Mark Giordano

Flames long-term outlook Gaudreau Monahan Giordano Lindholm
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Long-term outlook for the Calgary Flames

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Calgary Flames. 

Pending free agents

The Core

The Flames played a little over their heads for much of 2018-19, building some belief that the Flames might possess one of the NHL’s best cores. Unfortunately, Nathan MacKinnon and the Avs rained on that parade during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and things got downright soggy at times in 2019-20.

Overall, though? The Flames’ core still looks quite good. Not best-in-class, but quite good.

If nothing else, they boast some serious value.

Thankfully, they didn’t overreact and trade Johnny Gaudreau, who’s almost insultingly underpaid ($6.75M AAV through 2021-22). Maybe 2018-19 inflated expectations for “Johnny Hockey,” but he’s still an excellent player.

It’s actually difficult to tell how much Sean Monahan and/or Elias Lindholm lean on Gaudreau for production, but both are cheap and covered for years, so it doesn’t really matter.

Matthew Tkachuk? He’s worth every bit of that $7M per year through 2021-22. So the forward group is covered pretty nicely.

And, yes, Mark Giordano‘s age (36) is troubling for the future, but we’ll get to that. For now, consider Giordano pretty fantastic (not quite Norris-fantastic, but fantastic nonetheless), and nicely cost-efficient at $6.75M. Giordano’s contract ending after 2021-22 mitigates much of that aging curve concern, too.

Now, not every long-term dollar is well-spent. While Milan Lucic isn’t as bad of a player as the snark suggests, his contract really is a headache. There are other issues, such as Mikael Backlund‘s troubling term.

Ultimately, though … not bad. Not cream of the crop stuff, but you can bump that group up quite a bit thanks to a mix of bargains and relatively limited risks.

Long-term needs for Flames

Consider Cam Talbot’s resurgence triage for the Flames’ goaltending situation. Talbot provided a short-term fix, but considering his pending UFA status and how unpredictable the position can be, will the Band-Aid slip off soon?

There’s quite a bit of uncertainty there, whether Talbot returns or the Flames find the “next” Talbot. Meanwhile, David Rittich presents an unpleasant form of predictability: he’s been consistently mediocre.

Unfortunately, the Flames face questions about how to insulate their goalies. Their defense lacks clarity beyond aging star Giordano, especially if both Hamonic and Brodie played their last games for the Flames. There are worse groups out there, but the Flames may be stuck with “good” while seeking “great.”

In ranking the NHL’s farm systems for The Athletic in January (sub required), Scott Wheeler placed the Flames 26th. Even at such a low ranking, Calgary’s highest rank prospects were forwards (and goalie Dustin Wolf), not defensemen. If the Flames get help on defense, it might have to come via free agency.

Oh yeah … they might need a coach, too, if they aren’t impressed with Geoff Ward.

Long-term strengths of Flames

While the Flames’ forward group ranks a notch or two behind the best of the best, it’s still quite good. The one-two punch of Gaudreau’s playmaking on one line and Tkachuk’s two-way peskiness on another can be very effective.

The Flames also lack a cap hit above Tkachuk’s $7M. That flexibility could come in very handy if other teams need to shed salary thanks to a coronavirus-related cap squeeze.

Even certain weaknesses could be spun as strengths.

Yes, their goalie situation is uncertain, but the Flames also enjoy flexibility. Before you scoff at that point, consider that Sergei Bobrovsky‘s performing at a sub-backup level for $10M per year at age 31.

Who’s to say that the Flames won’t successfully target better goaltending, at better prices, without the risky term other teams hand out?

Such flexibility opens up lanes for free agency, too. Perhaps the Flames could take that next step by landing, say, Alex Pietrangelo or Taylor Hall?

As is, the Flames mostly show the makings of a good team. Last season showed they could flirt with great, while this one reminded that there’s still work to do. They have a decent shot at getting there, even if they aren’t there yet.

(Then again, there’s also the possibility that they already missed their best chance or chances. Hockey’s fickle that way.)

