142Glen Gulutzan
Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn / USA Today Sports

Little roster turnover could help Flames to better start in 2017-18

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.

  • The GREAT WW

    I’m hoping that GG turns his career around.
    I’m hoping that Smith and Lack turn last year around.
    I’m hoping that Hamonick and Stone and Brodie turn last year around.
    I’m hoping that Gaudreau turns last year around.
    I’m hoping that Lazar turns things around.

    WW

    • Connor'sGotHart,Ross,Lindsay!

      Walter it seems you are doing a lot of hoping for the Flames to be successful this season.
      You are right in the fact that most of the guys you mentioned are coming off sub par seasons.
      They have all had decent seasons in the past but will need to return to form to consider the upcoming season an improvement on the last.

    • Kevin R

      Smith was a beast in net for Arizona in many games & costed them better lottery for a bottom team. If he plays for us the way he did last year, I’ll be happy. Every goalie gets pasted & has bad games in the NHL, including Price.
      GG & his first year as coach made the playoffs, you are a hard critic. I hope he goes into the new year knowing what buttons & player usage to go with quicker. We could of said that about Hartley too.

    • cjc

      I think most people would agree the Flames are doing a lot of hoping, except for GG and Gaudreau.

      While I’m not 100% sold on GG either, I’d still give him the benefit of the doubt since he got the Flames to the playoffs. Their failure there (lack of depth and terrible goaltending) were not on him.

      Gaudreau was fine. His center was nowhere to be seen for a while and his personal shooting percentage cratered, yet he still cracked 60 pts despite missing 10 games to injury. I’d worry more about Monahan having another slow start.

      • Raffydog

        Guadreau is garbage. If the rest of the league had a few chapters on him before, they have a full novel on him now after that brutal playoff performance. Just hit him once and he’ll be to scared to do anything the rest of the game

      • piscera.infada

        His center was nowhere to be seen[…] I’d worry more about Monahan having another slow start

        I initially typed out a long response regarding defensive-zone and break-out systems (in response to the thread below), but didn’t post it–I thought better of it (I’m not an expert by any means), and I don’t have any video (even if I knew how to embed it).

        I will point out though, that Gulutzan’s defensive-zone coverage and breakout, require the centres to have a lot more responsibilities. I commented this numerous times in the early stages of last season, and as the season progressed, I maintain it even more: the slow start for Monahan, and the (seemingly) incredibly prolonged period of development at centre for Bennett were symptomatic of this. Hartley actually didn’t ask his centres (except Backlund) to do much in the way of defensive zone coverage. I think the tangible improvement from Monahan (however modest) is evidenced by this, and from my personal viewings (I was at the ‘Dome for 8 of their last 10 home-games), Bennett took a big leap forward in terms of coverage. I believe–as this article seems to suggest–that we’re going to see much more cohesive adherence to the system in the first two months of the season, as opposed to last year.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        I think Monny’s back injury had more to do with his slow start than people realize. Johnny’s year was decent for most players but not for him. He was not the game breaker that we have come to expect. I hope he is using this off season to put on some size so he can get more on his shot whole being mauled.

    • CODD_FATHER

      A 35yr old starting tender, lack of secondary scoring and a hobbit as your go to guy. Yeah, theres alot of hope there. You forgot to hope for the playoffs.

  • BurningSensation

    I’d be interested to see someone’s do a video breakdown on what the major differences in the systems between Hartley and Gulutzan look like, and how it leads (or perhaps doesn’t) to greater success.

    Is it gap control? Differences in defensive responsibilities for forwards on the backcheck? Breakouts? How D men position themselves in their own zone? Who covers the slot and when? How do these things lead to better possession stats?

    I would definitely find a dive into these tactics useful.

  • Parallex

    Yes. The Flames were not fully prepared at the start of the season, a terrible training camp. I mean… our #1 line on opening night had all of one practice together. I fully expect the team to come out of the gates much better. Having said that I would still like one more addition to the top 9 forward group.

    • cjc

      I think this is almost certain to happen, otherwise it means up to 3 rookie forwards (and a rookie D) on the opening roster. That’s probably a bit too much rookie for Treliving and co. They will sign another forward later in the offseason, likely to a deal similar to Versteeg’s last year. One guy I think they should take a look at is Nestrasil. He had two quietly good half seasons with Carolina before ending up on the fourth line/scratched last year. Over his career, he’s averaged 0.38 ppg though. His underlying numbers are great though, and he’d be cheap to sign. Would likely clear waivers if they wanted to bury him in Stockton at some point.

        • Baalzamon

          It seems likely that at least one of Shinkaruk, Poirier, Foo, Klimchuk, and Mangiapane will challenge for a roster spot. It wouldn’t take much for one of those guys to take a spot from Freddie Hamilton, Curtis Lazar, or Troy Brouwer.

        • HOCKEY83

          I agree there’s only one forward roster spot open and only if Freddie Hamilton is challenged for his spot. That could be Jankowski but most think it will be Foo. Kulak will probably take Bart’s regular spot. other than that the roster is set. so where are these other 2 rookie spots coming from. who on the roster do you have not playing.

