Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The top five offseason storylines

The Calgary Flames had their season end last week far earlier than many were hoping or expecting. So, while it’s going to be longer than they hoped, the Flames have shifted their focus to an important 2017 offseason. Calgary is a couple of moves away from being an absolute handful and those moves are there for the making this summer. With plenty to take care of, I’ve whittled it down to the top five stories to watch for over the next five months or so.

5. Expansion implications

One thing we can guarantee is the Flames will be without at least one player from their 2016-17 roster thanks to June’s Las Vegas expansion draft. There are a few interesting ways this could go and I laid out three potential outcomes a couple months ago in Micheal Ferland, Alex Chiasson, and Brett Kulak. Those three still absolutely hold up as possible expansion targets, although I’m almost convinced Calgary will protect Ferland, taking him off the table.

The more I talk to people in the organization, and the more I think about it, it’s Chiasson’s name that becomes more and more interesting. Despite notions to the contrary, Chiasson had a very productive season in relation to his $800,000 cap hit, both on the surface (12 goals, 24 points) and analytically (52.1 CF%, sixth on the team). Knowing he isn’t going to command a ton more as a pending RFA, I could absolutely see Vegas zeroing in on Chiasson as a solid, versatile bottom six option.

I spoke with Chiasson on Friday afternoon as the Flames cleaned out their lockers, and asked him about the Golden Knights possibility. “If it happens, it does, and that’s out of my control and, I’m going to be excited to go there,” Chiasson told me. “But at the same time… my main priority is to come back here and to be a part of this team.

“That’s why I said that this year, I think, is a lot different for guys on our team, but I’m sure it’s the same for a lot of the guys on different teams. You don’t have control over that, how it’s going to turn out, what they’re looking for, how they’re going to build that team, so for me, it’s just go on, but my priority number one is to play for the Calgary Flames.”

Ideally, re-signing Chiasson would make a ton of sense for the Flames, but what Vegas does is very much a fly in the ointment. Negotiating a deal with pending UFA Deryk Engelland is also a possibility, and he addressed that on Friday. Regardless of who becomes a Golden Knight on June 21, the looming expansion draft plays a big role in Calgary’s offseason plans.

4. A Kris Versteeg extension

It sure does feel like Flames fans want this one to get done, and for good reason. Versteeg was a really nice last minute addition to Calgary’s lineup after signing him to a one-year, $950,000 deal on the eve of the regular season. As we all witnessed, Versteeg gave the Flames great value as one of their more productive players period, regardless of his great price tag.

To see a player that productive have to go to training camp on a PTO is still somewhat shocking, but it worked out great for Calgary. Versteeg was a revelation on the powerplay and was a huge reason why the Flames turned things around dramatically in that category starting in November. Looking at strictly his production, bringing Versteeg back seems like a no-brainer.

It makes even more sense when you take into account Versteeg’s desire to stay with the organization. Versteeg made it crystal clear on Friday re-signing with the Flames is his top priority and talked about how this season helped him “love the game again”. While he’s definitely deserving of a significant raise from the one-year deal he was on, hearing things like that makes you think the team and player can agree on a reasonable new deal.

More than anything else, Versteeg says staying close to home is of paramount importance. When I spoke with him on Friday, he gave an encouraging answer when I asked him if he’d prioritize staying in Calgary over more lucrative offers elsewhere.

“A hundred percent,” he said. “Obviously being at home, being around my friends and family, is the most important thing to me. If it happens that’s great, obviously if it doesn’t happen, it’s a business and you move on. But 100%, being at home is my main priority.”

Yes, there are those important things like money and term to figure out, and the Flames would also need to hold off signing Versteeg until after the expansion draft to avoid exposing him to Vegas. However, everything I heard Friday made me fairly confident we’ll see Versteeg back in Calgary next season.

3. Mikael Backlund’s new deal

With interesting UFA decisions to be made on players like Versteeg and Michael Stone, and with extensions due to the likes of Ferland and Sam Bennett, it’s actually a player with a 2018 expiration date posing the biggest contract question of the summer. Mikael Backlund is eligible for a contract extension come July 1 and his next deal will have a bigger cap impact than any other deals signed this summer.

