Elias Lindholm leads 2019 “Best Of” nods

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.

Season Team GP G A PTS
2013-14 Carolina 58 9 12 21
2014-15 Carolina 81 17 22 39
2015-16 Carolina 82 11 28 39
2016-17 Carolina 72 11 34 45
2017-18 Carolina 81 16 28 44
2018-19 Calgary 81 27 51 78

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

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.

54.9 6TH 61.2 1ST 51.0

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.

12.7 8TH 8.42 4TH 4.42 2ND 1.1 1ST

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

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
48 47.0 46.4 59.1 31 56.2 60.0 54.2

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

Travis Hamonic

Season GP G A PTS
2017-18 74 1 10 11
2018-19 69 7 12 19

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.

Season CF% HDCF% OZS%
2017-18 51.4 51.2 50.0
2018-19 54.3 56.0 51.7

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

      • CowboyBob

        Each to his opinion. I thought he was skating better than most of the other forward, he got in on some forechecks and disrupted some of the Avs breakouts, more so than anyone else.

      • HOCKEY83

        Ya agree with CowboyBob on this one. Mangi was playing very well in the playoffs and should have been one of the guys moved up when Peters needed to make an obvious change after 2 straight losses. The guy is a pure goal scorer with heart and grit and needs to play with more than Ryan and Hathaway. Keeping him on the 4th line would be a huge mistake.

  • Kevin R

    Now that the emotion of not meeting high expectations is coming back down to normal, reflecting on what an amazing year we had comes back to perspective. The last while many wanted to blow this up & trade most of the top line & take a stick of dynamite to a team that finished 2nd overall in the league. That’s insanity!

    Realistically, what should Tre do can be plotted by Patty’s reflection of the various hi-lights-low lights this last year.

    -easily, most of us agree that Andersen on the top pairing is the natural progression for this team. So what he gets the Gio bump, this is what it’s all about. Gio teaching the kid how to be a full time top pairing D. That means Tre should be looking for the best deal he can get for TJ.
    -find a deal to trade Stone, eat some salary if need be to get the return up to a 4th round pick. This deal may have to wait until later July or August as the supply/demand gets sorted out from UFA frenzy
    -find a deal for Frolik. He has value, he actually is playing decent at the Worlds. But it seems inevitable Flames will be going for youth and an 8.0 mill a year Tkachuk needs to be playing with younger higher offensive ceiling players in the top 6. Frolik will be a bottom 6 forward, he wont like it, his agent wont like it because he needs a new contract in one year time.
    -Tkachuk, Bennett, Ritter, Hathaway extensions without saying are important. What Tre can get these contracts extended at will determine what pieces might be added to this group.
    -Try to find a deal for Neal, perhaps there is a GM who think this season was a one off & has a potential answer to a top 6 forward who can score 20+ goals. Not holding my breath but that should be explored.

    Lets just get back to the playoffs next year & potentially address things a little more proactively at the trade deadline, which would mean considering acquiring 1 or 2 rentals.

    • Getpucksdeep

      Very much on your page. We all saw some of the best teams in the NHL Tampa, the Jets, the Cup Champs,Ourselves out in the 1st round. We are 15 years into salary caps. A generation. The parity in this league is pretty amazing. IMHO the wildcard teams are not much worse than the cream and they are always on a roll going in the 1st round because they had to be. The top finishers are all playing for really nothing at the the end. Ten years ago no big deal the rest helped a team. Today the “rest” means your not in peak shape in the 1st round.

      -agree with Gio bump. Last night saw Pieterangalo make major blunders, you can’t miss Burns however he made lots of D blunders as well. Karlsson was good on D but did neither really shone even tho they took 8-9 shots between them. The point is Gio IS better than those guys! He does deserve the Norris if that’s what happens.

      -Have to believe TJ will be traded however he has a no-trade. On the other hand he has reason to be in Ontario or the northern states so they could find a fit. He’s a good player. Not a star but a top 4, 20 minute player and a great skater by any measure.

      – Froliks tough, re the agent thing, I guess where there’s smoke there’s fire. He’s been trade bait? We think? Happy to keep him if they can’t make a deal. Regardless for both TJ and Fro, I’d expect to see a couple of bigger, mid late 20s, wingers who will be physical replace a couple of smaller 3-4th “talented” line wingers. Could speculate on who but guys like Czarnik, dare I say Ryan? Guys like Dube and Mangiapane are small, however I think we’d want to see more of both before deciding if they’re keepers, don’t we?

