By Jason Herring, October 18 2016 —
After an offseason full of improvements behind the bench and on the ice, the Calgary Flames sputtered out a 0–3 start to the 2016–17 NHL season.
In the midst of the disappointing start, it’s easy to overreact. But the Flames have a roster that’s better than what they’ve shown in the season’s early games, largely thanks to general manager Brad Treliving’s work in recent months.
Treliving’s most impressive offseason move was re-signing star left-winger Johnny Gaudreau to a six-year contract worth $6.75 million annually. It’s an incredible value for one of the sport’s best young players, especially considering the uncertainty that surrounded the signing and heightened expectations after Gaudreau had an impressive tournament at the World Cup of Hockey. It was only on Oct. 10 — two days before the start of the season — that the winger inked the contract. Treliving’s patience will pay off in the long run, but Gaudreau’s slow start can be attributed to the contract delay that caused him to miss training camp and early-season conditioning. But once he’s back in the groove, there’s no reason to think that Gaudreau can’t post another high-scoring season.
The other big offseason move for the Flames was the trade for former St. Louis Blues goaltender Brian Elliott, a move intended to strengthen the franchise’s weakest position from last year. Elliott hasn’t had a great start to the season, but fans can expect to see his numbers move closer towards his career 2.42 GAA in coming weeks.
Although Elliott has yet to perform to expectations, Treliving’s other offseason goalie acquisition Chad Johnson has put up stellar performances so far. This could be a good thing for both netminders, as Elliott has thrived under competition in the past — with the Blues, he posted his best seasons while battling for the net with current Blues starting goalie Jake Allen.
Calgary’s team also looks different behind the bench, with Glen Gulutzan replacing Bob Hartley as head coach. The change comes only a season after Hartley won the Jack Adams award for the league’s best coach, but it felt like a necessary one — Hartley’s system emphasized stretch passes and creative zone entries but consistently failed to suppress high-quality shots. Players are still adjusting to the change, though, and there’s been a few times early in this season where a skater instinctively passes the puck to an area of the ice where a teammate would’ve been in Harley’s system, resulting in a giveaway.
The Flames had an overhaul this offseason, with a new coach, new systems and a total of eight new players. For a young team like this, growing pains are to be expected. But with Gaudreau cementing a core that looks to dominate the league for years to come, it’s clear Treliving has built a contending team. How long we have to wait to see what the Flames are capable of, though, is still up in the air.