Photo Credit: Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports

What’s a successful offseason for the Flames?

The prevailing feeling, it seems, is that the Flames had a successful 2016-17.

They made the playoffs with a new coach, even after a disastrous start. They didn’t win any playoff games, but everything that was the postseason was gravy, anyway.

The Flames discovered Matthew Tkachuk could be an impact player pretty much right away. Dougie Hamilton’s potential grew ever apparent, particularly with him playing on the top pairing instead of on the bottom. If Mikael Backlund hadn’t established himself as a key to the Flames’ lineup down the middle, he certainly has now. There were some bumps in the road, but Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan straightened themselves out, while we’ve got good reason to believe Sam Bennett and T.J. Brodie can turn things around – albeit, with a little help.

Getting them that help is going to be one of the focuses this offseason. The Flames had a pretty good 2016-17 overall, but if their 2017-18 plays out the same way, that feeling won’t be the same. They’re supposed to take more steps forward, starting as soon as they’re able. Re-signing Brad Treliving was a good start; now, there’s much more work to be done.

Easy to do

Some things the Flames have to do are not only no-brainers, but things the team could probably do in its sleep – both literally and figuratively.

Don’t sign any dead weight.

Dennis Wideman’s contract is up; don’t re-sign him. Easy! Or so it appears on first glance, but we’ve seen the Flames be prone to making questionable choices when it comes to free agents in rather recent history (Nicklas Grossmann and Troy Brouwer highlight the past year in particular).

There’s also the matter of fact that Deryk Engelland will be a free agent. And I get it – he’s a good team guy, he’s physical, there’s sentimental value there and he’s easy to like. But I really cannot emphasize this enough: we are talking about a 35-year-old slow defenceman with limited (zero?) upside at this point. You can like the guy and also acknowledge his roster spot could be better used on several other players instead.

So don’t be too attached to some of your departing UFAs – and while you’re at it, maybe just take a nap on July 1.

Re-sign RFAs to fair deals.

A year remains on Lance Bouma’s contract, signed when he was a restricted free agent and pretty much never living up to it. It was a predictable outcome.

Fortunately, the Flames don’t really have any Bouma-like RFAs coming up, perhaps Alex Chiasson aside, but it’s very difficult to see him getting a big deal. Curtis Lazar will be re-signed, but he hasn’t actually done anything yet to prove he’s worth a big contract. Micheal Ferland has put himself in line for a raise, but remember his career high is 25 points in a season; you want to keep him around, but there’s no reason to break the bank. And Sam Bennett’s next contract is probably going to manageable, especially considering how he’s positioned himself for a bridge deal.

Just bring back the kids who clearly deserve it, and without overpaying them. You’d think it would be easy enough – although Ferland does have arbitration rights.

Give prospects a chance to make the team.

This criteria is less necessary, but would still be nice to have. Unless there’s a can’t miss deal on the horizon, leave some spots open for some kids. This is easier to do on defence, but that’s where the Flames have their strongest prospects, anyway. Brett Kulak in particular looks ready for the NHL, while Rasmus Andersson could be in line to give a strong push; to fill those spots with another Matt Bartkowski would be, well, unfortunate.

At some point these kids are going to have to actually play in the NHL, and it’s rather hard to accomplish that when there’s no room for them.

Some work involved

Some things the Flames should be able to do, but it’ll probably require a bit more work, and perhaps some actual sacrifice.

Find a defence partner for T.J. Brodie.

This one has a two-part benefit. First, you shore up the Flames’ top four defence; second, you probably improve Brodie’s game by doing so, making for that much stronger a defence overall. A legitimate top four, combined with a bottom pairing that can handle itself, and the Flames should be that much stronger a team.

There are potential solutions everywhere. Could it be Kulak or Andersson? Sure, maybe, but that’s a big risk to take right away.

Is the answer in free agency? Quite possibly. We’ve been beating the Cody Franson drum for some time now (three different links, four years apart), and though he’ll be 30 to start next season, he’s still a viable option – just hopefully one that won’t command a big deal (and could, perhaps, be replaced by a Kulak or Andersson should they prove themselves over the course of the season). Other possible options include the familiar in Michael Stone (though the familiar may not always be the best choice), or perhaps Dmitry Kulikov or Michael Del Zotto if you want to stay in that age group.

