, oddities, fuel for nasty rivalries]
• Johnny Gaudreau. Gaudreau is still in what should be the prime of his career, he is signed to a very fair contract, and even in a down year he still is capable of being a significant contributor. Yet he always seems to find himself under the microscope and the subject of some sort of trade speculation, whether there is any validity to it or not.
He is coming off of an up-and-down season with the Flames that included a 24-game stretch where he managed just two goals. Even with that he still finished the year on a 20-goal, 70-point pace over 82 games, and that was in a down year where he went more than a quarter of the season scoring just a pair of goals. That sort of slump is not going to happen every year. If his shooting percentage bounces back this season he should be back to a 30-goal level.
• Jacob Markstrom. The Flames wanted to solidify their goaltending position long-term, and they made a huge investment in Markstrom with a six-year, $36 million contract. That is a big investment for a 31-year-old goalie, especially when paired with their other free agent signing from Vancouver — Defenseman Chris Tanev who is in Calgary on a four-year, $16 million contract. How long will it be worth it for the Flames? In the short-term, there has to be an expectation that Markstrom is going to play well. Since becoming a regular in Vancouver five years ago Markstrom has been as steady, and consistent as any goalie in the league. Not a superstar, but not a liability. Consistently above average and always at least giving his team a chance.
Gaudreau and the rest of the offense bounce back, while Markstrom gives them exactly what they hoped for in goal — consistent, quality play. The North Division is probably the weakest of the four divisions this season with only one, and maybe two, clear cut favorites at the top. The Flames should be right there with everyone.
The Markstrom and Tanev additions are not as impactful as they hoped while they struggle to replace T.J. Brodie on the blue line. Gaudreau and the offense do not bounce back and the Flames remain a mid-level team that finds itself in a six-team fight with Toronto, Edmonton, Winnipeg Montreal, and Vancouver for the four playoff spots in the North. Not many of those teams are clearly better than the Flames (Maybe just Toronto). But how many of those teams are the Flames clearly better than? If one or two things do not go their way, it could be a struggle.
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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.