The Flames had a glorious December, but it has been a January of inconsistency and frustration so far. Glen Gulutzan’s crew has careened from dreadful to excellent on a game-to-game basis since the calendar flipped, a tendency that has them plodding along at .500 in 2017 (if you count the recently SO loss to Edmonton as a tie, that is).
Another big part of the problem is the club’s even strength offense has completely dried up. Since Jan. 1, the Flames have scored just nine times in seven games at 5on5 and are shooting at just 5%. They are also drawing fewer than three penalties per game this month, so it makes it very difficult for the powerplay to make up the difference.
The good news is this probably can’t last much longer. Once the dry spell breaks, pucks will start going in for guys like Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett again. When that happens the Flames just have to figure out how to get up for the opening whistle every night.
In the mailbag today we deep look at the Flames’ centre depth and the future of the Flames’ goaltending.
— Lee Snowden (@SnowdenNHL) January 13, 2017
Well, that was supposed to be Troy Brouwer I assume, but it’s true the Flames are definitely lacking in at least one more quality top six winger.
There may not be much help at the trade deadline, unfortunately. In the West, the only real sellers will be Arizona and Colorado. Arizona doesn’t have much to talk about and Colorado will dangle Gabriel Landeskog, but he’ll cost a lot to acquire.
Out East, there isn’t much to talk about. The Islanders have no one to sell up front and neither do the Sabres. Detroit might be in play at the deadline, but you’d have to convince them to let go of one of Gustav Nyquist or Tomas Tatar to make it worth your while. Unlikely.
— Sasha’s Beard (@konnie7889) January 13, 2017
It’s a question worth asking given how much Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett have run in place this year. The truth is, Mikael Backlund has just one year left on his deal and the team doesn’t have a single noteworthy centre prospect in the pipeline outside of Mark Jankowksi (who remains a question mark).
That means if both Monahan and Bennett don’t establish themselves as legit, top rotation pivots in the next couple of years, the organization may need to start looking for help down the middle.
— Mitch Wheels (@Mitch_Wheels) January 13, 2017
Saying the Flames are in trouble is likely a bit of an overstatement. Part of the reason the org has no grade-A prospects is they have graduated the likes of Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk the last couple of years (both of whom would be considered bluechip kids if they weren’t playing in the show currently).
It’s certainly been frustrating to see many of Calgary’s foundational youngsters up front run in place this season, but I don’t think it means the Flames are in a dire position or need to completely re-think the rebuild. While it would be prudent to start sketching out alternative roadmaps just in case (see question above), there’s still ample time to watch the kids develop and assess their options from there.
— Jordan Fleming (@Ashasx) January 13, 2017
Even with the season he’s having, Backlund is still likely viewed as more of a support player than anything else for the Flames. As such, his name it already popping up as trade bait due to his expiring contract next season.
However, Backlund is an essential part of the organization’s depth down the middle – more so if both Bennett or Monahan can’t become legit top six centres. In the last three years, no Flames centreman has better results than Backlund at even strength – the Flames post the best shot, chance and goal differentials with Backlund on the ice relative to Monahan, Bennett, Stajan and Granlund (the other regular pivots over that time period). This is despite the fact that Backlund has played in the toughest relative circumstances.
There’s a couple of reasons the Flames would need to think about trading Backs:
- He becomes too expensive for the team’s cap situation, or
- He makes it clear he’s going to test free agency.
Otherwise re-signing Mickis is a no brainer.
— Craig Taylor (@CraigTaylor97) January 13, 2017
I don’t think there’s any magic formula or secret line combination that is going to make that happen. We’ve previously discussed things like sheltering Monahan or Bennett with less ice time or better matchups, but that’s just tinkering at the margins (and was more about limiting damage during their struggles than getting them going).
In the end, it’s going to be up to the players in question to figure it out. Gaudreau and Monahan, in particular, are under the microscope after scoring big raises in the offseason. At some point, one or both is going to have to start justifying those dollars.
As for Bennett, this season will likely show us if he can be an effective centreman in this league or if the Flames need to consider shunting him back to wing.
— Jason Roycroft (@jrroycroft) January 13, 2017
It’s a tough one to predict right now for sure.
Pretty much nothing has gone as expected in net this year for Brad Treliving – the two guys he brought in to support the putative starters at both the NHL and AHL levels have outplayed their favoured counterparts. Chad Johnson sports vastly superior numbers to Brian Elliott, while David Rittich boasts a .929 save rate to Jon Gillies’ .907.
So who do they sign? And for how much? Elliott and Gillies have much better resumes and track records of success, but that hasn’t helped them win the starter’s position this season. Is it possible the Flames will open next season with a Johnson-Rittich duo up front?
The good news is there’s plenty of hockey to still be played. The best play right now is just to take a wait and see approach and re-evaluate near the end of the season.