Bill Peters

Previewing the 2019-20 Calgary Flames

(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: This was an offseason of mostly lateral moves for the Flames, exemplified by Calgary bringing in an uncertain but slightly younger goalie (Cam Talbot) for an aging and all-over-the-place netminder (Mike Smith).

The Milan LucicJames Neal trade seems like a loss for the Flames, but then again, Neal just didn’t fit for Calgary, to the point that things bordered on awkward.

Let’s consider the Flames marginally worse. In all honesty, the biggest hits came in Round 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when they were embarrassed by the Avalanche.

Strengths: When you look at the best of the best in Calgary, the Flames boast talent that can hang with just about anyone. Mark Giordano‘s been considered an uncrowned Norris Trophy defenseman for some time, and he finally sat on that throne after 2018-19. Johnny Gaudreau is one of the most sublimely gifted playmakers in the NHL, and thus helps his top line usually rank among the best in the league most seasons. Matthew Tkachuk isn’t just an antagonist; like Brad Marchand, he’s also a player who annoys opponents because he’s also really good.

Weaknesses: Unfortunately, the Flames are still a bit lacking when it comes to depth at both the forwards and defense positions. If Gaudreau’s line falters and Tkachuk’s trio cannot score, the Flames are in trouble — and there’s quite a bit of a drop from Giordano to other blueliners.

Goaltending remains a big question, too. Can Talbot form a strong tandem with David Rittich?

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

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): For the most part, Bill Peters’ first season in Calgary was a success, although the postseason was rough, and you wonder if some blame Peters for lacking answers as Colorado mopped the floor with his Flames.

Peters’ seat warms up in part because his “riverboat gambler” GM Brad Treliving has made a lot of big bets, and many some are wondering if Calgary should cash out. Coaches often get sent out with fired GMs, so that’s something to consider.

Overall, I’d put Peters at about a four.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Cam Talbot, Matthew Tkachuk, Milan Lucic.

Talbot went from being a fantastic backup with the Rangers to a workhorse early on for the Oilers — to the point that Edmonton wore him out like an NFL RB who saw far too many carries. Talbot’s stature in the league plummeted, yet at 32, he’s not so old that a rebound is totally out of the question.

Tkachuk stands with a handful of high-profile RFA stars who still need new contracts. He’ll be fascinating to watch as those negotiations play out, whether we’re debating the merits of a deal soon, or watching as things drag out into the season. Either way, he’ll draw attention, especially when he has that mouthpiece dangling obnoxiously out of his maw.

Every now and then, a “change of scenery” really does work out, at least if you keep expectations in check. The Flames may end up playing to Lucic’s strengths more effectively than the Oilers, or Lucic may simply have needed a reboot. Or he’s just washed. It could be that last one.

Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs. It seemed like a few Flames played over their heads, and Giordano’s getting up there in age at 35, so there’s a risk that Calgary lags behind the Sharks and/or Golden Knights during the regular season. Still, with the Pacific being as weak as it is, it would be a surprise if the Flames missed the postseason altogether.

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

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.

Gaudreau, Peters have Flames cruising toward playoffs

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Bill Peters deadpanned that it was the first time he had heard the question.

What did you learn about Johnny Gaudreau that you didn’t know before you started coaching him? Midway through his first season with the Calgary Flames, Peters has his answer scripted by now.

”Just his competitiveness,” Peters said. ”Everyone fully understands his skill set and the vision, and what they don’t understand is the competitiveness. And what he’s added to his game a little bit more than what he’s had in the past now is good defensive awareness and commitment.”

A well-rounded ”Johnny Hockey” and Peters have been a perfect match for Calgary, which is atop the Pacific Division and cruising toward a return to the playoffs despite an unheralded goaltending tandem of Mike Smith and David Rittich. While Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers are floundering again, their Alberta rivals lead the Western Conference and can be considered Stanley Cup contenders in large part because of Gaudreau and what Peters has unlocked in him.