MORE FLAMES BITS:
Looking at the 2019-20 Flames (so far?)
Biggest surprises and disappointments.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Looking at the 2019-20 Calgary Flames

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Calgary Flames.

Calgary Flames

Record: 36-27-7 (70 games), third in Pacific Division
Leading Scorer: Matthew Tkachuk — 61 points (23 goals and 38 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves: 

• Traded away Michael Frolik to the Buffalo Sabres for a fourth-round pick in 2020.
• Sent Brandon Davidson to the San Jose Sharks for future considerations
• Acquired Erik Gustafsson from the Chicago Blackhawks for third-round pick in 2020.
• Traded away a conditional fourth-round pick in 2021 to the Los Angeles Kings for Derek Forbort.

Season Overview: 

It seems like a long time ago now, but the Flames had the best record in the Western Conference last year. Of course, the season didn’t end on a positive note though, as they were eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Colorado Avalanche.

Heading into the NHL pause, they hadn’t really come close to locking up a postseason berth. Although they were sitting in the third spot in the Pacific Division, the Vancouver Canucks, who were on the outside of the playoff picture, were just one point behind the Flames.

Why the Flames have failed to improve on their regular-season success from a year ago isn’t exactly rocket science. Just look at the difference in production for some of their top players.

Johnny Gaudreau went from 36 goals and 99 points last year, to 18 goals and 58 points in 2019-20. Sean Monahan had 34 goals and 82 points during Calgary’s standout season a year ago only to see those numbers drop to 22 goals and 48 points this year. Elias Lindholm was still having a strong season so far in 2019-20, but his numbers went from 27 goals and 78 points to 29 goals and 54 points.

Captain Mark Giordano, who won the Norris last season, missed a 10-game stretch due to a hamstring injury. He put up an incredible 17 goals and 74 points in 78 games last year. This year, he had a very respectable five goals and 31 points in 60 games.

Let’s not forget the head coaching change/controversy that went on at the beginning of the season. Bill Peters lost his job because of the way he had been mistreating some of his players over the year. Geoff Ward has come in and picked up the pieces of what was left behind by Peters, but that couldn’t have been a comfortable situation for all involved.

If the season resumes, the final spot in the Pacific Division will be one of the best races in the NHL. Can the Flames hang on to it? What does the future look like for them? This is going to be an interesting situation to monitor going forward.

Highlight of the Season So Far: 

The biggest moment that stands out has to be the battles between Tkachuk and Zack Kassian. When I think of the 2019-20 Flames season, that’s the first snippet that pops into my mind. If the playoffs started today, the Flames and Oilers would go head-to-head. Can you imagine what that would be like? A best-of-seven series between two teams that hate each other would be must-see TV.

MORE FLAMES BITS:
Biggest surprises and disappointments for Flames

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.

Ovechkin 700: Opponents helpless vs. NHL’s best goal-scorer

WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin arrived in Washington in the summer of 2005 wearing mismatched flip flops and Daisy Duke shorts. He looked like a lost tourist.

Ovechkin went No. 1 in the draft and was touted as a can’t-miss prospect, but Capitals teammates wondered aloud if this guy really was supposed to be the new face of the franchise, much less an elite player.

A decade and a half later, Ovechkin is the grinning, gap-toothed face of NHL goal-scoring, much to the continued bewilderment of his opponents.

The big Russian left winger is on the verge of becoming just the eighth player to score 700 career goals thanks to a once-in-a-generation combination of physicality, power and a unique shot that has made him nearly impossible to stop.

”He just can score from anywhere,” Calgary defenseman Mark Giordano said. ”You sort of think teams would come up with a game plan to stop him, but you can’t.”

No game plan has worked. Like the cutter flustered batters knew was coming from New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, Ovechkin comes at goaltenders and defensemen with the same relentless, masterful approach – and the numbers keep climbing.

Ovechkin has never scored fewer than 32 goals in a season, and his 11 seasons of 40 or more trails only Wayne Gretzky for the most in league history. He has averaged 0.5 goal every playoff game, 10th-best all time, and contributed to winning the Stanley Cup and postseason MVP honors in 2018.