Proceed cautiously, however: Kevin Shattenkirk may be a big name, but there appears to be some warts there, while Karl Alzner should probably be avoided, too.

A trade is another possible solution. Could, say, Radko Gudas be had? Nate Schmidt seems to have potential. Brandon Davidson? Mark Pysyk? Is it possible to get someone out of Nashville? Nobody saw Dougie Hamilton coming; who knows? We do know that Treliving has it in him, at least.

Get another high caliber forward.

Well, it’s either that or pray Ferland or Lazar or both can turn into just that pretty much immediately, which may not pay off. Ferland has some great potential – but the Flames could be that much better of a team if he ends up justifiably bumped down the lineup. The team can hope that force comes from within, but that’s really no better than hoping Ferland is a top line winger forever now.

Unfortunately, free agency doesn’t seem to have any answers here. (Or, considering Treliving’s free agent record, that might be fortunate.) T.J. Oshie, 30 years young, may be the biggest prize available; he also shot at nearly 10% over his career average this past season, and we’ve been down this Bouma road before. Most available free agent forwards are already on the wrong side of 30, and that includes Kris Versteeg, who’s probably already coming back. (Unless someone’s working on a time machine to bring back 26-year-old Jarome Iginla. Is somebody on this? If no, why not?)

So that leaves creativity as a solution. To which I say: could the expansion draft be a tool to be utilized? Anaheim, Columbus, and Minnesota could be good candidates to try to nab a forward from. Plonk Jakob Silfverberg or Nino Niederreiter alongside Gaudreau and Monahan and see how you’re feeling then, or try rolling the dice on a William Karlsson.

This one is doable – but likely requires a lot of creativity, hope, or both.

Acquire a good goalie.

Easier said than done, right? But there are a lot of options out there. Do you watch Marc-Andre Fleury’s postseason and go after him, maybe trying to get a little extra something out of the deal? Do you retain faith in Brian Elliott, who likely isn’t going to cost much? Do you go after Antti Raanta? Ben Bishop?

The problem here is it’s pretty much one shot, and it’s best to get it right sooner rather than later – but it’s a step that’ll have to be accomplished.

Dream big

Are these gonna happen, like, at all? Probably not, but they would be unspeakably helpful (and that’s probably why they won’t happen).

Get rid of the seeming immovable dead weight.

Two words: Troy Brouwer. Okay thanks for your time.

But for real: not only would his departure free up $4.5 million in cap space, but it would free up a roster spot, too, that would very likely go to a better player. Win-win. Hard to see happening at this point, though, but you never really know for sure.

Replicate the Dougie Hamilton trade.

Seriously, who saw that one coming?

So Jonathan Drouin could be on the block, eh? I would like to note that not only would he add an immediate boost to the top six, but the Flames already have five players who were selected in the first round of the 2013 draft in the organization. It’s a sign.

Who knows what’s out there? Probably not something as big as the Hamilton trade was, but with pretty much nothing going on right now, it’s a good time to dream.

Do nothing; have everything go your way from the get-go.

With no contract holdouts and the coach having been around for a year already, there’s no hiccup to start the season. Gaudreau goes back to point-per-game caliber, Hamilton becomes one of the highest-scoring defencemen in the NHL, Elliott comes back and does what he did in St. Louis and then some, nobody gets hurt and everybody exceeds all expectations always, and then the Flames are set for life.

It’s fun to dream – but the actual work to come ahead will be exciting.

  • Skylardog

    I am ready for the onslaught of attacks on this but here I go.
    Success in the offseason means one thing – Fire Gulutzan. But we know that won’t happen after BT was extended.
    Sorry gang, until he is gone this team will disappoint, mark my words. We are now a min of halfway through next season with him before they will look at the real problem. I could document why all night if you like, but I will leave it at that.

      • Skylardog

        Only because you asked for concrete – I’ll make three points here.

