Vancouver Canucks 2017-18 season preview: Calgary Flames edition

CALGARY, AB - MARCH 27: Johnny Gaudreau
CALGARY, AB - MARCH 27: Johnny Gaudreau /

Should the Vancouver Canucks thank the Calgary Flames for making the need for a full rebuild that much more evident during that playoff series two years ago?

The Vancouver Canucks and the Calgary Flames have enjoyed a great rivalry throughout all these years. Personally, the games against the Flames are the most entertaining to watch these days. The recent rivalry in the playoffs is there, the history is there, the Sedins often do flash their magic against Albertan teams and the atmosphere in the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary is just electrifying.

Sure, many of the same things can be said about the Edmonton Oilers but the truth is that playing against Connor McDavid is too big of a challenge to truly enjoy a hockey game.

Though the Flames had a decent season led by young forwards Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk, they were shown the gates in a four-game sweep in the first round, at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks.

One of those reasons for a disappointing playoff was the absence of quality goaltending in Calgary’s crease. Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson were not nearly enough to keep the Flames alive (no pun intended).

A winless postseason, as Vancouver knows all too well, is often a sign of more bad things to come. Let’s see what the Flames did this offseason to improve from a disappointing offseason.

Offseason Changes

After a sweep in the first round, the Flames did a major fix during the offseason. The entire netminding situation was cleaned out while the blueline got a stellar top-four help in the form of Travis Hamonic. The Flames did give up a fair bit of future assets in the process but with so many young players in their lineup already, Calgary is dealing away those future considerations from a point of strength.

Calgary Flames (45-33-4, Conference Quarter

2016-17 vs. Vancouver
  • (2-1) Vancouver, Oct. 15 @Vancouver
  • (4-1) Calgary, Dec. 23 @Calgary
  • (4-2) Vancouver, Jan. 6 @Vancouver
  • (3-1) Calgary, Jan. 7 @Calgary
  • (2-1) Vancouver, Feb. 18 @Vancouver

2017-18 vs. Vancouver

  • Oct. 14 @Vancouver
  • Nov. 7 @Calgary
  • Dec. 9 @Calgary
  • Dec. 17 @Vancouver

3 Storylines to Watch in 2017-18

  1. The Evolution of Matthew Tkachuk

For many years to come, the debate whether the Canucks did the prudent thing in selecting defender Olli Juolevi over power winger Matthew Tkachuk will rage on. Juolevi may not make the team this year but with Tkachuk in Calgary, the two will soon see each other four times a year.

The two, by nature, can’t be compared using just point totals or any basic statistical categories. Even if Tkachuk proves to be the better overall hockey player, the recent NHL trade market and free agent market has shown that top-four defenders are worth more than the average top-six forward.

More from The Canuck Way

Tkachuk is a great player who will be a stellar Calgary Flame for many more seasons.

Though Vancouver’s needs and wants may justify picking Juolevi over the winger in some ways, the truth is that Tkachuk is likely the only one who will be in the NHL this year. It’s worth watching how he will develop over the course of the 82 games.

2. Eddie Lack behind enemy lines

I am personally devastated to see Eddie Lack in Calgary, wearing the red and black. Back in the Canada West after a stint with the Carolina Hurricanes as back-up to Cam Ward, Lack is hoping to regain his form with the Flames.

Though Lack likely is the backup netminder in Calgary after Mike Smith, there are more than enough reasons to think that Smith could get off to a shaky start and that Lack may fill in admirably.

The defence pairings that Calgary has assembled in front of Smith and Lack are elite, so Lack will have to impress to keep playing in the NHL.

3. Battle of the two bluelines

There is no question that the top-six Calgary has assembled on defence is one of the best in the game with names like Dougie Hamilton, T. J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Michael Stone and now Hamonic.

The Flames have managed to do a mini rebuild on the blueline over the years.

Related Story: Leading the Rebuild - Ranking the Top 20 Prospects

On the other hand, the Canucks have an entirely new look on the blueline compared to when these two teams met in the playoffs. Of course, this is worth talking about since Calgary exposed Vancouver’s defence in their series win that prompted an actual rebuild.

Now with both Kevin Bieksa and Luca Sbisa gone, the Canucks are looking a bit more physical with Erik Gudbranson, Michael Del Zotto and Patrick Wiercioch. Del Zotto and the emergence of Troy Stecher, Ben Hutton have also made this blueline more mobile.

Don’t forget, too. Matt Bartkowski is now with the Flames.

The blueline that was a huge glaring downfall of the Canucks will now challenge the stellar blueline that Calgary has built through trades and free agency. It will be a challenge worth watching.

Next: 30-in-30 Buffalo Sabres Edition

As mentioned, the Canucks actually owe the Flames a word of gratitude. Had Vancouver won that series against the Flames two years ago, a rebuild would not have come and coach Willie Desjardins would have had a longer leash. Just a thought.