FN Mailbag – January 16, 2017

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Mailbag

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.

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.

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. 

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. 

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: 

  1. He becomes too expensive for the team’s cap situation, or
  2. He makes it clear he’s going to test free agency.

Otherwise re-signing Mickis is a no brainer.

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. 

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.

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  • OKG

    Bennett’s offensive struggles have nothing to do with playing centre. He is a better centre than Monahan in the D and N zones. In the O zone there are no positions outside of faceoffs.

  • calgaryfan

    The Flames need to upgrade center, right wing and defence. A difficult task. They are now going to be drafting later in round one, free agents don’t look promising and they don’t have a lot of depth to trade.

    • Greg

      I think it’s too early to say they need an upgrade at C. It’s been disappointing to see a lack of progress in Monahan and Bennet for sure, but lots of young players go through slumps and still flourish closer to their mid 20s (this could be just a “sophomore slump” for Bennet for example).

      There’s very few teams that don’t need an upgrade at at least one position – the flames could definitely use one at both RW and D, but they also have enough really good pieces to be fine as is with the right supporting role players. Most teams would gladly trade their top 4 for Calgary’s top 3 for example, so finding adequate 4-6 options (at less than the current price they are paying) should be doable.

      All that assumes that monahan and Bennet do indeed pan out as hoped though. If neither does… we’ll be taking rebuild 2.0 in a couple more years.

    • cjc

      Well, would we rather that Calgary be drafting in the top 5 again? To me, that says the plan ain’t working.

      If things hold course, Calgary will finish 9-10 in the conference with middle-of-the-pack possession, despite sub-par seasons from a number of good players. It may not feel great, but that IS progress.

      Maybe we trade that first rounder again? Maybe we package some prospects/picks for a RW? As others have mentioned, the Ducks stand to lose Jakob Silfverberg. Would they take our 1st for JS? (Not sure I want Fowler). Point is, there’s no need to panic yet. There is not much that can be done until after the season is over, when teams start to focus on the expansion draft.

    • FL@med

      Silfverberg is an interesting casee because he’s REALLY good, but the ducks won’t be able to keep him. I don’t see them dealing him to the Flames tho, as the two teams are huge division rivals.

      • Bean-counting cowboy

        Can anyone comment on the ability to ask players with NMC’s to waive as part of the expansion draft. Everyone says Anaheim is hooped, but couldn’t they ask Bieksa to waive which would free up a spot for Silverberg?

  • Scary Gary

    The sky isn’t falling but I agree Monahan, Gaudreau and Bennett need to provide more offense.

    I think most of us agree Johnny is likely more of the 1.0 ppg player we saw last year than the 0.78 ppg player we’re seeing this year or in 14/15, he’s just forcing it as Ari mentioned (shooting percentage down 4%; that’s four goals).

    Bennett is 20 so I’ll afford him the sophomore slump but I really thought he was going to break out this year.

    Monahan has never been a dazzling puck handler, skater or defensive wiz but he usually shoots better than 11.5% and he usually scores more on the PP.

    And please someone, stop Wideman from dressing…36 games left to sort it out.

  • Scary Gary

    There’s no magic bullet (free agency/trade) and the sky isn’t falling but our best forwards need to produce more. Johnny is forcing it and his shooting percentage is below average (that’s four goals).

    Bennett is 20 (sophomore slump and such) but I really thought he was going to break out this year.

    Monahan has never been a dazzling skater, puck handler or defender but he usually scores on 14.6% of his shots, not 11.5% and he usually scores a bit more on the PP.

    Also please someone, stop Wideman from dressing or at least keep him from playing 20 minutes a game…36 games to figure it out.

  • Kevin R

    I am still an advocate of shifting Bennett to RW & move Monahan to centre & put all our young super eggs in one basket. I don’t mind moving Bennett to wing as he is for all purposes is in his sophomore year. We need to get this 3 going, playing confident & having a swagger to them. One of two things is going to happen. Either they find a chemistry & start becoming a very dangerous line or two, we get the same old same old like we’ve been seeing from everyone that isn’t the 3M line. We conclude that if they click & Tre is able to get Bennett extended to a TJ Brodie type deal for 6 years, we just have found our future top line & carry that into next year. I would then sign Backlund & move forward with him being one of our top 6 centre’s & see if that 3M line can duplicate this year next year. Suddenly, we are no longer searching for a top 6 RW winger. Bonus.

