Well at least not all of last year’s magic has gone away.
Although much of what made the Flames a Cinderella sensation last season hasn’t carried over, at least they are still deadly in extra time. Or, should I say, at least Johnny Gaudreau is deadly. The Flames’ pint-sized sophomore is a 3-on-3 assassin and the primary reason Calgary is currently 5-0 when it comes to OT this year. The latest win over the Blackhawks probably should have ended in regulation – it was the Flames’ best overall game this season – but Gaudreau’s single-handed effort to win it in the final five minutes was worth the price of admission. He’s Calgary’s best forward and it’s not much of a contest right now.
This mailbag session isn’t about Gaudreau – he’s the one element on this team about whom no questions need to be asked – but we talk a bit about his line mates, the health of the Flames rebuild, CalgaryNext and the Travis Hamonic thing, of course.
@Kent_Wilson I get that we’re only 6 pts shy of the playoffs, but are we really in it? Or is this be the year we actually get a top 3 pick?
— Thomas Kellner (@altokells29) November 20, 2015
The Flames aren’t completely out of it for two reasons: first, there’s still lots of time to recover; and second the Pacific division is, by far, the worst in the league. To be frank, Calgary is closer to picking third overall than making the post season right now, but the decision makers likely aren’t interested in a tank job after last year’s success. I not only expect the Flames luck to turn around a bit (it’s started to already), but Treliving and company are going to be actively trying to turn the ship around the next few months.
@Kent_Wilson where is the team at, rebuild-wise? ie would being in position for a top ten draft pick this year be so bad?
— Ron (@ronipedia) November 20, 2015
I’d say where the Flames finish isn’t quite as important as why they finished there from the rebuild perspective. For instance, if the club finishes poorly due mainly to terrible goaltending but makes strides in terms of their young players and possession, then the rebuild is in good shape.
However, if the Flames finish as a bottom-5 possession team again despite the improvements to the roster and establishment of a young core, they are in danger of spinning their wheels like so many other failed rebuilds (*cough* Oilers *cough*).
That’s a long way of saying a top-10 pick this season isn’t necessarily bad, depending on how they get there. The team certainly isn’t in “win now” mode, so one more season of finding their feet isn’t unexpected or deleterious.
@Kent_Wilson What is wrong with our captain? Still hurt? On the decline?
— David Perron (@Dperr28) November 20, 2015
Giordano’s play has certainly been concerning, but it’s too soon to put it down to a decline. I don’t think he’s hurt either – from what I can tell, he’s mostly just struggling with decision making. Versus Chicago, for instance, Giordano looked physically capable and engaged, but suffered from a handful of ill-fated pinches. He just looks a step out of sync right now, which could very well be the consequence of sitting on the shelf for 8 months.
Unfortunately, Flames fans have become used to Giordano being not merely good, but dominant. That’s why it’s so jarring to see average play from him (by his standards). We’ll see how he does in the next quarter of the season. I have a suspicion his game will turn around.
@Kent_Wilson Gio, Brodie, Hamilton and Hamomic. All signed for years, would make an excellent Top 4. Realistically what gets this done?
— Jeff (@nhlflamesfan) November 20, 2015
It sounds like Garth Snow is swinging for the fences with recent reports suggesting he’s asking for the likes of TJ Brodie or Dougie Hamilton in return. Those are nonstarters for the Flames (Hamonic’s good, but he’s inferior to both of those players). Obviously Snow is going to ask for the moon, especially since the team doesn’t actually want to get rid of the player, but his expectations will have to drop considerably before it’s worth it from a Calgary perspective.
Obviously the guys in play for the Flames would be Russell or Wideman. If neither player works for New York (or in some hypothetical 3-team trade), then this probably doesn’t work for Calgary.
@Kent_Wilson beyond this year, how do you envision the flames goaltending playing out? Do you think Gillies is up next year/something else?
