2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 17. Calgary Flames

Part 15 of 31 in our NHL previews where Burgess, Waind and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Starting from the worst, we’ll be giving you the reasons why we ranked each team where we did.

Check out the other parts to this series:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils, #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. Los Angeles Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes, #19. Philadelphia Flyers, #18. New York Rangers

2016-17 Recap

Record: 45-33-4 (94 Points) 4th in Pacific Division (15th Overall)

GFPG: 2.76 (T-15th)

GAPG: 2.70 (14th)

PP%: 20.16 (11th)

PK%: 81.59 (12th)

The Flames impressed last season, returning to the playoffs after falling off in 2015-16, despite extremely unreliable goaltending at times. This past season was head coach Glen Gulutzan’s first at the helm of the Flames and his guidance helped them claim the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference. Unfortunately for them, they ran into a more seasoned Ducks team in the first round and were swept in four games. Although this was a disappointing result, the Flames have shown they have what it takes to be a playoff team, and there’s no reason they can’t build on things heading into 2017-18.

Sam Bennett had an underwhelming season, but the emergence of Matthew Tkachuk overshone this as he provided 48 points as a rookie. Johnny Gaudreau continued to prove he was a steal of a 4th round pick, while leading the Flames in scoring (61 points), even after missing ten games. The goaltending situation in Calgary was awful last season, and the position was a clear priority to upgrade after their signing of Brian Elliott didn’t pan out. Even with this being the case, the Flames still only allowed the 14th most goals per game in the league last season, a pretty average standing, and one that makes you wonder what they could be capable of if they managed to receive some timely saves.

2017-18 Outlook

List of Key Additions: Mike Smith, Travis Hamonic, Jaromir Jagr, Eddie Lack, Tanner Glass

List of Key Departures: Brian Elliott, Deryk Engelland, Chad Johnson, Dennis Wideman, Alex Chiasson

hkn-flames-hamonic-smith-20170626

The Flames acted on their goaltending priorities in shipping out both of their top two (Elliott and Chad – not Ochocinco – Johnson) and bringing in the pair of Mike Smith and Eddie Lack via separate trades with the Coyotes and Hurricanes. The Flames hope Smith is the solid number one they’ve been desperate for since Kiprusoff. It’ll be interesting to see how well he performs in what’s surely a situation where the D corps is the best he’s played with in years, after he’d been left out to dry in the desert for so long. Actually, it’s arguably the best defenseman group in the league as well after the addition of Travis Hamonic to join their solid, preexisting core. The Flames are a team built from the crease out, so that means their top forwards are going to be relied upon heavily because of a lack of depth in terms of scoring. That being said, Gaudreau aside, Sean Monahan has become a reliable 60-point front line option, you know what you’re getting from Michael Frolik, Sam Bennett can’t be any worse than he was last season, Tkachuk will likely take another step, and…the Flames now have the ageless wonder, Jaromir Jagr (Your prayers have been answered, Burgess). If nothing health related hinders the Flames’ top forwards, they should find their way back into the playoffs.

X-Factors:

Team MVP: Johnny Gaudreau

After many questions in the early parts of his career as to whether his game and size will translate to the NHL level, the 2011 4th round pick has developed into the offensive catalyst that sparks the Flames attack. In each of the past three seasons (the only full seasons of his career) Gaudreau has put up at least 60, with an average of 67.6 per season. Gaudreau is a shifty playmaker that lead the Flames forwards in even-strength and power-play ice time last season. He missed 10 games last season after taking a slash on the hand and requiring surgery to repair a broken finger. It’s key for the Flames that Gaudreau stays healthy and contributing for them this upcoming season, because even at just 5’9” 157lbs, there’s no one in their organization that can fill his shoes in terms of offensive impact.

Team’s Strength: Defense

This Flames D-corps is a crazy deep group. It’s clear they’ve decided to adopt the philosophy that “defence wins championships”, and it has gotten them to a point where they arguably have the best top-4 in the league. Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton and a trade for Travis Hamonic gives them a balance of young and old, high end guys that can each contribute on the offensive end on a fairly regular basis (Hamonic less so). The resigning of Michael Stone just magnifies the embarrassment of riches they have on the blue-line as they have five different guys they can throw out on the ice that can play high-teens minutes in their sleep. Mike Smith’s numbers were trash in Arizona over the past few years, but playing behind this group should be a stabilizing presence.