    Otherwise, next year, we need to break up the 3M line & give Bennett a legit LW for his very own. If both Monahan & Bennett still falter, then a decision will need to be made about Backlund & possibly making a blockbuster real hockey trade with one of Bennett or Monahan. Not saying anything like that will happen but the reality of it would have to be considered. I for one like the first scenario. If Backlund is an Elite number 2 centre, crikey mate, lets start grooming either Monahan or Bennett for RW. They both have skills we need in order to win a cup.

  • Kevin R

    I am still an advocate of shifting Bennett to RW & move Monahan to centre & put all our young super eggs in one basket. I don’t mind moving Bennett to wing as he is for all purposes is in his sophomore year. We need to get this 3 going, playing confident & having a swagger to them. One of two things is going to happen. Either they find a chemistry & start becoming a very dangerous line or two, we get the same old same old like we’ve been seeing from everyone that isn’t the 3M line. We conclude that if they click & Tre is able to get Bennett extended to a TJ Brodie type deal for 6 years, we just have found our future top line & carry that into next year. I would then sign Backlund & move forward with him being one of our top 6 centre’s & see if that 3M line can duplicate this year next year. Suddenly, we are no longer searching for a top 6 RW winger. Bonus.

    Otherwise, next year, we need to break up the 3M line & give Bennett a legit LW for his very own. If both Monahan & Bennett still falter, then a decision will need to be made about Backlund & possibly making a blockbuster real hockey trade with one of Bennett or Monahan. Not saying anything like that will happen but the reality of it would have to be considered. I for one like the first scenario. If Backlund is an Elite number 2 centre, crikey mate, lets start grooming either Monahan or Bennett for RW. They both have skills we need in order to win a cup.

  • Kevin R

    I am still an advocate of shifting Bennett to RW & move Monahan to centre & put all our young super eggs in one basket. I don’t mind moving Bennett to wing as he is for all purposes is in his sophomore year. We need to get this 3 going, playing confident & having a swagger to them. One of two things is going to happen. Either they find a chemistry & start becoming a very dangerous line or two, we get the same old same old like we’ve been seeing from everyone that isn’t the 3M line. We conclude that if they click & Tre is able to get Bennett extended to a TJ Brodie type deal for 6 years, we just have found our future top line & carry that into next year. I would then sign Backlund & move forward with him being one of our top 6 centre’s & see if that 3M line can duplicate this year next year. Suddenly, we are no longer searching for a top 6 RW winger. Bonus.

    Otherwise, next year, we need to break up the 3M line & give Bennett a legit LW for his very own. If both Monahan & Bennett still falter, then a decision will need to be made about Backlund & possibly making a blockbuster real hockey trade with one of Bennett or Monahan. Not saying anything like that will happen but the reality of it would have to be considered. I for one like the first scenario. If Backlund is an Elite number 2 centre, crikey mate, lets start grooming either Monahan or Bennett for RW. They both have skills we need in order to win a cup.

  • Kevin R

    I am still an advocate of shifting Bennett to RW & move Monahan to centre & put all our young super eggs in one basket. I don’t mind moving Bennett to wing as he is for all purposes is in his sophomore year. We need to get this 3 going, playing confident & having a swagger to them. One of two things is going to happen. Either they find a chemistry & start becoming a very dangerous line or two, we get the same old same old like we’ve been seeing from everyone that isn’t the 3M line. We conclude that if they click & Tre is able to get Bennett extended to a TJ Brodie type deal for 6 years, we just have found our future top line & carry that into next year. I would then sign Backlund & move forward with him being one of our top 6 centre’s & see if that 3M line can duplicate this year next year. Suddenly, we are no longer searching for a top 6 RW winger. Bonus.

    Otherwise, next year, we need to break up the 3M line & give Bennett a legit LW for his very own. If both Monahan & Bennett still falter, then a decision will need to be made about Backlund & possibly making a blockbuster real hockey trade with one of Bennett or Monahan. Not saying anything like that will happen but the reality of it would have to be considered. I for one like the first scenario. If Backlund is an Elite number 2 centre, crikey mate, lets start grooming either Monahan or Bennett for RW. They both have skills we need in order to win a cup.

  • Primo

    As much as I like TJ Brodie I believe trading him will enable Flames to 1) Clear cap space for an eventual Backlund signing 2) Get you a top skilled RW and grade A prospect from another organization….going forward I believe both Kylington and Andersson will fill the gap on defence.

