David Rittich

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Cam Talbot could be Flames’ X-factor

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Calgary Flames.

If the Calgary Flames are going to repeat their 2018-19 regular season success and take another step toward becoming a Stanley Cup team they are going to need a better goaltending performance than the one they received a year ago.

The duo of David Rittich and Cam Talbot is one of the biggest — maybe the biggest — questions facing the team this season.

Talbot is the intriguing one here because his move to Calgary presents an opportunity for him to potentially jumpstart his career.

While his time with the Edmonton Oilers ended poorly, his first two years were extremely productive. He gave the Oilers above average goaltending, he was durable and played a ton of minutes, and was so good during the 2016-17 season that he finished in fifth in the Vezina Trophy voting. Given the number of minutes he played and the production he provided he was easily the second most valuable player on the team after Connor McDavid.

[MORE: 2018-19 in review | Under Pressure: Treliving | 3 questions]

After that, everything kind of fell apart for him.

The Oilers never gave him a capable backup that could ease his workload and ran him into the ground as a result, and they did so while making him play behind one of the most porous and lackluster defensive teams in the NHL. The results were disastrous over the past two seasons, and especially so during the 2018-19 season.

Was it a result of the workload? Certainly possible. Between 2015-16 and 2017-18 no goalie in the NHL appeared in more games, played more minutes, or faced more shots than Talbot did for the Oilers. He not only paced the league in all of those categories, he was significantly ahead of the next closest goalie in each category, playing 200 more minutes than any other goalie and facing nearly 200 more shots. During those three yeas he faced more than 5,800 shots on goal. New York’s Henrik Lundqvist is the only one that faced more than 5,400.

He played 11,247 minutes. Only two other goalies (Devan Dubnyk and Martin Jones) played more than 11,000. There only four others that played more than 10,000 minutes.

As if the workload wasn’t enough, he wasn’t exactly playing easy minutes, either, serving as the last line of defense for a team that was awful defensively.

By joining the Flames he is going to the complete opposite situation.

With Rittich in place on a two-year contract Talbot will not be required to carry the bulk of the workload as there is the potential for a platoon situation to be put in place.

He is also going from a team that was 19th in the NHL in shots against the past two seasons to a team that was fifth and also boasts the reigning Norris Trophy winner. It is a much better set of circumstances.

Talbot has shown the ability to be a capable starting goalie in the NHL. Going from one of the most dysfunctional franchises in the league to a Stanley Cup contender could be just what he needs to get back on track and return to that level. If it happens for him, it is going to have positive results for the Flames as well.

MORE:
ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Goaltending, Lucic’s role among biggest questions facing Flames

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Calgary Flames.

Let’s take a look at three big questions for the Calgary Flames for the 2019-20 season.

1. Who is going to stop the puck?

There is probably no question that will impact the Flames more than this one.

Goaltending has been a constant struggle for nearly a decade now as the team has not finished higher than 15th in save percentage since the 2011-12 season, and hasn’t finished higher than 20th since the 2013-14 season. That is simply not championship caliber goaltending, and it was probably the single biggest weakness the team had this past season.

David Rittich was a nice surprise, but he struggled down the stretch and is still a bit of an unknown entering this season. Challenging him for playing time will be Cam Talbot who was brought in on a one-year deal to replace Mike Smith.

The Flames have elite, high-end forwards and a strong defense that is carried by Norris Trophy winning blue-liner Mark Giordano.

That core at forward and defense is good enough to compete for a championship right now and maybe even win one if everything goes right. Goaltending, however, is going to be the biggest “make-or-break” aspect of this team and if things do not dramatically improve in net it is going to be an impossible obstacle to overcome.

[MORE: 2018-19 in review | Under Pressure: Treliving | Talbot the X-Factor]

2. What can they get out of Milan Lucic?

James Neal‘s brief tenure with the Flames did not go as anyone could have planned it, so it is not really a surprise they were willing to part ways with a 32-year-old winger coming off of a down year.

