2018-19 gave Flames fans a lot to feel good about, especially during the regular season. It ended in playoff disappointment, but this past year had plenty of positives to go along with a few glaring negatives. With the season very much in the rearview mirror, we came up with a few “awards” looking back on last season, led by Elias Lindholm’s very impressive first campaign in Calgary.
Best Newcomer: Elias Lindholm
The expectations were modest for Lindholm following June’s blockbuster trade with Carolina. I don’t think anyone expected the guy to shatter those expectations and then run over them with a truck. All Lindholm did was exceed his career high in goals by ten, assists by 17, and points by a whopping 33.
Yes, the line struggled in the playoffs, but Lindholm was an almost instant fit on the team’s top line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. The Gaudreau-Monahan pairing has been dynamic for half a decade, but the addition of Lindholm formed a complete, well-rounded unit. Lindholm’s two-way work made them more dangerous off the rush, while his quick and impressive shot gave the trio a dangerous outside threat.
Lindholm was also a nice fit on the penalty kill and led all Flames forwards with 2:18 of shorthanded time per game. His PK work is part of the reason many wonder if Lindholm is a better option at centre as opposed to the wing. Regardless of how that turns out, he’s the runaway winner of best newcomer.
Honourable mention: Derek Ryan
Biggest Surprise: Andrew Mangiapane
Had you asked me what I thought of Mangiapane last summer, I’d have probably given you an answer along the lines of “really good AHLer, maybe full-time bottom six NHL forward”. One year later, it’s clear I vastly undersold The Breadman, because he’s a bona fide NHLer with plenty of room to grow.
Mangiapane showed us a lot over 44 NHL games and really came into his own in the final few months. Mangiapane is tenacious without the puck, hard to knock off it when it’s his, and possesses an impressive shot and finishing ability around the net. Despite averaging just 10:33 per game, Mangiapane was one of Calgary’s most effective forwards at even strength.
Underlying metrics courtesy Natural Stat Trick.
The trend continues when you look at Mangiapane’s individual rates at five-on-five below. The guy produced when he was on the ice and I’m fascinated to see what he could do further up the depth chart with more ice time.
From maybe being a full-time third or fourth liner to having top six potential is quite the jump and qualifies as as a massive surprise, at least for me. Good on you if you saw this coming, but I certainly didn’t, at least not to this extent. Mangiapane has arrived and looks like he’s here to stay.
Hounourable mentions: Rasmus Andersson, Elias Lindholm, David Rittich
Biggest Disappointment: James Neal
I think we’re all aware how much Neal struggled in his first season with the Flames, so this “award” won’t come as a shock to even the most casual observer. The hope is Neal struggled due to a difficult adjustment to a new team and fatigue from two straight long playoff runs. The fear is the nine-time 20-goal scorer has hit the cliff, sticking Calgary with huge diminishing returns for four more years at $5.75 million per.
Neal’s seven goals, 12 assists, and 19 points are all career lows, which is obviously alarming. Even more troubling, though, is that next to none of the most telling underlying numbers paint a prettier picture. From virtually every perspective, Neal is coming off an extremely ineffective season.
|Metric||2018-19||Career Rank||Next Worst (Season)|
|G/60||0.38||Worst||0.92 (2016-17, NSH)|
|P/60||0.99||Worst||1.47 (2016-17, NSH)|
|S/60||8.26||2nd-worst||7.96 (2008-09, DAL)|
|CF/60||14.38||3rd-worst||14.03 (2009-10, DAL)|
|HDCF/60||2.68||Worst||2.84 (2015-16, NSH)|
The one silver lining is Neal’s career-low 5.0 shooting percentage, which is likely to rebound next season and beyond. The problem is, even if Neal returns to his career average of 12.1% prior to this season, what type of results are we talking about? Neal generated shots and attempts at the lowest rates in a decade and high danger opportunities at the worst clip of his career. Those things will need to improve drastically for Neal not to land in this same spot a year from now.
Best Foundation Laid: Rasmus Andersson
Andersson finished a close second to Mangiapane in the “biggest surprise” category, but takes the cake here thanks to where his trajectory is pointed. As it stands right now, I’m of the firm belief Andersson is the best fit on Calgary’s top pairing with Mark Giordano. That’s pretty high praise for a guy who wasn’t even on the opening night roster in October.
Andersson’s rapid progression was staggering. He went from looking like a sheltered rookie adjusting to NHL life to a seasoned pro in the blink of an eye. That transformation was plain to see, but if you’re looking for empirical backing, look at the difference in Andersson’s underlying totals down the stretch.
|OCT. 3 – JAN. 22||FEB. 1 – APRIL 6|
Some of Andersson’s marked improvement can be attributed to the “Giordano bump” because, well, everyone plays better when paired with the captain. That’s not a bad thing, though; Andersson’s fit with Giordano going forward gives the Flames plenty of options on the back end, including making TJ Brodie expendable in a trade.
Honourable mention: Andrew Mangiapane
Most Improved: Travis Hamonic
A quick glance at Hamonic’s counting numbers in his two years with Calgary suggests things were much better the second time around. A deeper look drives that point home even more. Hamonic was significantly better in year two and took resounding “best of the rest” honours on the blueline behind Giordano.
Hamonic formed a solid, consistent pairing with newcomer Noah Hanifin and played virtually every second with him at five-on-five. He looked more comfortable, made far fewer defensive gaffes, and turned into a true heartbeat player for the Flames. Entering the final year of a deal that counts $3.857 million against the cap, Hamonic looks far more like a re-signing candidate than he did one year ago.
Honourable mention: Sam Bennett