An optimistic future for the Flames

It’s really easy to get overemotional about your favourite sports teams. In all likelihood, things are never as wonderful or as terrible as they seem, but you get caught up in it anyway. A big win, playoffs clinched, a disastrous trade – all have their effects on us.

So the draft weekend is no exception. It’s a huge weekend for the NHL, with all 30 teams gathered together. Deals are always made, and that’s to say nothing of the future of the league being divvied up then and there.

So you’ll forgive me if I get a little over excited after such a weekend – but I look at what the Flames did and can’t help but think, oh, wow. They’re really on to something here. They’re really looking rather good.

Goaltending

This is obviously the biggest question mark for the Flames, but things are much better now than they were before. Brian Elliott has never really had a prominent workload – not with his most recent team, the Blues, at least, where he’s put together his best seasons – so there’s some risk to acquiring him and anointing him your number one.

Then again, there’s always risk; Jonas Hiller had a good 2014-15 only to randomly fall completely apart the next season.

But if you take Elliott’s entire career in St. Louis – all 181 games – and see he averages out into a .931 save percentage at 5v5, then some of those worries go away, don’t they?

The Flames aren’t stuck in their goaltending position. If Joni Ortio becomes something, he should have the opportunity now. If Jon Gillies is going to reach his potential, the Flames have the ability to give him his shot. They aren’t committed to an aging goalie over a long term: they’re set with a couple of good prospects and a stealthily amazing veteran.

Defence

The Flames’ top three is stupidly good.

Not many teams can boast a Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton. Brodie is only 26 years old; Hamilton, 23. Hamilton’s game is still growing, and Brodie would be flat out all around elite if he only just shot the puck more often. And though Giordano will be 33 when the 2016-17 season starts, he actually is just all-around elite – and his being a late bloomer can give fair hope that he won’t have a steep drop off any time soon.

True, there are a lot of problems with the depth of their defence, but they’ll all be gone in a year. Dennis Wideman, Ladislav Smid, and Deryk Engelland’s contracts expire after this season, and there isn’t much reason to bring any of them back.

Not when you have cheap, talented depth, both older and younger, ready to go. Jyrki Jokipakka, Jakub Nakladal, or even Tyler Wotherspoon or Brett Kulak aren’t going to blow anyone away: they’re just going to provide solid limited minutes coverage at an affordable price, allowing the top three to go to work.

And that’s to say nothing of Rasmus Andersson or Oliver Kylington, who both impressed in their draft+1 years. All one of them has to do is succeed, and the Flames’ top four looks ridiculous. If both of them succeed…

Forwards

Drafting Matthew Tkachuk was huge.

Let me put it this way: the Flames have another “big three” group in their forward core. There’s Johnny Gaudreau (will be 24), Sean Monahan (will be 22), and 20-year-old Sam Bennett. Now, Bennett didn’t light the world on fire with his rookie season, but apparently there were internal concerns regarding Bob Hartley’s usage of him (not to mention external; remember how he never got to play in overtime, and the limited powerplay time?) – and he still has the talent and drive, so there should be no worries.

Tkachuk may not be on the team for 2016-17, but it’s hard to imagine him not there by 2017-18. He’ll be 19 then, while everyone else will be a year older.

In a year’s time, four of the Flames’ top six forwards will be 25 and under. That looks… pretty set for the future, doesn’t it?

There are still two spots there missing, but they might be filled internally. Hunter Shinkaruk is currently a great candidate (and if it’s him, that makes for five of six top six forwards 25 and under). But they don’t need to be stressed over now: because the forward pairs could be set.

Monahan and Gaudreau work together. Bennett and Tkachuk sound like they should match up beautifully.

Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik provide elite possession from your third line while probably being able to contribute 80 or so points together. And they’re still on the right side of 30.

Putting it all together

This could be the roster the Flames will be looking at very, very soon:

Gaudeau – Monahan – ?

Tkachuk – Bennett – ?

? – Backlund – Frolik

? – ? – ?

Giordano – Brodie

? – Hamilton

? – ?

Elliott

Ortio/Gillies

Those question marks will get filled in depending on how prospects develop, any future trades that are made, and free agent signings. But none of them have to be expensive. Good, solid players can be found for cheap all the time. (To bring up two recent Flames as examples: Lee Stempniak just put up 51 points on a $850k cap hit; David Schlemko had 19 while playing top four minutes at $625k.) It’s just a matter of finding those guys to round out the rest of the roster.

But that general core of it? Those nine skaters that look to make up the bulk of the team, plus the flexibility and potential found in the goalie position?

That looks good – so forgive me for being just a little excited.

  • ApolloRising

    I’m hoping Treliving is able to move some of our bad contracts. If the Flames can open up spots for several rookies that are better than the vets, the Flames will look deadly. Replace Stajan with Jankowski. Replace Wideman, Engelland and Smid with Wotherspoon, Kulak, Nakladal, Kylington, Morrison, Andersson or Jokipakka (we Have a LOT of option on the back 3). Replace Bollig with Shinkaruk and I think the final LW spot goes to Mangiapane. RW we could see Poirier or Prybil. The top spot goes to a FA. I’m crossing my fingers for Okposo.

