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.
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.
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…
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
? – ?
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.