It’s that time of year again!
We’ve been through the Young Stars tournament, and while that’s always fun, there’s an extra layer of awesomeness to watching games take place in NHL rinks. Not just NHL rinks, though: the Saddledome, in particular.
The Flames are actually back, and it isn’t just the rookies. Some of the names we see throughout preseason won’t stick, but many of them will.
It’s our first chance to watch these players again since early April. The last time we watched them play, we were looking forward to the draft lottery. Thank goodness we’re back to the on-ice stuff now, eh? To celebrate, let’s have a roundtable.
1. Which of the new arrivals are you most excited about this season?
Ari: It’s Brian Elliott for me. Oh, I’m sure the various new guys like Matthew Tkachuk, Troy Brouwer, and even Alex Chiasson will be eager to show their stuff, but an actual legitimate starting-calibre goaltender – and statistically, one of the very best in today’s NHL at that – behind this roster (and, more specifically, these top three defencemen)? The Flames would have fared so much better with him in net last season, so I’m excited to see how well he performs this season.
Ryan: I’m gonna go with Chad Johnson, if only because I love a backup goalie that’s committed to being an awesome backup goalie. Plus he’ll have home and away masks this season, which is awesome.
Kent: Brian Elliot because he promises to make a huge, immediate impact. I’m also very keen to see if Glen Gulutzan is a better coach than Bob Hartley. Just those two changes could drastically alter the Flames’ fortunes.
Mike: Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson. Both of them seem like upstanding citizens and legitimate upgrades from last season’s roarin’ tire fire in net. Seriously, Elliott’s gear is amazing.
Christian R: Honestly, Troy Brouwer. I had no real opinion on the signing at the time, and it remains a similar feeling now. It didn’t excite me, it didn’t anger me. It just… didn’t. I’m looking forward to see him perform in Flames silks and start to form an opinion on the signing.
Christian T: I guess the new netminders, but they moreso offer me peace of mind rather than excitement. Last year’s goaltending was “exciting.” Didn’t like it much.
Byron: Brian Elliott and Matthew Tkachuk. Stud goalie and stud prospect.
Beloch: Tkachuk and Elliott. The Flames haven’t had a top-shelf agitator in quite a while, and Tkachuk is a veritable non-stop hate train. Elliott might be the first legitimately *good* goalie the Flames have had since Kiprusoff.
2. Pick a prospect you think will make the team out of camp. Explain.
Ari: I’m going with Hunter Shinkaruk for this one. Tkachuk could very well be this guy, but remember Sean Monahan had his fair struggles in his rookie season – one that came into existence in large part thanks to scoring six goals in nine games. (Spoiler alert: he couldn’t maintain the pace.) If everything doesn’t fall into place for Tkachuk, I think it’ll be Shinkaruk’s time to run with it. Besides, he’s cheap.
Ryan: Mark Jankowski. Matt Stajan might not have the foot-speed to be an effective NHL center (as much as he used to be), but Jankowski skates well and is a big, big dude and could fit in nicely.
Kent: I think it will be Hunter Shinkaruk. He’s 22, so entering his prime years, looked capable at the end of last season, and fills a position of need on the team (scoring depth on the wings).
Mike: Matthew Tkachuk and Hunter Shinkaruk have the strongest chances of making the team based on holes in the roster. Mark Jankowski seems like a dark horse on the basis of his name, reputation, and what people randomly expect of him. I think a full season in Stockton is best for him, but I figure he gets a sniff for a game or two at best. Super dark horses: Aagaard, Mangiapane, and Kylington.
Christian R: Oliver Kyling– okay okay, I’ll be real. I think Brett Kulak has a shot to take one of the last D spots, especially if he has another camp like last year and beats out Tyler Wotherspoon. Kulak showed very well last season in his short stint and is capable of playing that steady, puck moving style of play that is required for the possession-focused hockey Glen Gulutzan seems to want to implement.
Christian T: I think Tkachuk is probably the popular pick, so my prediction is either that Wotherspoon or Kulak make a strong push for the 6/7 D spot.
