The 2018-19 season was both a banner year for the Calgary Flames and one defined by a missed opportunity. The organization enjoyed their best regular season in a generation, finishing at the top of the Western Conference and well-positioned for playoff success.
Unfortunately, the Flames couldn’t quite get out of the gate in the post-season and dropped a disappointing five game series to the Colorado Avalanche. Despite their flop in the playoffs, the season represents a massive leap forward for the team’s progression.
The Youth Movement Works Well
Prior incarnations of the Flames had been criticized for relying too much on veterans in depth roles at the expense of trying out the team’s young prospects in those roles. That wasn’t the case in 2018-19 as the Flames cut ties with several depth veterans – the lone holdover was defenseman Michael Stone, who was injured or scratched for much of the season – and leaned heavily on their untested youngsters.
Up front, rookie wingers Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane effectively split a roster spot for the season (combining for 69 games) as they brought speed and skill to the Flames’ bottom six. Mangiapane ended up becoming a fixture on the club’s fourth line and had 13 points in 44 appearance, scoring several key goals down the stretch.
On the blueline, the Flames rotated through a trio of rookies – Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington and Juuso Valimaki – through their third pairing for much of the season. Valimaki and Kylington both brought speed and puck-moving skill to the back end, while Andersson’s 200-foot game and physicality progressed to the point where he spent several games playing with Norris Trophy finalist Mark Giordano on the Flames’ top pairing.
The Core Players Occasionally Excel
It was easy to be optimistic about the Flames’ future heading into the season simply due to their contract situation. Other than Matthew Tkachuk, whose entry level deal expired following the current season, every important Flames player was signed for several seasons. That’s great news if these core players were able to perform, and the majority of them had career years in 2018-19.
- Johnny Gaudreau had 36 goals and 99 points (both career highs), finishing seventh in overall scoring.
- Sean Monahan had 34 goals and 82 points, good for 25th in the league.
- Elias Lindholm had 27 goals and 78 points (both career highs), finishing 30th in scoring.
- Tkachuk had 34 goals and 77 points (both career highs), finishing 31st in the NHL.
- Giordano had a Norris-caliber season with 17 goals and 74 points, finishing 38th overall in scoring and second among all defensemen.
Aside from Giordano, all of these key players are in their early 20s. While it’s unreasonable to assume that they’ll be able to meet or exceed these scoring totals in future seasons, it’s not unreasonable to project that they could produce at around this level going forward.
Strong Depth Everywhere But In Net
In the classic 1994 episode of Seinfeld titled “The Opposite,” the main character finds that he cannot lose in life because whenever bad fortune befalls him it’s immediately compensated by an equal amount of good fortune. For much of the Flames’ season, that was the case due to their organizational depth.
James Neal struggled for much of the season, but the Flames were able to utilize Lindholm and Michael Frolik as their top six right wingers so it didn’t really impact them too much. TJ Brodie had a few tough nights, but the emergence of Andersson as a high-end prospect allowed head coach Bill Peters the chance to swap Brodie to easier deployments. Heck, the Flames had enough useful depth among their young skaters that several of them – Dube and Valimaki in particular – were able to spend time with the American Hockey League’s Stockton Heat to aid in their development.
The exception to that trend, and the scary one, came in net. The Flames were fortunate that when Mike Smith struggled they could rely upon David Rittich, and that Smith rebounded nicely when Rittich was dealing with a lingering knee injury in the second half. But with Smith a 37-year-old pending unrestricted free agent and Rittich still inexperienced as an NHL starter, goaltending is the only area of the Flames roster where there’s no obvious Plan A. Or Plan B.