The 2016-17 season featured a fair bit of change for the Calgary Flames. They were expecting to rebound from a dismal 2015-16 campaign, and that saw quite a bit of turnover, from the coach to every goaltender, and a fair number of skaters in between.
Rebound they did, going from the sixth overall pick to the playoffs, but it wasn’t without its warts – particularly at the start of the season, when nearly the entire team seemed several steps behind and fans were impatient heads were not yet rolling. That probably won’t be the case in 2017-18.
From a lot of changeover to very little (so far)
To kick off 2016-17, several new faces were making their Flames debuts. They were:
- Troy Brouwer
- Alex Chiasson
- Matthew Tkachuk
- Kris Versteeg
- Nicklas Grossmann
- Brian Elliott
- Chad Johnson
- Glen Gulutzan
The 2017 offseason is young yet, but so far, the list is nowhere near as extensive. Brand new faces expected to play roles day in, day out for the Flames are:
- Travis Hamonic
- Eddie Lack
- Mike Smith
You can throw Spencer Foo and Marek Hrivik’s names in there if they make the NHL club, as they’re completely unfamiliar with the Flames organizationally, but that’s about it. That’s three names to eight – potentially five to eight, if we include Foo and Hrivik.
This is going from four forwards, a defenceman, two goalies, and a head coach to certainly one defenceman and two goalies: a much less drastic change. Much of the team we saw close out the 2016-17 season will be back, mostly intact and with fat trimmed.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the 2017-18 season will get off to a smooth start. Elliott, upon leaving the Flames, did talk about how he required an adjustment period after playing behind the Blues’ defensive group for five seasons. For all of Smith’s joking around about getting to play with a higher caliber group of players, it’s possible he could be victimized in the same way.
Hamonic, meanwhile, is likely expected to play a bigger role than any of the skaters – Brouwer aside – were to start the previous season, but that’s about it.
A familiar camp
We can already project most of the Flames’ lineup because many of them have already played together.
A year ago, nobody had any clue Tkachuk would spend his season in the NHL. Now? We know he works fantastically with Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik. We know Versteeg and Sam Bennett have some chemistry, and they really turned it on in the playoffs. Michael Stone is still relatively new, but he spent a quarter of a season with the Flames already; he knew exactly what he was getting back into when he re-signed with the team.
What adjustment periods are there for the skaters this time around? Hamonic and T.J. Brodie will have to get familiar with one another, and as far as we know right now, that’s it.
But that isn’t the thing that’s going to make the biggest difference. The fact that Gulutzan will be entering his second year as the Flames’ head coach should give the team a greater sense of optimism to a much better start out of the gate this year. In 2016-17, the first quarter of the Flames’ season saw them with an 8-11-1 record: a .425 points percentage. Over the remaining three-quarters, the Flames put up a 37-22-3 record: a .621 points percentage. That does include the downtimes during the final three-quarters of the season, including constantly getting outscored and giving up throughout a brutal January; it also includes the 10-game win streak. Both are extremes not likely to play out over a full season – but the Flames are probably much closer to the .621 team (which would have them in the top 10 in the NHL) than the .425 one they started as while they worked to unlearn Bob Hartley’s systems and implement far superior ones. (That .425 team, for the record, would have been third last in the NHL.)
But this season, there will be no adjustment period during training camp. No new systems to learn. Everybody except for one skater, maybe a small handful of depth forwards, and the goalies will already know what’s expected of them. And that alone should help Calgary get to a much better start out of the gates – which could end up paying big dividends further into the season.
It’s early yet, but
Of course, Versteeg and Grossmann were last minute additions to the Flames, though Grossmann didn’t stick around for very long (but he still did make the opening night roster, for some reason). There’s still some potential for a new face to come in and need to play catch up during 2017’s preseason.
But the Flames still added many more players during the initial free agency period last year than they have this year. A quiet free agency may be a boon for a couple of reasons: avoiding big money mistakes is a big one, but having a tight-knit group already set in what they’re doing is another. An improved start to this upcoming season should only be expected.