Flames 2020 storylines to watch: How to optimize David Rittich’s second half

Check this out, as former Flame Lanny McDonald fires up the Flames locker room with his pre-game speech ahead of their game against the Montreal Canadiens.

There are few teams in the league that have gone through as much drama as the Calgary Flames this season.

Their biggest wish for the new year is some normalcy… and a chance at playoff redemption.

Here are a few storylines to watch for in 2020:

DAVID RITTICH’S WORKLOAD

There’s zero debate in Calgary that David Rittich has been the Flames’ MVP so far this season.

Among the league leaders in wins and minutes played, the 27-year-old has exceeded all expectations for his first full year as a starter.

However, in the past two seasons his play has deteriorated in the second half, which would be catastrophic for the Flames’ playoff chances.

With an eye on proving fatigue won’t be an issue, he worked hard on his fitness in the off-season.

Try as they might, the Flames haven’t been able to resist the urge to start Rittich far more than expected early on, which could prove to test the boundaries of just how much they can count on him in the stretch run.

TRAVIS HAMONIC’S FUTURE IN CALGARY

Those around the league who include Travis Hamonic in trade rumours don’t have a clue how valuable he is to the organization.

As hard-nosed and team-oriented as anyone on the roster, the second-pairing defenceman embodies all the traits the Flames covet most.

Losing him this summer as an unrestricted free agent would be a devastating blow to a top-six that has just two players under contract for next year (Mark Giordano and Noah Hanifin).

Unless the Flames drop out of the playoff race and it appears he won’t re-sign in Calgary, there’s no chance the team would consider using him as trade bait at the deadline.

He loves it in Calgary and would no doubt like to stay, but is he willing to take a bit of a discount (versus open market offers) to stay there?

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CAN JOHNNY AND MONNY STEP UP?

Last year’s breakthrough season for Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan (amongst others) included a significant dropoff after their league-mandated break.

In the Flames’ five-game playoff ousting they were neutralized, to put it mildly.

So far this season their numbers pale in comparison to where they were a year ago.

The biggest question surrounding the team this year is whether they can step up their game when it matters most.

If not, you can bet on at least one of them being traded to shake up the core this summer.

RE-WARDING THE COACH

Given the fact he started his NHL head coaching career going 7-0 with the Flames in the most trying of times, it would appear the only question surrounding Geoff Ward’s status would revolve around when his interim tag will be removed.

However, it’s a long season and plenty of twists and turns most certainly await the 57-year-old between now and the spring.

The players have responded well to his empowering approach, but there’s no rush to commit long-term to Ward.

He’s already received a bump in pay for the promotion and it’s a possibility he won’t officially be recognized as the coach moving forward until season’s end.

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