I took an early look at a Backlund extension a couple months ago and I still believe we’re talking about a long term (five to six years) deal carrying a cap hit somewhere between $5 and $6 million annually. Backlund was Calgary’s best centre this season, drove one of the NHL’s best lines with Michael Frolik and Matthew Tkachuk, and made a solid case to be a Selke Trophy finalist. I don’t think there can be much debate about the importance of locking Backlund up long term, even for the most ardent of detractors.

While the Flames technically have all the way until July 1 of 2018 to figure out what Backlund’s extension is going to look like, why wait? Backlund’s underlying numbers have been superb for the last five seasons and he’s been the team’s best two-way centre in each of those campaigns. All evidence would suggest he’s due for another campaign, so it’s not like taking a “wait and see” approach makes sense for Calgary.

I can’t see Backlund’s value, nor asking price, going down dramatically if they were to wait into next season to get a deal done. By signing him to an extension this summer, the Flames can appease an important piece of the puzzle while also getting a good gauge on their long term cap framework now without uncertainties going forward. There’s no guarantee Calgary signs Backlund to an extension this summer, but it sure would make sense for them to do just that.

2. Goaltending (again)

The 2017 offseason is going to be deja vu from one year prior knowing the questions the Flames need to answer about their goaltending going forward. With Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson on expiring contracts, and with uncertainty and doubt surrounding their viability as long term solutions, goaltending is likely going to be Calgary’s biggest on-ice topic this summer.

The conversation surrounding a new deal for Elliott was a positive one in early April, due mostly to his stellar run starting in February and lasting until the end of the regular season. Unfortunately, though, Elliott’s game fell off a cliff in the playoffs and culminated with him being pulled fewer than six minutes in to the team’s final game of the season.

A multi-year Johnson extension was a viable topic in December, but his 0.884 save percentage in his final 18 appearances from Dec. 14 on changed that dramatically. I believe Johnson is a suitable option as a backup, and to a lesser extent in a tandem situation. Unfortunately, though, I don’t think the local product is going to get the job done as a number one goalie next season, at least not on a team that’ll have lofty postseason expectations.

Plain and simple, neither Johnson nor Elliott inspire huge number one confidence among Flames fans right now. It’s my belief that Calgary needs to explore other options from Ben Bishop in free agency, to Mike Smith or Marc-Andre Fleury via trade, to names that don’t come to mind immediately, before bringing back either one of their goalies this season. That applies especially to Elliott, as he’ll be looking for a decent contract in free agency.

Calgary had the NHL’s worst goaltending during the 2015-16 season with the trio of Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller, and Joni Ortio (0.896 SV%). This season, the tandem of Elliott and Johnson saw them improve to 21st at 0.908, but it was still very hit and miss with a huge drop-off come the postseason. As a result, goaltending is anything but set heading into next season. Stop me if you’ve heard that before.

1. Brad Treliving’s future

All of the above is fine and dandy, but will the general manager the last three years even be the one having the final say on Calgary’s key offseason details? Brad Treliving does not have a contract for next season and there’s no word on if and when he’ll sign a new deal. Until that gets rectified, one way or another, this offseason takes on a very strange feel.

I don’t understand why Treliving doesn’t have a contract for next season already. While he hasn’t done a perfect job as the team’s GM, he has put the team on what I believe is a largely positive path and deserves a few more seasons to see that through, at the very least. To have Treliving go through this season with no long term security is peculiar and hopefully doesn’t drive a wedge between him and the team.

Treliving’s name has been speculatively thrown around, both on and off the record, in connection to an open job in Buffalo and other jobs that may or may not be opening up. The fact is, if he doesn’t get a new deal with the Flames, Treliving is going to draw interest elsewhere; in fact, he’s likely using that as leverage in contract negotiations as we speak.

It just makes sense for Calgary to re-up Treliving. He’s put together a good chunk of the team we just saw get back to the postseason and, in my opinion anyway, has done more good for the organization than bad. Regardless, though, Treliving’s future is an immediate and pressing storyline, and also the offseason’s biggest.

