Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Pondering three burning questions as training camp looms

We’re nearing the tail-end of August, friends. That means that Labour Day is around the corner and, after the long weekend, training camp. As camp creeps towards us, here are three big Calgary Flames questions to ponder about the upcoming season.

Who plays the most with Mark Giordano?

Aside from Dougie Hamilton’s brief sojourn as a Flame, Mark Giordano has played primarily with TJ Brodie over the past few seasons. And with Brodie on his flank, Giordano has played some damn fine hockey – he won the Norris Trophy last season, as you may recall.

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But Brodie’s play dipped a little bit last season and the Flames seemed to begin entertaining a succession plan, putting young Rasmus Andersson on his flank. The Giordano/Brodie pairing had strong underlyings, slightly better than Giordano/Andersson had in a tenth of the time, but Andersson has another four seasons until he becomes a UFA while Brodie becomes one on July 1.

There’s an incentive for the Flames to try Andersson out with Giordano, and the drop-off from one combination to the other really isn’t that big – and Andersson might keep improving.

Who starts more games in net?

Let’s put it out there in plain language: without David Rittich’s superb first half of the season, the Flames probably would have missed the playoffs. Mike Smith faltered and Rittich, coming off a rough audition as a starter to end 2017-18, ended up saving the day – earning the nickname “Big Save Dave.”

But heading into the 2019-20 season, and coming off a knee injury that derailed his second half, Rittich still doesn’t have a full season as an NHL starter under his belt. His new tandem-mate in net is Cam Talbot, who both has the even temperament of a guy who can be a good backup but also carrying the experience of a guy that has started a lot of NHL games – 278 to Rittich’s 58.

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Needless to say, after how their respective 2018-19 seasons ended both Talbot and Rittich likely feel like they have something to prove. It’ll be very interesting to see how that plays out in terms of which man gets more starts between the pipes.

Can Johnny Gaudreau crack 100 points?

People don’t call you “Johnny Hockey” if you’re only slightly above average at ice hockey. Johnny Gaudreau has been a gull-darn scoring machine since he potted 72 points in his draft year with the Dubuque Fighting Saints. Since coming to the NHL, he’s defied the odds – he’s small, you see – and continued to score at a prodigious rate.

Gaudreau had 99 points last season, good for seventh in the entire NHL and just a point shy of becoming the first Flames player since 1992-93 to hit the century mark. Backed by a coaching staff that has a better handle on their players in their second season with them, can Gaudreau manage to squeeze just a tiny bit more offense out of his 5-foot-9 frame?

(For what it’s worth, NHL.com’s fantasy experts have him with 96 points, The Hockey News projects 90, and the Sports Forecaster predicts 103.)

  • Brian Burkee

    Gio and Brodie is going to have to be the top pairing this season.
    I would think Rittich should get more games then Talbot. Talbot has been terrible for years. Yes he’s a super nice guy but who cares. I think this is the season where Johnny takes a step back. Whether it be injury or just finally having that one bad season. Someone else will have to step up this season imo. Maybe it’s chucky.

    • The Iggy complex

      Terrible for years? Last year was his first bad year. Other than that he had put up great numbers. He had a terrible defence in front of him in Edmonton and Philly. If he was to rebound, not saying he will, but it would be here

      • Flaming moe

        He was terrible 2 years ago as well. Also are you going to blame the oilers and philly for making Talbot allow the first shot of the game in? Like 13 times in one season. Letting shots in from the blue line once per game? How is that on anyone but the goalie?

  • HarveysFleaCollar

    I hope ras gets the minutes with Gio. Kylington steps up huge and shows Brodie is still expendable even with the unfortunate injury to Val. The games started in the crease is Rittichs ball to drop. Who cares about 100 points, it’s a team sport, hopefully he and other players are more concerned with 100 points for the team.

  • Theo/14

    Anyone else see the article yesterday by Chris Pronman of the Athletic!?!?!!? about his rankings of NHL teams with the best prospects????

    He ranked the flames in last!!!! He makes some very valid points. Trading all those draft picks for players like Stone, Hamonic etc are catching up to the flames.

    Ps he ranked the oilers as number 9. There farm system for once is actually looking pretty solid.

    • Baalzamon

      I’m pretty sure he has both Dube and Valimaki as graduated from the Flames system. From that standpoint, dead last is completely understandable.

      It also means that he has the Flames graduating SIX prospects LAST SEASON (Andersson, Valimaki, Kylington, Mangiapane, Dube, Rittich). Which is impressive.

      • FLT

        Bang on Baalz. The big club is very young (and good), flush with recent grads. While not ideal, having a poor stable of prospects isn’t a huge deal for the Flames right now.