A dozen goaltenders and defenders who have tried to contain Ovechkin described the task to The Associated Press as his milestone approached.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS

”Whatever small inch you give him, he’s going to find a way to throw it through your legs from the blue line top cheese and you’re like, ‘What the heck just happened?”’ said Colorado forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who faced Ovechkin in the 2018 final with Vegas. ”Maybe you’re thinking your goalie should have it and you look at the replay like, ‘OK, that was a heck of a shot.’ … It’s just that at any time in a game he can have an off night and out of nowhere, boom, he can have a hat trick.”

Bellemare made that observation just days before Ovechkin had no shots with six minutes left against Los Angeles. He then scored once to tie it, a second time to give Washington the lead and a third into an empty net to seal another win.

Those were goal Nos. 696, 697 and 698.

PROLIFIC SNIPER

Ovechkin’s job from day one has been to shoot the puck as much as possible. He has an NHL-best 5,483 shots since 2005-06. No other player has 4,000. Ovechkin’s stick – an open blade with a big curve at the toe – and how he releases a shot also puts him in a class of his own.

”His puck flies not straight,” said Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has allowed nine goals to Ovechkin. ”It’s kind of changing direction every time, so it’s pretty hard to stop for a goalie. It’s like knuckleball.”

A knucklepuck with a 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker’s strength behind it. It’s not just Ovechkin’s release but how the puck feels when it gets on net.

”His shot is absolutely a rocket or missile,” said Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, who has given up six of Ovechkin’s goals. ”He shoots from anywhere and he shoots it hard and heavy.”

LETHAL SPEED

Ovechkin has made a living – roughly $113 million so far with another contract expected to start in 2021-22 – by not only making goalies but the league’s best defensive defensemen miss. Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty believes the only way to slow Ovechkin down is to get in his face in the neutral zone before he can pick up steam.

Problem is, even at 34 and past the prime of most scorers, Ovechkin still has the lower-body strength and footspeed to glide around opponents like they’re pylons.

”He still has that ability from when he was younger to beat you one-on-one, so you can’t just play the shot or you can’t just back off,” said Avalanche defenseman Ian Cole, who battled Ovechkin for years as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins. ”You’re in a bit of a quagmire when you’re playing against him just because there’s so many ways that he can beat you and he is so good, he’s so good at cutting to the middle, too, on his off side and letting these pucks go through traffic.”

LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION

There is no safe area when it comes to defending Ovechkin.

”He can make moves and shoot from anywhere and it can go in,” Kings forward Trevor Lewis said. ”Most guys, if you keep them to the outside and they’re shooting, they’re not going to bury it every time. But it seems like every shot he takes, it’s got a chance to go in.”

Connor Hellebuyck vividly remembers his first encounter with Ovechkin as a rookie. The Winnipeg goaltender felt like the scene played out in slow motion before the puck barely stayed out, but he allowed two goals to Ovechkin in a game a couple of years later.

”He came down and ripped what looked like a little snap shot from the top of the circle,” Hellebuyck recalled. ”It came off so heavy and I got such a good beat on it, but I was able to watch it completely pass me and I missed it.”

OVI’S OFFICE

It’s the elephant in the room. Everyone knows, at some point, Ovechkin will rifle a blazing one-timer from the left faceoff circle on the power play. It is telegraphed almost every time, and yet it has proven to be one of the most potent shots in the history of the sport.

”It’s sometimes hard to get it by a shot-blocker but sometimes it’s easy,” Doughty said. ”And he’s going to be able to get it by one way or the other. You just have to be on the same page as your goalie to be able to make the save or make the block. We all know it’s coming, but that shot’s so good.”

Ovechkin on the power play is such an institution that teammates told Bellemare when he entered the league not to try to chase him on the penalty kill and look like a fool. Bellemare is in awe of how much opponents can focus on him and still end up watching him celebrate another goal.

”We watch video, we study, but still, it keeps happening,” he said. ”This is what it is. Everybody’s trying to play their best game when we meet that guy, and still he finds a way to go through you. This is what is unbelievable.”

