<
>

2016-17 season preview: Calgary Flames

Brian Elliott is the kind of competitor who will look at his opportunity in Calgary as a chance to prove he's more than a system goalie and that St. Louis made the wrong choice in going with Jake Allen. Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the Calgary Flames were dead last in even-strength save percentage at .911. No matter how many good, young players a team has, it's almost impossible to overcome inconsistent goaltending.

Ultimately, it cost 2015 Jack Adams winner Bob Hartley his job and led to a revamp in goal by GM Brad Treliving which should push the Flames back into playoff contention.

After deciding the price for Ben Bishop was too high, the Flames have turned to Brian Elliott to turn that save percentage around. It was a wise choice.

The Blues were No. 4 overall in team save percentage last season, and Elliott led the league with a .930 save percentage.

"It's exciting. We get Elliott but also [Chad] Johnson," center Sean Monahan said. "Two solid goalies. I think deep down we have a good team. We didn't show it last year -- sometimes the NHL is tough. Those kind of years can't happen. I'm looking forward to a fresh start."

Elliott will miss playing in a Ken Hitchcock system but is the kind of competitor who will look at his opportunity in Calgary as a chance to prove he's more than a system goalie and that St. Louis made the wrong choice in going with Jake Allen.

"He's somebody who wants to be that guy to take a team," Monahan said. "I think he's excited about it."

Best new faces

Along with trading for Elliott, the Flames did well to get Chad Johnson signed to a very reasonable one-year deal worth $1.7 million. Johnson had a .920 save percentage last year in 45 games with the Buffalo Sabres and has an above-average .917 save percentage in 101 career games with the New York Rangers, Arizona Coyotes, Boston Bruins, New York Islanders and Sabres. Elliott is used to sharing time in St. Louis, and the 31-year-old has only eclipsed the 50-start plateau once in his NHL career. Johnson solidifies the position for the Flames.

The addition of Troy Brouwer gives the Flames more size on the wing and a veteran presence in the dressing room. Players on the Blues raved about how Brouwer immediately fit in last season in St. Louis and was entrenched as a team leader by the time the playoffs rolled around. He also scored huge goals during the Blues' run to the Western Conference finals, finishing with eight postseason goals.

"It's exciting. He's a big body, he can skate well," Monahan said. "When you have people who are good people in the dressing room, that makes your team better. He works hard, goes to the dirty areas."

Biggest unknowns

Treliving took a bit of a risk when he chose Glen Gulutzan as Hartley's replacement behind the bench. Until last season, Hartley maximized results with the roster he was given, somehow advancing the Flames to the second round of the playoffs in 2015. But the Flames were also consistently near the bottom of the NHL in possession, and that's a tough way to consistently win.

A system change in Calgary should help fix that problem, and the Flames certainly have the horses both on defense and at forward to play a puck-possession game, if that's where Gulutzan is headed. But, unlike Hartley, he doesn't have a lot of head-coaching experience or a track record of winning. Treliving is a smart guy and didn't make this hire lightly, but until Gulutzan proves himself consistently as an NHL head coach, there will be questions as to whether or not he was the right hire.

Sure things

For the sake of this preview, we're going to assume Johnny Gaudreau gets signed. These things have a way of working themselves out. And one thing Flames fans had to love was the performance Gaudreau turned in during the World Cup. If there was any doubt before, that Gaudreau could play his game against the best competition in the world, he ended it.

He's Calgary's version of Patrick Kane, and on a World Cup team that featured generational stars like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, Gaudreau proved he belonged, using his speed consistently to spring odd-man rushes. He also showed a willingness to go into traffic around the net to score goals.

He scored a career-high 30 goals last season, and if he gets signed and plays a full season, he should top that number this year.

Prediction

Propelled by improved goaltending, the Flames will return to the playoffs by securing a wild-card spot. If, however, the Gaudreau holdout works itself into the regular season, all bets are off.