  • Scary Gary

    We need to package a pick or prospect to Vegas so they’ll take Brouwer stat. It isn’t ideal asset management but neither is three more years of an overpaid fourth liner.

    • supra steve

      How much should we be prepared to pay? I’ve seen some suggest that a 3rd, or a 3rd and a middling prospect may get it done. I think that is not even close to what it will take to get it done. Is Calgary’s mid first rounder this year too much? I’m not saying that is what they should be prepared to pay, I’m just looking for other opinions on what it will realistically cost to move Brouwer and his contract.

      • DangleSnipeCelly

        We don’t have a 3rd for one thing. Giving up a 1st would be insane. Vegas can’t take all young players, they will need some kind of veteran leadership. Further to that they will need to hit the cap floor.

        • supra steve

          All that you have said is true, but the problem is there are 29 other teams that would love to shake an overpaid veteran that will provide leadership and money to reach the cap floor to the Vegas franchise. McPhee knows this and will hold an auction to see who is willing to pay the most to get out from under their bad contract. And the Flames will have a 3rd in 2018 (if they don’t sign Elliott) and beyond.

          • supra steve

            Or, from the Vedas perspective…you could take Chiasson in the expansion draft, and then NOT take Brouwer’s $4.5 million dollar 3 year deal for the paltry return of a 2018 3rd rounder and a young player who may never play on your NHL club. I just can’t see that offer being the best one McPhee gets, perhaps if there was only one year left on Brouwer’s deal, but not 3 years!

    • supra steve

      How much should we be prepared to pay? I’ve seen some suggest that a 3rd, or a 3rd and a middling prospect may get it done. I think that is not even close to what it will take to get it done. Is Calgary’s mid first rounder this year too much? I’m not saying that is what they should be prepared to pay, I’m just looking for other opinions on what it will realistically cost to move Brouwer and his contract..

    • redwhiteblack

      They will try and make a business deal to cut the Brouwer anchor. It would free up some nice room. Vegas holds the hammer in the deal. BT won’t like what they want in return but cutting our losses might be the best option.

    • everton fc

      Someone mentioned moving Brouwer to the Pens for Fluery. Not saying I agree, but it’s certainly worth discussion.

      There’s no way Ferland is not protected. Sad thing is, Lazar will be, as well.

      • Pyroflatulence

        Is Kulak more valuable to the team than Lazar? Kulak’s limited time with the team suggests that he could be a solid 3rd (maybe even 2nd line D-man). Lazar struggled in Ottawa this season and looked decent in his debut. At best, I would guess that he could be on the 3rd or 4th line. Good D-men are hard to find and Kulak could be a gem. Personally, I would have no problem sending Lazar to Vegas if they agreed to take Brouwer. There’s a lot of risk in keeping Lazar, although some might argue potential big upside as well. Think of it as risk management.

          • Scary Gary

            But then you protect four D which leaves you with the 8 skaters and 1 goalie option over the 7 forwards, 3 defensemen and 1 goalie option (two additional players protected).

          • McRib

            I’d protect Kulak over Lazar based on the player, but Lazar is more likely to be picked up if exposed (unless Vegas really tracks Analytics, which will be interesting to see once it all goes down).

            However to be honest I wouldn’t protect Lazar because as someone who watched him regularly in the WHL I don’t think he has ever shown elite offensive upside and he is only going to ever be a bottom six NHLer best case. When Mark Jankowski adds another 10-15 pounds this offseason he is going to be way ahead of Lazar next year and Lazar won’t be missed. If Vegas really wants Lazar, in the grand scheme of things I can live with having gived up a second rounder to keep Kulak, etc.

            Like you said I think there is more risk in keeping Lazar than with his upside (other than hype he never put up points in the WHL at a pace to think he was going to ever be a legit Top. 6).

          • 19289

            In pretty sure Kulak is not draft eligible. Not enough games. That is why we did not see him much this season. And the 1 eligible Dman we must leave unprotected is Bart. That is why he is here and under contract. We are sitting good as far as expansion goes. Better if Brower is picked by LV.