Byron: The only two forwards that have a chance out of camp are Shinkaruk and Tkachuk. Mangiapane and Jankowski have slight chances but I don’t see that happening. I’ll pick Tkachuk.
I see him and Bennett forming a deadly duo on the third line in preseason and it’ll be tough to pull them apart. Tkachuk can play both sides, is incredibly skilled and is a big pest at times. Pretty much an ideal situation with the Flames to make the team.
Beloch: Based on his numbers and maturity, Pribyl would have had a great shot provided he was fully recovered from his ACL surgery. Pribyl’s not skating yet though, so my first pick is Shinkaruk. He looked good in his seven NHL games last season and the Flames need more offense from the left. Shinkaruk could potentially slot in with either of the Bennett-Brouwer or Backlund-Frolik duos.
His main competitor for those slots will likely be Tkachuk. Formerly cited as a weakness, Tkachuk’s skating looked fine at Penticton. The biggest thing Tkachuk needs to do now is prove he can reign in his penalty minutes without losing his intensity: play with an edge instead on the edge. There were several penalties he took in Penticton that I would not want to see any player take at the NHL level. The preseason tilts, starting Monday, will be Tkachuk’s chance to show he can bring the hate while playing with a modicum of discipline.
3. Do you think any of the PTOs will be offered contracts?
Ari: Probably not. I can see a path for Chris Higgins, though, if the Flames can find the room for another cheap deal. They were terrible at killing penalties last year, and that’s a specialty of Higgins’, which I feel does give him – and only him – an inside track. It’s going to take a lot to earn it, though, but the games haven’t really started yet.
Ryan: After seeing them in practices, I’m going to say no.
Kent: No. All of the PTOs are redundant (marginal fourth liners or third defensemen) and the Flames don’t have money/cap room to play with anyways.
Mike: No. The team has a cap space dilemma that isn’t resolved yet. There isn’t really much talent in the invitees either as most of them seem like favors for old friends that will be warm bodies for the preseason.
Christian R: Colby Robak and Luke Adam seem like AHL deal candidates, maybe even NHL contracts and could fill in for injuries throughout the year. The biggest issues with Nicklas Grossmann and Lauri Korpikoski is that they’re not very good at the ice hockey, and Chris Higgins has seriously slowed down recently, and might not be able to keep up with what is looking to be a very quick Calgary Flames team.
Christian T: No.
Beloch: It would be out of the ordinary for a guy on a PTO to be genuinely exciting; these are the league’s unwanted spare parts, after all. Grossmann probably has the best chance of being signed because he’s possibly better than some of the Flames’ third pairing options and played for Gulutzan in Dallas. However, for him to be signed the Stockton boys need to look really bad in training camp and Nakladal has to sign elsewhere. After Grossman, I’d have to go with a LWer like Korpikoski. The odds of him making the team are very slim though. Tkachuk and Shinkaruk would both have to fall flat on their faces, as would guys like Lomberg who impressed at Penticton and are looking to become this year’s Josh Jooris.
4. How do you think Glen Gulutzan will differ from Bob Hartley?
Ari: I’m expecting a smarter game out of the Flames. One that’s less reactive, and more proactive; think fewer blocked shots, and more actually preventing the opposition from entering the Flames’ zone to begin with. I’m hoping an actual presence in the neutral zone will come with this, and overall, a more cohesive, less frustrating brand of hockey to watch.
Though I am kind of excited to see who Gulutzan ends up picking as his favourites (and how irrational his selections may be). Every coach has them. I disagreed with a number of Hartley’s choices; I’m wondering what I’ll think of Gulutzan’s.
Ryan: Fewer uncontested zone entries, more pressure at the defensive blueline, and a team that’s not hemmed into its own zone nearly as much. It’s gonna be awesome.
Kent: My hope is a stronger emphasis on controlling play, quick transitions and less collapse defense. Also, the PK in particular needs to improve drastically.
