Vancouver Canucks Division Preview: Calgary Flames

Apr 9, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau (13) congratulates teammates after scoring in the third period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 9, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau (13) congratulates teammates after scoring in the third period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports /

Two seasons ago the Vancouver Canucks were defeated in the first round of the playoffs by the Calgary Flames. Could this season see a rematch?

The Calgary Flames are in the middle of doing what the Vancouver Canucks have so far refused to do: tearing down and rebuilding.

In 2014-15 the Flames surprised many around the NHL by finishing third in the Pacific Division. Then they surprised again by defeating the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the playoffs, before being swept in round two by the Anaheim Ducks.

But that season was an enigma. In the season before their magical playoff year, the Calgary Flames only managed 77 points. Last season, they managed the same, prompting the Flames to fire their head coach Bob Hartley. Glen Gulutzan, who spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach with the Canucks, replaces Hartley behind the bench.

Flames general manager Brad Treliving hopes that a new coach, as well as a new goaltending tandem, will get his team back into the postseason.

Projected Lineup


Johnny Gaudreau — Sean Monahan — Troy Brouwer
Hunter Shinkaruk — Sam Bennett — Michael Frolik
Michael Ferland — Mikael Backlund — Alex Chiasson
Lance Bouma — Matt Stajan — Brandon Bollig
Matthew Tkachuk, Linden Vey, Daniel Pribyl

After trading Jiri Hudler to the Florida Panthers at the trade deadline, the flames signed Troy Brouwer in the offseason. Brouwer will likely take Hudler’s place on the top line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.

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Monahan and Gaudreau combined for 141 points last season, and 126 the season before. Calgary’s two young stars have emerged as an elite point-scoring duo. The addition of Brouwer should make their top line exhausting for other teams to match up against.

Beyond that, the Flames received contributions from up and down their forward lineup. In total, seven Calgary forwards scored 30 points or more last season.

It remains to be seen if Sam Bennett is ready to take over their second line center position. If he isn’t, he will likely slot in on the third line while Mikael Backlund plays behind Monahan.

There are also a couple of former Canucks vying for spots in the Flames lineup: Hunter Shinkaruk and Linden Vey.

Offense was not the problem for Calgary last year, as they managed to score the 11th-most goals in the league. With Monahan and Gaudreau leading the way, and the same healthy contributions from their bottom nine, Calgary should have a potent attack again.


T.J. Brodie — Mark Giordano
Jyrki Jokkipakka — Dougie Hamilton
Deryk Engelland — Dennis Wideman
Ladislav Smid, Tyler Wotherspoon

Part of the reason Calgary scored so many goals last year was their defense corps. Mark Giordano scored 56 points, T.J. Brodie 45, Dougie Hamilton 43. Calgary has one of the most potent attacks from the back end in the league.

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The problems come in their own zone. They spent too much time hemmed in the D-zone. Bad positioning and missed assignments made life too difficult on their already-struggling goaltenders. Predictably, most of their defensemen finished with a negative plus-minus.

There is only one change to their defense from last season: Kris Russell was traded to Dallas for Jyrki Jokipakka at last year’s trade deadline. With the personnel otherwise the same, Gulutzan will have to improve their defensive systems. After that, it will be up to the players to be better.

Given that their goaltending should be miles better than last season, their defense will make or break their season. Calgary outscored two of the three California teams last year. But the third-place Sharks gave up 210 goals on the year; the Flames gave up 260.

The Flames need to take a huge bite out of that number, or they are going nowhere.


Brian Elliott
Chad Johnson
Jon Gillies

The Calgary Flames gave up the most goals in the NHL last season. None of their goaltenders — Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller, Joni Ortio or Niklas Backstrom — could give the Flames consistent goaltending.

So the Flames are starting fresh. They traded for Brian Elliott from St. Louis, who is coming off an excellent season with a 2.07 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage. Backing him up will be Chad Johnson, who was signed as a free agent. Johnson spent the last season with Buffalo, posting solid numbers (2.36 GAA, .920 Sv%) in 45 games.

Last year, goaltending was a glaring weakness on a Flames team that already struggled defensively. Elliott and Johnson should turn it into an area of strength.

Jon Gillies was the Flames’ third-round pick in the 2012 draft. He will return to the Stockton Heat in the AHL for a second season, after playing seven games in his first.

Key Players

1. Brian Elliott

After landing in Calgary, Brian Elliott will get a chance to be a clear-cut number one. Elliott put up impressive numbers in several seasons with St. Louis. However, he always found himself splitting duties, first with Jaroslav Halak, and then with Jake Allen.

Now that he has been anointed as Calgary’s No. 1 goaltender, Elliott has work to do. Calgary’s goaltending wavered between mediocre and horrific last season. The Flames are young team that is still rebuilding; Elliott will need to play at least as well as he did in St. Louis to give them a chance to win every night.

2. Troy Brouwer

The Flames signed the 31-year old Brouwer to a four-year, $18 Million contract.

In 2014-15, Hudler led the Flames in scoring, but fell short of expectations last year. Brouwer will likely take Hudler’s place alongside Gaudreau and Monahan, and Calgary hopes he can improve on his numbers from last season, when he scored 18 goals and 39 points.

Brouwer has traditionally been a grinding middle-six forward. But playing with Calgary’s young guns, he may get a chance to be something more. His veteran presence will help them take another step, while their talent can help Brouwer realize more offense.

3. Sam Bennett

“18-year-old” Sam Bennett (now aged 20) scored 18 goals last season. He was inconsistent, however, and had multiple hot and cold streaks.Drafted fourth overall in 2014, Bennett will give Calgary a formidable one-two punch at center with Sean Monahan. Bennet certainly has the physical gifts and talent to be a second-line center. Now he just has to find consistency.


Of the four teams outside California, the Flames might have the best chance at making the playoffs. Their problems in goal appear to be solved. They should continue to score well. If they can play tighter defensively, they could finish as high as fourth in the division.

Next: Pacific Division Preview: Arizona Coyotes

However, it might turn out that their goaltending was not the sole problem. Flames management did nothing to shore up their defense in the offseason. Instead, they believe that a coaching change will be enough to improve their back end.

If they get a respectable performance from their defense, the Flames could take a huge step forward in the standings. If their defense flounders again, it will be another lottery spot.