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Team’s Weakness: Right Wing

It’s no fluke that the legendary Jaromir Jagr chose to join the Flames recently, it’s because there’s opportunity for a top-six role. The current right side depth chart of the Flames forward group is Michael Ferland, Michael Frolik, Jagr and Troy Brouwer. Frolik is a solid player, but he’s never had more than 45 points in a season in his career. While Ferland and Brouwer are coming off of seasons of just 25 points each (they’re paying Brouwer three more years at $4.5 million per, ouch). Even though Jagr has over 1700 games of proven NHL production, he’s still 45 years old, so you never know, this could be the season time finally catches up to him. Bottomline, the Flames right side lacks impact players and has questions to be answered, hopefully for them they can find someone who steps up and exceeds in their role.

Rookies/Farm: After Matthew Tkachuk’s impressive Rookie campaign last season, he remains the “kid” on this Flames roster as their are no new rookies making the jump this season, at least out of camp. But a lack of rookies does not mean a lack of young talent on this team, as the Flames’ Sam Bennett, Johnny Gaudreau, Dougie Hamilton (when is he just going to be Doug?), Sean Monahan, and Tkachuk are all 24 or younger, so there’s nothing to worry about in that respect.

As for their prospect stable, Spencer Foo was a nice addition this past offseason. Foo was signed as an undrafted free agent as the Flames scooped him from Union College of the NCAA after attracting a lot of interest league wide. The 23-year old is a bit older than your typical prospect, but his 62 points in 38 games last season give the Flames reason to believe Foo at least has the chance to one day fill in one of the their glaring holes at right wing.cut1

The Flames used their 16th overall pick in the most recent draft to select Juuso Valimaki from the Tri-City Americans of the WHL. Valimaki is a defenseman, so the Flames certainly aren’t needing his services at the NHL level anytime soon, but his 61 points in 60 games last year is certainly a nice talent to have tucked away for their blueline in the future.

Key Player: Sean Monahan

Monahan has became the go-to number one centreman for the Calgary Flames, and is the linemate of left-winger Johnny Gaudreau. Still just 23 years old, Monahan has established himself as a reliable, consistent offensive source for this Flames team. Over the past three seasons, Monahan has put up 62, 63 and 58 points with 27 goals being his floor over that period of time. With a lack of offensive depth down the middle at the centre position, aside from Mikael Backlund, Monahan’s role could not be more defined. It’s key Monahan shows up for the Flames to experience any postseason success, but they shouldn’t have to worry about him.

  1. Ballantyne: 14th
  2. Burgess: 21st
  3. Waind: 17th

This is a team that’s built for playoff hockey with their deep defensive lineup, but the question is, can they get back there? I think they can. I believe the Flames made a solid move adding Mike Smith and that he’ll regain some of his old form playing behind a more stout defensive unit. Glen Gulutzan now has more familiarity with his group, and they should have a better chance to create on offence due to further growth from their key young players within his system. The Flames proved last year they could make the playoffs with inconsistent goaltending, if they get any semblance of something good from Smith they’ll be fine, and you can pencil them into a wild-card spot.

Burgess and Waind ranked this team too low for my liking. I just can’t wrap my head around putting a team any lower on this list than 14 when they will always have one or more reliable, battle tested defensemen like Giordano, Brodie, Hamilton and Hamonic on the ice. As long Johnny Hockey, Monahan and the boys up front pot their fair share of goals, we’ll see these Flames burning teams come spring.

Just How Bad are the New York Giants?

It’s a bit late, but better late than never right? Check out my view on some of the big stories from Week 4 of the NFL season.

Heading into this season, the Jets were expected to be the worst team in the NFL, with some experts predicting an 0-16 season. Yet after Week 4, they’re 2-2 and not even the worst team in their city. The Giants were actually supposed compete with the Cowboys for the NFC East division, but after a slow start they’re one of four teams with an 0-4 record. Which raises the question, just how bad are the Giants?

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2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 18. New York Rangers

Part 14 of 31 in our NHL previews where Ballantyne, Waind and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Starting from the worst, we’ll be giving you the reasons why we ranked each team where we did.

