FN Mailbag – Nov 22, 2015

Mailbag

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

  • mattyc

    Minor point, but GM place/BC place isn’t really ‘where the action is’ in Vancouver. It’s close, but it really only drove people to the area for events; otherwise, everyone stays closer to Robson/Granville.

  • ronipedia

    Why separate Jones and Stajan though? Jones is an extremely effective bottom six forward. He’s a maddening scoring line forward because his decision making suddenly becomes abhorrent.

    I’d like to see something like this:

    1. Gaudreau – Monahan – Raymond
    2. Hudler – Bennett – Frolik
    3. Colborne – Stajan – Jones
    4. Ferland – Backlund – Jooris

    Or maybe this:

    1. Gaudreau – Bennett – Frolik
    2. Raymond – Monahan – Hudler
    3. Colborne – Stajan – Jones
    4. Ferland – Backlund – Jooris

    Either way you get two sets of mostly interchangeable lines, two scoring two “checking” that can all play around 15 minutes/game.

    PS – I was pleased you had Bennett at center, though. It’s past time for the “Second line winger Sam Bennett” experiment to end.

    • Kevin R

      I find it interesting that suddenly Backlund is starting to appear on the 4th line, partly because that Stajan/Jones/Colborne line is so solidly playing the role of the 3rd line shutdown.They’re big, experienced & can actually generate offensive opportunity in a shutdown role. So does that make Backlund expendable? Maybe Backlund should be part of the Russell or Wideman package for Hamonic?

      PS. I like the idea of Bennett/Gaudreau & Frolik on a line.

      • MontanaMan

        Backlund needs to be moved. His skillset can be handled by a youngster and his value will never be higher. For me, he’s overrated for what he brings to the team and to be fair, he needs a new environment and a new coach

        • MattyFranchise

          I could see Arnold in his role but I don’t think he’s ready for it. Speaking strictly about internal options I think Arnold replaces Stajan while Backs sticks around.

      • Right… What Backlund brings to the game is likely to be replaced by the Stajan/Jones/Colborne line. Two 31-year-olds and a guy who has trademarked the “Oh-almost!/Ugh” sentiment. Don’t get me wrong, I like both Stajan and Jones (Jonjan forever), but they’re not likely a part of our long-term plans. Not to mentioned that none of these guys are the possession players that Backlund is.

        And the Isles are deep enough in the centre area, not sure that would be a suitable trade.

        • Kevin R

          At some point you need to balance your team because of the hard cap. It’s the reason there is so much parity in the league. You don’t pay 31 year olds 6.0mill, probably the biggest concern many have about Gio’s contract & what we are facing with Hudler. But you are going to have to pay big $$$ to your top 6 forwards, top 4 Dmen & #1 goalie. You are able to do that if you pay experienced NHL proven & effective players on very good value contracts & have very economical young up & coming players on ELC’s. So if you are able to pay these three combined less than 5.0 mill to perform a role on the team proficiently, so what they are 31/31/26 you will have success in this league. Backlund & 3.5 mill on a 4th line is not good cap management.
          I like Backlunds numbers but many wonder if he’s capable of consistently hitting 40-50 points & still perform a shutdown role. Then a player like that is worth 3.5-4.0 mill & is what your 3rd line is built around. When I see him pushed down to 4th line because of performance, it’s time to take his value & sell it to get a new maybe more valuable asset. So as much as we love Backlund’s underlying numbers, I think we have 2 or 3 players that can bring us and grow a similar game for a lot less $$$. It’s the only we are going to improve this team.

  • Oil City Roller

    I would have to consider Bennet a disappointment especially when compared to others in his draft class, namely the Deutchland Dangler.

    ——————FN MODERATOR: OCR you have a well established pattern of behaviour of posting unrelated information, with the obvious intent of goading FN into reacting. Use caution going forward.

    Your comments will surely be appreciated on ON, bring your junk back home.

    • BurningSensation

      Draisaitl has been feasting on a lot of empty calorie offense playing next to Hall, without either driving possession, or, winning games.

      He’s the Andrea Bargnani of the NHL.

      Call me when he has some playoff points to compare with Bennett.

      • Oil City Roller

        You can call it empty calorie offence or anything else you want but Dr. Drai has more points per game than Kane. Even the most ardent Oilers hater has to admit that is pretty impressive.

