That’s it for 2016-17. The offseason came a bit too early for fans and management alike, and frankly, the team deserved better given their efforts. No one said this game was fair though.
Calgary made a lot of headway as a franchise this year, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still improve. Lots of questions still linger for Brad Treliving (assuming he gets another contract), and there’s a lot of tweaking around the edges that can be done this summer.
The expansion draft and entry draft both happen in June, bringing new opportunities. In July, the Flames can go hunting for UFAs thanks to the over $20M in cap space they should have in their pockets. In September, a handful of hopefuls should be pressing for a job in the show.
I’m sure everyone is disappointed and frustrated with the way the season ended. But I think there’s hope on the horizon.
— Cold Steel Bench (@ColdSteelBench) April 21, 2017
— saltysyd (@saltysyd) April 21, 2017
— Matt Chernos (@mchernos) April 21, 2017
Calgary’s expansion draft list should be fairly simple to put together at this point. The blueline is a no-brainer: T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton, and Mark Giordano.
The only question will be the last couple of players up front. After Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik, and Sam Bennett the Flames have to choose from Micheal Ferland, Curtis Lazar, Matt Stajan, Troy Brouwer, Alex Chiasson, and Lance Bouma.
Ferland is the first name to move to the protected list. He’s young, he’s cheap, he’s tough, and he can play up and down the lineup. The next natural choice is Lazar – although he struggled this year and hasn’t really proven anything in the Calgary organization, it would seem irresponsible to acquire the kid for a second round pick only to lose him for nothing.
That leaves a collection of overpriced vets and fringe kids for Vegas to choose from.
I think most can agree now that losing Brouwer’s contract would be the best case scenario. He already looks like he can’t keep up with an NHL pace anymore, and the club has three more years at $4.5M of diminishing returns to look forward to. George McPhee is familiar with Brouwer and might be willing to eat his deal for the vet/intangible factor, but that is by no means a guarantee.
Other guys who are vulnerable on the Flames are Matt Stajan (vet factor, cheaper than Brouwer), Alex Chiasson (young, big, cheap depth), Hunter Shinkaruk (offensively skilled prospect) and Brett Kulak (potential top four defender prospect).
— Liam (@LiamIsNotDead) April 21, 2017
@Kent_Wilson KW…still doing FN mailbag? Q: Unless Flames r waiting for pot'l GM still in POs, makes 0 sense to go to draft w lame duck GM
— kingcambie (@kingcambie) April 20, 2017
Despite my bellyaching about the Brouwer deal, I don’t see why the organization would move on from Treliving at this point. The team has taken real steps forward during his tenure and seems to be on an upward swing.
He hasn’t been perfect during his time in Calgary, but in aggregate I think his moves have been positive. The Dougie Hamilton deal stands as one of the biggest thefts committed in the league over the last three years and might turn out to be one of the best deals this franchise has ever seen. Calgary’s drafting seems to have improved under his watch and the team seems to mostly respect the way the league is moving (fast paced, possession-based hockey), the Brouwer deal notwithstanding.
— x-Rouel (@bpry8) April 21, 2017
It’s possible Burke will look at Dean Lombardi. The guys at the top of the NHL are great respecters of resumes, after all. Lombardi built a great team in LA through a collection of savvy moves about five years ago or so. Since then, however, he seemed to completely lose sight of how to keep the ship sailing right.
Which is why I don’t see it making sense to switch visions at the top mid-stride like this. Treliving and the Flames are making progress. Why upend everything now?
— Andrew Rubel (@andrewrubel1234) April 21, 2017
I’m sure there will be interest, but the team’s level of interest will depend on a few factors:
- How much the new goaltending costs.
- How much another top four defender costs.
- If they can get rid of Troy Brouwer’s contract.
T.J. Oshie is going to be expensive and while the Flames should have a lot of cap space on their hands, they also have a lot of key positions to fill. That can eat up budget rather quickly.
Here are the guys they have to retain or replace this summer: Dennis Wideman, Deryk Engelland, Michael Stone, Kris Versteeg, Alex Chiasson, Chad Johnson, and Brian Elliott. Sam Bennett and Micheal Ferland have to be re-signed as well.