    On a personal note for Brodie probably better that both him and his wife are located in the East given her unfortunate health situation….

    • flames2015

      Are you really suggesting we trade Brodie, one of the few great valued contracts we have on the team? He’s been one of the most underrated defenseman for the past few years, he’s been in a funk this year which i don’t see lasting. What we need is another top 4 d. Not to get rid of Brodie, in hopes our two prospects who have yet to play a single game in the NHL will be ready immediately to fill those roles.

      • Agree. If you’re moving any of our top 3 D i’ts Giordano that you move not Brodie. THougi highly doubt organizationally they do that because it looks bad on the organization and sells the wrong message about Loyalty. Thus we are stuck with Gio’s 6.5m until his contract expires.

        • Jumping Jack Flash

          I agree that moving Brodie would be a mistake. I don’t see a problem moving Gio to a team that is looking for the missing piece to winning the Stanley Cup. This year has shown that we are more than a few years away from contending for the cup and Gio will likely not be an integral piece when we do. So , if we could trade for a top 6 RW and a prospect.

          Even a team like TO would be a good trading partner, they need a leader on D so perhaps we could get Van Riemsdyk or Nylaner and Kappanen. TO seems to have lots of offensive talent and we seem to be sorely lacking so perhaps Gio and a prospect would get them listening.

    • Eggs Bennett

      You don’t trade a guy like Brodie especially when his stock is low. What does that accomplish? Aside from this season where he’s been forced to play a position he’s not comfortable with on the left side and with not-so-great partners, his track record is solid. Don’t act based on emotions alone. Even D. Hamilton was in the trade discussions a few weeks ago and now look at the way he’s been playing recently. Be patient and ride out the storms with your top players.

  • deantheraven

    I don’t see why so many posters here are opposed to the idea of putting Bennett back on the wing. He had great success there and by all metrics has floundered at centre this season. Maybe a change of position for him and Johnny would shake things into place for both. How about a (sheltered) Benny/Monny/Johnny as a part of the mix? For sure they’d work together as a trio on the PP. Johnny roving up and down from the blue line to the half walls, Bennett cycling and Monahan setting up between the hash marks.The way Gio, Brodie and D. Ham can move, there’s no reason NOT to have them all on the ice at once. A few good chances, a couple goals, and you never know. Johnny & Benny might just shake this funk. SOMETHING’S gotta give, for sure. The last wild card spot is gonna get farther and farther away if something doesn’t change soon to bring some consistency into the game.

    • Primo

      I agree that Sam should be a LW at least for now. Let’s not put too much pressure on a developing 20 year old who actually lost a season due to major shoulder surgery. Patience is required for him and let’s put the pressure on the highly paid veteran best players who simply are not performing on a consistent basis….

    • redwhiteblack

      Legit #1 Wing/Legit #1 Center/Gaudreau

      Iggy had same type problem here for many years.

      It worked well with Hudler and the real Mony.

      Bennett on the wing with Mony and Johnny would be so fun if all 3 play up to their individual potentials. It would be so fun to watch if they could figure it out. Good hockey players should be good players no matter what line mates they have.

      Iggy figured it out regardless.

      • deantheraven

        “Legit #1 Wing/Legit #1 Center/Gaudreau”
        Fair enough.
        “Good hockey players should be good players no matter what line mates they have.”
        Seems like contradiction, but I agree with both statements. If you can’t find “Legit #1 Wing/Legit #1 Center” who do you use?

    • deantheraven

      Bennett Backlund Frolik worked like a hot damn last season.
      Maybe that’s a better switch to make. Tkachuk has shown his both hockey sense and skill to be approaching elite status. Maybe he plays with Johnny & Monny and makes them better at both ends.
      I don’t think Johnny has to be on the left side, especially if his linemates know which end of the rink to score the GWG.

      • everton fc

        Tkachuk can play RW. “Has”, in the past.

        But…

        If Jankowski can be ready for next season as a 3rd line centre, perhaps Bennett plays on his LW?