    Now I realize it would be a miracle to lose Wideman, Engelland, Smid, Stajan, Raymond and Bollig to trades or buyouts. This is just my best case scenario roster with the guys we have in our system (minus a FA).

    Gaudreau – Monahan – FA (?)

    Tkachuk – Bennett – Frolik

    Bouma/Shinkaruk – Backlund – Colborne

    Mangiapane/Ferland – Jankowski – Jooris/Poirier

    Gio – Brodie

    Kulak/Wotherspoon – Hamilton

    Nakladal/Kylington/Morrison/Andersson/Jokipakka (depends on camp)

    Elliott

    Ortio/Gillies

    That lineup looks amazing to me!

    Our extras would be Ferland and Jooris. They could take a spot away from a couple guys.

  • freethe flames

    When I see all the ????? marks in your lineup I think BT still has a lot of work to do. I’m optimistic about our future but we need 2 more top 9 RW to fill this lineup out. The entire 4th line could be rounded out with Ferland/Grant/Jooris and it would be better than any 4th line we iced last year.

    The work will continue.

  • ApolloRising

    Also I think Frolik should be on the second or first (if we can’t get a FA). I think he was unfairly used by Hartley. He was our best RW and never had any time on the PP. Sure he’s not the highest goal scorer, but he has great hockey sense and rarely makes mistakes. I think if we put him on a better line and give him real opportunities, he will put up better offensive numbers.

    I was so impressed with Frolik’s play last year. Hartley’s usage of Frolik really bothered me. He can do so much more than we saw under Hartley.

  • Bring Back Brathwaite

    Team is looking great. Two addition optimism builders: the farm team and the 2017 offseason.

    Stockton went 32-32-2-2 this past season, while facing the similar goalie issues as the big team. During a fading playoff push they lost their top guy Grant to a broken jaw and had to rely on an 18-year-old undrafted tender. From the games I watched last season, roughly a third, there was also just no puck luck for those guys all season. They weren’t being worked over in the games they lost and aside from their final game of the season they were competitors in most games, often outshooting opponents.

    We can assume that at least two of Grant, Shinkaruk, Agostino and Kulak will be on the big team, but adding in Mangiapane, Anderrson, Pribyl, Rittich, and getting full seasons from Pollock, Jankowski and Gillies gives the team a lot of nice options and stability. I’m confident that this group will grow to be a playoff team.

    It’s not too early to look at the 2017 offseason either. It depends on the cap, but the team will be shedding the contracts of Wideman, Smid, Raymond, Bollig and Engallend and will be looking to re-sign Gillies, Bennett, Ferland and Elliot. Bennett will be expensive (5-6 min?) and Elliot’s contract is hard to guess, but Ferland and Gillies should be relatively cheap. Depending on how the cap moves, this should leave the team with some room to sign a bigger name UFA.

    Last comment: I would add Ferland to the group of under 25 (26?) forwards. He fills one of those fourth line question marks cheap and for long-term.

    • Flamethrower

      Not qiute sure where you get 5-6 min for Bennet. Only 2 sheltered years of play. If he really steps up and puts up some real numbers would be the only way. Has to prove himself first. So unless he is 50-60 pionts gor a yesr or two is the only way he makes that kind of money. Please no cart in front of the horse. PS don’t get me wrong thst player is there ready to break out!!!

    • Baalzamon

      Bennett was simply not ready to play centre last year.

      That’s not true at all.

      You say Bennett’s best stretch of the season was when he played with Backlund and Frolik? Sure. But those two were also the best linemates he ever spent any significant amount of time with. That’s not a coincidence.

      Bottom line is Bennett performed better (as did the whole team) when he was centering Jooris and Ferland than when he was playing on the wing with ANYONE BUT BACKLUND. Remember that nineteen game stretch where Bennett played with Granlund and Hudler? He had one point. One. That line was a complete disaster, and not just because Granlund wasn’t an NHL level player yet.

      Two of the most effective lines the Flames assembled last season were Raymond – Bennett – Frolik and Gaudreau – Bennett – Frolik. Neither lasted more than two games (Gaudreau – Bennett – Frolik lasted four periods before Frolik was replaced with Jones and later Jooris). Hartley separated The Raymond – Bennett – Frolik line after two games because they didn’t hit the scoresheet immediately (never mind that the second of those two games was against St. Louis, where the Flames somehow lost a game where the opposing goalie had a .750 sv%, and the first was against Vancouver where the line had a 75% Corsi).

      • piscera.infada

        Two of the most effective lines the Flames assembled last season were Raymond – Bennett – Frolik and Gaudreau – Bennett – Frolik. Neither lasted more than two games (Gaudreau – Bennett – Frolik lasted four periods before Frolik was replaced with Jones and later Jooris). Hartley separated The Raymond – Bennett – Frolik line after two games because they didn’t hit the scoresheet immediately (never mind that the second of those two games was against St. Louis, where the Flames somehow lost a game where the opposing goalie had a .750 sv%, and the first was against Vancouver where the line had a 75% Corsi).