Check out the other parts to this series:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils, #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. Los Angeles Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes, #19. Philadelphia Flyers

2016-17 Recap

Record: 48-28-6 (102 points) 4th in Metropolitan Division, (9th overall)
GPG: 3.09 (4th)
GAPG: 2.63 (12th)
PP%: 20.2% (11th)
PK%: 79.8% (19th)
Corsi For %: 49.1 (21st)

While the Rangers were able to make the playoffs last year in a Wild Card spot, their record indicates that they were much better than that of a typical Wild Card team. They were one of five teams in the East that finished with over 100 points, and did so while playing in a pretty stacked Metropolitan Division. If they were in the Atlantic, they would’ve been the 2nd place team in the division.

Part of their recent run of success can be attributed to the fact that Lundqvist has been one of the best goalies in the NHL for the last decade or so. But one of the only accolades missing from his collection is a Stanley Cup. At 35, he’s entering the final few seasons of his career, but the former 7th round pick in 2000 is still capable of leading this team back to the playoffs. Despite only playing in 55 games last season, he was still able to manage 31 wins. The concerning part of last season was his 2.74 GAA and .910 SV%, both below his career average. However, once playoffs started, these numbers improved to 2.25 GAA and .927 SV%. In addition to that, it seems like saves like this have started to become the norm for King Henrik.

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2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 19. Philadelphia Flyers

Part 13 of 31 in our NHL previews where Ballantyne, Burgess and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Each of our previews will be given to you in order of where we collectively power ranked that team.

Check out our other previews:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils , #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres, #24. Winnipeg Jets, #23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. LA Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes

 

2016-17 Recap

Record: 39-33-10 (88 Points) 6th in the Metropolitan Division (19th Overall)
GPG: 
2.59 (21st)
GAPG:
2.82 (19th)
PP%:
19.5% (14th)
PK%:
79.8% (21st)
Corsi For %: 52.0% (4th)

In the last five seasons the Flyers missed the playoffs three times and were quick first round outs the two years they did make it. Since their fluky Cup run in 2010, the Flyers have been in playoff purgatory with unsettling mediocre results. It’s especially disappointing given that you don’t have to squint too hard to see a talented roster. On paper, a team consisting of a forward core of Giroux, Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Simmonds, Couturier could be the backbone of a contending team. But over the past half decade, because of a blueline that has been in flux since Chris Pronger retired (?) and carousel of mediocre goalies doing their best to slow down the goals, successful seasons have been few and far between.

Last season there were some positive signs in the disappointing playoff-less campaign. Despite a stagnate offense and uninspiring goaltending, the Flyers were actually a very strong possession team. They had the fifth-most Shots For per game with 31.5 and the seventh-best Shots Against per game with 28.5. They also were sixth in the NHL in USAT% (Unblocked Shot Attempts Percentage: team shots on goal + team missed shots (excluding empty net). Also called Fenwick for) with 51.33% while having very favourable zone starts with 1233 offensive zone faceoffs and 1098 defensive zone faceoffs.

So, as weird as this sounds, the Flyers are a near elite team in terms of applying pressure on the other team, swarming the offensive zone and getting pucks toward the net. All they need to do now is figure out how to actually put the puck in the net… well and I guess keeping it out of the net… what a mess.

2017-18 Outlook

List of Key Additions: Brian Elliott, Jori Lehtera, Nolan Patrick,

List of Key Departures: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Nick Cousins, Michael Del Zotto, Steve Mason, Brayden Schenn

The biggest transaction of the offseason involved the Flyers winning a lottery. No they didn’t land the first overall pick in the 2017 draft, but they did jump 11 spots in the draft to take Nolan Patrick with the second pick. The big center has drawn comparisons to Eric Staal because of his powerful skating and soft hands. He’s one of the most NHL-ready players from the draft and looks to center a second line that will hopefully score some goals and take some scoring pressure off of Giroux and Voracek.

The acquisition of Patrick made it possible to trade Schenn to the Blues for Lehtera and a first round pick. While Lehtera is a downgrade, to the point where he might not make the team out of camp, his contract is around $500,000 cheaper AAV than Schenn with one less year. This gives the Flyers much more flexibility when their youngsters start to get expensive. After signing veteran goalie Brian Elliott to a two year deal, a move that brought Philadelphia just $2,424,107 below the salary cap, the Flyers are attempting the nearly-impossible task of trying to rebuild and contend at the same time.