          • ThisBigMouthIsRight

            That could be on purpose as to Not highlight or bring more attention to Kulak / Wotherspoon. you shouldn’t go running around shouting at people how great something is when they can just walk up and take it from you.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      Vegas is going to be a salary floor team until it can either rob or bury the Oilers with an outrageous contract offer to future RFA McDavid. If he gets away, Matthews is the next man up. I am sure the Oilers and Leafs will match whatever stupid offer Vegas makes, but imagine poor Connor making $14 million a year and having to live in Edmonton. On this matter, I defer to Madj, a Syrian refugee who first arrived in Edmonton in late Dec 2015. By February 2016 he left Alberta’s capital. Strangely, nobody asked him why he left. Rather they asked him why he took so long to leave.

          • Blackgold

            Don’t judge the majority of Oiler fans by a few that troll your site. We are stuck with a few Calgary, TO and Canuck trolls on our site. They are a pain and don’t add anything. Flames had a good season and challenges ahead. From an outsider, it is your goaltending that needs to be improved. You can’t be successful without having a consistent man in the nets. Consistency makes the difference of not having extended losing streaks that will kill a season or a playoff round. Sorry we couldn’t have a BOA this year.

        • BlueMoonNigel

          HardonforConnor eagerly searches FN to make a retort to the Moon Man. He is my new puppy. Where I go, he is sure to follow. If I smack him on the nose and say, “Bad boy,” he may be crestfallen for a few seconds, but he recovers quickly and sticks to me like glue on glue. I am cool with him being “Moon’s best little friend,” particularly when the alternative is “HardonforMoon.”

          • Bob Loblaw

            You’re weird, a bit disturbing really. And, to your past comment, get over yourself. I live downtown Calgary, love it, but also lived in Eds and it’s not much different. Beautiful, actually. And, sorry Alberta, Vancouver is WAY nicer than either Calgs or Edmonton. These are facts, coming from a Calgarian.

  • BurningSensation

    “I don’t understand why Treliving doesn’t have a contract for next season already.”

    Pretty sure that Burke answered this when he said Flames mgt has a process in place they use for all mgt contract negotiations, and they insist on it being followed for everyone, Burke and Treliving included.

    It may be unusual for a hockey club to follow good business practices, but it is still good business practice. I’m confident Treliving isn’t going anywhere, he comes from a business family, and will no doubt understand, and even appreciate, straight forward process management.

    • nikkomsgb

      Businesses aren’t run in a vacuum, and as such you can’t take what works in one industry and apply it to another. Pro sports are a business, but the industry is largely run by owners that are fans and do not run their business as if their financial well being depends on it making huge $$.

      How is Flames ownership going to sell this policy to a big hire down the road. Of course you’ll get a gm, or coach when you need one…but a top guy? No chance. You’ll get a promising hire, with little experience, who’ll have to learn and make his mistakes on the job…not ideal.

      Furthermore, what’s the point? You realistically know mid year if you are happy with his performance. You also know how he is thought of league wide….so what leverage do you stand to gain? No way he comes cheaper now, he has the leverage.

      Also. lets not kid ourselves about what brought this on…it was the Hartley contract. In my mind coaches are far more dispensable than a GM and the Hartley re-signing was always doomed. It wasn’t just his style of coaching/the play of the team, but also because he was never going to be the GM’s guy, he was always the guy from the previous administration. Changing coaches is far less disruptive than changing a GM, so unless they are desperately disappointed in the direction of the team and want it radically changed, I don’t see what point this exercise proves.

      • BurningSensation

        “Businesses aren’t run in a vacuum, and as such you can’t take what works in one industry and apply it to another.”

        This sentence is inherently contradictory. It is precisely because businesses dont operate in a vacuum that you can (and should, and do) apply best practices across industries.

        “Pro sports are a business, but the industry is largely run by owners that are fans and do not run their business as if their financial well being depends on it making huge $$.”

        The teams that are run by Owner-fans, say, Terry Pegula, have noticeably poor track records. Good organizations are run like businesses, they use a process to interview and hire strong candidates, they treat them professionally, let them do their jobs, create attainable and measureable benchmarks, have a predictable professional contract process, and reward/fire them accordingly.

