It’s totally cliche and absolutely lacking any originality as a concept, but I’m a total nerd for this time of year. As such, in no particular order, here’s our 2018 Christmas Wishlist for the Flames!
MATTHEW TKACHUK: A NICE NEW DEAL
Is he the best player on the team? Is he second best? Maybe third? In the end, it doesn’t really matter where you fall in on that conversation, because regardless of where you rank him, Matthew Tkachuk is poised to get paid in a big, big way.
We’re all aware Tkachuk is having a career season, but perhaps a little context can add to the conversation about just how productive he’s been. From an efficiency standpoint, only 10 players in the NHL (and zero of his teammates) have produced at a higher rate than Tkachuk this season. Those players happen to have last names like Kucherov, MacKinnon, McDavid and Rantanen, so yeah, he’s been pretty productive.
I guess it’s still probably accurate to say the sooner Tkachuk’s deal gets done, the more friendly it’s going to be for Calgary. At this point, though, I’m not sure how much of a difference a contract signed in January is going to look compared to, say, one signed in June. “On Pace Guy” says Tkachuk is on pace for 93 points this season, so the Flames are likely wishing they can keep his cap hit around $8 million on a long-term deal.
JAMES NEAL: A TIME MACHINE
Santa knows Neal’s start to the season belongs on the naughty list, but he’s not totally giving up hope, either. I’m not sure where Santa sits compared to other Flames fans, though, because Neal’s first year on the team is making his contract look worse and worse each passing game. If you’re invested in this team, whether you’re Brad Treliving or a fan, a jump back in time for Neal would be extremely well received.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around exactly what we’re seeing and all I come up with is questions. Has Neal fallen off a cliff? Is he lacking motivation? Are we talking about a tired player after two straight trips to the Stanley Cup Finals? Is he a victim of awful luck? I don’t know any of those answers, mind you, but knowing what we’ve seen from Neal thus far, questions are all we’ve got.
Here’s what we do know: Neal has never scored fewer than 21 goals in a single season and he’s been extremely accurate throughout his career. While his shot volume is slightly down from his career average, Neal’s shooting percentage is dramatically off career norms. Whether it’s a time machine or Santa’s special treat, having Neal revert to what we’ve seen in years past would be quite the pleasant surprise.
DAVID RITTICH: MORE STARTS
We don’t have to spend much time on this one, because it’s pretty simple: Rittich is one of the league’s best goaltenders right now. For the Flames, this should no longer be about Mike Smith and what he needs to return to being a number one. Instead, why not make it about what Rittich has accomplished?
Everything Rittich has shown us in 17 starts suggests he’s capable of playing at a number one level. Yes, it’s true, he hasn’t done it over a full season, which is an important test he’ll need to pass. But at this stage, even if Smith was playing at an average level, we’re talking about elite stuff from Rittich.
Through Calgary’s first 37 games, Rittich has started about 45% of the time. If he keeps playing the way he has, Rittich is deserving of somewhere in the 65% range, which would be around 36 of their remaining games.
MARK GIORDANO: A NORRIS TROPHY
Earlier this month, we laid out Gio’s case for Norris Trophy love, albeit early on. Well, nothing has changed since then. We’re still talking about one of the league’s very best defencemen this season and he’s showing zero signs of slowing down. The wish would be Giordano to sustain this level of play all year long, because if that happens, it’ll be hard for voters to deny him Norris consideration.
With 35 points, Giordano remains tied for third in scoring amongst NHL defencemen and continues to take on the toughest opposing matchups every night. The best part if you’re wishing for a Gio Norris Trophy nod is you’re not daydreaming; there’s a legitimate shot this could happen.
SAM BENNETT: MOUSTACHE PRODUCTS
Beautiful. Divine. Perfect. Mesmerizing. Intense. There are any number of positive adjectives you could use for Bennett’s beautiful upper lip decoration and they’d all likely be accurate. In fact, Bennett’s moustache might be the most criminally under-reported story in league history, and there’s really only one way to change that: consistent maintenance.
Bennett can’t chop it off. He can’t bring it closer to the vest. This thing needs to keep growing and it needs to be groomed, waxed, and tended to like any other masterpiece. Oh, by and large Bennett has also been playing the best hockey of his career this season… there’s that too. With that duster, though, it’s hard to focus on anything else
For those celebrating, Merry Christmas! And may all your Flames wishes come true!