X-Factors

Team MVP: Claude Giroux

Giroux’s offense has been in a steady decline since the 2013-14 season. In the last four seasons he has had point totals–in chronological order–of 86, 73, 67, and 58 last season. Not counting the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, last year’s point total was Giroux’s lowest since he put up 47 points in his 2009-10 sophomore  season.

Despite plummeting offensive output, Giroux is still Philadelphia’s most important player. He led all Flyers forwards in ice-time with a TOI of 19:07, powerplay ice-time with 307:05 and assists per 60 minutes with 1.68. He is also the team’s premier faceoff man winning 459 offensive zone faceoffs (57.7%), 250 defensive zone faceoffs (59.5%) and 268 neutral zone faceoffs (50.3%).

While at 29 years old Giroux is on the cusp of being an “old” NHL player, I have no doubt that he will bounce back from last years 14 goal output. He is still supremely skilled and his name still carries the weight to draw the other team’s toughest matchups.

Team’s Strength: Depth down the middle

The Pittsburgh Penguins have won three Stanley Cups in the past decade and their strength for each one happened to be their supreme talent and immense depth at centre. Crosby and Malkin are enough to give any team fits, but once you follow them up with the likes of Nick Bonino, Jordan Staal, Matt Cullen, Max Tablot and Tyler Kennedy you really start to force the other team’s hand.

The Flyers seem to have taken a page out of the book of their in-state rivals and have a nice collection of centremen of their own. Despite a dropoff in scoring, Giroux is still one of the most talented forward in the NHL. Nolan Patrick is NHL-ready with a good shot at developing into a very effective No. 2 centre.

One guy who just doesn’t get the same buzz as Giroux and Patrick is 2011 eighth overall pick Sean Couturier. He has quietly developed into a very capable second option at centre. He gets plenty of powerplay and penalty kill time and his strong zone-entry play has gone a long way in making the Flyers one of the strongest possession teams in the NHL.

Sean Couturier

Beyond their core three, the Flyers have some other centre options. Veterans Filppula and Lehtera can spot some time at the centre pivot. Youngsters Travis Koenecny and Scott Laughton have impressed early in their careers and could look to centre one of the bottom six lines if there’s no room on the of one of the top two lines. The Flyers have options upfront and if they’re firing on all cylinders the team should be a matchup nightmare all season long.

Team’s Weakness: The crease

Since Ron Hextall’s last season as a starter in 1997-98 the Flyers have seemingly thrown anyone and everyone in the net to see if they can stop some rubber. John Vanbiesbrouck, Roman Cechmanek, Robert Esche, Antero Niittymäki, Martin Biron, Brian Boucher, Michael Leighton, Ray Emery, Sergei Bobrovsky, Ilya Bryzgalov, Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth round out two decades of two-ply soft goaltending. Keep in mind that Bobrovsky didn’t become Vezina Bob until he was flipped to Columbus for three non-first round picks (a trade made to make room for Bryz) and it looks even more bleak.

With Voracek and Giroux in their prime and making big money with a young and talented supporting cast on entry level deals, this team needs to win sooner rather than later. This is why it’s integral that Brian Elliot is the one to backstop the Flyers to the next level. At age 32 on a two year deal with an AAV of $2,750,000, the Flyers hope that Elliott can bounce back from a disappointing 2016-17 season. If Elliott plays like he did with the St. Louis Blues, where he posted a .925 save percentage over three seasons, Flyers fans will be ecstatic.

Rookies/Farm:

Along with Nolan Patrick, rookie forward Taylor Leier and defenseman Robert Hagg are breaking camp with the Flyers. Leier was a Flyers fourth round pick in 2012 and turned some heads in preseason with a 3 points in 4 game performance. 22 year-old Hagg is a stay-at-home blueliner who doesn’t move the needle to much. But he’s solid enough to step into the lineup and give some of their project players some time to develop.