        • SeanCharles

          Gaudreau-Monahan-Ferland
          Tkachuk-Backlund-Frolik
          Versteeg-Bennett-Lazar
          Stajan-Jankowski-Brouwer
          F. Hamilton/???

          Gio-Hamilton
          Brodie-Hamonic
          Kulak-Stone
          ???

          I figure a rookie could take the ??? spots. We don’t have another NHL proven forward signed and on D Bartkowski leaves a lot to be desired..

  • Raffydog

    I don’t care if the Flames manage only one win all year, just as long as that one win is in Anaheim, and they break that stupid jinx so we don’t have to keep hearing about it

  • OYYC

    The Flames can expect to get off to a slow start if Gulutzan decides that The Troy Brouwer deserves another chance. No Glen, the only two options that should ever be considered are 4RW or the press box. I’ve posted this lineup before, and it makes the most sense to me:

    Gaudreau – Monahan – Ferland
    Jankowski – Backlund – Frolik
    Tkachuk – Bennett – Lazar
    Versteeg – Stajan – Brouwer

    Any spot in the top 9 and Brouwer with his insipid play and bloated contract gets to screw up the lines – and shatter the confidence of at least one of the kids. If Brouwer needs a spark at this stage of his career, he can always take up welding.

  • Arminius

    How long before fans start calling for Hamonic to be dealt if he gets off to a slow start?
    You know, the way some of the knowledgeable fans thought we should’ve dumped Hamilton. Smh.

  • Puckhead

    Don’t get caught up in the death spiral from the first post to this article. The Fall nailed it yesterday, our goals will go up and our goals against will will drop significantly. We’re also stacked with prospects at all positions giving us amazing depth if the dreaded injury bug hits. This WILL be a top 10 ten team this season.

    And Walter, if you’re looking for long break-out passes look no further than Smith. He will set the tone in this department.

  • Flaming Glory

    Hi guys! I have been following for about a year now and thought I should finally get an account! So I guess here I am! And, uh, question: what is a tagline? Is it like “The GREAT WW”S “WW”?

  • ThisBigMouthIsRight

    Just Thinking out loud here, I have to wonder if Alex Chiasson can’t find work, if he would be willing to accept a low ball salary & two-way contract for added depth to the Flames/Heat rosters? as well, I’d Still rather have Iggy than Brouwer at this point. Esp if Iggy came aboard for under $2-mill a year. One last thing, It really is starting to drive me nutz how BT seems so very Laissez-faire when it comes to re-signing his RFAs… Get To Work Brad… and Get It Done Sooner Rather Than Later (You Know – Preferably Before September!!!)… *UNGH* πŸ™‚

    • SoCalFlamesFan

      I have to admit while I believe the defense has been improved, and our goal tending should not collapse under pressure being more “proven” than the “potential” last year, I still have doubts that our forwards are good enough. Our bottom six are all questions and we still have no top RW. I really like Micheal Ferland but realistically if we had RW options he would still be a 3rd line player as he is just too inconsistent. The problem is we don’t have anything left to acquire a top 6 RW.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      This one has me puzzled. At first I thought it was a secret handshake that would bring him back but now I am not so sure. I would take Chaisson over Hamilton or Hathaway. I am surprised other teams have not signed him. I don’t want him back because it blocks a spot for one of our prospects but he is a decent bottom 6 player.

  • freethe flames

    The question is are they good enough? Where has this team improved? Hamonic changes everything on the back end; gone are Wideman and Eng’s; Stone is slotted in a more appropriate place but can move up in case of injuries and the young guys are more NHL ready. In net until otherwise proven it’s a wash. I’m hopeful Smith and Lack will give us better goaltending but I am not convinced of it. Upfront; 2 role players gone and no replacements for them; the good news is that this creates space for guys with higher ceilings but the bad news it creates room for guys with less experience. We are counting on significant growth from Johnny/Monny/Bennett/Tkachuk/Ferland and a bounce back year from Brouwer. Yes camp should be smoother but it’s up GG to get things figured out quickly; find the right combinations and don’t over think things. Brouwer cannot be allowed to get in the way of young guys progress; give him a chance during the preseason sure but don’t let it fester.

    • oddclod

      Don’t worry about the tending. Smith is a beast in the gym, and Team Canada pedigree. That Pedigree doesn’t sputter out at 36 with a pro like him. Not getting Fleury was a blessing. He’s not leaving a championship club, and he’s hungry. Look for him to be strong til 38-40. By then Parsons or Gillies will have wrestled starts away from him. But that’s goalie voodoo. If not, then Tre trades a top D prospect for a top tender if our prospects don’t work out. Hopefully doesn’t have to and fills out the top 3 RW by then. At least we’re Calgary and not the dusty Chuck. Ask Versteeg and Foo.

      • Connor'sGotHart,Ross,Lindsay!

