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Pacific Peeks: Flames double down on defense as goaltending remains a question

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Calgary’s blueline will be one of the league’s best, but goaltending is still a question a mark.

NHL: New York Islanders at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Goaltending let the Calgary Flames down last season. They were 14th in even strength goals allowed (2.12 GA/60), despite finishing fifth in even strength shots allowed (27.8 SA/60), sixth in shot attempts allowed (52.6 CA/60), and eighth in unblocked shot attempts allowed (39.1 FA/60).

Somewhat surprisingly, Calgary doubled down on its defense, bolstering what was already one of the league’s best bluelines when they acquired defenseman Travis Hamonic at the NHL Draft. Hamonic will replace Dennis Wideman, who was fourth among Flames defensemen in total ice time and remains an unsigned unrestricted free agent. In pretty much every imaginable way, Hamonic is an upgrade.

The Flames also re-signed defenseman Michael Stone to a three-year, $10,500,000 contract this summer, ensuring Calgary will have, at worst, the second-best blueline in the division behind Anaheim. They’ll need to remain an elite shot suppression team, as the team didn’t really improve its goaltending situation.

The focus on the blueline came as a surprise, because goaltending was arguably the Flames’ biggest weakness last season. Goaltenders Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson combined to produce the 22nd-best even strength save percentage in the league, as both players stopped shots at a lower clip than their career averages.

The free agent market was largely uninspiring in the crease, so the Flames acquired goaltenders Mike Smith and Eddie Lack in trades. The Coyotes and Hurricanes are retaining the salaries of each player, respectively, but the two aren’t necessarily better than what the Flames had last season.

Smith posted the highest even strength save percentage of himself, Elliott, Johnson, and Lack last season, but will turn 36 this season. Lack’s last two seasons in Carolina were a far cry from his first two in Vancouver, although he’s young (29) and cheap enough (the Flames are paying just $1,375,000 of his salary) to be worth a look.

Calgary is waiting for prospects Jon Gillies and Tyler Parsons to develop into NHL-ready goaltenders, and any options in net would have been stopgaps. Still, the Flames are paying more for Smith and Lack ($5,625,000) than Elliott and Johnson will make with the Flyers and Sabres, respectively ($5,250,000). $375,000 more won’t make or break their salary cap, but it’s questionable considering Elliott and Johnson have been better at even strength (.926 and .920, respectively) than Smith and Lack (.921 and .914, respectively) over the last three seasons. Fortunately for the Flames, Lack comes off the books after next season and Smith the following year, so their future flexibility isn’t inhibited.

The Flames also signed college free agent Spencer Foo, who likely won’t live up to the hype of his free agent process, and brought back Kris Versteeg, Michael Ferland, and Curtis Lazar on cheap, team-friendly deals. Restricted free agent Sam Bennett remains unsigned, but Calgary still has $7,165,790 in salary cap space to sign him and potentially make another acquisition.

Calgary will likely continue to be a stellar shot suppression team, and if Smith and Lack are just league average, they could climb in the standings this season. If the goaltending can’t improve, the defense is good enough and the offensive core is dynamic enough to ensure a second consecutive appearance in the postseason.

Arrivals

  • D Travis Hamonic (traded from New York Islanders)
  • G Mike Smith (traded from Arizona Coyotes)
  • G Eddie Lack (traded from Calgary Flames)
  • C/RW Spencer Foo (two years, $1,775,000 AAV)*
  • LW Marek Hrivik (one year, $650,000 AAV)*
  • LW Luke Gazdic (one year, $650,000 AAV)*
  • D Sam Ruopp (training camp invite)
  • C Brad Morrison (training camp invite)
  • C Glenn Gawdin (training camp invite)

Departures

  • G Brian Elliott (two years, $2,750,000 AAV)
  • G Chad Johnson (one year, $2,500,000 AAV)
  • D Keegan Kanzig (traded to Carolina Hurricanes)
  • D Ryan Murphy (acquired from Carolina, bought out, signed with Minnesota; one year, $700,000 AAV)*
  • LW Brandon Bollig (San Jose Sharks; one year, $650,000 AAV)*
  • C Lance Bouma (bought out, signed with Chicago; one year, $1,000,000 AAV)
  • G Thomas McCollum (traded to Detroit Red Wings)
  • LW David Wolf (Adler Mannheim, DEL)
  • RW Linden Vey (Barys Astana, KHL)
  • RW Matt Frattin (Kunlun Red Star, KHL)

Re-signings

  • LW Kris Versteeg (one year, $1,750,000 AAV)
  • D Michael Stone (three years, $3,500,000 AAV)
  • LW Michael Ferland (two years, $1,750,000 AAV)
  • C Curtis Lazar (two years, $950,000 AAV)
  • RW Garnet Hathaway (one year, $650,000 AAV)*
  • G Jon Gillies (one year, $725,000 AAV)*
  • G David Rittich (one year, $725,000 AAV)*

Unsigned

  • C Sam Bennett (RFA)
  • D Dennis Wideman (UFA)
  • D Michael Kostka (UFA)
  • RW Alex Chiasson (non-tendered UFA)
  • D Kenney Morrison (non-tendered UFA)
  • D Ryan Culkin (non-tendered UFA)

* denotes a two-way contract.

Next up: We take a look at Los Angeles’ offseason on Friday Monday.