As of right now defensemen Travis Sanheim (17th overall in 2014) and Samuel Morin (11th overall in 2013) are still on the bubble to make the opening night roster. Sanheim is a well-rounded defenseman who has outgrown the AHL and Morin is a 6’6″ mammoth who has developed into a strong-skating shutdown guy during his time in Lehigh Valley. They’re both knocking on the door and should add to the Flyers’ young and mobile defense.

Key Player: Ivan Provorov

Just one year ago Philadelphia entered the season with Shane Gostisbehere as the present and future of their blueline. Gostisbehere had just finished second in Calder voting behind Panarin (ahead of McDavid). Gostisbehere’s high octane play and impressive scoring numbers excited fans and Philadelphia management alike.

But last season Provorov was able to leapfrog the Ghostbear on the Flyers defensive hierarchy. Philadelphia’s 7th overall pick in 2015 broke out in a big way last year and became an absolute horse for the Flyers. He led Philly defensemen in ice-time with a TOI of 21:58 playing in all situations. Provorov was leaned on heavily on the PK and scored at a relatively high clip despite riding shotgun to the Ghostbear on the powerplay. As Philly develops into a contender, Provorov will be tasked with stabalizing a young blueline that will almost assuredly go through some growing pains.

Our Rankings

T. Waind: 21st

C. Burgess: 17th

B. Ballantyne: 17th


 

A lot has to go right for the Flyers to fight their way through the suddenly deep Eastern Conference. Voracek and Giroux need to rediscover their scoring touch, the young blueline needs to play above their age and, most importantly, they need a goalie to consistently stop the puck. I’m actually a big believer in this team’s talent. They just have so many blue chip guys on the backend and more than enough playmakers at the top of their lineup that they shoud be knocking on the door of contention. Don’t be shocked if they grab a wild card spot this year.

2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 20.Carolina Hurricanes

Part 12 of 31 in our NHL previews where Waind, Burgess and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Starting from the worst, we’ll be giving you the reasons why we ranked each team where we did.

Check out the other parts to this series:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils , #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. LA Kings

2016-17 Recap

Record: 36-31-15 (87 Points) 7th in the Metropolitan Division (21st Overall)
GFPG: 2.62 (21st)
GAPG: 2.88 (18th)
PP%: 17.75 (21st)
PK%: 84.16 (6th)
Corsi For %: 52.2 (3rd)

The Carolina Hurricanes are coming off of a season that turned out to be a valuable experience for their young talent, in spite of their overall disappointments in the standings. The Hurricanes turned their young players loose, and it now appears that they have some solid NHL players up front and on the blueline for years to come. Most notably, rookie Sebastian Aho impressed and finished the season as the second leading scorer on the team with 49 points. Elias Lindholm continue his upward progression, Teuvo Teravainen looked comfortable in his debut season with the team, and Jeff Skinner returned to his 30+ goal form.

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2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 21. Los Angeles Kings

Part 11 of 31 in our NHL previews where Ballantyne, Waind and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Starting from the worst, we’ll be giving you the reasons why we ranked each team where we did.

Check out the other parts to this series:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils , #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers

2016-17 Recap

Record: 39-35-8 (86 points) 5th in Pacific Division (22nd overall)
GPG: 2.43 (25th)
GAPG: 2.45 (6th)
PP%: 19.1% (15th)
PK%: 84.5% (5th)
Corsi For %: 54.8 (1st)

The 2016-17 season was a disappointment for the Kings as they ended up missing the playoffs, but injury was a big reason for that. When Jonathan Quick was injured in the first game of the season, many fans were left wondering how the rest of the season would go. This is the same question any fan would have if their starting goalie was hurt, but when your goalie is one of the best in the world and regularly makes saves like this, it’s a little bit different.

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Burgess’s Week 3 NFL Rundown: Jacksonville Jaguars… 2017 AFC South Champions?

This headline would have been only possible in a video game a few months ago but, before you start laughing, just hear me out. For starters, the Jaguars find themselves at 2-1 and tied with Tennessee for the first place in the division. While this is surprising in itself, even more surprising has been the play of Blake Bortles, who somehow went from the joke of the preseason/training camp to a competent quarterback seemingly over night. Bortles had one of the best games of his career on Sunday against the Ravens, throwing for 244 yards, 4 TDs and surprisingly, no interceptions.

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