Having to replace three of your top six defenders and bring in at least one established goalie could get pricey this summer. If Calgary can do that without breaking the bank, as well as get rid of a millstone deal like Brouwer, maybe they can pursue Oshie.
All that said, signing Oshie to a big, long-term deal comes with a note of caution. The player turns 31 years old next season and is coming off a career-high shooting percentage which is unlikely to be repeated (23%!!). If the bidding for him gets outrageous, the Flames would be better served to look for bargains elsewhere.
— Megan – Salty AF (@mig14) April 21, 2017
This is worthy of a much longer post, but here are the basics.
From my perspective, there are three keys to Calgary taking another step next year: Trim the fat, get goaltending, and internal development.
Trim the fat – It’s no secret the Flames had a lot of wasted dollars on the roster this year. By the time the playoffs rolled around, Calgary boasted a $10M fourth line in Bouma, Stajan, Brouwer, a near $3M replacement level defender on the third pairing in Engelland and over $5M worth of healthy scratch in Wideman.
The problem isn’t just that these players were overpaid relative to their contributions – it’s that many of them were the worst players on the roster and bad relative to other depth players in the league. It’s one thing to have over $13 million in the bottom-end of the roster – it’s another to see them get outplayed most nights by other, cheaper options.
The Flames probably won’t be able to get rid of all the bad money this summer, but deleting at least three of the guys listed above would help.
Get goaltending – Self-explanatory. Life is much, much easier in the NHL with capable netminding. The club didn’t get that for a portion of the regular season this year and we all know what happened in the playoffs. This will be the third straight summer where the crease is a big question mark for the club.
Thankfully, free agency and the approaching expansion draft should give the organization a lot of options to explore.
Internal development – Aside from goaltending, this could be the biggest factor. The club’s depth could improve naturally if guys like Sam Bennett, Micheal Ferland, and Matthew Tkachuk take a step forward.
The big one is Bennett. He didn’t have a sophomore season to celebrate, spending huge portions of the year season floundering on the third line. Bennett is the Flames’ highest draft pick ever and came into the organization celebrated as a potential game-breaking talent. Unfortunately, he hasn’t figured out how to fulfill that promise yet.
The team doesn’t even necessarily need him to become a 60-point, top line C. With Backlund and Monahan in the fold, a guy who can drive play and score points against other third liners would be a huge asset.
— Joe Golding (@JoeGolding94) April 21, 2017
There aren’t a lot of perfect complements available for Brodie, unfortunately. Not a lot of top four defenders make it to free agency or are available via trade.
We’ve mentioned over and over in this space before, but Cody Franson seems to make the most sense. Dan Bylsma didn’t seem to like him in Buffalo, but Franson’s underlying numbers continue to be some of the best in the league amongst depth defenders:
A big, (probably) cheap defender who is in the 80th+ percentile for shot suppression and shot impact in the league is a pretty good start. If the Flames re-sign Stone for the third pairing and elevate someone like Kulak (assuming he doesn’t get plucked by Vegas), Calgary’s blueline could look like this:
- Gio – Hamilton
- Brodie – Franson
- Kulak – Stone
— Jeff (@nhlflamesfan) April 21, 2017
Mark Jankowski and Kulak are the first guys that come to mind. Janko had a really good rookie campaign* for Stockton and will be turning 23 years old in September. There really is no better time for him to make the leap.
As for Kulak, he has bounced between the farm and parent squads the last couple of years and has always put up respectable underlying numbers in a sheltered role with the Flames. It would be nice to see if he can cut it as a regular NHLer.
One of Stockton’s goalies might also get a look as an NHL backup next year. With Tyler Parsons and Nick Schneider both turning pro, the org has to do something with one of David Rittich or Jon Gillies to make room.
*Of interest – Jankowski’s 56-point season is almost exactly the same as Kenny Agostino’s 57-point season from the year prior numbers-wise, but the team walked away from Agostino.