        • Cherry picking stats I guess. How many points did he have last year in how many games? What’s his NHL total? What’s his career playoff point total?

          The answers:

          9 points in 37 games last year -17
          26 points in 47 games -7
          0 points in 0 playoff games, like every Oiler 1st rounder

          • supra steve

            If I was driving in my car, and the two of you were in the back, I would not only threaten to pull over…I would stop the car, kick both of you in the a@@, and drive away as you sobbed by the side of the road.

            MY new toy is better!

            NO, MINE is better!

            Children.

          • Flames Fan in Edmonchuck

            I get it. The Flames rule! The Oilers suck!!! Taylor Hall is a turnover machine and I wouldn’t trade Bollig for him!!! Yadadadada… As much as it makes me puke in my mouth, Draisaitl has been in total beast mode since he got called up. I love Bennett, and time will tell where they shake out but Draisaitl looks like the real deal, and I am NOT looking forward to that Oilers offense once Collar McBroken gets back and their defense men learn how to make a break out pass….

    • Burnward

      In all seriousness though, Drai has some filth to his game, for sure. I’ve been extremely impressed each time I’ve seen him this year.

      He’s going to be a very good pro for a very long time.

      Bennett is a warrior though. Taylor Hall with above average hockey IQ. His best comes from being the guy that wants it. Gallagher-ish but just so much more skill.

      Let’s both be glad we didn’t draft the kid from the “City-boy Staal’s.”

    • Oil City Roller

      In the article there is a letter asking if people should be concerned about an aspect of Bennet’s game. I made a comment in direct response to what was in the article. If there was an article on ON about Yak’s performance I would say the exact same thing, his play is not as good as others from the same draft class. I’m not disparaging anyone or calling names, I’m just saying his play has not been as good as others drafted at the same time.

      Honestly, at this point it seems like you are just looking for a reason to ban me. Since I’ve been let back on this site I have kept all my comments clean and related to the articles written. Others on this site have mocked and called names, why in this very article someone calls Draisaitl a douche. Some good natured banter between fans doesn’t bother me at all. That’s what has always given this great rivalry its spice. I just think its unfair that you are going to ban me because I have a different opinion of the Flames than you do.

      If you would like to discuss this further feel free to e-mail me.

      ———–FN MODERATOR: Fair enough. I’m all for good natured banter. My apologies.

      • MattyFranchise

        Actually, the moderator was right in the first place. The original post was an obvious attempt to goad on the comments section. How can you say Bennett is a disappointment in comparison to Draisaitl when he was drafted after Draisaitl? If the Oilers were right in their perception, then Draisaitl is performing as expected or better, and Bennett’s performance with the Flames has nothing to do with that as the Flames did not have the choice to pick Drai. Obvious troll is obvious, the article had nothing to do with Draisaitl, so go back to ON and talk about how your team has 1 NHL defenseman, 5 AHLers and two backup goalies playing behind one NHL capable forward line.

    • Burnward

      I don’t mean this in a disparaging way.

      Backs-Stajan-Frolik would maybe be the worst line in the NHL to play against if they were a dedicated checking line.

  • Burnward

    Tell me where else I can vent my frustration at the Stampeders. When will John Hufnagel learn that the CFL is a passing game. The pass is used to establish the running game. Not the other way around. Today’s game is a replay of the Grey Cup in Toronto. Wasting the whole game trying to establish a running game.

    • Canrock 78

      2 rookie lineman starting not sure if he would have enough time to just stand back there and pass. Always better to have a balanced attack.

      Chris Jones is a jerk.

      • The same guys on the line still have to block for the runner.
        Referees did a hell of a typical job. Really sharp picking out that miniscule hand to the face on the line resulting in a touchdown coming back. Great job missing that head shot on Messam. If this league had any professionalism there would be a review and a one-game suspension for crap like that.
        I do think the offensive coordinator (Dickenson)is calling all the shots on the plays. The overall game plan is a cooperation between the OC and head coach.

        • Canrock 78

          Agreed but with that patch work of lineman. You would not want to complicated of systems. I don’t want to hack on the refs but I figured we were in trouble on the pass interference from the command centre.
          We got beat by a better healthy team. As a season ticket holder I was hoping the momentom we were building at the end of the season would continue.
          As far as Chris Jones it is the first time I seen him shake huffs hand, also I was surprised he had his team out for O Canada. He has been known to keep them in the locker room until after.

