After missing out on the postseason for the second time in three seasons, the Calgary Flames made some significant changes. Which three players should fans keep an eye on?
The Calgary Flames were underachievers last season. After acquiring Mike Smith from the Arizona Coyotes, fans and experts both figured he would be enough to solve their goaltending woes. Despite their great expectations, the Flames managed to miss the postseason for the second time in three seasons.
This created an offseason of change in Calgary. Head coach Glen Gulutzman was fired. The Flames are hoping long-time Carolina Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters is the answer, as they wooed him away from the Canes.
The 2018-19 season is a critical one for the Flames. Captain Mark Giordano is an amazing player, but he’s not getting any younger. He turns 35 years old in October. At some point, old age will catch up to him. It catches up to every player.
Which Flames players will be most crucial to their success (or failure) in the 2018-19 season? Here are three players who Calgary should be keeping an eye on.
3. Mike Smith
Last season, Mike Smith simply wasn’t good enough for the Flames. In 55 games, he posted a .916 save percentage. On paper, that might not seem great. But according to Corsica’s GSAA (goals saved above average), he was an above average goalie. In fact, Smith’s 13.79 GSAA ranked ninth among goalies with at least 2,000 minutes played during all situations.
The Flames will likely rely on him again for the 2018-19 season. Especially since it doesn’t appear Calgary has an NHL ready backup goaltender. Expect Smith to appear in around 60 games for the Flames, potentially even more. A great goalie can mask his team’s flaws. Smith is also playing for one last contract, which should give him an extra boost.
He was brought in to be a placeholder for one of the Flames’ young goaltenders. But Smith has been so much more to them.
2. Elias Lindholm
The Calgary Flames have had a right wing problem for a while now. Rather, it’s their lack of quality ones that has hurt them. Troy Brouwer struggled mightily with the Flames, but he was still one of their better options on the right side.
In the Dougie Hamilton trade, Calgary got two key players. The first of them? Elias Lindholm, who could be a part of the solution to the Flames’ lack of options on the right side. He should replace Micheal Ferland as the top line right wing. Lindholm is immediately the Flames best right wing option, though this might say more about the other options than him.
The former Hurricanes wing has two consecutive 40 point seasons under his belt, which is an encouraging sign. However, the 23-year-old forward hasn’t lived up to his great expectations as a former fifth overall pick. Carolina drafted him in 2013, hoping he would be their next franchise center.
Lindholm is a quality center option, but he didn’t quite live up to those expectations as a high draft pick. He’s probably better off as a right wing. The Flames recently signed him to a long-term deal. Perhaps Lindholm’s familiarity with Peters played into Calgary acquiring him.
If he can be that top line option the Flames have been searching for, maybe the Hamilton trade will look better for them than it does right now.
1. Noah Hanifin
Guess who has to step in and replace Hamilton, who was a great defenseman for the Calgary Flames? That would be Noah Hanifin, the crown jewel of the team’s biggest offseason move. Much like Lindholm, it wouldn’t be surprising if Peter’s familiarity with him played a role in the Flames wanting him.
Hanifin has the potential to be a top pairing defenseman. His offense seems to be developing nicely. More importantly, Hanifin has shown consistent improvement defensively in his own zone. However, the Flames don’t particularly care too much about potential right now. General Manager Brad Treliving wants results. So it’s up to Hanifin to turn his potential into results.
On paper, the Flames should have him on their second pairing. This, of course, assumes they decide to reunite Giordano and T.J. Brodie. Though the duo have done well together in the past, they never did as well as Giordano and Hamilton did.
Maybe having Hanifin on the second pairing with Travis Hamonic will help balance things out. Hanifin is a restricted free agent who hasn’t signed his deal yet. However, expect it to happen soon. If the Flames are wise, they’ll sign him long-term because like it or not, he’s a significant part of their future.