Flames season preview: Top forwards must produce

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The 2021-22 NHL season starts Oct. 12. With training camps opening this week, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the Calgary Flames.

Coach: Darryl Sutter (second season)

Last season: 26-27-3; fifth place in the Scotia North Division, did not qualify for Stanley Cup Playoffs

3 KEYS

1. Full season under Sutter

Darryl Sutter inherited a struggling Flames team after he replaced Geoff Ward, who was fired as coach March 4. The Flames were 15-15-0 under Sutter and finished four points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the fourth and final playoff berth in the Scotia North Division. Having the two-time Stanley Cup-winning coach (Los Angeles Kings in 2012, 2014) in place for training camp and the start of the season should benefit the Flames and could be the difference in making the playoffs.

2. Forwards returning to form

The Flames averaged 2.77 goals per game last season, tied for 19th in the NHL with the Ottawa Senators, after averaging 2.91 goals per game the season before and finishing second with 3.52 goals per game in 2018-19. The decline is due in large part to the lack of production from Calgary’s top forwards. Johnny Gaudreau led Calgary with 49 points (19 goals, 30 assists) in 56 games last season, 50 fewer than when he tied Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon for seventh in the NHL with 99 points (36 goals, 63 assists) in 82 games in 2018-19. Sean Monahan, who is two seasons removed an NHL career-high 34 goals, scored 10 goals last season. Matthew Tkachuk scored 43 points (16 goals, 27 assists) for his lowest points-per-game total, 0.76, since his second NHL season in 2017-18. Their return to top form is vital to the Flames offense.

3. Overcoming Giordano’s departure

The Flames will open a season without defenseman Mark Giordano for the first time since 2007-08 after he was selected by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. Giordano scored 509 points (143 goals, 366 assists) in 949 games in 15 seasons with Calgary and led them in average ice time per game last season (22:57). The void left behind by the 2019 Norris Trophy winner voted as top defenseman in the NHL isn’t just measured in points or minutes. Giordano served as Calgary’s captain since 2013-14, leaving just as big a hole off the ice as on it.

Video: Calgary Flames 2021-22 Season Preview

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Position battles

The Flames need to replace Giordano in the lineup and on the top defense pair. Noah Hanifin will likely step into role alongside Christopher Tanev after averaging 20:01 in ice time last season. Rasmus Andersson should take on a bigger role, likely on the second pair. The additions of Nikita Zadorov, acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on July 28, and Erik Gudbranson, signed to a one-year contract Aug. 20, should bolster the depth. 

At forward, newcomers Brad Richardson, Tyler Pitlick and Trevor Lewis will create competition among Calgary’s bottom six with Brett Ritchie, Glenn Gawdin and prospects Jakob Pelletier and Connor Zary.

Most intriguing addition

Blake Coleman, who signed a six-year contract July 28, makes the Flames deeper in at forward. The 29-year-old scored 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in 55 regular-season games for the Tampa Bay Lightning last season and 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 23 playoff games to help them win the Stanley Cup for a second consecutive season.

Biggest potential surprise

Juuso Valimaki, a healthy scratch seven times under Sutter last season, could be Calgary’s most intriguing defenseman. The 22-year-old scored 11 points (two goals, nine assists) while averaging 15:26 in ice time in 49 games as a rookie in 2020-21. Valimaki, selected with the No. 16 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, will compete with defenseman prospect Connor Mackey in training camp while trying to earn the trust of Sutter. 

Ready to break through

Pelletier, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound left wing, will make his professional debut this season. The 20-year-old, who scored 43 points (13 goals, 30 assists) in 28 games for Val-d’Or of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season, will get a long look in training camp. Calgary’s first pick (No. 26) in the 2019 NHL Draft, Pelletier has strong skating skills and a tenacity to his game that could blend well in Sutter’s system. He must outshine the bottom-six veteran newcomers and Gawdin to make the team. 

Fantasy sleeper

Andersson scored 21 points (five goals, 16 assists) in 50 games for the Flames last season, nearly matching his output (22 points) in 70 games from 2019-20. He took on a bigger role last season and occasionally skated on the top power-play unit, bringing exposure to valuable forwards Gaudreau, Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm. After the departure of Giordano, Andersson is poised for his best season yet. — Rob Reese

Projected lineup

Andrew Mangiapane — Elias Lindholm — Matthew Tkachuk

Johnny Gaudreau — Sean Monahan — Blake Coleman

Dillon DubeMikael Backlund — Tyler Pitlick

Milan Lucic — Brad Richardson — Brett Ritchie

Noah Hanifin — Christopher Tanev

Nikita Zadorov — Rasmus Andersson

Juuso Valimaki — Eric Gudbranson

Jacob Markstrom

Dan Vladar
 

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