What is a surprise is that they traded him for Milan Lucic, a player that is regarded to have one of the worst contracts in hockey.

How badly has Lucic’s career deteriorated in recent years? He scored just 16 goals over the past two years and has looked like a player that is simply not built for the modern day, faster paced NHL.

If the Flames think they can rejuvenate his career or that his size and physical presence is going to dramatically alter the success they are likely setting themselves up for disappointment. They didn’t get upset in the first round by the Colorado Avalanche because they weren’t big enough or physical enough — they lost because they were outplayed by a faster team that is quickly emerging as a powerhouse in the Western Conference. Giving Lucic a significant role and assigning him to be the muscle to “protect” their stars as a deterrent is only going to hold them back.

If they play him in the bottom-six role he should be in they are committing $6 million in salary cap space to a player that isn’t going to give them that sort of a return on their investment.

Maybe they had to trade Neal, but trading him for a worse player with a worse (and buyout proof!) contract doesn’t seem to move the needle much in the right direction.

3. Will Johnny Gaudreau‘s playoff luck finally change?

Gaudreau has blossomed into a superstar for the Flames and is one of the league’s most dynamic offensive game-changers. He is the definition of an impact player and one that can take over a game on any given night, and he has consistently done that for the better part of the past three seasons.

The problem: It has not yet happened for him in the playoffs.

In his past two playoff appearances Gaudreau has scored zero goals in nine games while managing just three assists. Not great for a player that has been one of the best point producers in the league.

It’s easy (and lazy) to write that off as him “not being a playoff player” or being “too small.”  It is most likely a lot of bad luck. It is not as if Gaudreau has lacked chances in those playoff games. He still generated shots and he still created chances — he just hasn’t had the puck go in the net. That is not an uncommon development for any player. Pick out any superstar in the league and look at their postseason careers and you will find extended stretches over multiple postseasons where they did not consistently score goals.  Gaudreau is too good, too talented, and too productive to be shut down in the playoffs.

MORE:
ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Treliving needs to continue pushing right buttons for Flames

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Calgary Flames.

Since taking over as general manager of the Flames in 2014, Brad Treliving has done a reasonably good job. His team hasn’t made the playoffs every year under his watch, but he managed to build a team that won the Pacific Division and the Western Conference last year.

Unfortunately for Calgary, they flamed out (sorry!) of the playoffs in the first round last spring. Now, the challenge for Treliving is to find a way for him to get even more out of his roster. Given the team’s cap situation, it was difficult for him to go out and really make this team better on paper. For the most part, the core you saw last year is the core they’ll roll with in 2019-20.

Unlike last year, everybody will see the Flames coming this time around. Again, they were the class of the Western Conference during the regular season, so the rest of the league knows what they’re capable of. It’s not like we didn’t know Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk and Mark Giordano were great players, but this was a team that missed the postseason by 11 points in 2018. They exceeded the pre-season expectations.

[MORE: 2018-19 review | 3 Questions |Talbot the X-Factor]

Now, it’s up to Treliving to continue pressing all the right buttons in order for this team to progress to the next level. He added Milan Lucic and Cam Talbot to the roster, but his work isn’t over just yet. In order for the Flames to be the class of the West, he’ll have to make sure he gets Tkachuk under contract. The restricted free agent had 77 points in 80 games and he brings that physical element that’s so key in the Western Conference.

“What we’ve tried to do a little bit this summer and even going into last year was the introduction of a lot of young players over the last year,” Treliving said, per NHL.com. “We think we’ve got some good young players here. A lot of them got their feet wet last year, and we’re looking for them to continue to grow.

“There’s young players that we feel still have room to grow. The bulk of our team is still a fairly young group. We want to give them the opportunity to continue to grab and grow their role.”

