FN Mailbag – September 26, 2016

Mailbag

The summer is over. The World Cup of Hockey is finishing. Now it’s training camp time.

Which means the return of the FlamesNation Mailbag. Brad Treliving had a busy offseason, so we have a lot to talk about. 

Actually, with Johnny Gaudreau’s lingering contract talks hanging overheard, Treliving’s offseason technically isn’t over. The diminutive star went to the WCH without a contract and put together an outstanding performance against and amongst some of the NHL’s best players: another small bit of ammo for his agent in negotiations.

In the inaugural 2016-17 season Mailbag, we talk the Gaudreau contract, Sam Bennett’s ceiling, which rookies will make the team and more.

I don’t think we can talk about this negotiation ending with one winner over another. The circumstances we’re talking about here are unique: the Flames have a single leverage point, but it’s a big one – Gaudreau can’t negotiate with anyone else. He either plays for the Flames or he doesn’t play. 

On the other hand, Gaudreau’s leverage is also significant. He’s the team’s best offensive player, a top-10 scorer in the NHL before the age of 23 and could become the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future. He’s a burgeoning superstar in the making.

The start of the season is actually a pressure point for both parties – the Flames brass will feel a lot of pressure to have their best player in the lineup for game one, for both on-ice performance and fan perception reasons. Gaudreau, obviously, won’t want to miss out on playing time and paycheques.

As such, in the end both the Flames and Gaudreau will have to compromise somewhere to get a deal done. I anticipate he’ll be signed before the puck drops in October. 

From a practical perspective, anything that presses the Flames up against the cap to start the season is too much. From a value for dollar perspective, it will be hard for the Flames to pay Gaudreau too much as an RFA given his probable ongoing and future value to the club.

At the top end of the NHL, a lot of the bonafide superstars are probably underpaid because they are almost irreplaceable talents. Gaudreau isn’t quite there yet, but he’s trending that way. 

Gaudreau is also entering his prime. The convention in hockey for years has been to pay players with long resumes a lot in free agency based on what they had accomplished. Unfortunately, that usually means you’re paying for a peak that has come and gone. Gaudreau’s best years are likely to be 23-28 given what we know about the player aging curve, so the Flames are likely to get his best hockey over the next contract. 

As someone who understands it’s easier to build a cap team with cheaper contracts, I hope the Flames get the best deal possible when they re-sign Gaudreau. That said, I’m not too worried about him being overpaid at whatever they settle on.

Gulutzan has already said that Troy Brouwer will ride shotgun with Sam Bennett and that pairing has appeared in early line rushes in training camp. It’s safe to say the two will start the season together, though whether they stay together or not is an entirely different story. 

On the left hand side, we’ll likely see a number of kids audition for the role. Matthew Tkachuk might get a long look, but I expect Hunter Shinkaruk and maybe Micheal Ferland to make an appearance as well. 

On the surface, it makes a lot more sense for Shinkaruk to make the team full time over Tkachuk. Shinkaruk will turn 22 in October, has two pro seasons under his belt and is approaching the edge of his waiver exemption.

Tkachuk, in contrast, won’t even turn 19 years old until December and can safely be sent back to junior to develop and dominate. In addition, playing him as a teen this year starts the clock on his entry-level contract, burning a cheap year on what will probably be a write-off from an on-ice value perspective. 

Of course, it will ultimately come down to training camp performance and whether the coaching staff thinks one player can help the team more than the other. If Tkachuk completely outplays Shinkaruk in the preseason and early in the regular season, then the above is rendered moot.

That said, if the two players’ performance is comparable, then the Flames should make the obvious move and keep Shinkaruk while sending Tkachuk down. That’s my bet of how it shakes out for now.

Chris Higgins doesn’t even have a contract with the club and he’s a long shot to get one given their cap situation and his age. I don’t think he’s in the conversation. 

As for Vey vs. Hamilton, it’s impossible to guess who the new coach will like more right now. We know the organization knows Hamilton and likes him enough to have given him a two-year deal, but things may change depending on each guy’s camp. I assume Hamilton is the guy for now.

For part one, I think Tkachuk’s game will certainly translate to the NHL given his size, pedigree and power forward skill set. Does that mean he will become a high-end scorer like he has been as an amateur? That’s harder to guess. Certainly if he lands on a line with Bennett and/or Gaudreau as a pro that will make putting up points a lot easier, but that’s true of anyone.

