It’s “Go Time” for the Calgary Flames as the 2016 – 2017 NHL season kicks off with a back to back, home and home series with the Edmonton Oilers.
Like a proud peacock, the Oilers will show off their beautiful new plumage called Rogers Place tonight and then the Battle of Alberta hits the Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday. Here are my five burning questions heading into a new season:
1. Will the Flames be better than the Oilers this season?
The Flames finished 7 points better than the Oilers last season and had 4 more wins but nobody in Calgary was gloating. The 2015 – 2016 season was a disaster for both Alberta teams with the Flames finishing 26th overall and Edmonton 29th. The Flames have made significant upgrades to their goaltending, while the Oilers addressed their defensive liabilities trading Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson. Both teams will be better but is there room for both to return to the post season? Highly unlikely. The team that wins the season series will have the upper hand. Give the Edge to the Flames.
2. Is Glen Gulutzan a better coach than Bob Hartley?
As far as I am concerned this was the most baffling move of the off season. One year removed from winning the Jack Adams trophy as the coach of the year, Hartley was shown the door early in May.
“Bob did some very good things here,” said Flames General Manager Brad Treliving at the time of the firing. “The decision was not based solely on the season. I just felt at this particular time, it’s time to move forward. Bob has taken this team as far as I feel he can take it.”
Naturally the rumors started to fly that the players didn’t like Hartley’s harsh style and it rubbed certain players the wrong way. The poor million dollar babies didn’t like to be criticized. The Flames needed a softer more gentle touch. You know like Charmin toilet paper.
On June 17, the Flames introduced the very likeable Glen Gulutzan who promised to bring a new style and a new energy to the team.
“I’m not Bob. I’m a different guy. I’m a different voice. I’m a different personality. I’m a different kind of coach,” says Gulutzan. “But some of the foundations that he built are universal, and I’m not going to tear those down. But we’re going to change things, and make it the way we want to play.”
Personally, I like Gulutzan but I liked Hartley too. Time will tell if this was a step forward, a step back or maybe just a lateral move.
3. Have the Flames solved their goaltending woes?
The most exciting move in the off season came at the NHL draft in Buffalo. The Flames acquired goaltender Brain Elliot from the St. Louis Blues for a 2nd round pick (35th overall) and a conditional 3rd round pick in 2018. The 31 year old is entering the final year of his contract at a modest 2.5 million dollars. More importantly, Elliot was coming off a season with a league best .930 save percentage and fantastic 23 – 8 – 6 record with 4 shutouts. Finally a solution to the erratic goaltending trio of Jonas Hiller, Kari Ramo and Joni Ortio.
Flames GM Brad Trevliving was not done as signed free agent Chad Johnson to a cap friendly one year deal worth 1.7 million dollar deal. Johnson played a career high 45 games last season the with Buffalo Sabres, posting a .920 save percentage and a very respectable 22 – 16 – 1 record on a very average team.
“Goaltending was a huge issue in Calgary last season,” says former Flames GM Craig Button. “They have made significant upgrades and this will put them back in the playoff picture in the Western Conference.”
4. Can Johnny Gaudreau produce on the road?
We all know Johnny Hockey is a dynamic NHL player. He’s the type of player that brings you out of your seat at the Saddledome. He was the Flames leader in all the important categories. Goals, assists, points, shots, game winning goals and jersey sales. Yes, he is a fan favorite!
While his defensive zone play will always be criticized, coaches certainly don’t want to stifle his offensive creativity. However, if Gaudreau it truly going to become one of the elite forwards in the league (Now he is being paid like one) he is going to have to start producing on the road. Gaudreau scored 78 points last season, including a league high 56 at home. You can do the math, that means he only racked up 22 points on the road when the match ups aren’t as favorable.
5. Did the Flames overpay for Troy Brouwer?
The 31 year old winger hit a home run during free agency signing a 4 year, 18 million dollar contract. Too much money, in my opinion, for a guy who scored 39 points last season. The signing also cost them Calgary product Joe Colbourne who signed a 2 year, 5 million dollar deal with the Colorado Avalanche. Is Brouwer really that much better than Colborne? The obvious answer is no, but I do understand the intangibles that Brouwer brings to the table. He will be expected to play top 6 minutes for the Flames this season, bring leadership to the room, kill penalties and take on additional d-zone responsibilities. The Flames gave a similar deal to Michael Frolik two years ago and while Frolik is a good player he is not a great bang for the buck. Lets hope he doesn’t turn out to be another Mason Raymond or Brandon Bollig.
Enjoy the NHL season.