27

FN Mailbag – April 24, 2017

ATB Banner

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.

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).

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.

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?

I’m sure there will be interest, but the team’s level of interest will depend on a few factors:

  1. How much the new goaltending costs.
  2. How much another top four defender costs.
  3. 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.

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.

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
  • Bartkowski

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. 

CELEBRATE HOCKEY WITH ATB FINANCIAL

At ATB, we hear you: being a hockey fan is expensive. We want to make it cheaper for you. Tell us how you and your squad celebrate hockey and you could win $1,000! Learn more at ATB.com/yycfans
  • Burnward

    Could be a really young team next year. Stajan/Bouma gone and replaced from within.

    Also would like to see a cost-effective goalie tandem in Johnson/Gillies or Rittich. Find out what the kid has if he’s ready. Or Rittich showed well.

    Date of contention is still two seasons away.

    Save some cash and build with Johnny/Mony/Backs as the vets up front.

    Adjust as necessary.

    • Jessemadnote

      So you completely disagree with the solid goaltending priority? Haven’t we seen this before? Stockton barely made the playoffs yet their goaltending tandem is acceptable for the NHL?

      • Burnward

        If Gillies is really the future he has to play in the NHL and probably play 30. Johnson as a solid vet who loves the team and bleeds Flames is a guy I could run with for 50. He’ll relish it. Played fairly well this year too.
        Plus, Parsons is maybe two years away.

  • MontanaMan

    The regular season is one thing, but the playoffs demand size and toughness. Don’t mistake my comment for needing a goon but the size and toughness differential between Calgary and Anaheim was noticeable. I don’t expect JG to become tough in the playoffs but he was absent for much of the four game series and the Flames need to surround him with some size with skill. This is an issue for several teams but until the Flames get tougher to play against in the all important playoff games, they won’t advance.

    • wot96

      Flames did not lose that series because they weren’t tough enough. Their goal-tending cooled off at exactly the wrong time and the bottom three in the defence rotation were exposed. Plus they got no puck-luck. I don’t disagree that good size combined with skill is a thing but I don’t think that’s what the problem was.

      • MontanaMan

        I think a few things were exposed including those you identify. I would add Brodie had a very sub par series and was a turnover machine in many of the games.

    • Jessemadnote

      I’ll agree with that. I think you look at us down the middle and Monahan, Backlund, Bennett and Stajan are just way too easy to push around. Don’t get me wrong I like all the players but sometimes you just need a big face-off win and a guy who can muscle his way in front of the net. I would consider Bennett to LW and Stajan replaced with Jankowski.

      • wot96

        I don’t think Jankowski will be the answer to that particular question unless he muscles up significantly. He is still reed thin for his height. Flames were 53% and 58% on the dot in games 3 and 4 and only 37% and 41% in games 1 and 2 (per nhl.com game center) so it was more of a case of finding the right match up (or GG adapted – which I doubt). If that proves anything, and if you believe that faceoffs are key, the Flames need to find a faceoff beast to take faceoffs on the road or find someone to coach the Centers up so that they are more competitive when they have unfavourable matchups.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    If you look at the goalies left from the Elite 8 in the playoffs- Talbot(Edm), Gibson(Ana), Rinne(Nash), Allen(STL), Holtby(Wash), Fleury(Pit), Lundquist(NYR), Anderson(Ott) not all of them are Grade A goalies but all of them have outplayed their counterparts in the first series.

    If Elliott played as advertised he would be a good fit but the truth is even when he was dominating games he would let in some soft goals. His meltdown was epic and reminded me of when Fleury suddenly got the yips. Elliott wasn’t very good in Otttawa, but was very good in STL with a top D. For Calgary, he looked really bad in the critical games like against the Oilers and of course the playoffs….which makes we wonder if he can raise his level. Personally, I would like to see us sign a keeper that could steel a game by shutting out the opponent and Elliott never looked like that player.

  • Pyroflatulence

    It would be a shame to lose Shinkaruk in the expansion draft. If that happens, we definitely lost that trade. Lazar cost is a second rounder. Is there much difference between the two of them? Should one be protected over the other?

    • everton fc

      They won’t lose Shinkaruk. They’ll lose Kulak before Shinakruk. I think they’ll lose Stajan or Chiasson (I assume Chiasson is eligible to be “unprotected”. Can’t remember).

      Ideally, we lose Brouwer. Vegas would take Kulak over Lazar, as well. What team wouldn’t?

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    Part of me thinks that Vegas will take because of the connection, the need for leadership, and the need to hit the cap floor. I don’t know why Brouwer’s game dropped dramatically, personally he seems to be a gym buff and may have put too much focus on gaining size.

    If Vegas does not take Brouwer then I expect them to take Stajan or Chaisson. I don’t see them needing Kulak with the D they have to choose from.

  • Greg

    Agree with the needed moves to take another step next year, but I’d move the Franson signing up into that section too. Nailing down the top 4 (without Stone, BT seemed to acknowledge that wasn’t an ideal solution either) is a top priority.

    Another legit top 6 forward would be great too, but if they can nail down the top 4 and goaltending, the forward ranks might be good enough with just internal improvement. At least until the next batch of bad contracts come off and they can improve further and get into contender status.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    1. Re-sign Stone. 2. Trade Bennett & Stone for Trouba and Adam Lowry (3rd line centre). 3. Sign Franson. 4. Brouwer to expansion 5. Bouma bought out. 6. Stajan to LW. 7. Sign Versteeg. – Lines as follows:

    Johnny/Monny/Ferly

    3M

    Versteeg/Lowry/Lazar

    Stajan/Jankowski/Chiasson

    F. Hamilton

    Dougie/Gio

    TJ/Trouba

    Kulak/Franson

    Bartkowski

    Stajan/Jankowski

    • RealMcHockeyReturns

      Don’t need to protect Gilies. Cannot protect Versteeg as not signed. Vegas unlikely to take Brouwer, trade with Jets not likely. Other than that…great ideas

  • JimmyV1965

    I don’t think losing Lazaar is a big deal. He was acquired with a 2nd round pick. If that’s the price of expansion that’s very cheap.

    And going after Oshie would be a huge mistake. The price will be $6 mill over 7 years. OverpAying guys in their declining years is how teams get into trouble.