Ovechkin last season became the oldest player to lead the NHL in goals since Phil Esposito in 1974-75. He refuses to reflect on his accomplishments until he hangs up his skates.

”I’m still playing,” Ovechkin said. ”After career, yeah, I’m pretty sure me and my family and my friends are gonna talk about it. But now, we, and me personally, I’m gonna try to concentrate about just go out there and do my job.”

Flames’ Giordano out at least a week with hamstring injury

NHL Injuries
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The Calgary Flames issued an update on the status of injured defenseman Mark Giordano on Thursday. While it is not necessarily great news, it is at least better than it was initially feared.

The reigning Norris Trophy winner will be sidelined for at least a week due to a hamstring injury that he suffered on Tuesday night in the Flames’ loss to the San Jose Sharks.

What is concerning for the Flames, though, is that they have a couple of huge games over the next week. That includes Thursday’s game against the Nashville Predators and Saturday’s game against the first place Vancouver Canucks. The Flames enter play on Thursday in the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference but are just two points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks.

They only have a three-point cushion over Nashville, while the Predators still have two games in hand. That makes Thursday’s game absolutely massive in the playoff race.

Giordano’s offensive numbers have declined this season, but he remains the Flames’ most impactful defensive player.

Other notable injury news around the NHL

• The Montreal Canadiens announced on Thursday that Shea Weber has been placed on injured reserve due to a lower-body injury and will be sidelined for at least a week. When healthy Weber has still be an outstanding player for the Canadiens, but injuries have really sidetracked him for the past few years.

• Already playing without Morgan Rielly, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced on Thursday that defenseman Cody Ceci will be out “for a while” due to an ankle injury.

• In Philadelphia, the Flyers are getting one of their defenseman back in the lineup as Shayne Gostisbehere will make his return on Thursday night against the New Jersey Devils. Gostisbehere had been sidelined for the past month due to injury. With Gostisbehere returning, Robert Hagg will be out of the lineup.

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.

Giordano’s status big concern for Flames

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Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano underwent an MRI on Wednesday and his status for Thursday’s game against the Nashville Predators (and potentially beyond) remains unknown due to a lower-body injury.

Giordano exited the Flames’ 3-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday midway through the second period and did not return.

Flames coach Geoff Ward did not have much of an update on Wednesday, only to say that Giordano’s status for the time being is all speculation and that it is now in the hands of the team’s doctors and medical personnel.

“He’s your captain. It’s a huge piece for us,” Ward said. “Not only are you losing a guy that’s your top-two defenseman, you’re losing potentially your leader if it turns out to be something serious for some period of time. Anytime you lose a guy of that stature out of your lineup it has the potential to have a big impact. For us, we have to shield ourselves against that and if he does miss some time that we’re ready to step up and fill the void left by him. I don’t think one guy can do that, but a lot of guys can.”

Losing Giordano for any length of time would be a pretty significant issue for a Flames that finds itself in a fight for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. They occupy the second wild card spot in the Western Conference following Tuesday’s loss, while also sitting just two points back of second place in the Pacific Division. They are among that pack of teams in the Pacific that is separated by just a couple of points and seems to have an equal chance of getting home-ice advantage in Round 1 or missing the playoffs entirely.

While Giordano is not playing at the same level that resulted in his first Norris Trophy a year ago, he remains the Flames’ best overall defenseman and one of their top overall players.

Nobody plays more minutes than his 23:57 per game, he is by far the team’s top point-producing defenesemen, and also their most impactful defensive player.

He has only missed five total games since the start of the 2015-16 regular season.

The Flames’ next two games are absolutely massive in terms of the playoff race, hosting a Nashville Predators that is just three points behind them (with multiple games in hand) on Thursday, and then traveling to first-place Vancouver on Saturday. After that stretch they play five consecutive games against teams that are outside the playoff picture.

They have already lost five of their previous seven games, with their only two wins (January 16 at Toronto; January 29 at Edmonton) coming in shootouts. It has been nearly a month since they won a game in regulation.

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.