        And some people still wonder why they gassed Hartley.

      • The Fall

        Bennett was a teenager. He needed and still needs a degree of insolation and the best line mates available. JoCo should have been stapled to the third line centre roll.

        Throwing him out there with sub par line mates is how the Oil sink all their young talent.

        • piscera.infada

          That’s not a response to what Baalzamon said though. There is a good argument to be made based off all available evidence, that Bennett was, in fact, ready to play centre and he excelled at doing so.

          The simple fact that we were told by the coaching staff (through their words and actions) that he wasn’t ready is part of the reason they aren’t here anymore. They continued to treat him as if he wasn’t ready, contrary to the evidence.

          That’s not to say don’t help him out with deployment. He also really should have better linemates, but that goes without saying.

          • Baalzamon

            Indeed. I never said that Bennett should be playing with Ferland and Jooris, I said he was better centering them than he was on the wing with Granlund and Hudler. Or even Gaudreau and Monahan. There’s a reason that particular experiment didn’t last long.

  • Truculence

    Is anybody really concerned about bennett to begin with? The kid out scored Monahan in his rookie year and entered the league almost 3 years earlier than gadreau. He put up slightly better possession rates than both in their respective rookie years despite less oz starts. And the biggest plus for me? He did this while playing on the third line with either plugs or guys like granlund that killed any offensive zone chances the kid could create.

    In other words he succeeded in worse circumstances than money or gadreau ever had to contend with in their rookie years. Here’s hoping they actually find some top six wingers for Bennett to play with because hoping a teenager carries a line all by himself at this level is a pretty stupid strategy. Imo Bennett is the best all around player we have, with all respect to the sublime offensive gifts of gadreau. But Bennett hits, has elite vision, a great shot, outstanding defensive instincts, and elite skating -all the while playing the most important position in hockey. You simply don’t win championships without centers like him.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Trivia time, kids.

    In light of the Flamers drafting Tkachuk, who was the last player who scored the winning goal in a Memorial Cup final who went on to become an NHL superhero?

    Hint: It wasn’t Zach Boychuk.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    A couple of moves and we are going deep into the playoffs:

    1. Sign Okposo.

    2. Trade for Kevin Hayes (Why he didn’t sign with us out of the gate is beyond me…).

    3. Get rid of some of our bad contracts….

    I didn’t say it was going to be easy, but it has to be done.

    WW

    • freethe flames

      I think the Hayes deal can be done, it may even include getting rid of a bad contract. However unless we can get rid of a couple of more bad contracts then we have little to no chance of getting Okposo or any other top line UFA free agent.

      • The GREAT Walter White

        I honestly can’t believe a Hayes for Colborne trade has not been made.

        These guys are same size, roughly the same numbers, Colborne a year and a bit older.

        Rangers are trying to turn RW Hayes into a C.

        We are trying to turn C Colborne into a RW.

        Both RFA.

        Why has this trade not been made yet????

        WW

        • Baalzamon

          It does seem like a good fit, given the fact that New York wants to trade Hayes for some reason.

          I don’t have much of an appetite for Okposo, personally. That guy is going to get PAID on the open market with a huge term, and I’m convinced he won’t be worth it. Islanders fans don’t seem all that concerned about losing him, either.

        • freethe flames

          I sometimes wonder if things are in the works but both teams are trying to make some sort of package deal. This deal sounds so straight forward to us but somehow does not seem to work for them. I think Wides would be a good fit in NY especially if the Flames eat some contract. The next few days will be interesting.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    Well that was quite the weekend, I never would have imagined Tkachuck landing in ou laps. I always felt that Tkachuk and PLD were better fits for Calgary but not reachable so my attention moved over to wanting to draft Nylander or Keller. I must admit I loathed Keith Tkachuk but am really impressed with Mathew’s character. He seems well liked and grounded.

    On the other hand, Nylander is very awkward in front of the media. It does not appear to be a function of language rather more to do with arrogance. I will not be surprised if either Keller or Nylander end up getting more points than Tkachuk. I think the biggest difference between these players is how they are going to play in April-June when the games matter.

    In an interview, Tkachuk talks about being a difference maker in big games and so far he has shown just that. One of my biggest take always from the draft was when Jost’s name was called and seeing the family overcome with emotion. In his interview he gave all the credit to his mom raising him and his sister.

  • DeadRedRedemption

    I don’t think the Flames will do much more this summer. Maybe they can get rid of one of the bad contracts and be able to bring in one more player. We’ll see.

    I think whats more likely is the Flames play what they have until the 2017 TDL then use up the remainder of cap room that they have to bring in some rentals for a playoff push at the end of the year. Good opportunity to audition some FA players for when there is lots of cap room to play with next off season.

    Not so riveting right now, but next year is going to be exciting.

    GFG