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Photo Credit: © Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Becoming contenders: Offseason Agenda 3/3: Bottom six

We wrap up the Becoming Contenders series with what I see as the third and final pressing item on the Flames’ offseason agenda: the bottom six.

Every contender has a quality offensive engine. The Monahan line got a ton of offensive zone starts – and though they started slow usually created a number of quality scoring chances per game. Overall, they were the team’s best offensive line. Check.

Every contending team has a great shutdown line. 3M was monstrous for most the season, shoving the puck down their opposition’s best line’s throat on a nightly basis, and finishing shifts which began in the defensive zone at the opposite end of the rink with regularity. Check.

Every contending team also has a quality bottom six, and that’s where two ‘checks’ are missing for the Flames. The Versteeg-Bennett-Chiasson line was reasonable down the stretch and had a good playoffs, but for the most part, the bottom six was a nightmare for the Flames this past season.

3. Fixing the bottom six

Versteeg, Bennett, Chiasson, Bouma, Stajan and Brouwer made up the Flames’ bottom six for the majority of the second half when things were going well, and all finished the year with poor underlying numbers. The fourth line consisting of the latter three guys mentioned also make an appalling amount of money for how bad they were, so something needs to give there.

Well played, Pinder.

Bouma and Brouwer especially are the two I would identify as needing replacement. Bouma can take the Bollig treatment next year in Stockton until his contract runs out at season’s end, while Brouwer is a more complicated fix. Maybe Vegas takes him, but like… why? Why would they do that to themselves? Both Gulutzan and Treliving spoke complimentary of Brouwer after the season so I do doubt he goes anywhere but Vegas.

Apparently Brouwer is good in the room, which is a qualification you hear a lot and drives me up walls. If Brouwer’s value to your hockey team is “good in the room” then sign him to your hockey ops as a Dressing Room Morale Influencer (I got the corporate lingo down) and stop pissing away $4.5 million of valuable salary cap space on a player who makes literally everyone he plays with much worse than they are otherwise.

Assuming Stajan and Brouwer remain on the team and Bouma does not, that still leaves three open spots (two on Bennett’s line, one on the fourth line) on the bottom six to fill, and there’s a number of avenues the Flames can go down if they wish to properly fill that void.

In-house

The Flames have a number of options “in-house” that could effectively fill bottom six roles.

Sam Bennett and Curtis Lazar need new deals but immediately come to mind as fixtures moving forward. Bennett especially really came around as a third line centre near the end of the year and into the playoffs.

Kris Versteeg is a UFA but expressed interest in returning to the team, and was very good this past season – showing some great chemistry with Bennett late in the year and into the playoffs – on a sub-million dollar deal. He’ll demand a bit of a raise, but given his modest 15-goal, 37-point output, it won’t be a massive one. Two years at $2.5 million a pop, if I were to guesstimate.

Alex Chiasson was the third member of the trio with Vertseeg and Bennett, and is an RFA this summer. He too was on a sub-million dollar deal and will want a raise, but likely one less than Versteeg. Chiasson is best suited as a fourth liner in my eyes, and along with Stajan and Brouwer could form a functional fourth line, with enough skill to not be useless and enough size to quench Burke’s thirst.

Freddie Hamilton is also an example a functional fourth liner, with enough speed and skill to keep his head above water for eight or so minutes a night. He was very well suited as the 13th forward this year, I thought, and is signed through next year.

Then there are the kids in Stockton. Jankowski, Hathaway, Mangiapane, Shinkaruk and Klimchuk all come to mind as bottom 6 possibilities come next training camp. Shinkaruk especially is in a spot that really feels “do or die”. This log jam of kids on the bud of making the big leagues is another source of frustration for the contracts the Flames have signed to their bottom 6. Having a fourth line free to try the kids out on is a luxury the Flames don’t seem to have.

Free agency

Names like T.J. Oshie and Martin Hanzal will dominate free agency talk leading up to July 1, but it’s the smaller names the Flames could look at to fill bottom 6 roles.