Treliving is right. His team is still young. The core forwards are all 25 or younger, so there’s room for them to grow but this is an important year for the entire team. In order for them to take the next step, Treliving will have to improve this roster throughout the season. The Flames have all their own draft picks except their fourth-rounder, which means they’ll have the ammo to make a significant deal during the season/before the trade deadline.

Can he add the right pieces as the season progresses?

The Flames’ biggest question mark is still between the pipes. Last year, the duo of David Rittich and Mike Smith helped the team collect 107 points. Now, Smith is gone and they replaced him with Cam Talbot. Is a Talbot-Rittich duo better than what they had last year? That’s very debatable. But we’ll find out soon enough.

MORE:
ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

It’s Calgary Flames Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Calgary Flames.

2018-19
50-25-7, 107 points (1st in Pacific Division, 1st in Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in the first round to Colorado in five games

IN
Milan Lucic
Brandon Davidson
Cam Talbot

OUT
Michael Stone
James Neal
Mike Smith
Curtis Lazar

RE-SIGNED
David Rittich
Sam Bennett
Rinat Valiev

2018-19 Season Summary

After not making the playoffs by 11 points in 2018, the Calgary Flames decided it was time to make some changes. They fired Glen Gulutzen and named Bill Peters as their head coach. After landing Peters, they decided to make a blockbuster deal with his old team, the Carolina Hurricanes. Calgary ended up getting Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin and the move ended up making a world of a difference. Lindholm was one of five Calgary Flames to collect at least 74 points in 2018-19, while Hanifin ended up averaging almost 21 minutes of ice time.

The added firepower and the solid group of players that were already on the roster combined to give the Flames a lethal team. Not only did they win the Pacific Division, they also finished in top spot in the Western Conference. That’s a pretty significant turnaround in just one year.

Johnny Gaudreau led the way with 99 points while Sean Monahan (82 points), Lindholm (78 points), Matthew Tkachuk (77 points) and Mark Giordano (74 points) helped make the Flames a dynamic attacking team.

The only clear weakness on the roster was between the pipes. Smith and Rittich held their own for most of the year, so that wasn’t really an issue between October and early April.

As you’d imagine, expectations were high in Calgary heading into the playoffs. Their first-round opponent, the Colorado Avalanche, were never going to be an easy out, but no one could’ve predicted how quickly the Flames’ Stanley Cup hopes would be extinguished.

Nothing went right for the playoffs for the Flames. Gaudreau couldn’t put the puck in the net, Mike Smith wasn’t coming up with key saves, and other contributors like Lindholm and Monahan just couldn’t create the same amount of offense they did during the regular season. It was bad. Calgary went down in five games and the joy of a great regular season quickly faded.

All the optimism surrounding the team for most of the year was gone. Brad Treliving went from GM genius to needing to find solutions in a hurry. He made some bold moves this off-season but it’s difficult to say if this edition of the team is better than the one that took to the ice last season.

[MORE: Under Pressure: Treliving | 3 QuestionsTalbot the X-Factor]

They swapped Mike Smith for Cam Talbot. So they got younger in goal but the tandem of Talbot and Rittich will still have some question marks heading into the season. They sent free-agent flop James Neal to Edmonton for the ageless wonder, Milan Lucic, but that’s not a move that will make them better or worse.

The biggest question mark heading into the season is whether or not they will get Tkachuk signed to a new contract. The restricted free agent racked up a significant amount of points last year but his contributions are even more significant than that. He brings a level of physicality, nastiness and heart to the ice every game. The Flames will be missing a huge piece of their squad if this contract stalemate doesn’t get resolved before the start of the season.

Have the young veterans on this club learned from last year’s playoff disappointment? We’ll find out soon enough, but there’s no denying that this team is talented enough to do some damage in the Western Conference.

MORE:
ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Power Rankings: Breakout candidates for 2019-20 NHL season

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In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we take a look at 10 potential breakout candidates for the 2019-20 NHL season.

We are looking for young players who have already made their NHL debut (so no Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko) and could be on the verge of taking a big step toward stardom.

Who makes the cut? Let’s find out. To the rankings!

1. Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes. He is one of just eight players since the start of the 2000-01 season to score at least 20 goals as an 18-year-old in the NHL. The previous seven (Sidney Crosby, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jordan Staal, Nathan MacKinnon, Steven Stamkos, Jeff Skinner, and Patrik Laine) scored an average of 31 goals in year two. With his talent and rocket shot don’t be surprised if Svechnikov tops the 30-goal mark and becomes a top-line player for the Hurricanes.

2. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche are loaded with young talent and with the offseason trade of Tyson Barrie are going to be relying on a lot of youth on defense. Makar made his NHL debut in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and never really looked out of place, showing the type of skill and potential that could make him a Calder Trophy favorite entering the 2019-20 season.

3. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers. Flyers fans have reason to believe their long-time goaltending headache could finally be going away. Hart finished with a .917 save percentage as a 20-year-old and is going to enter the season as the team’s starter. He could be a franchise-changing player.

4. Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils. Not every No. 1 pick is going to enter the NHL and immediately become a superstar. Sometimes it takes a couple of years. Hischier has been really good his first two years in the league and probably still has another level he can reach, and with the Devils adding some impact talent to their roster this offseason he should have a little more help in getting there.

5. Kevin Labanc, San Jose Sharks. There is an argument to be made that Labanc already had his “breakout” season this past year (17 goals, 56 assists) but it might still yet be ahead of him. He not only should get a bigger role this season for the Sharks but he also kind of bet on himself to have a big year with a one-year, $1 million contract. He has talent, he is already productive, and he has a lot to play for.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

6. Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay Lightning. Ton of talent, potential and already productive at a young age. He just turned 21 and has already played 150 games and has averaged 0.36 points per game. Only six other active defenders have had a similar start to their careers: Drew Doughty, Zach Werenski, Morgan Rielly, Aaron Ekblad, Tyler Myers and Cam Fowler. Hopefully for the Lightning’s sake he follows the path of the first four.

7. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Montreal Canadiens. There was a lot to like about Kotkaniemi’s rookie season. Not only did he produce at a respectable level for a teenager, but he also posted dominant possession numbers (57 percent Corsi) that were among the league’s best. Was it a sheltered role? Sure it was, he was an 18-year-old rookie. But there is still something to be said for a player that age stepping right into the NHL and holding his own the way he did.

8. Robert Thomas, St. Louis Blues. A first-round pick by the Blues in 2017, Thomas has been a highly anticipated prospect in the Blues organization and, in making the jump from the OHL straight to the NHL, made a strong first impression for the Stanley Cup champions. Great talent and likely to be a core building block for the Blues in the coming seasons.

9. Henri Jokiharju, Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres have added a lot of talent to their blue line over the past two years, drafting Rasmus Dahlin No. 1 overall in 2018 and then acquiring Colin Miller and Jokiharju. Jokiharju is definitely the more intriguing out of the latter two because he is still only 20 years old, was a first-round pick just a couple of years ago, and looked really good at times in the first half of the 2018-19 season for the Chicago Blackhawks. He never seemed to get the trust of new coach Jeremy Colliton and was eventually traded this summer for Alex Nylander. If he reaches his potential in Buffalo the Sabres might finally have the start of a playoff caliber defense.

10. Devon Toews, New York Islanders. Toews is an interesting one because he is the oldest player on this list (25) and only has 56 games of NHL experience (regular season and playoffs combined) on his resume. It took him a few years to get his first look with the Islanders, but he absolutely made the most of it and looked more impressive with each game.

Honorable mentionsRyan Donato, Minnesota Wild; Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes; Roope Hintz, Dallas Stars; Alexandar Georgiev, New York Rangers; Samuel Girard, Colorado Avalanche; David Rittich, Calgary Flames; Nolan Patrick, Philadelphia Flyers; Filip Zadina, Detroit Red Wings.

MORE: Top regression candidates for 2019-20 NHL 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.