Gaudreau had already tied his career high with 84 points with more than a dozen games left. The point total far and away leads the Flames and is tied for sixth in the NHL. General manager Brad Treliving thinks the 5-foot-9 winger from Carney’s Point, New Jersey, has always had that kind of offensive talent and that this season is evidence that Gaudreau’s game has matured to the point he can play against anyone.

”(It’s) his play away from the puck,” Treliving said. ”When you play against top lines, you’d better be smart without it because you can get hemmed in. So I think his play away from the puck, as crazy as it seems with all the points, I think it’s helped him obviously get the puck more and have it more.”

The notion that the best defense is having the puck is right out of the Mike Babcock school of coaching, not surprising because Peters spent three seasons as an assistant in Detroit before getting a head job in Carolina. The Hurricanes finished in the bottom 10 in the league in scoring in three of Peters’ four seasons there and never made the playoffs. His Flames are scoring at the NHL’s fourth-best rate (3.55 per game through Tuesday).

Elite offensive talent helps, though Peters also deserves some credit for how his style suits his personnel, from Gaudreau and Sean Monahan to an active defense led by Norris Trophy candidate Mark Giordano.

”He’s a real student of the modern game in terms of how you have success now,” Treliving said. ”You have to play fast, your D have to be part of your offense, your attack has to be five men not three and you have to defend fast.”

Rod Brind’Amour, who worked four seasons under Peters in Carolina before succeeding him as coach, said the 54-year-old implements a lot of structure with his teams. Gaudreau figured out fast that Peters demands 200-foot play from everyone as a prerequisite for ice time, a recipe that has worked for Calgary.

”He knows how to win,” Gaudreau said. ”It doesn’t matter if you’re top line, bottom line, if you’re not playing well you’re not going to be on the ice. He’s not going to put you over the bench there. He expects a lot out of his players and it’s been great playing for him this year.”

Gaudreau is already on his third coach in just his fifth NHL season after mixed success with Bob Hartley and Glen Gulutzan. A playoff appearance under each was fine, but Peters has already proven to be a better fit as a tactician and as a communicator who knows how to squeeze the most out of his talent.

”There’s no gray area with Bill,” Treliving said. ”He outlines very clearly how he wants our team to play as a group, how he wants individuals to play and I think that’s probably his greatest strength is he’s very clear in his communication and very strong in his beliefs. I think that structured approach I think has really helped our group.”

Flames coach Bill Peters needs stitches after taking puck to face

Calgary Flames
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It was a painful win for Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters on Sunday afternoon.

He had to miss a portion of his team’s 6-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes while he was back in the locker room area getting stitched up after being struck in the face by a puck.

“I think it’s going to hurt more tomorrow,” said Peters afterward. “It’s one of those things where there’s not a lot of room out there and you’ve got to be paying attention. So you just move on.”

You can see his entire post-game media availability here — along with his stitches — via the Flames.

This is the play where Peters was hit.

 

As for the game itself, this was a huge win for the Flames as they completely steamrolled the Coyotes to win for the fourth time in their past five games.

It was a total team effort as they scored three shorthanded goals, a power play goal, and received a strong performance from Mike Smith in net as he stopped 28 of the 29 shots he faced. His shutout bid came to an end midway through the third period when Coyotes forward Clayton Keller scored his team’s only goal on the day.

Noah Hanifin and Mark Jankowski each scored a pair of goals for the Flames.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

Can Bill Peters find NHL success with Flames?

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The search for a new head coach lasted less than a week with Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving having interest in hiring only one man — Bill Peters.

It was six days ago that Treliving canned Gulutzan and said his next head coach would have NHL experience. Peters would decide on Friday to opt-out of the final year of his deal with the Carolina Hurricanes, which also meant walking away from a guaranteed $1.6 million salary for 2018-19. He immediately became favorite and the only candidate for the job.

“This is an individual I’m familiar with. This is the individual at the time once we made a change I was focused upon,” Treliving said on Monday. “I was very familiar with the field that was out there. There’s some great candidates. I was focused on Bill.”