        The season turnaround was ALL goaltending – specifically Elliott. During the win streak of 10, he posts a .943 save%, opposing goalies, 0.877. 7 games against teams that did not make the playoffs, 4 go to OT, 1 is a win by 1. Put a .920 in there by Elliott and they lose 4 in reg and go to OT against Tampa. Who knows what other games they lose if other teams goalies play at a 0.920. That’s 9 points less during the season if they lose in OT to Tampa. Winnipeg 8 back and LA 9 back. LA gets 1 point for Reg win vs Calgary in the streak. Now 10th in the West, and out. During that streak Corsi is 50%, yet they win 10 of 10.
        Don’t get me going on the Nov 30 to Dec 10 six game streak. That was all Johnson, Corsi 45.94, Save% 0.951, Opp save% 0.869. Calgary stole 5 points there too.
        You can argue that there were lost games due to goalies too – I agree. But the start of the season was so bad that the goalies had their confidence broken. This is not a good defensive team.

        Concrete – so I will talk ice time – in particular, ice time in the playoffs. Because it is measurable.
        One of the things an NHL coach should have no problem managing, is player ice time. GG fails on all accounts. Concrete only here, I have subjective reasons why he fails as well, but won’t add them in.
        Best line down the stretch, JH, SM, MF. In the playoffs, Ferland averaged 12:28 per game, yet he is the physical presence and the key from 2 years ago in beating Vancouver in round 1. That’s not first line minutes. Tkachuk, after 2 games was at 13:38, less than 1/4 of the game. How is a top 6 forward not getting more than 1/4 of a games minutes? Tkachuk did bump up to over 15 minutes per game after game 4.
        Shifts per game after game 3 – or how much the coach uses his players: Ferland 17, Tkachuk 18, Bennett 19, Brouwer 19.5, Chaisson 20. Really, Chaisson, and Brouwer should have more than either Ferland or Tkachuk? Yet Bouma 17, and Stajan 18 get as many shifts as Ferland and Tkachuk. Make any sense at all?
        Game 2 icetime, Ferland 11:19, Tkachuk 15:03, Brouwer 16:02. Logic in this?
        Hits – Ferland is second with 12 behind Bennett but lead with 8 after 2 games despite the low ice time. And he played disciplined.
        For Defensemen, ice time makes good sense. But I will note this. If Bartkowski is making mistakes, and is a weakness, then perhaps 13:06 is too much. How about sitting Bartkowsi, putting in Wideman, and ONLY using him on the PP.

        That brings me to the 3rd point, PP player usage.
        On the PP during the season, top D-man in PP Points per 60 minutes of PP time is Wideman at 5.02, next is Hamilton at 4.58 with Gio at 4.01 and Brodie at 3.17.
        During the season, Ferland leads the team with 6.77 points per 60 mins of PP time, with Backlund next at 5.79. Brouwer is near the bottom of those forwards that play the PP with 3.69. Yet Brouwer had 178:45 minutes of PP time during the season, Ferland 35:27.
        In the playoffs, Brouwer plays 12:38 on the powerplay, 5th most of any Flame. He plays more than Gio 9:01, D. Hamilton 8:28, or Tkachuk, Backlund, and Frolik. Ferland gets 0:38 on the powerplay. Brodie gets 14:33, more than Gio or Hamilton despite being the 4th most efficient defenseman during the season. Hamilton gets 8:28? There is a rumour he was injured, however I am not sure that theory holds water. He averaged 22:16 per game, 3rd most of any Flame. Not really injured player minutes.

        My point, Gulutzan has no clue who his performers are and has extremely poor bench management skills. That shows up in his bench presence. He can’t hide his incompetence, it shines through, and he knows it. Watch him during a game – he looks lost. He has no idea how to manage the bench. He has no clue how to calm his team, when to use a timeout, when not to.

        GG was the beneficiary of 2 win streaks that were ALL goalie. If not for those 2 streaks, Flames are at 80 points and the fans are calling for his head. They should be with 94 points, because again, it was the goalies that saved his job.

      • Skylardog

        I will add this too. Again – Concrete
        Flames as a team in the Ducks series go -41. No player above even, 2 at even, Lazar and F Hamilton, who played less than 8 minutes. Only 3 goals scored at even strength all series.
        Forget Elliott’s bad play, 3 even strength goals in 4 games – not good enough.
        Monahan, Gaudreau, no even strength goals or points.
        So GG is doing a great job at 5 on 5. I don’t think so. But that is his strength – right.