      • Flaming moe

        Problem is no one else in the league has heard of Anderson, Vali, kyli, mangi and Dube. To this point they haven’t accomplished much so not sure how it’s considered that impressive. Most teams have that many of there own draft picks on there teams lol

        • I read the prospect ranking for the Oilers on the Athletic. There are a couple high first round picks on the list you’d have “heard of” but no one outside of Edmonton knows any of the others. Is that different than ANY other NHL team? Just graduating to the NHL as a 2nd rounder or below usually means you are below the radar for most NHL fans in general. Get a grip dude. It’s amazing the little, insignificant details the Oil fans will cling to.

      • CalFan79

        @Balz. I get what your saying but those players you mentioned have a combined 15 goals total. That’s it. Nothing to write home about. I would think that is pretty standard having 15 goals come from within your own drafted players.

      • Brian McGrattan's Salute

        Patience, everyone. Just because these prospects we have recently graduated to the nhl have not scored a ton of goals, or have a big rep yet, doesn’t mean they won’t this year. That first year (or 38 games, or however many played) serves as invaluable lessons for the players involved. These prospects aren’t number 1 overall draft picks, and won’t be immediate game breakers. But I think its a major achievement to have graduated so many players, and to have finished first in the west for that matter.

        This season, Ras will come into his own, Kyl will get a proper opportunity, Mangiapane won’t be stuck on the forth line (remember, he was tearing it up down the stretch–some of the best offensive underlying numbers on the team), and Dube etc will have a chip on his shoulder, ready to play

    • MDG1600

      Where the Flames seems to have struggled is developing wingers. If any of Poirer, Klimchuk, Shinkaruk, Baertschi or other later round picks had developed in to an NHL goal scorer we probably don’t sign Neal and a lot of todays Cap problems don’t even exist.

      • Derzie

        Calgary’s struggles are generally in the areas they hadn’t had to worry about for many years: Iginla’s wing and Kipper’s net. Seems to take a very long time to establish strength in a position once the stars move in. Especially if there are scouts and staff involved that were here during those years when Iggy & Kipper were dominant.

    • The Iggy complex

      Yea pronman is also very biased against Calgary. He is an Edmonton boy. He chooses to not take into account the prospects that graduated in oner year.

      Also the NHL world does know about at mangi and Andersson. I work with alot of Oilers, sens and leaf fans. They were talking alot about how impressed they were with those two.

  • MDG1600

    I think the Flames would be wise to cut back on Gio’s ice time this year. As great as he was all year he is getting old and looked tired in the playoffs against Colorado. We need more out of Hanifin this year.

    • Cfan in Van

      A lot of players looked tired towards the end of the season, let alone the playoffs. I think we see an adjustment from Peters this year, toward spreading out the ice time a bit more evenly. No GG style, 4th liners out in the 3rd when down a goal, but I think he’ll adjust from riding some guys so much.

  • First Name Unidentified

    I’d like to think playing Brodie with Gio on the top unit makes the most sense so his value can be inflated for the trade deadline. After the trade deadline Ras should occupy that RD on the top unit permanently. No?

    • wot96

      Wouldn’t it be better if TJ can be shown to be good without Gio? He didn’t look great with Hamonic. I think he needs to be showcases away from a perennial (recently anyway) Norris candidate.

      And if we are really talking about who should be traded, I would actually rather trade Hanifin than either of Frolik or TJ. Frolik is done in a year, is still useful, and will fetch zero return. TJ does work well on the right side and can play up and down the pairings. Hanifin, on the other hand, was a disappointment. I know he’s young, but that’s how you spin it to someone else in exchange for cap room++.

      • Cfan in Van

        I know where you’re coming from, but TJ is statistically more likely to decline over (lets say) an additional 4 year contract. And you can bet his cap hit will increase. Hanifin is locked into a contract only slightly larger than Brodie’s current contract and is much more likely to improve on in performance.

        • wot96

          Agreed though I don’t think TJ declines that much because his game is such that he won’t wear down too much. But that makes Hanifin so much more marketable and does allow room for Kylington and, eventually, Valimaki.

        • wot96

          Yeah, well, personal preference and I suspect it will not happen. He is a good young defenceman at a very reasonable cap hit for what he is. That has value and I think the only trade that will actually get the Flames the cap space they need is a player that we don’t really want to give up.