        Also, its cute that you think they aren’t doing this for the $. Naiive in the extreme, and obviously wrong, but cute.

        “How is Flames ownership going to sell this policy to a big hire down the road”

        Easy, its part of being part of a professionally run organization. Its how uou avoid ‘big name hires’ like Patrick Roy.

        ” No way he comes cheaper now, he has the leverage.”

        GM salaries aren’t capped, and the Flames can afford to keep him. Whats more, Treliving’s performance deserves to be rewarded, by having negotiations occur after the season rather than during you have a full picture on how he has done – which is good for the team (avoids mistakes), and is good for Treliving (incentive to perform well, and proper recognition for a job well done).

        In short, there is no downside to behaving predictably and responsibly by management, and lots of upside.

  • Pizanno

    Forget about the big-name goalies. They rarely pan out anyways in terms of buying championships. Let’s get one who grows with the team, just like your Quicks, Crawfords, Fleurys, Lundqvists, etc. did. Here’s who I would try to get if I were our astute GM: Darling, Saros, or to a lesser extent Raanta, and to an even lesser extent Comrie. Heck of a lot cheaper than the big guns out there. Signing/trading a big name goalie doesn’t equal success. Most cup champs in the past 20 years won with a goalie they either drafted or obtained before they were legitimate stars.

    • Cfan in Van

      The “Quicks, Crawfords, Fleurys, and Lundqvists” were drafted by their teams. I’m not sure those situations apply here unless you’re thinking that we already have the solution waiting in the wings (and I’m not saying we don’t).

    • JumpJet

      I’d say there is more risk acquiring a younger goalie to grow with the team than a big-name guy with a proven record of success. Bishop, Fleury, and even Elliot have years of NHL experience and it’s much easier to predict how they will turn out. Plus the Flames have there own potential star goalie with Gillies and Parsons. We need someone who can win now.

    • Lets Get Something Clear

      While drafting and developing a star goaltender is obviously the best-case scenario, the Flames don’t have any surefire options waiting. They have promising prospects but it’s unlikely any can step into the starter role now. This means they need to find a solid goaltender to protect their up-and-comers in the meantime. To that extent, Fleury with his two-years remaining may be the best option for the club.

  • OKG

    Promote Conroy to GM. He has learned from Treliving for the past two years, but he has also soaked in useful knowledge from Feaster, and he’s a former high-level NHLer so I would trust his evaluation skills more at this point. Long term, another team will poach him if we don’t promote him.

  • Micheal Ferland has been physically productive and an asset who has exhibited confidence with the Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau’s line. Deryk Engelland also continues to be strong defensively while Kris Versteeg has provided steady offense particularly on man advantages. Locking Mikael Backlund wouldn’t be a bad idea either but the primary focus of the team should be on the roller coaster goal. tending.

    • Sol Goode

      Engelland can be replaced, he may clear the front of the net well but he also is responsible for the puck coming back into our zone once he clears it. He is not very good and seeing him on the pk all the time is a recipe for disaster.

  • canadian1967

    What are the odds that McPhee and Treliving have already worked out a deal. Maybe something like:
    Treliving to McPhee: “Hey George, what’ll it take to get you to pick Brouwer? McPhee replies”I really would like to get my hands on that Lazar kid, can you make that happen”?
    So it ends up being Brouwer picked in the expansion draft, and a trade of Lazar(the equivalent of a 2nd, but further along) and Bouma for something we pick in the draft.

    • Pyroflatulence

      Makes sense to me because I still can figure out why they gave away a second rounder for him. Unless they see or know something about him that we don’t.

        • ThisBigMouthIsRight

          Oh ya, Duh… LOL…. I’m not sure why but my brain flipped his name to Anders Rasmuson? (that is so strange?) Anyways before my brain cramp I was going to say Ya, even if you switched Andersson & Wotherspoon due to game playing experience or rotated them? I’m all in on this D situation, Flames have to give the kids a chance!