  • Skylardog

    Want radical – here it is. We are 3 years out from being tooled for a cup run, and the window with this core will be 3 to 8 years out for a cup contender. Gio will be 37 when we are ready in 3 years, and not in his prime, but his cap hit will be $6.75 million until he is 39. He is the best player on this team, but will be the cap problem in 2019/20 through 2021/22.
    Move him in the next 10 months to free up cap space now and more importantly, 3 years from now. He is a depreciating asset that we love today but will hate having 3 years from now.
    He is not a part of a cup run for this team, unfortunately.
    Get value today, as 3 years from now he is worth nothing in the marketplace.

      • Skylardog

        Don’t confuse a coach view with a GM view – they are in different comments.

        What I am saying is that Gio will be long in the tooth when all the pieces come together if this is done right. I believe we are 3 years from being a contender, with another 5 years where they could contend every year, if things are done right.
        My belief – is that Gio’s contract will actually be a problem in assembling a team that can win a cup in 3 years. It is a Stajan but for 2 times the cost. We will be eating Gios contract if we don’t dump it, and it will be undumpable in 3 years.
        The core is there – Monahan, Gaudreau, Tkachuk, Bennett, Hamilton. But they need 3 years to be ready, and the Flames need a couple of years to assemble the supporting cast.

        • Newbietwo

          If it comes down to it the flames could simply buy out his last year or two years or trade hm and retain $2 mill or so.. the flames took this al into consideration to get his value so stop making one thing the end of the world.. if it comes down to one small thing like this then we won’t deserve the cup run as it’s a group effort

          • Skylardog

            I had heard that the Gio contract was front end heavy with him making huge dollars in the first few years and only a million or so in the last 2 years.
            According to Hockeybuzz.com that’s not the case unfortunately.
            Some contracts just can’t be unloaded no matter what is retained. This has all the appearances of being one of those.

  • Skylardog

    Food for thought. Read above on my view of the Gio contract for background.

    Trade Gio to Las Vegas in agreement that they take Brouwer in the draft. Will save Kulak who appears to be the best d-man prospect we have, and the one I believe they will take.

    Frees up $11.25 million per season in salary cap. With that we could get Tavares in 2018, and resign Backlund.

  • freethe flames

    A successful off season lies in the hands of others, our top players and prospects have to grow and push the pile. This in my mind is the most important elements of the puzzle: Monny/Johny/Sam/Ferland/Lazaar/Tkachuk all have to be better next year; the prospects on the farm have to push the pile and BT/GG have to make room for them to push the pile and earn a spot. Janko/Klimchuk/Shinkaruk/Hathaway/ and even Mangiapane all need to push the forwards. I see the off season breaking down into a number of steps for BT. Prior to the Vegas draft he needs to get signed his own FA’s this include Bennett on a 2 year bridge @2.5m, Lazaar 2 years @1.2 m, Ferland 3 years @2.5m, Versteeg 2 years @2m, Stone 3 years @2.4m, and Chiasson 2 years @ 1.3m. Then he needs to acquire a starting goalie from one of the teams with a surplus of goalies w/o overpaying in the trade. Step 2 he has little control over and that is hoping that Vegas selects one of Brouwer/Stajan/Bouma and preferable Brouwer for all the reasons people have stated but I am doubtful it will be Brouwer. (Brouwer appears to be BT’s Wideman) Third use the draft well; if you can move the picks for young assets or team needs. If you can acquire a #4D for the first and some other assets you do so. July 1 go fishing/golfing unless you have clearly identified a player who can fit your needs.

  • Franko J

    For me a successful off season would be to see this core group further develop and improve and put the work in to be ready come the first drop of the puck. No excuses. They know the system and the expectations.

    Up until game 2 of the playoffs I would of said keep Elliott, however I think his confidence and the team’s confidence is somewhat shattered. I think it would be better for him to have a fresh start with another team.

    The pickings from the UFA’s are pretty slim and personally I would rather give the opportunity to the prospects and players currently in the system. See what they can do.
    While goaltending is a priority and finding a bona-fide RW to fill a top six role with the club would be ideal, I think the real weakness is finding stability and reliability on D core. The Flames have a pretty good trio, however after that it was proven in the playoffs they didn’t nearly have the depth to compete further.