  • Hockeyfan

    Hi Flame Fans, i hope summer has been good to all. I have created a 12 team ESPN fantasy hockey league called “Flame Fan Pool”. The draft is on Sept. 29,2019, 11:30AM. Basics are 10 skater, 5 goalie Roto scoring categories and it’s free to join. If interest is shown, we can decide to put an entry fee and prize as well as increasing teams to 15 or reduced to 8 to 10. Once teams are entered, a vote will be held to determine if prize money will be required and how it is distributed, EG: 1st ,2nd, 3rd., or we leave it for fun and bragging rights. There are already 6 teams signed up so thx for the great response and interest. Join link here: https://fantasy.espn.com/hockey/league/join?leagueId=28087969&inviteId=6136bb86-d111-4f4b-ae43-3e01d66f92ea

  • Hockeyfan

    i was hoping TJ would be gone in trade already, now he almost has to be played with GIO to showcase him, if that is possible anymore. Give BSD the first 5 games, then Talbs the next 5, go from there. Hate the way SM faded towards the end of last season. I think the man is literally terrified to play or be involved in a physical game. JG had way more game than SM in playoffs but he can’t do it on his own.

    • Brian McGrattan's Salute

      Ideally, Mony ran out of steam because the off season prior he was recovering from his body breaking down in no less than four major ways, and didn’t have time to properly train/etc. That’s what he says, at least, and it makes sense.

      But there is no getting around the fact that he sucked in the last third of the season, including the playoffs.

      I expect a big season from him. Keep in mind that he is still really young. He is not barred from improvement, and I think a solid offseason of training (hopefully skating!!) will do him good.

      The reality of his development will have its say, but remember when he had that stretch of games where HE was the playmaker? (5 assist night, but also a lot of other multi assist nights around that time). That was the best I’ve ever seen him play. He made moves in the first half of the season I didn’t think he was capable of. He also put up 82 points last season, while sharting the bed end of season.

      This guy can really drive me mad when he is playing like a 32 year old 3rd liner, but he has shown many moments of elite posture last season.

      So, as much as I’ve piled on him last season at the end there, there are still lots of positives to be hopeful about. Again, he is still so young!

      This guy could have a 40 goal season. I just don’t know if he’ll ever throw checks, but as long as he cleans up some other aspects of his game, I think he’ll be good.

      • Budgie

        It was obvious something was wrong with Monahan yet Peters kept putting him out there on the top line. I expected Colorado’s top line to be countered with a checking line at that point and Monahan sitting out because of injury, or playing fewer minutes on a different line

  • Budgie

    No. 1 question, has the team improved during the off-season? Shedding Neal for Lucic was the only significant move, the goaltending is a lateral move-Calgary won’t have Smith’s passing, that could hurt the transition game-Smith did make some poor passes that were picked off, we will see how the Flames respond. Dump and chase and wheel around to let Gadreau enter the zone? Colorado stifled Calgary’s attack in the neutral zone and they won the puck battles, Calgary needs strong RW’s that can win puck battles, the left side is stacked-Frolik likely should stay now. Without adding a decent RW Calgary has not improved-perhaps the training camp will see a RW emerge, and there is still a few weeks to go. Sign Tkachuk, get on with it-who is going to be moved to accommodate Tkachuk’s salary?

  • TheBigChef

    I’m less concerned about the question of *which* goalie is playing more games than I am about the question of *Why* that guy will be playing more games.

    If Talbot ends up playing more games because he has has rediscovered his Vezina-nominee form from a couple years ago, and Rittich has not fallen from where he left off last year, we are in good hands. If Rittich plays more because he has rediscovered “Big Save Dave” from the first half of last season, and Talbot proves to be a good 1B, we are in good hands.

    If Talbot plays more because Rittich’s knee isn’t right or it turns out last year was just a one-off for Rittich, I am worried. If Rittich is forced to play more because Talbot stinks and continues to put up numbers like last year, I am worried.

    I tend to think though that the first scenarios are more likely and goaltending will not be a point of concern this year (fingers crossed). I really liked what I saw from Rittich last year and I think Talbot is much better than his recent numbers would suggest, making for a pretty good tandem.

    • Derzie

      Good points. Also, in today’s NHL, a tandem is the norm. Naming a starter is a game by game thing, not a season thing. Play the hot hand. Winning will get you more ice, losing will get you more bench.

  • Vinnsanity0412

    Poll question…none of the above! Backlund is a 3rd line center and Chucky doesn’t need any part of that! Flames will go with whichever goalie wins…plain and simple. Whoever gets on a roll will be the guy. Winning is far more important than BSD or Talbot’s feelings.

  • Bond 0097

    Talbot is a weak bet at a reclamation project, it is not going to work out well for you. Enjoy letting in the first shot of the game every second game, and at least a goal in the first minute every game. Bahahaha