        Those guys couldn’t make the team in Edmonchuk. SpencerFoo said the main reason he chose Calgary was because they sucked on right wing. Well not in so many words but same thing. Don’t forget Versteeg not staying because Edmonchuk wouldn’t gift him a spot in the lineup.

        • Puckhead

          Translation: why is it so hard to find guys who want to play with my man crush? I’m soooo frustrated. Dam you Foo! You too Versteeg!! And don’t get me started on Healey!!!

        • Baalzamon

          That says more about Edmonton’s inability to evaluate talent than it does about Calgary’s depth. I guarantee you Versteeg would have been a regular for Edmonton last year. The only reason the Oilers didn’t “guarantee” him a spot was because they had already done so for Puljujarvi (who they sent to the AHL anyway after it became apparent that they were completely wrong about his NHL readiness), and you’re mad if you think Versteeg wasn’t a better player than Puljujarvi. Versteeg had a better scoring rate last season than both Patrick Maroon and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and he spent almost the entire season on Calgary’s third line.

          • Baalzamon

            Since you still don’t get it, I’ll rephrase.

            Versteeg (who spent most of the season with Bennett and Brouwer) out-scored Maroon (who spent most of the season with McDavid and Draisaitl). And you think he wouldn’t crack Edmonton’s roster.

            Do you grasp the significance of this?

    • TheoForever

      Maroon had 1 scoring season and did well, previous 3 years he managed 21 goals combined.
      Let’s see him do it again, regression here we come, perhaps MacConnor can do his magic again.
      Still good season by Maroon, a useful player, enjoy one more year of him. In points per game Versteeg did outproduce him, and yeah Vers would have made your team.

    • Atomic Clown

      Baalzamon said “better scoring rate”. Maroon had 42 points over 81 games, making a ppg of 0.518. Whereas Versteeg had 37 points over 69 games, giving him a ppg of 0.536. And you have to compare the level of teammates both players had, as well as playing time. Maroon average a full 2 minutes more per game than Versteeg. So yes, Versteeg absolutely had better scoring rate than Maroon, and more sustainable as well. Versteeg has been averaging between 33-38 point over the last 5 seasons, with a slightly higher than avg S% of 11, whereas Maroon had an absurdly high S% of 15.2, which is pretty hard to replicate (i.e see Lance Bouma and his 17 goals two seasons ago)

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I am curious why Flames fans are still questioning the ability of Mark Jankowski coming off a strong AHL season, 27g, 29a, +18(64gms)second in Rookie voting, and AHL all rookie team. While Jets fans are over the top about their 2 rookie prospects that played last year in the AHL.

    Jack Roslovic13g, 35a, -18 (65gms)andKyle Connor 25g,19a, -8(52gms)
    Are being touted as potential Calder Trophy candidates yet Janko who is arguably a more offensive player and undeniably a superior 2 way player is lucky to play on the Flames 4 th line.

    I think it is time to show Janko some love. He is clearly going to be an NHL player. A lot of the type of player he will be rests on how the Flames willutilize him. If he is given the same type of linemates as MT he Could excel.

    Someone on this site, mentioned Janko who Is 6’4″, 210+lbs + who skates well, scores, and has a developed 2 way game…Would be a highly coveted Free agent signing for any team.

    If we had Roslovic or Connor in our prospect pipeline we would be happy and if the Jets had Janko in their pipeline they would over the moon. He would jump to the top of the Jets prospect pool and some other teams as well.
    It is time to appreciate the evolution in Janko’s game and believe he will take his game to another level when surrounded by NHL players.

    • McRib

      Naysayers would point to the fact that Connor is two years younger than Jankowski and Roslovic is three years younger, but fortunately for us I would say uniquely to this situation Jankowski is the most under developed of the three (at least Connor). If Jankowski adds another 10-15 pounds of muscle this offseason, he could be a real difference maker. He’ll definitely be an NHLer even if he doesn’t have a huge jump up at any point, as worse case a Joe Colborne who isn’t afraid of his own shadow and more consistent as a result.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        I realize the other 2 are younger but I think they were all in their rookie Seasons in the AHL. Here is the problem with using chronological age as the primary variable, Janko has the unfortunate body type for putting on mass at a young age. I believe he was drafted at 6’2″ and 156lbs but he has an enviable frame for athletics when he finally add some muscle. Athletes grow into their bodies at different rates so age does need to be taken with a grain of salt.

    • Just.Visiting

      The worst case scenario for Janko if he went to the left side on the Mikes line would be that he would offer a solid three zone game and a modest points total. The upside, of course, this year and especially in future years is much greater. This is especially so if he adds another ten pounds of muscle this summer. Check out his year end interview from Stockton to see how far he’s come in that regard relative to the skinny kid we drafted. That the idea of signing a marginal veteran instead of celebrating that we have this player in our system continues to be considered is disturbing.

    • TheoForever

      The reason a lot of people fail to give credit and praise to Jankowski is because they spent 4 years criticizing the pick and Feaster. Just last year there were articles written and posts made on how Flames would be better off trading Janko for 2nd rounder. But guess what, the kid is on his way.