After scoring 289 goals in 2018-19, good for second-most in the National Hockey League, the Calgary Flames managed just 210 tallies last season and fell back to 20th in the league’s offensive rankings.
The Flames weren’t as inept offensively in 2019-20 as they have been in the past—they scored more goals in 70 games last year than they did in Brent Sutter’s 82-game debut as Flames coach in 2009-10—but their overall output still came as a disappointment. Much of the regression came at the top of the lineup, with Johnny Gaudreau, Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk all falling pretty far from their 2018-19 paces.
Along with their fellow 30 teams, the Flames will (probably) play a 56-game schedule in 2020-21. At their 2018-19 pace, they’ll score 197 goals. If the bounces go exactly as they did in 2019-20, they’ll pot 168. More likely, these two scoring rates constitute the good and bad extremes for this Flames team and their real output this year will fall somewhere in the middle.
Accounting for some bounce-back years from their stars, it feels likely that the Flames will finish around 10th in NHL team scoring this year. It’s important to note that they finished 11th in the NHL last year for expected goals for per 60 at even strength and tied for 12th in all situations, but they vastly under-performed both of these figures.
Last year, the Pittsburgh Penguins produced at the 10th-best rate in the NHL, scoring 221 goals in 69 games (a 3.2 goals per game pace). Over a 56-game season, a team scoring at that rate would generate slightly more than 179 goals. Let’s round that up to 180 and pencil it in for the Flames in 2020-21.
But where will these goals come from? Let’s take a look up and down the Flames’ lineup and make some predictions about which players will carry the mail offensively next season. If I get at least 15 of these exactly right, you all owe me $5 each—it’s the rules.
By the way, we’ll also be predicting assists for each player. Last year, the Flames averaged 1.63 assists for every goal they scored; the year before, they averaged 1.75. The below projections give the Flames 314 total assists in 2020-21, good for exactly 1.75 assists for each of their presumed 180 goals. A higher average number of assists generated per goal doesn’t necessarily mean a team is better offensively—it just means they’re a little better at producing secondary assists, which are largely chance-based.
Note: We are not projecting injuries. All skaters assumed to be regulars will be assessed based on a full 56-game season. Some players have projections below 56 games; in these cases, we’re assuming they’ll be rotated in and out of the lineup.
Let’s start with Matthew Tkachuk, who arrived on the scene with the Flames in 2016-17. Tkachuk scored 13 goals as a rookie but took a big step in 2018-19, finishing tied for second on the team with 34. Despite that, in his four years with the team, Tkachuk has never led the Flames in goals, watching Sean Monahan (twice), Johnny Gaudreau, and Elias Lindholm capture that crown. This year, we’re predicting that he’ll rise to the top of every offensive category for the Flames while seizing the reins as the team’s most important player.
Tkachuk 2020-21 projection: 56 GP, 23 G, 37 A, 60 P
The Flames still miss Dougie Hamilton, but at least Elias Lindholm is now around to score a ton of goals while playing pretty solid two-way hockey. Lindholm was the Flames’ most reliable sniper in 2019-20 and led the team in goal scoring while facing some of the toughest match-ups in the league. It wouldn’t be surprising if he and Tkachuk served as primary offensive collaborators for the Flames this year both at even strength and on the power play.
Lindholm 2020-21 projection: 56 GP, 22 G, 18 A, 40 P
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Sean Monahan score 20 goals for the eighth consecutive time in 2020-21, even with the shortened schedule. Our projection has him just narrowly missing that mark while functioning in a second-line centre role for the Flames. Perhaps some softer minutes could result in a bigger rebound year for Monahan but the Flames’ relatively balanced projected top-six will probably result in a more equitable distribution of goals.
