FN Mailbag – April 4, 2016

Mailbag

There’s just a few games left in the year and I’ve already moved on from watching the games to thinking about the offseason. The next step is the post-mortems and after that a reckoning of assets, priorities and obstacles. The Flames have a plenty of each in what promises to be the most interesting – or at least the most challenging – offseason in Brad Treliving’s brief career as the org’s GM.

While the Flames’ roster has clear areas of need, what’s unknown is just how the club will fill those holes given their problematic cap situation. How will they afford the raises to Mark Giordano, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan and still find a way to solve their RW depth and net issues? There’re no obvious solutions from where we stand today.

In this edition of the mailbag we look at surprises and disappointments this year as well as the chances of the Flames challenging for a playoff spot next year. 

Cheer up! Just when you think it can’t get worse, the Flames go and humiliate the Oilers in last Battle of Alberta ever at Rexall Place.

Unlikely. If buyouts hurt a team’s ability to sign free agents, players would stop signing with Rangers. And the Flyers.

I’d say that would have to be a last resort if all other avenues for improvement fail. If the Flames have a Ramo/Ortio pairing in the crease next year, we should probably prepare for another underwhelming finish. The chances of getting league average netminding between them is slim.

The most disappointing player this season has to be Jonas Hiller. I thought he’d be capable of at least mediocre goaltending after a pretty capable career (and previous season), but he fell off a cliff. It reminded me strongly of watching Kipper falter in his final season in Calgary. He’s done as an NHL goaltender.

Otherwise everyone is pretty close to expectations. Joe Colborne’s offensive outburst is probably the second most surprising result. I figured he’d either establish himself as an NHLer this year or wash out completely. Half way through the season I was leaning towards the latter, but it looks like he’s figured it out enough to be a capable bottom-six guy. 

Make no mistake, we probably shouldn’t expect 18 goals out of him moving forward, but at least he’s moved out of the washout zone.

You can’t trade an injured guy either, so there’s absolutely nothing the Flames can do to circumvent Wideman’s cap hit if he is still on the shelf this summer. If so, the team has to hope they can LTIR him when the season starts.

That said, I’d be surprised if Wideman is hurt for that length of time.

I have no use for Yakupov so this is an easy one. I don’t think either guy is going to become an especially great player, but at least Nichushkin has shown that he can be at least a capable top-six RWer when healthy.

Aside from goaltending, the Flames have two other clear areas of concern that need to improve in order for playoffs to be a realistic goal: defense and special teams.

Though the club’s possession game improved some degree this year, Calgary still spends way too much time south of the red line. So far this year, the Flames yield the fourth highest amount of shots against in the league per hour at even strength (57.2/60), ahead of only Colorado, Arizona and Ottawa. Calgary is 20th in the league in terms of shot attempts for per hour (52.9/60), so they have a five shot per hour deficit to make up in order to get to even.

Calgary’s special teams started out dreadfully and have only seemingly come around the last month or two. Having a single bottom-five PP or PK is potentially survivable, but both being awful simultaneously means you have to be a dominant 5on5 team to get by. And the Flames aren’t.

Getting better netminding will improve Calgary’s fortunes significantly, but if they can improve at least one of these other two areas it will go a long way to getting them back to the dance.

  • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

    Kent, can we have Backlund on our team after next year to be our 3rd line Centre at $4M+ per?
    Frolik as our 3rd line winger at $4.3M per?

    Can we have a 3rd line that is getting paid $9M+ per?

    Honestly?

    • PrairieStew

      In Saturday’s game Backlund was the best player on the ice. He made the Oilers look terrible. . His game isn’t about point production yet in terms of ES Pts/60 he is 152nd in the league( min 300 minutes) which by my calculation makes him a top 6 forward. Backlund’s play supports both Bennett and Monahan, he makes both of those guys better, by taking on the tough minutes and matchups. With the cap at $72m for 23 players the mean salary is $3.13. His cap hit is $3.575, just slightly above average.

      Agree that if Frolik is used as a checking line player it is expensive, but at this point he is probably the #1 RW.