Mike: If he sticks to his word about an emphasis on sustainable play (shots y’all) and works on the extreme flaws of the special teams with the new coaching staff then I think it’ll be night and day when you compare the two. He seems progressive, open-minded, and visibly aware of past mistakes in Vancouver/Dallas so it’s a nice touch.
Christian R: In every single way except for one: they are both ice hockey coaches. At this point, it’s the only similarity. The biggest thing that drove me up all of the walls with Hartley was his player usage, and we don’t know how Gulutuzan’s will be. I pray my answer remains the same at season’s end.
Christian T: Hard to say because the only stuff I know about him came from his own press conference, but he wasn’t saying “we need to block more shots” so I’m sure he’ll be better.
Byron: I don’t know much about Gulutzen but the way he talks… he buys into puck possession and holding onto the puck and having it to with you to do what you want is better than throwing it away or trying to block a shot. He seems like a player’s coach who understands where the game is moving. So the complete opposite of Hartley. I think it’s going to be a substantial and noticeable change in how they play. The only similarities is the offense should persist.
Beloch: Gulutzan gave a talk that included a debate on sealing out vs fronting defensive systems. Should your team actively try to block/move any opponent who tries to enter the crease, or should they instead focus on getting between those players and shots from the point? He states that his choice of system depends on the type of players he has available. The Flames don’t have a lot of “clydesdales” like L.A. has, so we can expect he’ll use a fronting system very similar to what Hartley used. The more I look at Gulutzan, the more I see a fairly orthodox, but detail-oriented coach. His systems are not likely to be a radical departure from those used by Hartley.
The devil is in the details of implementation though. Based on Ryan’s training camp article, Gulutzan seems to be more focused on technical details than tempo. If you watch the talk linked above, you’ll see a coach that is going to micromanage where players choose to position themselves in different situations, how and when they pursue or collapse, when they pinch, where they put their sticks, etc. Micromanagement is not a bad thing in hockey. It’s what some might call “more structured”. The difference between Gulutzan and Hartley is likely to be in this attention to detail, or “degree of structure”. Under Gulutzan, players should be in better position more often, make smarter choices about when to pursue a turnover, etc. Little things that add up.
While a team of aging veterans who already know their systems inside and out might need a coach like Hartley to motivate them to skate like younger guys, the Flames are a team full of kids who need to improve their level of technical play. For this reason, I think Gulutzan is going to be the right guy in the right place this season.
5. Based on what we know right now, do the Flames make the playoffs this year?
Ari: I’m an optimistic fan. The Flames made drastic leaps forward this season, particularly on the netminding front, so I’m going to go with yes. I think they can finish third in the division behind San Jose and L.A. I don’t know about actually winning a round, but if all you have to be is third best in the division… well, who’s to say this team can’t do it? It’s all going to come down to Gulutzan, though. Hopefully he’s the right man for the job.
Ryan: They’ll be close, if only because their goaltending won’t be all-world awful and their defensive zone play won’t make everybody watching cry like it did last season.
Kent: I think it’s very possible. The better goaltending and coaching could be worth a 30+ goal differential improvement, which should put them in the running.
Mike: They aren’t making the playoffs unless a few teams have collapses down the stretch. I’m sorry, but the West is going to be harder this season than last and the Flames are not built currently to survive that unless everyone – and I mean everyone – has a strong season.
Christian R: I think they do. The Flames missed the playoffs by 10 points last season and there were defintely five games you can find among the 40 losses that were squandered by piss-poor goaltending. I know that isn’t a good way of going about it but… I’m going about it that way, anyways. Better goaltending and the young core growing another year wiser should combine for a playoff-bound Calgary Flames.
Christian T: It’ll be a squeaker. The Central will probably be sending five teams again, so the Flames’ best hope is that the Ducks collapse under Carlyle (very plausible!) and they can step in as the third Pacific team.
Byron: I think they’ll squeeze in. Brought in a great goalie. The offense should be top five again. With improvements throughout the line up they’ll make substantial improvements and should be firmly in the playoffs conversation.
Beloch: Thanks to the changes in net, they’re going to be in the bubble at the very least.