Monahan 2020-21 projection: 56 GP, 17 G, 24 A, 41 P
How much longer will Johnny Gaudreau remain a Flame? With just two years left on his deal, it’s a valid question to ask. For now, we’re guessing that Gaudreau will experience a resurgence playing in a “secondary” role behind Tkachuk. To be clear, Gaudreau is undeniably a first-line forward, but the Flames will probably move this year towards deploying Gaudreau’s line a little less than Tkachuk’s unit. It’s a shift that could entirely change how teams game-plan for the Flames—potentially freeing up more room for Gaudreau to operate.
Gaudreau 2020-21 projection: 56 GP, 14 G, 36 A, 50 P
The Flames could really benefit from Andrew Mangiapane taking another step in 2020-21. He emerged as a key two-way forward in 2019-20 while playing in a middle-six role; now, can he become a guaranteed top-six or top-line forward? A spot on a top line beside Tkachuk and Lindholm seems reasonably likely, with Mangiapane being a guy able to skate into the offensive zone as an F2 or F3 and one-time the pucks retrieved by Tkachuk on the forecheck. Mangiapane is already a strong defensive presence for the Flames and has the skill to be a high-end offensive contributor as soon as this year.
Mangiapane 2020-21 projection: 56 GP, 16 G, 18 A, 34 P
You could make a solid case that Mikael Backlund was the Flames’ best player down the stretch in 2019-20. He scored 35 points in his final 41 games of the season and, while he might not score at the same clip over the entire duration of the upcoming season, he’ll probably have another strong year in 2020-21. We have him scoring exactly 0.5 points per game, setting up shop primarily in the middle-six and on the second power play unit but still getting some decent time next to Tkachuk.
Backlund 2020-21 projection: 56 GP, 8 G, 20 A, 28 P
The Flames cruised past the Winnipeg Jets in the 2020 play-in round due, in large part, to the excellent play of Dillon Dube. At just 22 years old, Dube seems primed to take another step this year. He might not be a top-six player right away—he still has some kinks in his overall game to work out—but he has the tools to become one very soon. If Dube can click with Sam Bennett, this projection might reach his rearview mirror really quickly.
Dube 2020-21 projection: 56 GP, 11 G, 13 A, 24 P
He’s extremely overpaid, but Milan Lucic showed last year that he can still be a positive contributor on an NHL team. He was solid offensively, great defensively, and a valuable contributor on the Flames’ power play. He got better as the season went along, finding chemistry with Derek Ryan down the stretch and with Bennett in the playoffs, and he’ll be looking to carry forth that momentum into 2020-21. He’s not going to return to the player he was in Boston or Los Angeles, but there’s a decent chance that Lucic will take a small step forward offensively next year.
Lucic 2020-21 projection: 56 GP, 7 G, 10 A, 17 P
Entering the final season of his three-year deal, Derek Ryan will be looking to continue his solid play to ensure he can remain in the NHL going forward. He’ll be 34 when the season starts but he often plays like he’s a decade younger. He’s excellent at face-offs and is otherwise a very reliable player across the board, although his scoring seems to dry up a little bit in the playoffs. Still, the Flames highly value his two-way abilities and there are few fourth-line centres in the league as universally capable as Ryan.
Ryan 2020-21 projection: 56 GP, 7 G, 13 A, 20 P
The Flames are entering year six of trying to solve the puzzle of Sam Bennett. He’s a rare player who seemingly matches the heartbeat of every game. Unfortunately, a lot of regular season games lack anything even faintly resembling a pulse. But Bennett has the ability to turn his game up to crazy extremes in high-stakes environments. He has 11 goals and 19 points in 30 career playoff games and he genuinely looked like a superstar against both Winnipeg and Dallas this past year. Bennett scores two types of goals: they’re either beautiful works of art or the ugliest things imaginable (many of which end up disallowed). If Bennett can’t find any consistency in 2020-21, he might end the year somewhere else.