— Jacob Wilson (@jacobwils0n) November 20, 2015
I doubt Gillies will be ready right away, so the club will have to re-sign at least one of the guys they have now (Ortio?) and then look for another NHL caliber guy in the off-season. The good news is there’s always a handful of puckstoppers looking for work every year, so it shouldn’t be too big of a challenge.
@Kent_Wilson Sam Bennett has looked great this year but I wish he was shooting more. Is this something we should be worried about?
— Corsi Jones (@vowswithinhb) November 20, 2015
Nope. Players tend to put up their worst shot/game rates in their rookie seasons for obvious reasons. Remember that Gaudreau only had 4 shots in his first 10 games last year, for instance. Bennett looks increasingly comfortable at this level and is working himself into a difference maker. He’ll get more ice time – and more shots – as the season progresses.
@Kent_Wilson With all the concern about the record and repeating last year, can Hudler be valuable past this season?
— Randy Foster (@randy_foster) November 21, 2015
Hudler is still a capable top-6 forward this league (albeit not the top-10 scoring wizard he seemed to be last year). There’s value in that, but the Flames will be forced to put a price tag on it with the player coming for renewal. There are whispers he’ll be looking for around $6M/year, which is likely not something the team should be interested in given his age (31) and their other budget commitments.
Hudler leaving will definitely leave a hole on the Flames right side in the short term, but making a huge commitment to an aging 55-point winger is likely out of the question.
@Kent_Wilson Is it time to break up Gaudreau-Monahan-Hudler?
— Derby Herb (@HerbDerby) November 20, 2015
It could be given how well Raymond fit on on that line against the Blackhawks. That, or it could simply be a question of deployment. Right now the Monahan line sees a lot of other team’s top unit (though Hartley tries to spell them off by getting the Stajan line out in a shut down role as much as possible).
Personally I might try something like this:
Gaudreau – Bennett – Jones
Raymond – Monahan – Hudler
Ferland – Backlund – Frolik
Colborne – Stajan – Jooris
With the bottom two units getting buried in tough circumstances and the top two seeing as much high ground as possible. You still have puck distributors and triggermen in the top-6, while you move the Frolik and Backlund duo into the role they should be playing currently – shutting down the big guns.
@Kent_Wilson I could have missed it but I would love a CalgaryNext update.
— Emir Kazic (@Emir_Kazic) November 20, 2015
The update is there is no update. Ken King has been popping up in radio interviews and papers here and there, but the pitch hasn’t changed much.
On the city side of things, Nenshi recently came out and said that the Flames proposal wasn’t even half-baked, so there isn’t much for council to consider at this point. The mayor is correct; as we pointed out previously in this space, the Flames arena plan asked for a lot but provided very little in return.
The main thrust of the pitch now seems to revolve around “revitalization” of the West Village, which of course is drawn from the same playbook other sports teams have used to garner public funding. Recently King was has been saying things like “CalgaryNEXT could be that catalyst that gives our downtown that 24/7, 365-day-a-year vitality” and “Calgary has increasing vibrancy in its urban core, but it’s still not downtown Vancouver**, or Manhattan.” Which are both big, audacious promises largely without merit.
**(Ironically, the Canucks downtown arena was privately funded.)
The Flames can say whatever they want at this juncture to try to get the public to open the purse strings. Once the place is built, all that matters to the organization is people buy tickets and attend events. They have no skin in the game when it comes to fulfilling broad, complex objectives like “improving vitality downtown”. If Calgary isn’t transformed into Manhattan by CalgaryNext, the Flames ownership’s response will be a shrug.
All of this is further complicated by the current economic conditions in Calgary. The persistently low price of oil has led to a wave of layoffs and a vast increase in the amount of rentable office space. The oil glut may last for years, so energy companies are facing an uncertain future, which results in a ripple effect across business and real estate in Calgary. Even if the city had been planning to redevelop the West Village absent the Flames big ask, judging the demand and therefore viability for that area has become rather problematic in the current climate.