(Before we start, just a major shout-out to Evolving-Hockey.com! If you are not already familiar with their work, it is revolutionary in regards to analyzing and evaluating players over the years. Definitely go check them out!)
For the first article in Infernal403 history, I wanted to look back at the 2020-2021 Calgary Flames season. What was the good, the bad, and everything in between? Let’s get into it.
Let’s start off with the bad and get that out of the way, why don’t we.
Most people had this Flames team pegged as a playoff team, with the additions of an elite goaltender in Jacob Markstrom, a solid defensemen in Chris Tanev, and some depth acquisitions in Leivo, Nesterov, and Nordstrom.
Everything was fine and dandy until it… wasn’t.
It goes without saying that this season was a huge disappointment. General Manager Brad Treliving has said it, the players have said it, media has said it, everyone has said it.
So let’s dive into some reasons why this season was the disappointment it was.
First, I wanted to touch on Rasmus Andersson. After signing a 6 year, 4.55 million AAV contract extension with the club, Andersson was elevated into a top 4 role, playing with 2019 Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano for most of the season. Let’s just say, it wasn’t good. Evolving-Hockey.com has his 2020-2021 season rated at just a 4 overall. You heard me right, 4 overall. Considering his 2019-2020 season was a very solid 84 overall, this drop-off is unprecedented, and Brad Treliving and management need to investigate this further.
Next, Sean Monahan. He played through an injury for a large portion of the year (again), and viewers could noticeably see his decline on ice. Evolving-Hockey.com has Monahan’s 2020-2021 season rated as a 26 overall. Compared to his 2018-2019 season where he was a very solid 85 overall, things have gone down for Monahan drastically over the past two years. A player involved in many trade rumours over the past year, one could expect Monahan might be on his way out. But is it smart for the Flames to sell low on Monahan, or try him for one more year and hope for a bounce-back? That 6.375 million cap hit would be nice to get off the books, however.
Now, for the lack of a top 6 RW. It has been an organizational issue for many years and still has not been fixed. The Flames have tried Brouwer, Chaisson, Neal, Lindholm (moved to centre) and have still been unable to find a fit, so Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane are playing on their off-wing. And for most of this season, we saw 4th line grinder Brett Ritchie promoted to a top 6 role for some reason. Evolving-Hockey.com has Ritchie’s 2020-2021 season at just a 6 overall… safe to say this is someone who shouldn’t even be in your lineup, let alone in a top 6 role. Playing him with Monahan and Gaudreau certainly didn’t help their cases either, and was a big reason for this team’s struggles. The Flames were involved in trade rumours around Rickard Rakell this season, and that would be a player that fits what you need, but the price is high. I will point towards Sabres forward Sam Reinhart as a player that would fit the bill to acquire this off-season. Evolving-Hockey.com has Reinhart’s 2020-2021 season rated at a very modest 93 overall, a very solid season at both ends of the ice, which is truly incredible while playing in Buffalo this year. It is very safe to say that a top-six forward will be one of the major things on Treliving’s wishlist.
To add to Brett Ritchie, none of Treliving’s depth signings paid off very well. Simon played a few games and was scratched for the season, Nordstrom was a good penalty killer, but that was it. Nesterov struggled as well, and for some reason was played much more than Oliver Kylington and sometimes Juuso Valimaki. Josh Leivo was the only depth signing to remotely pay off, as he was very solid defensively, but was absolutely snakebitten offensively.
Now for the positives. Who doesn’t like positives right?
Starting with Johnny Gaudreau. Although an adjustment period took place with Darryl Sutter arriving, Johnny had a damn good season otherwise, putting up 49 points in 56 games. Evolving-Hockey.com has Gaudreau’s 2020-2021 campaign rates at 97 overall, among the league leaders! If Johnny had spent more time away from Sean Monahan and 4th line grinder Brett Ritchie, he could have been at or close to a point per game. In fact, a major positive to look at moving forward is the line of Gaudreau-Lindholm-Tkachuk, who were out together for the final 16 games of the season. In those 16 games, Johnny had 22 points, Tkachuk had 15, and Lindholm had 14. That is very good production from their top guys, and this combo is something to look at for next year.
Next, let’s look at Andrew Mangiapane! Quickly becoming a fan favourite among the Flames fanbase, Mangiapane put up the best numbers of his career, in a shortened season! Mangiapane was 2nd among Flames players at 5v5, despite not registering a single secondary assist, meaning all of his assists were primary. That is quite an impressive feat, and Evolving-Hockey.com has Mangiapane’s 2020-2021 campaign rated at an outstanding 92 overall! Mangiapane consistently works hard, is involved in making plays, and was also elevated to playing some PK minutes, and a few instances on PP1. Mangiapane just seemed like the guy who was always working on nights everyone else took a break on. A prime example of consistency, hard work, and determination. It is extremely hard to find a Flames fan that does not like Andrew Mangiapane, and I do not foresee that changing anytime soon.
The Calgary Flames should absolutely look at extending both Andrew Mangiapane (RFA) and Johnny Gaudreau (UFA) this off-season. Both Mangiapane and Gaudreau’s contracts expire after the 2021-2022 season but are free to discuss an extension with the Flames this off-season.Evolving-Hockey.com has Gaudreau projected at 6 years, 8.385 million AAV, and Mangiapane at 4 years, 4.493 million AAV. Let’s put the pen to paper with these guys.
Jacob Markstrom. Aside from his stretch before his injury while being overplayed, or coming back from injury and dealing with a concussion, Markstrom was a very solid and dependable goaltender for the Flames this season. It was not his best season by any stretch of the imagination, given that he concluded the season at -9.3 GSAx per MoneyPuck.com, but Markstrom showed in his stretches where he was not being overplayed or injured, that he can be a capable and reliable starting goaltender that this team has lacked since Miikka Kiprusoff left.
Now for the biggest and best surprise for me personally, Chris Tanev! When he signed his contract with the Flames this past off-season, me, like most Flames fans, were confused as to why you would give a declining defensive defensemen a long-term contract. But boy did he prove me wrong. Tanev went from a 30 overall in 2019-2020, to a 98 overall in the 2020-2021 season! You heard me right, 98 overall! Tanev was the best defensive defensemen in the NHL this past season. If you would have told me that, I would have laughed in your face, but Tanev was legit outstanding this season. There’s really nothing else to say. Outstanding. And he was playing through broken ribs and a torn pectoral muscle. If Giordano is taken in the expansion draft by the Seattle Kraken, I would look at Chris Tanev as a candidate for the next captain of this team. He already filled in as an alternate captain when Monahan was out with injury, which shows the respect he has gained already in the locker room in such a short time.
Lastly, just a little shoutout to Derek Ryan, who is somebody who does not get the recognition and love he deserves on a yearly basis. Putting up a 98 percentile rank in his defensive category is nothing to scoff at. Playing a primarily 4th line role this season, Ryan thrived in the defensive end of the ice and continues to be a reliable guy for the penalty kill, faceoffs, and all that good stuff. If Monahan is indeed traded this summer, and you are unable to bring another centre in, re-signing Derek Ryan and icing a centre core of Lindholm, Backlund, Ryan, and Gawdin would still be pretty solid.
In a year filled with disappointment, there were still some positives to take into this coming off-season, which should be very fascinating to see what Treliving and co. do to try and fix this, and if Treliving will still be GM. Lots of questions, lots of discussions to come. Keep an eye out for some draft content within the week!
That’s all for now, see you all in the next one,