1. You know what the problem is
So the Calgary Flames enter the summer months by first turning their attentions to getting guys already under contract or on expiring deals re-signed, and that’s the sort of due diligence any smart NHL team does well in advance of July 1. The sooner deals can be made, the easier it will be for Brad Treliving to determine what he has to do once unrestricted free agency begins.
The problem is that once all that work is done, there might not be a lot of room left.
By my count the Flames have 10 forwards already locked up for next season of a possible 13 or 14 depending upon how many they feel like carrying. Then there are six defensemen, and two goalies. Guys who are on guaranteed deals right this second break down thusly (all positions/lineup slots approximate):
Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – Jiri Hudler
Sam Bennett – Matt Stajan – Joe Colborne
Brandon Bollig – Markus Granlund – David Jones
??? – ??? – Mason Raymond
TJ Brodie – Mark Giordano
Kris Russell – Dennis Wideman
Ladislav Smid – Deryk Engelland
Those do not include the guys the Flames will probably re-sign: Mikael Backlund, Josh Jooris, Lance Bouma, and Micheal Ferland. And it also doesn’t include Paul Byron or Drew Shore, who might find themselves back in the AHL next year. Indeed, you have to figure that Backlund and Bouma probably get the two “???” slots in that roster, and Ferland and Jooris are your 13th and 14th forwards (or maybe you go Granlund-for-Jooris in the everyday lineup, but you see the point).
One assumes that Treliving will also try to re-sign at least one of the blue line UFAs — David Schlemko (yes), Raphael Diaz (meh), or Corey Potter (meh) — to provide a little extra cover unless they think Tyler Wotherspoon or Jakub Nakladal are ready to be the No. 7. In any event, both those guys are signed for next season, so maybe Treliving doesn’t even feel the need to get a veteran No. 7.
The only thing we know about for sure is the goaltending: Ortio’s deal becomes a one-way this coming season and obviously they don’t do anything Hiller.
2. So why can’t you fix it?
Now, some might say that’s not necessarily a problem: Having 18 guys 100 percent locked down for next season is all well and good, and for some teams it would be a dream. But the roster might, in fact, be a little too crowded. And that’s not a positive.
I’ve been saying for a while now that there are a lot of really mediocre NHLers on the roster, and mediocre NHLers don’t make for a good team. They make, as you might expect, for a mediocre one. But the problem is that mediocre guys are, for the most part, the ones trying to force those mediocre players out of the lineup. Is Wotherspoon a better option than Smid? Sure. Is he more than a No. 5/6 defenseman on any team in the NHL? Probably not.
And therein lies the problem: The Flames have no wiggle room in the roster to offer much opportunity to anyone, and they don’t have anyone who could take over a spot all that convincingly and actually improve the teams’ production from it. That is to say: If one of the extra forwards supplants one of the bottom-six guys, there isn’t a lot of likelihood that he’s creating more positive outcomes for the team (in terms of preventing or scoring goals) than the guy he ousted.
(This also ignores the whole “The UFA Market Is Awful This Year” issue, so maybe you don’t want Treliving to go shopping anyway. But man, the UFA market is awful this year.)
3. Too many cooks (who happen to be bad)
Another issue for Treliving — beyond “The roster isn’t that good enough to be in any way meaningfully competitive” — is that even if he wanted to clear out some guys and make some space in the lineup for kids, trade targets, or even UFA pickups, there aren’t a lot of good options to do it.
Maybe you trade a few bottom-six guys, but you’re probably not going to find a top-six guy in the UFA market (or via trade if you’re also looking to give up something noteworthy, which Treliving isn’t and shouldn’t be). But other than that, these are some unmovable contracts: Raymond at $3.15 million, Jones at $4 million, Smid at $3.5 million, Wideman at $5.25 million (and with a no-move!), Engelland at $2.92 million, Bollig at $1.25 million, etc. All the guys you’d theoretically clear out to get some actual good players on the roster also happen to be in that role because they’re expensive, and no one wants your expensive problem contracts, especially because the Flames might once again be dangerously close to the cap floor if they move one or two of these guys.
The good news is all those contracts expire by 2017. The bad news is that it’s currently 2015 and that doesn’t help Calgary build any momentum from that unrepeatable playoff berth.
Put another way: Treliving has no real way to actually improve this roster short of a stunning trade (one which would probably require him to mortgage the future at least somewhat), and people are going to expect the same results.
4. Too many kids
Now, having a lot of guys on their entry-level or second contracts is usually a good thing, but for the Flames it means that there’s a lot of uncertainty.
Monahan, Gaudreau, and Bennett are all on ELCs, but their production is anything but a given. Will they probably be pretty good? Gaudreau and Monahan are more likely to do it than Bennett, who will be entering his first full season in the bigs. But their contributions last year were percentage-driven and therefore not something you can reasonably expect; can you really expect either of them to improve upon 25-30 goals and 60-plus points given that last year was the best of 32-year-old Jiri Hudler’s career from a production standpoint?
That’s not to say they’re not talented or anything like that, but expectations for improvements would be worrisome to me. It’s possible but it’s not a given. As for Bennett, I really don’t know what you can reasonably expect. He’s very talented but rookies can either be great, middling, or bad, with no real way to guess.
But beyond those guys, this is a rebuilding team stocked mostly with veterans, rather than rookies and other guys under the age of, say, 25, who might benefit from playing in the NHL one of these days. I’m not saying Emile Poirier or Morgan Klimchuk are NHL-ready, but you’d like to at least give them a shot to prove they’re not, right? Even if you’re trying to give them a nine-game run-out, there might not be enough room on the roster given everyone’s one-way deals to actually do it.
5. No good solution
And so the Flames sit without a ton of options here. The only thing they can do is wait for these bad veteran contracts to expire and hope they can start to shuttle more guys up from the AHL/college/junior next season and the year after.
It’s a good thing that the Flames won’t be spending money to get into this particular UFA market and get, like, Paul Martin or something. But it’s a bad thing that it wasn’t really up to them in the first place.
(Also, I should tell you here: This is the last 5 Things I will be writing for Flames Nation. Starting next week I will be writing about all the teams in the Nations Network as I see fit. Doesn’t mean I won’t write about the Flames often, but it does mean that I can now also write about the Leafs, Canucks, Oilers, Jets, or NHL stats in general as well. That’s it. That’s the announcement. Bye.)