NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, the Calgary Flames.
The Calgary Flames have their sights set on a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and coach Geoff Ward said he sees his most important job now being how all the roster pieces fit together.
“That’s going to be the challenge, seeing how our new personnel are going to fit in and then get them up to speed with what we do as a team, and then tinker with a few things to make our changeover complete,” Ward said. “We’re happy with what our old lineup is, but we want to see if we can come up with a better lineup than what we had.”
Key parts of that new lineup are goalie Jacob Markstrom, who signed a six-year, $36 million contract ($6 million average annual value) as a free agent on Oct. 9, and defenseman Christopher Tanev, who signed a four-year, $18 million contract ($4.5 million AAV) the same day.
The Flames also signed free agent forwards Dominik Simon (Pittsburgh Penguins), Joakim Nordstrom (Boston Bruins) and Josh Leivo (Canucks), and defenseman Nikita Nesterov (Kontinental Hockey League) each to a one-year contract in October. And defenseman prospect Juuso Valimaki is poised for a full-time NHL role after missing last season following surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee. Valimaki is playing for Ilves in Liiga, the top professional league in Finland.
“We had an opportunity, being in the same division (Pacific), to watch [Markstrom and Tanev] through the (Stanley Cup Playoff) bubble, so we’ve got a lot of confidence in those two guys in terms of what they’re going to bring to our group,” Ward said. “We want [the incoming players] just to come in and be the players that they are, and it’s up to our coaching staff and an organization to make that transition comfortable and give them every opportunity to show us where they’re best going to fit.”
The Flames defeated the Winnipeg Jets in four games in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers and then lost to the Dallas Stars in six games in the Western Conference First Round.
Center Mikael Backlund said the Flames could have led the Stars in the series but small things, like a broken stick in Game 4 just before the Stars scored in overtime to tie the series, made a huge difference and should remind them of how close they came.
“We’re not happy with the results, but when you go through losing, that’s kind of when you really learn what you need to do to become better as a player, as a person and as a group,” Backlund said. “I’m excited to go to war again with the guys we’ve had for a while. It’s a dream for everyone to play in the [Stanley Cup Final] and to win, but realistically I think this group has grown over the years and it’s time for us to show we can go to, at minimum, the conference finals.”
One player key to a long postseason run is left wing Matthew Tkachuk, who led the Flames with 61 points (23 goals, 38 assists) in 69 games and played six games in the postseason before missing the final four games with a concussion. Ward said Tkachuk has recovered and is expected to be ready when the season begins, which the NHL is targeting for Jan. 1, 2021.
“[Tkachuk] is a warrior for us, so we’re excited about the prospect of getting him back,” Ward said. “We talk about our team sort of starting to emerge, that’s another young leader that’s gained tremendous experience in the last couple of years [and is] ready to take another step forward. [There are a] lot of reasons for us to be optimistic going into the year, and we’re looking forward to seeing where Matthew is able to take his game.”
The hope is a healthy Tkachuk combined with the newcomers and consistent production from a core group that includes forwards Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm, and defenseman Mark Giordano, can help the Flames win multiple postseason series for the first time since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2004.
“We’ve got some real good top-end players on our team and we need those guys to be our leaders, our hardest workers,” Ward said. “For us, we’ve learned a lot as a team in the last couple years. That’s taught our leadership group what it takes to win in our league and at the most important time of year.”