It will be interesting to track Tkachuk’s performance in junior this year if he gets sent back down. He’ll become “the guy” on the Knights up front, meaning no more feeding off of other high caliber talents. If he continues to dominate on the scoresheet, we can be relatively sure he’ll score well at the next level. 

As for Tkachuk’s lack of discipline, I assume this is in reference to his rather reckless behaviour at the Young Stars tournament. I think we can give the kid the benefit of the doubt for now and say he was pushing a bit too hard to be noticed. I assume he will reel things in as he gets more comfortable and matures. His future in the league will partially depend on him learning to pick his spots bit better, and no doubt a member (or two) of the Flames coaching staff will tell him that.

Most reports claim that Backlund is likely to return for the start of the season. However, assuming he doesn’t return, Jankowski is going to have to have a very good training camp to be in the running for that role. Remember the team has Freddie Hamilton, Linden Vey and Lance Bouma who have pro experience at centre as well. He’d likely have to convince the coaching staff he’s a better option than one or two of those guys to get the call. 

If more than one centre is injured heading into the season, however, his chances improve exponentially. The club is relatively thin below the surface when it comes to pivots, so having two guys out at the NHL level would likely open the door for a Jankowski debut.

I think Bennett has the chance to become a better overall player than Monahan. His 36-point rookie season may seem relatively unimpressive, but it was two points better than Monahan’s first year. Here’s how their rookie seasons compared across various dimensions:

Story 1-17

I’m not sure he’s as pure a sniper as Monahan, but I like Bennett’s game in other aspects: he’s faster, more aggressive, a better passer and a better puck handler. If Bennett can avoid getting hurt and mature enough so that his hands, head and feet are all going at the same time, he’ll be a very effective two-way player for the club. 

His ceiling is probably in the 60-70 point range if all things go right.

  • Craig

    Hi Kent

    That was my comment responded to first, and I always appreciate the mailbag, it’s a lot of fun picking your brain on these issues.

    I think there is a winner here. If the value is under 7 mill, Johnny has conceded, if the value is over 7 or a short term deal, Tre has conceded.

    It’s arbitrary but that’s how I see the line in the sand.

    • Fair enough. I think The Flames are losers if:

      1.) The resulting contract cripples their cap situation this year
      2.) The negotiations sour the player to the organization
      3.) They have to settle for a short term deal that further increases his price in a year or two.

      Gaudreau is a loser if:

      1.) He loses significant portion of his pay cheque this year by sitting out.
      2.) Has to a lot less than expected on a long term deal (Monahan or below).

  • Baalzamon

    I actually have a small disagreement with you with regard to Tkachuk and Shinkaruk. I think if it’s close between the two of them, Tkachuk will at the very least get his nine games. Why? Because he can’t be recalled once he’s sent down. Shinkaruk can.

    Not saying that’s the way it should be, that’s just the way managers think. Keeping the junior player up gives the organization an extra injury replacement.

  • Parallex

    I (almost) kind of hope Johnny holds out until Russell signs somewhere else. I don’t want the Flames even remotely tempted to do that (not when a perfectly good Nakladal is just sitting there).

  • Petzl

    Tre lost if Johnny signs for 5 years or less at 6.75+

    Tre wins if he signs him for 8 @ 6.5-7.5

    Honestly think term is the biggest issue in these negotiations. Tre wants him under his captain but to do so your looking shorter term which is fine but be ready to lose Johnny after this contract. He wants to play out east, he wants to contend out east. How much easier will it be to sign somewhere like NJ when your 28 vs 31?

  • WildfireOne

    This is how I see things, based on the presumption that where there’s smoke, there’s at least a little fire:

    Johnny does want to play closer to home (whatever initial loyalty he had to the team that “took a chance to draft him” has evaporated with the realization that he truly belongs in The Show and can play anywhere) and family, so he’s likely looking for a shorter term.

    Therefore, to keep him away from the East coast for an extended period, the Flames would have to REALLY shell out the money to overcome that preference.

    Do the Flames have the willingness, the glitz, the gall, to do so? Unfortunately, given Tre’s professional heritage is that of the penny-pinching Coyotes, I don’t think so.

    It’s a small-market mentality — and one which does have its place and can actually be useful most times — that has the potential to keep Calgary a small market commodity in the eyes of premier players. That much money is a big risk, true. But is Johnny Gaudreau worth that? 7.5 for 7, or 8 million for 8 years?

    In a world where the Penguins will have to pay a concussed Crosby full-value with no insurance monies for his full term, Pittsburg took that risk. To compete, I’d argue we have to take similar risks.

    Just pay the man.