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.
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.