FN Mailbag: October 11, 2016

Mailbag

Welcome to the 2016-17 season Flames fans!

Johnny Gaudreau is signed, Calgary has a new goalie tandem and a completely revamped coaching staff. The Treliving era is now in full effect.

There are lots of reasons to be optimistic heading into the new season, but nevertheless a lot of question marks remain. Will the new coaching staff make a positive influence? Will any of the hopefuls make an impact this season?

We look at these questions and more in the latest edition of the FlamesNation Mailbag. 

We’re going to have to wait to evaluate the Gulutzan hire. Coaches take some time to acclimate to their players and to get their systems implemented. 

Personally I expect the Flames to have a slow start owing to these issues. After about game 20 we’ll start to have a better idea of the new coaching staff – who they rate on the roster, how they manage the bench and what systems they prefer. 

I’m not sure Hartley’s systems harmed any particular player in isolation, though I do expect Dougie Hamilton to have a better season absent of Hartley’s biased view of his play. 

A high tide raises all ships, so If Gulutzan can improve the club’s outshooting then it should benefit most of the guys on the roster. Perhaps not in terms of pure scoring numbers, but more in goal differential. 

Hartley was big on collapse defence, counterpunching and the value of blocks and clogging up the areas win front of attackers. Gulutzan, in contrast, has stressed the value of active, high pressure defence and proactive play.

Word from early practice rushes is more focus on short, clean passes through the neutral zone rather than stretch passes, giving puck carriers more options and support as they break out. Stretch passes can be an invaluable weapon if executed properly, but can’t be a focal point in transition if the opposition aggressively defends them.

In addition, we’ll want to see drastic changes to the Flames’ special teams play. On the PK, I hope to see more aggressive coverage of the points and better down low recovery when things go wrong. On the PP, I’m hoping for better zone entries with control and better puck recovery if the puck is shot in. 

Of course. If Tkachuk can provide better value than the obvious alternatives in a top six role, then he deserves to stick around all year. This is a tall order since he’s only 18 years old, though Calgary’s lack of clear alternatives certainly plays in his favour.

Hopefully the first nine games of the year bring clarity. 

We don’t know this yet. Gulutzan hasn’t had a full roster to work with and preseason games are a poor proxy for regular season contests anyways. We can’t really judge Gulutzan’s roster decisions until the real games begin.

My guess right now: Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett, Troy Brouwer and Mark Giordano will be in the running for 20. Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik could be in the conversation, though I expect their defence-heavy assignments might suppress their numbers somewhat.

Last year the eventual Cup-winning champions only had four 20+ goal scorers (Crosby, Kessel, Malkin, Hornqvist). In the end, it’s not just about how much you score, it’s how much you suppress the opposition’s scoring.

This year will be the telltale season for us when it comes to Wotherspoon. He didn’t make the team out of camp, but that doesn’t matter too much in the long run. No doubt he’ll have an opportunity due to injury to come up and make an impression.

At 23, Wotherspoon is exiting “prospect” territory and entering the prime of his career. If he can’t stick as a legit full time defender this season, chances are he never will.