Peters, who is an Alberta native and worked with Treliving at the 2016 IIHF World Championships, comes with four seasons of experience as an NHL head coach having led the Carolina Hurricanes since 2014-15. Those four seasons weren’t very successful, however, as the team finished with a combined 137-138-53 record and zero playoff appearances.

That lack of success wasn’t enough to deter Treliving from making the hire. The decision was based more on their brief time together on Canada’s staff two years ago and intel the GM has gathered over the years.

“He’s prepared. I think he’s a student of the modern game. I think he’s relationship-driven with players,” Treliving said. “He’s honest and direct, and as you’ll quickly come to realize, he’s going to be a tremendous addition to our staff.”

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

With Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton locked up long-term, Peters arrives in Calgary with a roster that has plenty of talent on both ends of the rink. The Hurricanes were a good possession team under him, and that’s one thing the new head coach wants to continue to see with his new roster.

“We’re going to play a game that’s puck possession, ‘D’ active. Face-offs are important — that’s your first 50/50 battle of your shift is a face-off,” Peters said. “I want to have the puck, I want to possess the puck. I want to make sure we have value on the puck when we have it, make good plays, strong plays with it, be hard on it, be a hard team to play against, take advantage of playing on the good ice at the Saddledome.”

While Carolina’s offensive numbers were fine under Peters, the defensive side did not improve. Yeah, there was some terrible goaltending that was a hindrance but the shot suppression did not get better with the Hurricanes allowing an average of 2.02 even strength shots more per game from Year 1 to Year 4.

Peters takes over a Flames team that saw a second half swoon destroy their playoff hopes and lead to the dismissal of their head coach. In Carolina, there was hope in the early days for growth with a young roster, but after a lack of progress as expectations increased during his tenure, it was clear what he was implementing wasn’t working and he could not get through to his players.

Wanting to be a top-10 team in primary statisical categories, the expectations are even higher now for Peters to succeed with the Flames. Will he get a different response here in Calgary compared to Carolina?

“I want to be a team that gets off to a good start, sustains that quality start and has a playoff spot wrapped up and you’re fighting for home ice,” Peters said. “That’s what I would love to see.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Bill Peters opts out of contract to leave Hurricanes; next stop Calgary?

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Bill Peters had until Friday to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract, freeing him from the final year of his deal with the Carolina Hurricanes. He did just that, and will now hit the open market with the Calgary Flames a heavy favorite for his next landing spot.

“I have a lot of respect for Bill as a person and coach,” said Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon said in a statement. “We thank him for his time with the Hurricanes and wish him success in whatever comes next.”

With $1.6 million guaranteed for next season if he stayed in Carolina, Peters wouldn’t be leaving without having a good idea that he’ll be able to step into another job this off-season. At the moment, there are head coaching openings with the Flames, Dallas Stars and New York Rangers.

Dundon wasn’t against Peters staying for the duration of his contract, as he’s shown he prefers keeping people around who have term left rather than firing them (Hi, Ron Francis!). But with Peters resigning, the Hurricanes are off the hook now for that $1.6 million.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

So where will Peters land? Well, the Flames have been the big favorite for a while, and the rumor mill sped up on Tuesday when Calgary decided to fire Glen Gulutzan after two seasons. General manager Brad Treliving said he wanted someone with NHL experience as a replacement and Peters would come to Alberta with a 137-138-53 record in four seasons with the Hurricanes, which includes zero playoff appearances.

It’s easy to tie Peters to the Calgary job. He’s from the area, worked with Treliving during the 2016 World Championships and got his start coaching in the Western Hockey League. It seems like it’s only a matter of time now.

As for the Hurricanes, they now have openings at GM and head coach. Team president Don Waddell is acting as interim GM during the search process. Rod Brind’Amour, who was one of Peters’ assistants, has seen his name out there as a potential replacement, same for the team’s assistant GM and AHL head coach Mike Vellucci. Both would come cheaper than what Alain Vigneault, Dave Tippett, Dan Bylsma or potentially Barry Trotz would command, so given Dundon’s methods so far, that just might be the direction they go.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.