NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2021-22 regular season, which starts Oct. 12. Today, five questions facing the Calgary Flames:
1. Will Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau stay in Calgary?
The Flames failed to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, fueling speculation that big changes could be coming, including the possible trades of forwards Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk.
All three remain, but Gaudreau can become an unrestricted free agent after this season and Tkachuk can become a restricted free agent.
Gaudreau is entering the final season of a six-year contract he signed Oct. 10, 2016. The 28-year-old led Calgary in scoring last season with 49 points (19 goals, 30 assists) in 56 games.
Tkachuk is entering the final season of a three-year contract he signed Sept. 25, 2019. The 23-year-old scored 43 points (16 goals, 27 assists) in 56 games last season.
Each is a key member of the Flames forward group and getting each to sign a new contract will give Calgary some longer-term stability and end speculation about a major overhaul.
“We understand people want the team to do well and when it doesn’t, they want changes, so I understand it,” general manager Brad Treliving said. “But you can’t just change for the sake of it.”
2. What impact can Darryl Sutter make in a full season as coach?
Sutter replaced Geoff Ward as coach on March 4. Calgary was 11-11-2 at the time and had been outscored 73-65. After the change, there was more discipline, tighter checking and the Flames outscored opponents 90-87, but they went 15-16-1.
Sutter will now have an entire training camp to push a disciplined and structured defensive game.
“He’s got a feel for the individuals, having been around them for the time he was here, and there’s no introduction period needed for when we get to training camp,” Treliving said.
3. How will they replace Mark Giordano?
Calgary’s captain since the start of the 2013-14 season was left unprotected in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft and was selected by Seattle Kraken on July 21. The 37-year-old set a high bar of consistency for 15 seasons, including winning the Norris Trophy, voted as the best defenseman in the NHL, in 2018-19.
When Giordano averaged a team-leading 22:57 of ice time per game last season, it was the first time in 11 seasons his per-game average dropped below 23 minutes.
The Flames will move forward with defensemen Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson and Christopher Tanev to shoulder the bulk of the load. They will also need either Nikita Zadorov, acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on July 28, or Juuso Valimaki to move into a top-four role, a tall order because neither Zadorov, in his eight NHL seasons, or Valimaki, in his two, has averaged more than 20 minutes per game in a season.
4. Who’s the backup goalie?
David Rittich was Jacob Markstrom‘s backup until he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 11 and Calgary ran the rest of last season with Louis Domingue and Artyom Zagidulin; each is an unrestricted free agent and remains unsigned.
The Flames acquired goalie Dan Vladar from the Boston Bruins for a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft on July 28. The 24-year-old was 2-2-1 with a 3.40 goals-against average and .886 save percentage in his first five NHL starts last season.
Prospect Dustin Wolf, selected in the seventh round (No. 214) in the 2019 NHL Draft, will be a rookie pro this season. The 20-year-old was named the Western Hockey League goalie of the year for Everett in 2019-20.
Light on NHL goaltending experience, Treliving said in late July that he envisioned another move to acquire more support for Markstrom.
5. Can they score more?
The Flames scored 2.77 goals per game last season, tied for 19th in the NHL, and were doomed by a nine-game stretch from March 20-April 5 when they scored a total of 16 goals, went 1-8-0 and fell eight points out of a playoff spot.
They signed forward Blake Coleman to a six-year contract on July 28. Coleman scored 14 goals in 55 games last season for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and his NHL career-high is 22 with the New Jersey Devils in 2018-19. Gaudreau’s scoring has dropped off the past two seasons; he scored a combined 37 goals in 126 games over that span after scoring 36 goals in 82 games in 2018-19. Tkachuk has scored a combined 39 goals in the past two seasons after scoring 34 in 80 games in 2018-19.