The Hockey News is rolling out its 2017-18 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of Stanley Cup odds, until the start of the season. Today, the Calgary Flames.
Stanley Cup odds: 20-1
Key additions: Mike Smith, G; Travis Hamonic, D; Eddie Lack, G; Spencer Foo, RW; Marek Hrivik, RW
Key departures: Brian Elliott, G; Chad Johnson, G; Lance Bouma, LW; Brandon Hickey, D; Ladislav Smid, D
Is Calgary’s defense as strong on ice as it is on paper?
Everyone knows about the Flames’ woeful goaltending situation over the past four years. From Jonas Hiller and Kari Ramo to Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson, no netminder or netminding duo has been able to prevent the red light from burning out. The Flames went out and acquired Mike Smith because of that, but Calgary also seems to be taking another approach to stop the bleeding: beefing up the blueline even further.
Already, Calgary had a formidable trio in Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton, but the Flames have gone a step further, re-signing Michael Stone after acquiring him last season and bringing in Travis Hamonic to set up a rotation of five defensemen that can go toe-to-toe with any in the league. The biggest hole on the blueline, if you can call it that, is the sixth spot on the backend. There’s a rotation of Brett Kulak, Oliver Kylington and Rasmus Andersson that could fill that role, though. All will be more than capable of handling the minutes.
It’s important for Calgary’s defense to step up this season. If they can insulate their crease well enough that Smith, or Eddie Lack, isn’t overworked, then there’s a good chance we could see some stellar numbers from a Flames goaltender for the first time in what feels like forever.
If Mike Smith can provide average (or better) goaltending – like he did in five of the past six seasons in Arizona – the Flames will be one of the best defensive teams in the West and a sure thing for 100 points, which is coach Glen Gulutzan’s stated objective. Calgary thought it was getting a top goalie last season, but Brian Elliott struggled out of the gate, got hot for a couple months and then was a disaster in the playoffs. The Flames bolstered their blueline, replacing plodders Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland with Travis Hamonic and Michael Stone. Opponents will no longer be able to feast once Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and T.J. Brodie are off the ice.
Up front, Calgary is convinced Micheal Ferland has the array of skills to complement Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau on the first line. Ferland is big, assertive, deft with the puck and has a terrific shot. His skating is decent, but slow to come has been the top-line conditioning. If that pans out and Sam Bennett can realize his immense potential on a line with crafty Kris Versteeg, Calgary will have an imposing and balanced three-line attack.
Even elite goalies like Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Miller and Pekka Rinne saw their play slip a notch or two once they hit their mid-30s. Smith is 35 with a sagging reputation. He’s five years removed from his personal-best season in 2011-12, when he finished fourth in Vezina Trophy voting. Maybe he’s a goaltending upgrade, but the odds are just as good he’ll join the post-Miikka Kiprusoff red-light parade that features floats of Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo and Elliott. And which Eddie Lack shows up if and when Smith hits the IR for a third straight season?
The Flames’ offense is centered around the pint-sized Gaudreau, who is coming off a season in which he scored 12 fewer goals and 17 fewer points (albeit in seven fewer games). Opposing teams clued in to the fact ‘Johnny Hockey’ is more containable in a zone defense rather than trying to stop him 1-on-1. So what if Gaudreau doesn’t have a counter to that strategy and has to rely on the power play to generate production? And what happens if Ferland can’t keep pace on the top line and alternatives such as Troy Brouwer can’t keep up with the NHL speed again?
THN’s PREDICTION: 3rd in the Pacific.
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