  • Burnward

    Tell me where else I can vent my frustration at the Stampeders. When will John Hufnagel learn that the CFL is a passing game. The pass is used to establish the running game. Not the other way around. Today’s game is a replay of the Grey Cup in Toronto. Wasting the whole game trying to establish a running game.

  • Greg

    Thanks Kent, I really enjoy this article.

    It’s too bad the thread has to be ruined by a bunch of trolls, but the moderators are doing a good job making it hard for them.

  • Rallytongue

    I don’t really undertsand oiler fans rubbing draisaitl in our face. Ya he’s been great and has been better than Bennet. But he was drafted before Bennet. So shouldn’t he be the better player? Its not like your scouts got a one up on us or something. We never had the chance to draft or not draft him.

    • RedMan

      it’s because Oiler fans are conditioned to act like they are winning even when they are in last place – like the annual draft dynasty – they act like they won.

      • ronipedia

        They been down so long, it looks up to them!

        TRAIN#97 always blocks out Draisaitl’s rookie season to compare with Bennett’s rookie season. Drai is in his second season, Bennett is a rookie.

        Drai’s rookie season: 37 games 2-7-9 and plus/minus -17 Current Age: 20

        Bennett’s rookie season: 20 games 7-4-11 and plu/minus -2 Current Age: 19

        Draisaitl’s numbers will fall off this year when Hall gets injured.

        • TRAIN#97

          Don’t care how you want to slice it! As of right now Draisaitl has been a much better performer. The best ppg average in the NHL. Bennett is not even close. I seem to remember Flamers telling everyone who would listen how great Bennett was after his 4 points in 11 playoff games!

  • ronipedia

    Good answer Kent.

    Having Smid, Engelland, and Wideman on contract for another year just stresses me out. Two expensive, untradeable anchors and a guy with an NMC. With our top 3 the D could be so good even with borderline NHLers like Schlemko to back them up, but nothing can be done to fix it.

  • Cfan in Vic

    I’m not sure who you think would be better replacements for those 3 at this time,or even next year. I get the Smid thing,but he’s a number 7 defenceman. Calgary’s success will be based on defensive zone turnovers and clearing the zone.When they win those battles they are usually successful. Shlemko looked ok against the Flame,but no better than Wideman or Engelland.Calgary will replace those big contracts from within. If we had to buy them out at some point, it wouldn’t be the worst problem to deal with.I can’t think of any teams out there that would get much of anything for their bottom 3 defenceman.

    • Cfan in Vic

      The problem is the price tag that those bottom 3 defencemen come at. Shlemko made about 1mil, which is fair value. Buying all those guys out would be a bunch of cap cash thrown in the toilet (on a cap-tight team), even if you’re replacing them with entry-level contracts.

      • Cfan in Vic

        Well, would it?

        Let’s say the Flames buy out all three of them next year. That gives them about $4.5m of cap relief but they carry $4.5m for two more years, I think.

        You replace the three of them with, oh, I don’t know, Kulak, Nakladal, and someone else for about $2.5m and you are $2m up for the year. You get your $4.5m back about when you really need for Phat Ras and OK, assuming they pan out.

        • Cfan in Vic

          It might not look as bad a I thought, but I think there’s no way management wants to prolong that hit for the additional year. At least not all three of them, anyway.

          It also seems as though most teams are a bit shy of buy-outs unless their hands are really forced.

          • ronipedia

            Agree.

            Feaster was looking to upgrade the powerplay when he signed Wideman. Dare I say it, that deal actually occurred in a slightly different era because the cap wasn’t the constraint that it is now so it didn’t look quite as bad then as it does now.

            Smid was just a bad deal and I fail to understand why we needed to do that. No one thought we would need the cap space so quickly when we signed Engelland (still an awful deal).

            All of which kind of leads to the conclusion that when you are doing these deals, they need to be objectively good and not just about reaching the cap floor. Going further, if you are going to buy someone out, it should be to make the team better, not just to get below the cap.

  • Cfan in Vic

    Annoying trolls, always bringing the Oilers into the conversation. We know where to go if we want info on Draisaitl. It won’t change our perception of Bennett either. They are very different players.

    Bragging about your player (even if it’s remotely in context), long before any definitive comparisons can be made, just makes you look childish.

    With Train and Oil City insisting on making their crap opinions known on a daily basis, we should set up decoy Oilers articles to just to draw them away from the Flames discussion threads.