The 2017-18 regular season begins tonight with the Battle of Alberta. Calgary has had a busy offseason. They’ve gotten a new goalie, a new top 4 defenceman, and they’ve got their eyes on the second season.
I’ve got questions about these Calgary Flames, and here to help answer them for me is Les from SB Nation’s Matchsticks and Gasoline.
Thanks to Les for his time.
Copper and Blue: With the addition of Travis Hamonic, Calgary's top four looks pretty solid. Are there any concerns for you on the back end?
Matchsticks and Gasoline: Travis Hamonic is a guy who was always vastly overrated both locally and by national media. People assume that he's going to be this stellar defenseman for the Flames, something akin to a second top two defenseman to a third defenseman. Unfortunately he's shown that he's basically a fourth defenseman at best by virtue of his possession numbers.
It isn't like the Islanders had set him up to fail either. He had Nick Leddy, Thomas Hickey, and Calvin de Haan to work with; he failed miserably with Leddy and Hickey, only putting up good numbers with de Haan. There's this perception that he's a good defensive player, something which is patently false. He's a bad penalty killer and teams have averaged 2.96 additional shot attempts and 1.13 additional shots on goal per 60 minutes in five on five situations. There's often a desire to conflate physicality with defensive ability, but while Hamonic possesses the former, he's a bit in the latter.
They re-upped Michael Stone and have Matt Bartkowski on the left hand side for tonight's game - that's not good. Stone was the beneficiary of a PDO of 107 and Bartkowski is just plain bad. If Brett Kulak drew in for Bartkowski, perhaps that would be a little more comforting, but even with him in the mix it they gave up a first and two seconds in the Hamonic deal (they did get a fourth back) to go along with a third for Stone to go along with a fifth for re-signing him and didn't do much better than break even. The top pairing should still be wonderful, but beyond that there should be more concerns than people are expressing.
Copper and Blue: Mike Smith is your new number one goaltender. He posted a .914 SV% with the Coyotes last season before shipping off to Calgary. What does a successful season for him look like?
Matchsticks and Gasoline: Mike Smith comes in with a .925 save percentage in five-on-five situations and given the degree of difficulty on his shots he was expected to put up a .922. There will be some age regression there probably, but hopefully those numbers can stand pat. If he can break even at that .922, then they should be in decent shape.
Copper and Blue: Let's talk about the ridiculous game of hardball that the NHL is trying to foist upon the city of Calgary. Is there any end in sight? Does the city of Calgary fork over taxpayer money for a new arena, or will Calgary play the waiting game with Gary Bettman?
Matchsticks and Gasoline: Calgary will play the waiting game because there aren't any better options for the Flames. Some think that this situation with Seattle may cause some headaches, but it certainly doesn't look that way. The main complaint from Ken King and company is that the Saddledome is 34 years old. Seattle isn't even offering a new arena, but rather a newly renovated arena that opened 55 years ago. Trying to leverage a city into developing a new arena while complaining that one is to old only to threaten to move into one 21 years its senior really speaks to the competence of Bettman and company, but then this is the same league that thinks that a good way to prevent concussions is to allow the players to punch each other in the head so that other players won't hit each other in the head.
Copper and Blue: I'll admit that I was at least a little bit envious when I read that the Flames had signed Jaromir Jagr for a season at 2 million. Where does he fit on the roster? What's a fair expectation for him?
Matchsticks and Gasoline: Jaromir Jagr will presumably play on the first line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan or on the third line with Kris Versteeg and Sam Bennett. Bennett's possession numbers and productivity were obliterated by the presence of Troy Brouwer on his wing who made everything he touched turn to rubbish. There wasn't a single player on the Flames who had a better shot attempt ratio with Troy Brouwer than they did without him, so either way it should be a huge boost for Bennett in particular.
Copper and Blue: Finally, the Calgary Flames look poised to make a run for the playoffs. Ultimately, where does this team end up at the conclusion of this year?
Matchsticks and Gasoline: The Flames biggest acquisition changes the projections entirely for the team. Before that maneuver, they were probably a wild card team or out of the playoffs entirely. With Jagr in the mix, that should move them up above the wild card into a comfortable playoff team; expect their fight for home ice in the first round to come down to the wire.
The Battle of Alberta takes place tonight at Rogers Place. Game time is 8 PM.
Thanks to Les for his time!