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2017-2018 NHL Preview: Calgary Flames

A great mix will work to overcome a learning curve under a new system by new coach Glen Gulutzan

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

In this 31 part series, I will be working my way back from 31st to 1st in my projected 2017-2018 standings. Eighteenth up are the Calgary Flames. During their 36 year tenure, they won the Stanley Cup once (1988-1989) as well as their first 11 consecutive seasons in the league (thank you Al MacInnis, Joe Mullen and Mike Vernon). They have since made it twice in the last 3 seasons after a 5 year drought of consecutive misses.

Basic Stats
2016-2017 NHL Standings: 15th
Western Conference Standings: 7th
Pacific Division Standings: 4th
Goals for Rank: 16th
Goals against Rank: 14th

Overview: The Calgary Flames have a good mix of talent and age. One of the youngest teams a few years ago during their rebuild they now have a strong core of youth: Matthew Tkachuk, Sean Monahan, Dougie Hamilton, Johnny "Hockey" Gaudreau and Sam Bennett. They have a group of players who are likely in their prime: Mikael Backlund, Michael Stone, TJ Brodie and Travis Hamonic and they have a group of vets, some with Stanley Cup wins: Kris Versteeg, Dennis Wideman and Troy Brouwer. They had a rough start last season going 11-15 through the first two months scoring fewer than 3 goals in 15 of those 26 games (57% of their games). From February until the playoffs they won 20 of their final 30 games scoring 3 goals or fewer in just 9 of those 30 games (30%). I highlight this stat as fantasy assets such as Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau came in cold (Sean registering 10 points through the first two months and 27 through the last two months and Johnny Gaudreau registering 11 points through the first 2 months and 30 points through the final two months. Calgary continues to be in the bottom third of the league in shots fired but the talents of Tkachuk, Monahan, Hamilton and Gaudreau has offset that with quality shots. On defense Travis is an upgrade and their top 4 is respectable with Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, TJ Brodie and Travis. Michael Stone was acquired in free agency, another upgrade should really bolster their defense. In net out went Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson (22nd and 23rd in GAA; 29th in SV % -it's eerie how similar their numbers are) and in steps Mike Smith (39th in GAA; 23rd in SV %). The Calgary Flames have a better defensive core than the Arizona Coyotes which lead me to believe that they traded up in net during the offseason (Calgary allowed the 7th fewest shots in net last year while Arizona allowed the 2nd most). Ultimately inconsistency will be the biggest challenge for this team. Glen Gulutzan  in his first year as head coach will be working to combat that and implement his system, there might be a learning curve to start the season. Glen is a player's coach but I think there is an adaptation to the NHL that takes a few months to figure out.

Major Additions
: Travis Hamonic, Michael Stone, Mike Smith, Eddie Lack
Major Subtractions: Derek Engelland, Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson

Prospects and Picks:
- Juuso Valimaki. Selected 16th overall in this year's draft the Flames grabbed one in the line of many Scandanavians taken in the first round. I am not as bullish as some on Juuso. He's young (16) and has accomplished a lot so far with U18 Finnish teams in International play. He has decent size 6'2, 201lbs but I think he has some work on his skating and positioning to improve upon. He certainly has time to improve but he won't be up for 3+ years.

-Tyler Parsons. It's exciting to be able to brag about a goalie as it's not too often. Tyler was drafted 54th overall in the 2016 draft. He's been with the London Knights in the OHL for 3 seasons now and last year he had a great regular season with a GAA of 2.37 and a save percentage of .925 winning 23 games across 34 starts. My personal guess is that Mike Smith allows the Flames to buy a year or two until Tyler is ready. Look for them to sprinkle in some starts late this year or early next and dip his toes in the proverbial NHL waters.

Sleeper Fantasy Asset:
-Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. I clump them together as they really are a two-headed beast. When one is succeeding so is the other and when one is slumping so is the other. Combined they had 141 points in the 2015-2016 season and dipped down to 119 points last year. I anticipate a learning curve as they adapt to Glen Gulutzan's system but by year end. Glen will come in with a plan and adapt it as teams learn his system and work against it.

-Matthew Tkachuk. I won't shy away from my bias here. I was a fan of his dad (Keith) back in the day and his son is taking the reins where his dad left off. He scored 107 points across 57 games with the London Knights before stepping up without losing a step to score 48 points in his rookie year. Expect 60+ points this year as he gets better especially if he gets a nod with some top line power play minutes. He has top 30 forward potential written all over him and the more he produces the more the Flames will use him. He received 8th most minutes among forwards last year, he will see top 5-6 this year.

Cap Situation:
They currently have around $7.1MM with 19 players signed.

Projected finish:
2017-2018 NHL Standings: 14th
Western Conference Standings: 6th
Pacific Division: 3rd

NHL 15th: Carolina Hurricanes (Eastern Conference 9th; Metropolitan Division 5th)

NHL 16th: San Jose Sharks (Western Conference 7th; Pacific Division 4th)

NHL 17th: Dallas Stars (Western Conference 8th; Central Division 4th)

NHL 18th: Philadelphia Flyers (Eastern Conference 10th; Metropolitan Division 6th)

NHL 19th: Winnipeg Jets (Western Conference 9th; Central Division 5th)

NHL 20th: St. Louis Blues (Western Conference 10th; Central Division 6th)

NHL 21st: Boston Bruins (Eastern Conference 11th; Atlantic Division 5th)

NHL 22nd: Buffalo Sabres (Eastern Conference 12th; Atlantic Division 6th)

NHL 23rd: Arizona Coyotes (Western Conference 11th; Pacific Division 5th)

NHL 24th: Los Angeles Kings (Western Conference 12th; Pacific Division 6th)

NHL 25th: New Jersey Devils (Eastern Conference 13th; Metropolitan Division 7th)

NHL 26th: Detroit Red Wings (Eastern Conference 14th; Atlantic Division 7th)

NHL 27th: New York Islanders (Eastern Conference 15th; Metropolitan Division 8th)

NHL 28th: Vancouver Canucks (Western Conference 13th; Pacific Division 7th)

NHL 29th: Florida Panthers (Eastern Conference 16th; Atlantic Division 8th)

NHL 30th: Las Vegas Golden Knights (Western Conference 14th; Pacific Division 8th)

NHL 31st: Colorado Avalanche (Western Conference 15th; Central Division 7th)