Over the next couple of months, The Hockey Writers will be releasing a series of bold predictions. Team by team, this series will take shape as we look at some of the more questionable possibilities that could come into fruition during the 2017-18 season.
Talk of a new arena and speculation of a possible move are just two of the storylines flooding the Calgary area as the Flames get set to open the 2017-18 season. A new tandem in net and the development of their offensive pest – Matthew Tkachuk – are also in the fold when the Flames come up in discussions within the hockey world. But with 2016-17 far behind the franchise after a disappointing playoff, what does the 2017-18 season hold in store for the Flames and their fans?
After 45 wins in 82 games last season, the Flames landed a spot in the playoffs as the first wildcard team in the Western Conference. The finished the year 45-33-4 with 94 points and a plus-five goal differential.
Offensively, they were led by Johnny Gaudreau who scored 18 goals and 61 points in just 72 games during the regular season. He was the only member of the team to reach the 60-point plateau with three others (Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund and Dougie Hamilton) hitting the 50-point mark.
Following those four players, the Flames sat back and watched as rookie Matthew Tkachuk put up 13 goals and 48 points in his first 76 NHL games. He saw time on the power play and rewarded the club with 13 power play points and also let his opponents know when he was on the ice – accumulating 105 penalty minutes in his rookie season.
They also made a late move in the year to acquire Curtis Lazar who just couldn’t find his game with the Senators and while it was a short stint to close the season, Lazar posted three points in four games with the club.
In net, Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson shouldered the workload. Elliott played 49 games and finished with a 26-18-3 record, while Johnson tacked on an 18-15-1 record in his 36 games played. Both finished with goals against averages just under 2.60 and identical .910 save percentages.
While the Flames were able to crack the top eight in the Western Conference and advance to the postseason, their run didn’t last long. They were handed a matchup against the Anaheim Ducks in the first round and were outscored 14-9 in a four-game sweep at the hands of the Ducks. With that, came a number of changes.
Flames Reassessed Goaltending Situation
To say the Flames and their fans weren’t happy with the first-round in 2016-17 would be the most obvious statement I could possible make. Sure, there are worse outcomes, but anything aside from a Stanley Cup usually leads to some kind of disappointment.
Still, the Flames readied themselves for the offseason and retooled an already impressive lineup.
For starters, they re-signed Michael Stone, Kris Versteeg and Sam Bennett – locking the 21-year-old forward up for another two years with a cap hit of $1.95 million. But it was their moves on the trade market that made them an interesting team in the Pacific Division heading into the 2017-18 season.
They acquired Mike Smith and followed that up by tacking on Travis Hamonic, Eddie Lack and Ryan Murphy. Smith and Lack give them a brand new tandem between the pipes, while Hamonic shores up a defensive core that already included Stone, Hamilton, T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano. The Flames let Murphy walk and he joined the Minnesota Wild in free agency.
So what does this mean for the Flames as they head into the 2017-18 season? What should fans expect from their club and the young core they will open the season with?
2017-18 Bold Prediction: Fiery Tkachuk Increasing Output
Having a rookie season like the one Tkachuk did during the 2016-17 season comes with expectations. Fans want further success. Management wants to see greater development from said players and the player themselves want to improve one what they did one year earlier.
The same goes for the teams. The Flames’ 94 points left them fourth in the Pacific Division and their first-round exit was a disappointing one. So looking ahead to the 2017-18 season, there are two things that fans should look forward to.
Firstly, on the topic of Tkachuk, it wouldn’t be out of the question to expect an increase in production from the young forward. He finished fifth in team scoring last season with 48 points and missed six games over the 82-game schedule.
He’s now slightly bigger and much more mature. While he’ll still play on the edge, his ice-time should increase over the 14:40 he averaged last season. That, on top of the additions the Flames made this offseason, should give their forwards more possession time which ultimately could increase the production on the offensive end.
With that said, forget the sophomore slump and get ready for Tkachuk to top his numbers from a year ago. Don’t be surprised to see the former London Knight hit the 20-goal mark to go along with 55 points.
As for the Flames themselves, they will finish the year among the top three in the Pacific Division. With an upgrade in net and on the back end, the Flames should prove to be a tougher test in the postseason and will be ousted a round later than they were in 2016-17. Still, the second round will be a step in the right direction for a team that has a number of interesting prospects – like Tyler Parsons – working their way toward an NHL job in the near future.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.