        • PrairieStew

          After that Wideman, Smid, Engelland and Raymond ( approx $15m ) are all gone for younger players – hopefully not more than $5m total. Backlund not the problem then either. Stajan’s number still looks high though, but until someone from the farm is better than him ( and I think they hoped Shore or Arnold might have been this year) what can you do?

        • Parallex

          What about it? He’ll still be good at 3.5.

          When Backlund becomes depth he’ll at least be very good depth. Worry about the bad contracts before you worry about the fair ones.

          • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

            That may be the way to go, but the point I am trying to make is that we can’t have him as a 3C at what his next contract will be.

            He is also weak in the dot and at 27 I doubt he is going to improve. I don’t think he is a bad player, I just think he will get too expensive for us down the line for the role he will most likely end up in.

          • Parallex

            That’s a bridge you cross when you come to it.

            Frankly as of right now Mikael Backlund is almost indisputably our 3rd best forward and it will be a good while before he’s not one of our “Top 6” forwards in terms of talent and value.

  • brodiegio4life

    getting a goaltender improves more than just goaltending IMO, a team just plays better in front of a strong goalie. A lot looser, and confident when they know if they make a mistake their goalie will bail them out most of the time. Whenever hiller is in net the team plays scared to make a mistake because they know it’s probably gonna end up in the back of the net cause hiller can’t stop a beachball

  • Flash

    In retrospect, wasn’t it good that the Flames had bad goaltending this year, since that ensures a high draft pick?

    Doesn’t good goaltending on non playoff teams just mask other team deficiencies? (See Montreal with and without Price).

  • PrairieStew

    Assuming Smid is LTIR and Wideman stays, with Nakladal at $1m you are at $28m for defensemen.

    Getting Jooris(1), Colborne (2), Monahan (5.5) and Gaudreau (7.5) under contract, and assuming 2 of Grant, Shinkaruk, Porier, F Hamilton and Hathaway take the last 2 fwd spot at a total of 1.7 M, that brings the forwards to $36.1 million (including Raymonds $2.2 buried.)

    That leaves about $5m for goalies. Brian Elliot is only a $2.5 cap hit, Ben Bishop on the other hand is $5.95.

      • T&A4Flames

        I still don’t, and I don’t think I ever will, understand this line of thinking. Why buy out Wideman and have to pay him salary for 2 more years, and not get any kind of return, when you could just retain salary, up to 50%, be done with paying him after next season, and still get a return of some kind for him.

        I think we would have to pay Wideman $2mil next year on a buy out but at 40% retained salary, we are only paying $2.1 mil. Lot’s of teams would like Wideman as even just a 3rd pair, PP specialist at just #3.15mil for 1 more year.

      • PrairieStew

        Because I don’t think anything will happen with him. If I were to do anything it would be to trade Wideman at half salary rather than buy him out. The buyout (via General Fanager) is a cost of $1.25 in 16-17 and $2m in 17-18. Add to that the replacement player ($1m) for the upcoming year – total cost spread over 2 years is $4.25 instead of the $5.25 he’d count on the roster. Trade him at half is $2.625 plus $1m replacement – total cost $3.625 over the one year.

        Of course you have to find a trading partner, and get him to waive. Not easy. Buying him out takes the pressure off for this year and maybe helps you signe Johnny and Sean, but it puts that $2m charge in to the next year when you have to add Bennetts contract as well.

        • Parallex

          … Smid, Engellend, Bollig and Raymond will all be off the books so that’s not a worry provided Treliving doesn’t come down with a case of the stupids this offseason.

          • PrairieStew

            True. After replacement, Raymond offers a savings of $2.2 in 17-18, Engelland also approx $2m. Bollig represents little savings unless you replace with minimum salary guy like Hathaway, and then it’s still only half a million. Was already factoring Smid out as LTIR.

            Where Trelivng might go is to take on a goalie with term – Bishop and Howard come to mind

      • BlueMoonNigel

        Let me ask you the question no one around here can answer or dare answer: if Wideman is bought out, who takes his minutes as a 4th defenseman? Put another way, Hamilton is paired with whom? Who is capable among the defensemen now slotted at 5,6 or 7 or at Stockton who can play 2nd pairing minutes?

