The Calgary Flames have completed their preseason schedule and now can turn their attention to the regular season. After making a handful of key changes to their roster, expectations are high for the Flames. Here are a few bold predictions for how the 2017-18 season will unfold for the gentlemen in red sweaters.
Sam Bennett Bounces Back
The highest draft selection since the Flames moved to Calgary, Bennett had a superb rookie year in 2015-16 and racked up a ton of praise and points playing on the left side of Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik. In 2016-17, he was moved to center and had some challenges adjusting to the defensive responsibilities of the position.
However, after a strong playoff performance and a summer of training, Bennett has a full beard and a has been one of the team’s most consistently noticeable on-ice presences during the exhibition games. He seems like a good bet to rebound from his iffy sophomore year and push for 20 goals and 40 points this year.
Fear the beard. pic.twitter.com/Yq3Ex2lTuc
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) September 18, 2017
He’ll probably lose the beard by mid-season, though.
The Arena Deal Gets Done
Arena talks have been ongoing between the Flames and the City of Calgary for over two years. More recently, the talks have been getting a bit tense. After the municipal election elects a city council more or less ideologically the same as the Flames were negotiating with before the election, the two sides return to the bargaining table and hash out a deal that’s a compromise between the two sides’ “final” offers.
The deal is announced during the All-Star Break.
Eddie Lack Loses Backup Job
The Flames are rolling the dice on a pair of netminders having bounce-back seasons in 2017-18. New top ‘tender Mike Smith had rough “boxcar stats” – save percentage, goals against, wins – but that was behind a porous Arizona defense that gave up a ton of high-danger chances. Backup Eddie Lack didn’t have as tough a situation in Carolina, he just never quite found a comfort zone with the Hurricanes.
Smith will bounce back from an iffy training camp. Lack will continue to struggle, though, and be replaced mid-season by prospect Jon Gillies (the starter with the AHL’s Stockton Heat).
Adam Fox Signs
A standout with the U.S. National Development Team as a teenager, Fox has impressed since being selected by the Flames in the 2016 NHL Draft. His freshman year with the Harvard Crimson arguably went better than anybody could have imagined, with 40 points in 35 games, a laundry list of accolades and awards, and a World Junior gold medal win. As he heads into his sophomore year, the hockey world asks with exasperation: “what’s left for him to accomplish in college hockey?”
Fox will put up another strong performance and, upon Harvard’s exit from the NCAA Championship tournament, sign a three-year entry level contract with the Flames and join the club for the remainder of their season.
Flames Make The Playoffs
Expectations are high for the Flames in 2017-18, with some seeing the team as good enough to challenge for the Pacific Division’s crown. The team’s big vulnerability is their goaltending, though, and their new netminders being a lateral move from their 2016-17 tandem is enough to lose them a few too many battles against the likes of the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers.
The Flames still make the playoffs, finishing third in the Pacific and a comfortable distance away from the wildcard teams, but they end up a fair number of points behind Edmonton and Anaheim.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.