Bennett 2020-21 projection: 50 GP, 8 G, 7 A, 15 P
If Bennett isn’t careful, Josh Leivo might steal his spot on the Flames’ second power play unit. Leivo is coming off a pretty successful stint in Vancouver where he scored 17 goals and 37 points in 85 games; assuming he stays healthy, he probably won’t fall far off that pace this year. As a rare right-handed shot, he’ll be given plenty of room to succeed with the Flames. He’s on a cheap “prove it” contract, so you can bet he’ll be highly motivated and ready to contribute. With Bennett’s money potentially coming off the books after 2020-21, it’s not a stretch to imagine Leivo filling up a decent chunk of that cap space going forward.
Leivo 2020-21 projection: 56 GP, 7 G, 14 A, 21 P
Would it surprise anybody if Dominik Simon found his way onto the Gaudreau line at some point? Simon spent the last few years playing alongside Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh; lord knows he wouldn’t be the strangest Gaudreau linemate ever. That said, it feels probable that Simon will be looked upon to contribute primarily in a defensive role for the Flames. He’s generated good defensive results thus far in his career and he seems ripe for his first consistent penalty kill deployment. He’ll probably chip in here and there at roughly the same rate as the departed Tobias Rieder. The good news for the Flames? If Simon works, they’ll be able to keep him—despite being signed as an unrestricted free agent, he’s a pending RFA (he was a free agent this year because the Pens didn’t give him a qualifying offer).
Simon 2020-21 projection: 45 GP, 5 G, 4 A, 9 P
The Flames signed Joakim Nordstrom almost exclusively to deploy him on the penalty kill. He probably won’t play every night but, in the games he does play, he’ll be used heavily when Calgary is shorthanded. He doesn’t have much at all to contribute offensively but he’ll probably connect on a couple of scoring plays at even strength. Ryan is too good of a playmaker for Nordstrom to go goalless playing semi-regularly on the fourth line.
Nordstrom 2020-21 projection: 37 GP, 2 G, 2 A, 4 P
After the Leivo, Nordstrom, and Simon signings, it’s looking more likely that Glenn Gawdin, Matthew Phillips, and Zac Rinaldo will probably start the year in Stockton. We aren’t projecting any injuries in this piece but, make no mistake, they’ll happen. Rinaldo will probably be brought in for situations requiring him to provide a spark. The other two players will likely serve as periodic injury replacements, with Gawdin presumably helping to replace ailing centres and Phillips taking over for wingers on the mend.
Gawdin 2020-21 projection: 11 GP, 2 G, 2 A, 4 P
Phillips 2020-21 projection: 7 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 3 P
Rinaldo 2020-21 projection: 8 GP, 1 G, 0 A, 1 P
He’s the captain for a reason: Mark Giordano makes the Flames tick. When he’s off his game, the Flames usually stand a low chance of winning. Giordano played terrific hockey in the 2019-20 regular season before slowing down considerably in the playoffs; at this point, he’s probably going to start declining a little, but he’s almost definitely still better than what he showed against Winnipeg and Dallas. “Gio” will probably play on the Flames’ first power play unit for most of the season and he’ll see a resurgence in his shooting percentage, which registered at just 3.2% last year.
Giordano 2020-21 projection: 56 GP, 6 G, 26 A, 32 P
2020-21 will be the first season of the six-year contract handed out to Rasmus Andersson in January. Andersson emerged as a bona fide top-four defenseman for the Flames in 2019-20 and has a clear path towards becoming a top-pairing guy as soon as this year. He’ll have to compete with Chris Tanev for a job beside Giordano but, even then, he might look even better beside a guy like Noah Hanifin or Juuso Valimaki. A true two-way defender, Andersson has tons of upside at both ends of the rink.
Andersson 2020-21 projection: 56 GP, 7 G, 19 A, 26 P
His pairing with Travis Hamonic didn’t work all that well, but Noah Hanifin still offers many reasons to be optimistic about his future. Hanifin has amassed 389 games of experience before his 24th birthday and is already a very strong offensive defenseman, leading all Flames defensemen in on-ice expected goals for per 60 in 2019-20 while finishing second in on-ice shot attempts per 60. Hanifin still needs to grow in his own end but, for now, pairing him with a guy like Andersson (who already plays very good defensive hockey) seems like a shrewd move to bring out the best in both players.