    • Pyroflatulence

      It’s nice to have so many defensive options. Wotherspoon seems to be a missed opportunity. At the very least, they should, or should have, given him a chance. At the very least he is an asset that could be used in a trade deal. Why invest all the time and money if you’re content to just walk away?

    • BlueMoonNigel

      That is one of my Top 5 offseason storylines: are the Flames prepared to begin the season with two rookie starters on the backend? Failing the acquisition of a legitimate 4th defender, I would rather see the team go with a pair of rookies than ol’ Engelland or another creaky vet. Easy enough to pick up one of those well-oiled yeomen at the trade deadline. I would like to see some Heaters get a fair go at making the big club next season.

      • BlueMoonNigel

        If Radulov gets bucks and, more importantly, term, what is to say he won’t backslide into his bad ass days? I’d stay clear of this guy because you know at least one club is going to generously reward him, so why get into a bidding war for a guy who might already have had his NHL career year. I don’t doubt his talent or skill, just what is between his ears.

    • ThisBigMouthIsRight

      Oshie will most likely be to much $$$/Term and is turning 30. Flames might want to go after someone who might not be protected at the expansion draft, Teams will be more likely to get something rather than lose a guy for Nothing to Vegas… If I were the Flames I would give serious consideration to the Quacks “Jakob Silfverberg”(Only 25 great two way forward with lots of playoff exp and a right hand shot), plus he is still signed for the next two years at a reasonable $3.75. Hope Vegas takes Engelland in Free Agency, Thus freeing up the Flames from losing a player in the Vegas draft. That would Give a green light to So may possibilities.

  • RealMcHockeyReturns

    Re:Expansion Draft: What about stealing players from teams bound to lose good players. Manny will have to either expose 2 good F & 1 good D (if the use the 8 skaters option) or 2 good D if they do the 7F/3D option. Perhaps we can trade 1-2 of numerous D or G prospects to get Brodin or Scandella as our D4.

  • ThisBigMouthIsRight

    Vegas Also needs to fill and AHL Roster…. This could be a perfect time to shed some low-level/not panning out farm hands(in bulk) to Vegas for protecting 1 or 2 high end prospects. There are lots of potential moving pieces to work with, after all is said and done with the Vegas expansion Draft. Hopefully Tre can work his charm and magic and do wonders with everything out there.

  • canadian1967

    I don’t go to your website to act like a dick, so why do you feel the need to come on here? You are precisely the reason I would rather ANY of the other 7 teams left win the Cup than your team.
    The Oilers make the playoffs for the first time in 10 years (an NHL record) and you act like the team that plays in your city makes you personally Hot Stuff. Unless you are actually part of the team, then you are just another loser from the dump called Edmonton, so crawl back to your own site and take your name and get intimate with yourself.

  • Connor'sGotHart

    You were the one that said Canada’s team ( Oilers)would finish behind Anaheim and San Jose and you also said Canada’s team would be the first eliminated from the playoffs. Didn’t quite happen like that did it?

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    Man you guys make it tough to cheer for the Oilers. I can’t stand the ducks but the incessant trolling has clinched it for me. Don’t you have a flag that you need to put up somewhere?

  • Connor'sGotHart

    Connor McDavid is the face of the NHL which makes it logical that the Oilers are Canada’s team. 1 more round and only the Oilers will be left . Oilers in 6. Chiarelli built his team to beat Anaheim ,LA and San Jose.

  • Pyroflatulence

    That’s funny as well. Connor is the face of the CoilErs. Too bad Chia wasn’t smart enough to build a team good enough to beat the good teams. You better get your pipe wrenchs ready to go whack some cow pucks around town, or whatever it is you do up there.

  • Connor'sGotHart

    What part hurt your feelings anyway?? Did I call anyone name or make a derogatory statement?? I said the Oilers are Canada’s team! They will be the only Canadian team left after the next round!

  • thprop

    Dude…you had better pray the series against the *ucks doesn’t go the way I think it will….you have run your mouth so painfully on this site all season and I suspect you will disappear very quickly in this series only to reappear under some other sh*tty nickname like Train97