        Wideman will not be bought out as he has a year left and there is a void he can fill on the Flames. Wideman could and should be traded, but not in exchange for another bad contract (e.g. Jimmy Howard’s) or if he Flames have to retain too much salary.

        Stajan should be bought out. Raymond and Bollig can be buried in the minors for next season assuming they cannot be dealt.

        • Baalzamon

          …. when was the last time Wideman played top four minutes for more than like three games in a row? Presumably either Jokipakka or Nakladal moves into the top four.

          Or gosh, I don’t know, maybe THE GUY WHO’S BEEN PLAYING THOSE MINUTES FOR LIKE A MONTH NOW: Deryk Engelland.

          All are superior options to Wideman at even strength at this point. Even Engelland.

  • RickT

    Would you trade Colbort of Yak?

    And, additionally, in reference to the 3rd line of 9M – I think it allows us to have a slightly less effective 4 – 6 in our D rotation. Being so defensively responsible allows for guys like Nak and Kevin to succeed when learning the system.

  • FireScorpion

    Good on Joe for grabbing himself by the bootstraps and rescuing his season. most everyone had him dead and buried turned in to haVing gained the begrudging acceptance of most and the clamor for his being run out of town have almost disappeared.

    I do agree him being the extra attacker is mind boggling.

    Good on Backlund to stay healthy all season especially after his stomach surgery last year(as well as blowing past 40 points on the year) Kudos for a healthy season from Gio as well as the magician himself and #1 target every night Johnny Hockey.

  • DoubleDIon

    What I can’t figure out is why people keep calling Backlund a 3rd liner. He’s clearly a 2nd line player. I want him playing 18 minutes a night on our line that plays the 2nd most. He’s elite defensively and decent (2nd line) offensively.

    I still wonder if Bennett’s future is as a winger on the first line.

  • everton fc

    First, Backlund is a core player here. You can’t move him. It’s madness.

    “Assuming Smid is LTIR and Wideman stays, with Nakladal at $1m you are at $28m for defensemen. [Have to dump Wideman somehow. Hold onto Nakladal, and pair him w/Gio.]

    Getting Jooris(1), Colborne (2), Monahan (5.5) and Gaudreau (7.5) under contract, and assuming 2 of Grant, Shinkaruk, Porier, F Hamilton and Hathaway take the last 2 fwd spot at a total of 1.7 M, that brings the forwards to $36.1 million (including Raymonds $2.2 buried.) [Jooris is becoming expendable. Ditto Bouma. Would the Oilers take on/both of them for players like Eberle/Hall, if a defenceman were thrown in? I’d sign Colborne. He’s proven he can play at this level, and is flexible at all forward positions. Of the AHLers, Shinkaruk is a must. Hamilton has sown more than Poirier. Hathaway may or may not be able to play 80 games in the NHL. Grant’s 25 – when does he get a chance?]

    That leaves about $5m for goalies. Brian Elliot is only a $2.5 cap hit, Ben Bishop on the other hand is $5.95.” [Keep Ortio. Keep Ramo, if he recovers. Save money. Wait for Gillies. Hiller’s the one who killed us this year. And Hartley’s decision to keep playing him cost us dearly. Poulin would have given us more in the net, than Hiller, whose over the hill and done]

    Random thoughts on poaching some Oilers:

    Eberle would be nice with Gaudreau and Monahan.

    Hall on the left side of Bennett would also be amazing. Can you imagine Hall/Bennett/Shinkaruk?

    Alas… Reality is that we don’t have the coin to pursue these guys…

    Yakupov, for cheap… I’d consider that. He needs to get out of there. So do the aforementioned Hall and Eberle, and so many others. But Yakupov cheap… He’s 21. Better prospect than many we have, though he’s no longer a prospect – I get this. Yet, in the right role, I still think he can produce. For $2mill/season, I’d swap him out for Bouma. And Jooris.

    I wouldn’t trade Colborne for Yakupov, though. Why? Colborne’s a better player. A better player in all aspects of the game this season. And he’s proven his worth here, even w/mounds of negative press and negative reactions from the fan base. Says a lot about this kids character. He’ll get 40 points. Backlund’s there. Not bad. Colborne/Backlund/Frolik is a good line for next season.