      -I think they’ll keep Neal for sure. In fairness the guy played back to back 100 game seasons with no summer to prepare. He is fairly large and if he has his first good off season in 3 years we may see a better player. Recall Hamonic wasn’t as good his 1st season. Lastly Tre and Mgt will want a shot a saving face. I think he’ll be here next year.

      • freethe flames

        So tired of the Neal excuses; he is a very well paid professional athlete and unless he was injured all year I don’t care that he had two long playoff runs. Even after he had his extended rest b/c of injury it was clear that he can’t play/skate at an NHL level. He has the off season to change his fitness and skating but I have my doubts he does so.

  • Derzie

    At draft time, I accept the fact I know very little. I make a spreadsheet of the prospects, built around NHLE.
    I weight it so that D-Men and Forwards can be compared. I use plus/minus to help with that, where available.
    I also factor in age. Older prospect, higher expectations.

    The results I’ve had over the years are generally pretty good. Here are some players that my simple formula had much higher than they were picked.

    – Johnny Gaudreau
    – Rasmus Andersson
    – Andrew Mangiapane
    – Alex DeBrincat

    Smaller guys with high end skill.

    On the flip side, my formula had Sam Bennett as a late 2nd Rounder when the pundits had him an early 1st rounder. I think my spreadsheet is closer to the truth.

  • FlamesFan27

    Mangiapane was the biggest surprise for me. I thought last year he would never be able to handle the physicality of the NHL. He proved me wrong bigtime.

    I loved Lindholm’s first half. My wife bought me a Flames jersey (my first since Iginla) for Christmas and I was waffling between getting Lindholm and Tkachuk. I took Tkachuk. I didn’t like Lindholm’s second half or the playoffs. For that matter, I didn’t really like Tkachuk from about game 60 on.

    Neal was awful all season long. I knew the backend of the contract was risky, but I didn’t expect him to have a Lucic season; in fact I would take Lucic straight up for him. And Lucic got 6 goals last year.

    I’m mixed on Andersson. He is way better than I expected, but something about his skating style bugs me.

    I really like Hamonic; he was the only physical player on the backend in the playoffs. I hope he can make a contract work in Calgary going forward.

  • Off the wall

    Cyberspace stole my post for today. I’m too lazy to re- type it. So it’s short and sweet for today.
    You’re welcome.

    I’ll just say, I love Lindholm. I have his jersey thanks to my thoughtful Mrs Otw.

    • Skylardog

      I will be quiet on how the last 31 games and playoffs went for Lindholm out of respect for your jersey…

      We cannot be a team that plays well only before February 1 going forward.

        • HOCKEY83

          I think the league just realized all you have to do to stop this line is be physical against them. That’s why they need a tougher skilled center. Doesn’t even have to be as skilled as Monny because playing along side Johnny and lindholm whoever it is will become that skilled by default.

    • deantheraven

      My son wore number 79 because, Ferly. Then we traded him. Elias Lindholm is not only the Best new Arrival, he’s also my son’s new Favourite Player.
      He wears #28 now. I hope it lasts at least until the jersey doesn’t fit anymore!

  • Joel Ottos Jock

    Not sure I agree with Mango as biggest surprise..he was expected to be a fourth liner and wasnt much more. He had a bad start to the season statistically and slowly got things going. I think biggest surprise was Derek Ryan or Rasmus Andersson. Both played way better than most anticipated and were able to slide around the depth chart.

    • HOCKEY83

      Without Mangi on that 4th line Derek Ryan would have been a surprise to no one. He would have been exactly what would have been expected of a 31 year old with only 3 years of NHL experience…Waste of money.

  • Baalzamon

    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.

    You really shouldn’t be surprised. Mangiapane’s OHL and AHL results both pointed to a prospect with top-six upside. I have no idea why so many people had so much difficulty grasping that over the years.

  • freethe flames

    It’s great to see how much Mangiapane grew during the season. He will come back stronger next year. The problem is that he is the 3rd or 4th best LW. Can he play RW? How would a line of Tkachuk/Lindholm and Mangiapane look? Could he move up that line that quickly?

  • freethe flames

    There were a lot of FN members who knocked Mangiapane through out the season. I always compared his development to that of Byron; with any luck and his continued development he seems to be about 2 years ahead of where Byron was when we lost Byron on waivers. The question is what type of contract do you sign him too?