Friends, the holiday season really gets going next month. But we’re in the midst of a blessed time, one where beautiful things from the past are brought back to us.

On this blessed Blastmas, let’s check out the mailbag!

As of July, the Flames had 620,000 Twitter followers – that put them 20th in the NHL, according to Statista. They’re now at 632,000 followers. They’re ahead of Anaheim, Nashville, Ottawa, Winnipeg, the Islanders, Colorado, Columbus, Carolina, Florida, Arizona and Seattle. They were 22nd among NHL clubs in Instagram followers as of November 2019 according to Statista, ahead of most of the same cluster of teams. The Flames do a pretty good job with their social media content, and the number of followers is probably most strongly correlated with market size.

In terms of the Flames’ use of analytics, head analytics honcho Chris Snow has seen his role evolve from being a supporting player in hockey operations when he joined the club back in 2010-11 into being one of the key people weighing in on hockey decision-making as assistant general manager. The Flames don’t make all the decision-making exclusively based on the traditional public analytics – they obviously have their own propriety numbers that they don’t make public – but when you hear how much Geoff Ward discusses scoring chances following a game, good or bad, you can get an idea of what the club is trying to do within games and how they view the process of getting there. (Analytics also weigh heavily into their drafting, trades and signings in terms of helping to flesh out a player’s profile before they dig in on video or in-person scouting and eventually decide to pull the trigger.)

These are all moving targets at this point and probably subject to change:

  • The upcoming season seems likely to start sometime in January, with training camp opening somewhere between two and three weeks beforehand. (There may or may not be exhibition games.)
  • The expansion draft will take place a few days before the 2021 NHL Draft. In 2017, the Vegas draft was on a Wednesday and the NHL Draft was Friday and Saturday. Based on the timeline from this past season, they’re probably eye-balling about a week of a gap between the end of the Stanley Cup Final to the expansion draft. Current estimates put them near the end of July, though that depends on a lot of factors.

We’re probably going to get more precise information from the NHL and NHLPA in the next couple weeks regarding timelines for 2020-21.

Full steam ahead! We should get renderings of the building sometime early in 2021 and the ground-breaking is still on schedule for sometime in August.

Let’s start in the defensive zone and work out towards the offensive zone a bit.

The best pure defensive defensemen on the team, based on relative Corsi metrics the past three seasons (2017-20) via Natural Stat Trick, are Mark Giordano and Chris Tanev. Giordano is great offensively and a good shutdown guy, while Tanev is a bit of a non-entity offensively but a good shutdown body. So make them a pair and give them defensive starts, probably with Mikael Backlund’s line with them, and that’s going to be a five-man unit that can get out of their own zone fairly well.

For your second pairing, the group that gets some easier deployments but doesn’t get non-stop offensive zone time, is Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson. These guys compliment each other well, with Hanifin being a bit better offensively and Andersson a bit better defensively. They’re both young and they, especially Andersson, are still figuring out what they can be. With a bit less defensive responsibility, they can get a bit more creative. Put them with Johnny Gaudreau and/or Sean Monahan and let them loose.

The third pairing, given tons of offensive zone time, is some combination of Juuso Valimaki and either Oliver Kylington or Nikita Nesterov. These are three offensive-minded guys who, let’s be honest, we’re not entirely sure what they are yet at the NHL level – or in Nesterov’s case, what they are after some time in the KHL. So these guys get tons of easier deployments so they can figure themselves out, probably playing with a mixture of guys.

But given Giordano’s age and Tanev’s history of maladies, it would be a good idea to find one more guy that can play in the defensive zone and allow the Flames to keep giving the likes of Andersson, Hanifin and Valimaki offensively zone high ground so they can keep getting offensive puck touches and, potentially, points. (Internally, Alexander Yelesin could possibly fit the bill. Externally, it’s tough to guess who might be available via trade.)

Andrew Mangiapane’s probably going to get some tough two-way deployments because he was so good last season with Matthew Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund on 3M (2.0). Juuso Valimaki is going to be given oodles of offensive zone time, but he’ll probably start on the third pairing and likely won’t get to play a ton with the team’s best offensive forwards (because Geoff Ward might want to keep him away from high-end opposing forwards to start things off).

So that leaves Dillon Dube. Dube’s fast, smart, talented and can play with an edge. He’s also played on his natural side and his off-wing at the NHL level, and managed to stand out during a post-season series with Dallas. He’s the type of player who can play with anybody, and my hunch is he’ll be used as a “spark” for any line on the team that needs some jump and energy. He’ll probably get time on both sides of special teams, too.

All three players are poised for big steps forward in 2020-21, but Dube is my bet to surprise people and take a big leap forward.