We’re nearing the tail-end of August, friends. That means that Labour Day is around the corner and, after the long weekend, training camp. As camp creeps towards us, here are three big Calgary Flames questions to ponder about the upcoming season.
Who plays the most with Mark Giordano?
Aside from Dougie Hamilton’s brief sojourn as a Flame, Mark Giordano has played primarily with TJ Brodie over the past few seasons. And with Brodie on his flank, Giordano has played some damn fine hockey – he won the Norris Trophy last season, as you may recall.
But Brodie’s play dipped a little bit last season and the Flames seemed to begin entertaining a succession plan, putting young Rasmus Andersson on his flank. The Giordano/Brodie pairing had strong underlyings, slightly better than Giordano/Andersson had in a tenth of the time, but Andersson has another four seasons until he becomes a UFA while Brodie becomes one on July 1.
There’s an incentive for the Flames to try Andersson out with Giordano, and the drop-off from one combination to the other really isn’t that big – and Andersson might keep improving.
Who starts more games in net?
Let’s put it out there in plain language: without David Rittich’s superb first half of the season, the Flames probably would have missed the playoffs. Mike Smith faltered and Rittich, coming off a rough audition as a starter to end 2017-18, ended up saving the day – earning the nickname “Big Save Dave.”
But heading into the 2019-20 season, and coming off a knee injury that derailed his second half, Rittich still doesn’t have a full season as an NHL starter under his belt. His new tandem-mate in net is Cam Talbot, who both has the even temperament of a guy who can be a good backup but also carrying the experience of a guy that has started a lot of NHL games – 278 to Rittich’s 58.
Needless to say, after how their respective 2018-19 seasons ended both Talbot and Rittich likely feel like they have something to prove. It’ll be very interesting to see how that plays out in terms of which man gets more starts between the pipes.
Can Johnny Gaudreau crack 100 points?
People don’t call you “Johnny Hockey” if you’re only slightly above average at ice hockey. Johnny Gaudreau has been a gull-darn scoring machine since he potted 72 points in his draft year with the Dubuque Fighting Saints. Since coming to the NHL, he’s defied the odds – he’s small, you see – and continued to score at a prodigious rate.
Gaudreau had 99 points last season, good for seventh in the entire NHL and just a point shy of becoming the first Flames player since 1992-93 to hit the century mark. Backed by a coaching staff that has a better handle on their players in their second season with them, can Gaudreau manage to squeeze just a tiny bit more offense out of his 5-foot-9 frame?
(For what it’s worth, NHL.com’s fantasy experts have him with 96 points, The Hockey News projects 90, and the Sports Forecaster predicts 103.)