    Why the Oilers didn’t trade this pick, the year they took Yakupov… Still boggles my mind. Truth is, the Oilers really have nothing in the pipeline. They have all these first round picks from the past rotting and growing barnacles… And no depth behind them. They have to move a few. Yakupov will fetch little. His salary would still be 2mill next season, correct? Oilers need defence. Would they take Wotherrspoon for Yakupov? I wonder… (Would be ideal if they took Wideman, but that ain’t happenin’)

    • PrairieStew

      Dumping Wideman not easy (see above -buyout just prolongs the pain for minimal gain)

      Jooris probably gets a contract because, in part, he shoots right (!!). Hopefully at a lower level than Bouma’s. Lance had a terrible season and I expect him to bounce back and show value on that checking unit.

      Ramo definitely an option. Calgary’s overall s% .892 – Ramo at.906 – still below league average. But if he can repeat – and Ortio can replicate a .906 – that would be 33 fewer goals against and would take them from 30th to 19th in the league.

      I wouldn’t go anywhere near either Eberle or Yakupov. Eberle is too small to be that soft on the puck/backcheck. If we didn’t have Johhny ( and Mangiapane coming !!) and needed some small skill, maybe I’d take a chance but I think that Eberle might make the team more skilled, but won’t make them better,

      Over the last 3 years cumulative, Yak(53) and Bouma (48) have nearly identical ES points, though Yak has played nearly 300 minutes more. The PK skill and the shutdown assignments that Bouma draws, make him far more valuable.

    • why do people frequently ask for Oilers players… I’m all for a change fo scenery to reboot their career and all but at some point you gotta figure those Oilers kids are tainted.

      I mean don’t get me wrong i’d take Hall if we could get him. I wouldn’t do Eberle or Yak though.
      Thats about the only player worth anything imo there besides the obvious in McDavid which you know they aint trading.

  • piscera.infada

    I still wonder if Bennett’s future is as a winger on the first line.

    Why? Because there are narratives that he’s not as effective at centre as he was on the wing? Because he’s not putting up ridiculous points as a centre? Because people got used to him playing wing?

    He has been very effective as a centre since his move to the middle, in everything short of cursory offensive production.

      • Joe Flames

        With Monahan’s less-than-impressive possession numbers over three years at centre, why is there no talk of trying him on the wing?

        He could play the right side with Gaudreau and Bennett or the left with Backlund and Frolik.

        Might be worth a try. Bennett’s possession numbers aren’t likely to be any worse.

        • would love to see Monahan with a new coach before making this move. Conviced this is Hartley’s tactics as well as a big stretch of playing with Wideman and Russell as your 3/4 guys.

          He does a lot of little things right like win faceoffs and this year Its pretty clear that was one of his goals and targets to work on faceoffs. Perhaps next year improving behind the puck will be his goal.

          I honestly feel that Monahan has the brain to be a better 2 way player with proper coaching.

  • ClayBort

    You keep your bus drivers, designate them as core players

    Backlund

    Frolik

    Gaudreau

    Hopefully Monahan becomes this

    Bennett

    Gio

    Brodie

    Hamilton

    It is ok to pay these guys market value. You want them driving red and orange buses. Gio, Brodie, and Hamilton are already in long term deals at a discount to fair market value. I’d argue when you combine Backlund’s production with his underlyings he is also paid under fair market value.

    Then, you fill your buses with the most competent passengers you can find… but here’s the catch, stop paying passengers to ride the damn bus.

    • FlamesFan1489

      You’re not going to call Monahan part of this despite being a top 25 scorer in the league the last two years? What’s with the Monahan hate on this site?

      Not many players can say they were in the top 25 in scoring in 2 of their first 3 seasons in the league, especially straight out of their draft year.

      • ClayBort

        Yes, until he proves he can do more than ride Johnny’s coattails possession wise and tilt the ice the other way in his match ups. He gets his head kicked in a bit away from Johnny. He’s young yet, and time will tell if he has more to his game than a high shooting percentage.

  • Hubcap1

    I can not understand why people obsess about trading Backlund, he is not an issue that this team needs to worry about. If anything he provides an area of important strength, at centre.