Hanifin 2020-21 projection: 56 GP, 4 G, 18 A, 22 P
In his 514-game NHL career, Chris Tanev has 22 goals and 118 points. He’s never been a huge scorer and the Flames aren’t paying him to come in and play big minutes on the power play. He’s a good (if declining) defensive defenseman who can be counted on to play the hardest minutes in the league. Offensively, he’s basically Robyn Regehr. He’ll probably score one goal this season after jumping in on the rush and someone will make a pun about whether that was the Flames’ offensive gameplan-ev.
Tanev 2020-21 projection: 56 GP, 1 G, 10 A, 11 P
Following his wildly successful 19 game stint with Ilves Tampere, Juuso Valimaki is returning to Calgary facing high expectations. He played outstanding two-way defensive hockey in Finland and scored two goals and 19 points in those 19 games. He’ll probably start on the Flames’ third pairing in 2020-21 but it seems feasible that he could end the year a bit higher in the lineup. For now, he’s stuck behind Giordano and Hanifin on the left side—but that could afford him the opportunity to feast on lesser competition.
Valimaki 2020-21 projection: 56 GP, 5 G, 12 A, 17 P
The last time Nikita Nesterov played an NHL game, his team was fully outfitted with the latest Reebok Edge uniforms. Three KHL seasons and one jersey partner change later, Nesterov is back in North America with eyes on a big role. He’s a lefty who has extensive experience playing the right side, something in short supply among the Flames’ personnel. Nesterov scored 60 points in the 136 KHL games he played over the last three years, winning an Olympic Gold medal along the way, and it’s possible that he could see power play time in Calgary. He’s got a big shot.
Nesterov 2020-21 projection: 39 GP, 2 G, 5 A, 7 P
The Flames still have one RFA who remains without a contract for the 2020-21 season. That somebody is Oliver Kylington, the smooth-skating Swede who has room to grow at both ends of the rink. Kylington posted decent defensive results in 2019-20, but he wasn’t able to carve out a consistent niche in the lineup and was eventually replaced by Derek Forbort at the trade deadline. It’s hard to project Kylington’s season without a contract in place, but it doesn’t make much sense for him to hold out much longer—there are too many guys pushing behind him.
Kylington 2020-21 projection: 25 GP, 2 G, 4 A, 6 P
There’s not a ton of depth for the Flames at the defense position, but they do have Connor Mackey and Alex Petrovic who could both draw into games if guys get hurt or if Kylington doesn’t sign. Mackey is a left-handed shot who signed out of Minnesota State in March before attending the Flames’ return-to-play camp in July; Petrovic is a rightie who signed with the team as a UFA in October. The Flames will probably prioritize giving Mackey some games at some point if he shows well in camp or in Stockton and, if Kylington holds out, he could make the team to start the year. From a development standpoint, Alexander Yelesin probably should (and might) get the call to join the Flames before Petrovic, but the Flames have favoured veteran presences in the past. If they need a right-handed defenseman to serve as a band-aid for a while, we might see Petrovic play a bit.
Mackey 2020-21 projection: 15 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 P
Petrovic 2020-21 projection: 3 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 P
Just to wrap everything up, here’s the projected lineup that influenced these projections. Projected call-ups Gawdin, Phillips, Rinaldo, Mackey, and Petrovic are not included in this starting lineup.
|Matthew Tkachuk||Elias Lindholm||Andrew Mangiapane|
|Johnny Gaudreau||Sean Monahan||Josh Leivo|
|Sam Bennett||Mikael Backlund||Dillon Dube|
|Milan Lucic||Derek Ryan||Dominik Simon|
|Mark Giordano||Chris Tanev|
|Noah Hanifin||Rasmus Andersson|
|Juuso Valimaki||Nikita Nesterov|