A few days ago, Ari made a few really good points on why it’s easy to be optimistic about this fall’s edition of the Calgary Flames. With fairly minimal roster turnover from a group that won a lot of hockey games in the back stretch of last season’s schedule, it’s unlikely that the Flames will have as flat a start as they did a year ago.
One thing that could spell trouble, though, is the third completely different goaltending tandem in the last three seasons. The ability of goaltending coach Jordan Sigalet to adjust the Flames’ two new goalies to their teammates quickly could very well determine how high the Flames finish in the standings.
Sigalet became the Flames’ goalie coach in 2014-15 (replacing Clint Malarchuk) and worked primarily with Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller for his first two seasons on the job. While the club shuffled around some of their depth blueliners, for the most part that year’s defensive group was similar to the 2013-14 edition (and the group was largely intact for the two Ramo/Hiller seasons).
For 2016-17, Brad Treliving went bold and replaced both of his goaltenders. And his head coach. While many of the same defensemen returned from the prior season, they had to adjust to the changes Glen Gulutzan was making with his defensive zone responsibilities, the transition game, and a bunch of minor tinkers and tweaks most of us probably didn’t notice.
It didn’t go well, as noted by comments to Elliotte Friedman from Brian Elliott from June:
18. Elliott had some interesting things to say about his year in Calgary and how he played. He thinks his early struggles came because he knew exactly how the St. Louis defencemen would make certain plays, and needed time to adjust to the Flames.
“Wherever I go next, I’m going to focus a lot right away on communication so I can hit the ground running. Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, whether they would slide on a two-on-one, take away the back door or focus on the slot, I’d been with them so long I knew what they’d do. I knew when I could cheat a little more, or should do it less. It took a lot of video work with (Calgary goalie coach) Jordan Sigalet, but finally I felt better and could be more aggressive. It was a reminder that players aren’t going to change their tendencies in front of you, so you have to learn how to read a different team.”
(My emphasis added.)
Last season was probably a unique challenge defensively for two big reasons: the Flames’ minute-eating defensemen were unlearning (bad) tendencies they learned under Bob Hartley and learning Gulutzan’s systems. At the same time, a veteran goaltender was trying to unlearn the tendencies of the defensemen he’d played with. It was a challenge, and it was only after Elliott had spent oodles of time with Sigalet in the video room that he figured things out. (Chad Johnson seemed to adjust rather quickly, but he also played with five different NHL teams over the last five years so he’s probably used to the chaos.)
Mike Smith spent six seasons in the Coyotes organization and played with 23 different defensemen in that span. One of them, Michael Stone, will be his teammate in Calgary. Eddie Lack seemed to struggle throughout his Carolina tenure, at times seeming to be challenged by the Hurricanes’ defensive structures after two seasons as a backup in Vancouver. It would behoove both goaltenders to spend the rest of the summer working with Sigalet to learn their new blueliners’ habits and tendencies before they even hit the ice for training camp.
Expectations are very high for this coming season. The systems are the same as last season. Aside from the addition of Travis Hamonic, the personnel on the backend is very much the same. If Smith and Lack can get up to speed early, it would go a long way towards the Flames meeting (or, gasp, even exceeding) their own expectations.