The offseason is almost over and so is the first phase of the Flames rebuild.
Calgary has picked inside the top six three out of the last four drafts and is starting to assemble a young core of talented (and potentially expensive) players. Once Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk are contributing meaningfully at the NHL level, Treliving has little else to do but fill in the gaps at forward and defense (err… and figure out the long-term goalie situation).
Sounds easy, but this is actually where a lot of rebuilds go off the rails. It’s one thing to flounder at the bottom of the standings and pick a bunch of highly rated prospects – it’s quite another to develop the team around them into a competitor. Sometimes it works (Chicago, Pittsburgh) and sometimes it doesn’t (Edmonton, Edmonton).
– Treliving’s tenure is entering a transitional phase this year. Not only are the expectations for the club (quite rightly) raised, but the sins of the past are almost totally gone. Although this regime is still feeling the pain of ill-conceived Feaster acquisitions Dennis Wideman and Ladislav Smid, any errors remaining on the books after this season will be Treliving’s alone.
Pretty much every GM who ascends the throne after another guy’s failed tenure enjoys a few years of lowered expectations and the benefit of the doubt. Landing high draft picks and selling future hope is an easy marketing solution for a time, but it wears thin quickly.
When the kids get expensive and the budget problems begin, that’s when the mood starts to turn. Finishing in the basement with a capped out club and a roster full of pricy 20-somethings is usually an impetus to start making bad trades.
– Not to say the Flames need to be instant competitors this season, but a fundamental step forward must be the expectation both internally and amongst the fans. There are no lousy goaltenders to blame this year and Treliving has now installed his own coaching staff. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan will probably make north of $13M combined and Sam Bennett is poised to get more expensive in the upcoming offseason.
– Part of Treliving’s mission this year will be identify and nurture cheap internal replacements for the bottom end of the rotation. Wideman (5.25M), Smid (3.5M), Deryk Engelland (2.92M) and Brandon Bollig (1.25M) will be coming off the books in the summer, freeing up cap space and roster spots.
I’m hoping the club resists the urge to fill up depth roles with aging, expensive vets and doddering tough guys. My rule of thumb for the fourth line and third pairing is simple: low risk, moderate reward contracts, roster specialists (special teams or shootout) or developing kids with a chance to improve.
If you’re spending more than $1.5M on players in those roles, you’ve probably made a bad bet. Every year there are fairly decent depth guys available for a song, not to mention a vast array of replacement level AHLers who would play for league minimum. Don’t spend too much on support players who can be swapped in or out of the lineup easily. It makes signing your stars that much harder.
– On the Gaudreau negotiations, I don’t think there’s reason to panic quite yet. The Flames are motivated to keep his long term cap hit as affordable as possible, but in the end this regime can’t really afford to start the year without him. Gaudreau has rapidly become the Flames’s most dangerous and identifiable player. Not to mention the fact that the club is dangerously thin on scoring talent on the wings behind the mighty mite.
I fully expect Johnny Hockey to be in the fold by Oct. 12th.