        But…

        I agree, Bennett’s a centre, naturally-speaking. Still, if the organization thinks Jankowski’s ready for 3rd line minutes, you have to consider Bennett on the LW, don’t you? Or Tkachuk on the RW w/Gaudreau and Monahan, Bennett on LW with Backlund and Frolik.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        It might look crazy on paper but did anyone have a Kunitz or a Sheary penciled in to play with Crosby…..probably not. On paper Ferland would be the ideal winger for that line with added protection but it hasn’t worked. I get the feeling Johnny likes to play with Versteeg and Stajan has earned a try for a game.

  • kid presentable

    on the bright side: the flames have been posting better possession numbers than they have posted all season, and they did well possession-wise in games against top possession teams like sj and the oil. hopefully the results follow soon, though this might not happen until next season, with the likes of wideman/engelland/etc. gone

  • The GREAT WW

    Let’s have a little fun: Doan for Wideman and a pick?

    Doan comes home for a few games, Coyotes get something for the old geezer, Flames get an ancient top line RW who MAY have half a season left in him…

    WW

  • JumpJet

    I disagree that the Flames don’t have a noteworthy centre prospect. Dillon Dube and Matt Phillips have been putting up really good numbers in the WHL and Linus Lindstrom appears to be playing regularly in the SHL. I don’t know much about any guy outside of their stat sheets but they all look promising.

    • cjc

      Dube played 3rd line minutes for Canada at the WJC. He looked fine, but a player’s results need to be taken in the context of their cohort. Right now there are many F ahead of him.

      Phillips has been fantastic, but optimistically he is 2-3 years away from playing in the NHL. His NHLe right now is about 26 points (nothing to snort at for an 18 year old), but his floor is as low as his ceiling is high at this point.

      • DangleSnipeCelly

        I like both players a lot but expect that they’ll be wingers if/when they reach the NHL.

        Is it insane to suggest that Hudler could be an answer at RW? He’s 33 on a 1-year deal worth $2M.

        Garbage numbers with Dallas so the cost to acquire can’t be too crazy. Worth a shot – maybe he rediscovers that chemistry with Johnny and Monahan for a half season?

        Dynamite dude, you know he’s gonna be great off the ice…

    • L13

      Phillips hasn’t been a centre for 2 years (he is, however, a RW) and Dubé may or may not be a centre in the NHL. I think it’s more likely he’ll be a winger if he makes it. Plus, both of them, and this applies to Lindstrom even more strongly, are pretty long shots right now.

      Jankowski, whatever people think of him, has at least played at centre for the last 4-5 years (I think he spent some time on the wing as a freshman) and has transitioned to the pros in that position.

      Saying we don’t have a notable C prospect outside of Janko is pretty fair IMO.

  • PrairieStew

    Kent’s assessment of who might be potential sellers is bang on. It is going to cost a crap load to acquire anything at the deadline.

    3 years ago Burke got nothing for Cammalleri – but he said the returns were so bad that it would have hurt the team’s ability to move assets in future, giving the impression of a desperate organization. Since then the returns for Glencross, Russell and Hudler have all been excellent considering both what the traded players contributed to the acquiring teams and where those players are now.

    If Gulutzan can be convinced to move Brodie back to the right side and the Flames are willing to give Rasmus Anderson a look on the third pair – I cant help but think there is some significant return available for both Engelland and Wideman.

    As good as he has been – Versteeg could also bring back some significant future assets.

  • I think things are probably landlocked conversation wise because of the expansion draft looming but I have a feeling once deadline day hits there will be quite a few GMS who panic and move assets to get something rather than nothing. (This at least to me seems to be the way of the NHL). The obvious names like Landeskogg Duchene might not be the only names out there given the aforementioned situations facing GMs with expansions. We just haven’t thought about those scenarios too much because we assume Team A or B is going to protect such and such player but really we have no idea what’s going through those GM’s heads. Mistakes will be made and it will be up to BT to capitalize on that.

  • MontanaMan

    If teams are overpaying for assets, the Flames need to take a realistic look at their roster and decide where they are and where they’re going. Reality: if the Flames make the playoffs, they aren’t going deep. Solution: Identify non core assets that others may overpay for and start the process. Start with the goaltenders – keep one and move the other. Same for defence (anyone outside Brodie, Gio and Hamilton on the big team and two or three in the A) and forwards and come up with a game plan. My take is that the Flames might sneak into the playoffs but won’t last long, so identify your core and move anyone else that you can make teams overpay for.

  • oilersuck

    Flames still are not a cup contender even if they trade all their prospects and picks for a first line RW and top 4 D. If the market price is high then sell don’t buy.