Sam Gagner had a renaissance season in Columbus, putting up 18 goals and 52 points with a 54% ES CF. Those aesthetic numbers are what will likely drive his price beyond what the Flames are willing to pay. If he can be had on a deal shorter than four years at less than $3 million, I would certainly be interested.

If the Flames are okay with taking on an older type that can still drive play, Justin Williams is going on 36 but remains a very effective scorer, and might be a nice compliment to a Bennett-Versteeg pairing. Williams is also a very effective 5 on 5 scorer, potting 20 of his 27 goals at evens this year, so he won’t rely on consistent power play time to be a contributor.

In a similar vein, Patrick Marleau may move on from the Sharks and at 37 years old, still managed 29 goals and pushed possession forward in a reduced role. He would be more of an add on the power play though, as 26 of his 49 points came on the man advantage.

The Flames have had multiple opportunities to add P.A. Parenteau in the past, so I won’t waste my breath on him, though he also qualifies as a nice bottom six add for the Flames and would form a formidable trio with Bennett and Versteeg, one would think.

As is true every year, there are a few dangerous landmines lurking in the weeds, and with an exceptionally weak free agent class, Nick Bonino figures to be one of those mines. His 44.7% CF on a monster Penguins team is abysmal, and his stock has been elevated by superior linemates such as Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel. Bonino is also a centre, and would derail Bennett’s development down the middle by taking away his minutes. He’s also likely to demand Brouwer dough, and he’s about to turn 30. Best to just stay away.

Brian Boyle is another one to stay away from, if only because you won’t get the bang for your buck with him. He’s a great bottom six forward and penalty killer, and pushes the play up ice, but he doesn’t score much. Boyle had just 27 points last year, and will likely be demanding somewhere in the neighbourhood of $3-4 million with term, and will be highly sought after to boot.

Free agency is usually chock full of old overpays waiting to happen, and I wouldn’t be terribly choked if the Flames avoided it this year altogether.

Trade

Then there’s the topic of trading for another forward.

A quick look at the expansion draft rules would reveal that many a team will be left at risk of losing a quality top nine player to Vegas and get nothing in return. Given this climate, the trade market will be ripe for action. The Flames no longer have any spots on their protected list for another player though, so it is unlikely they trade for someone’s unprotected asset before the draft.

After it, however, the Flames could be active. The idea of making a deal with Vegas to “select a player then trade him” has been bandied about, and the Flames could, in theory, negotiate that style of deal with George McPhee. Having said that, the Golden Knights want to be competitive off the hop, and any worthwhile player they select in the expansion draft, they’ll likely keep. If the Flames like a player the Knights do not, however, then this isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

The Flames could also push all their chips to the middle and make a play for Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog, solidifying their forward core in a big way. However, given their lack of draft picks and need of prospect replenishment, especially at forward, I don’t really foresee this as being a possibility.

Series conclusion

The Calgary Flames are steps away from being contenders. Those steps aren’t straightforward, they aren’t easy and there’s a myriad of traps scattered along the path, but the reality is they’re close.

Brad Treliving’s competent three years in Calgary gives hope that he can avoid most of those traps (he’ll undoubtedly make another dumb free agent signing because NHL GMs just can’t seem to help themselves), but for the most part I expect him to navigate a pivotal offseason well and, come October, this Calgary Flames team will be of a quality unseen in the last decade.

Rebuilds, if executed properly, are said to be five-year processes. You tear it down in Year 1 and you enter your window of contention in Year 5. Well friends, the 2017-18 season will be Year 5 of the Calgary Flames’ rebuild (they only needed one, take that Edmonton!), and it looks like they’re right on schedule.


Becoming Contenders series

Agenda Item 1/3: Defence

Agenda Item 2/3: Goaltending

  • Puckhead

    No old free agents please. Time to pull up some prospects and make room in Stockton to do the same.

    Youth = energy with the occasional gaffe here and there. However, I’d rather see a young guy trying and learning from the occasional mistake than the alternative – big, slow, heavy hands, and predictable gaffes.

    It’s time to move on and put a product on the ice that gets people out of their seats.

  • Wow

    I think Vegas will take either Stajan or Chiasson. If that happens then I wouldnt mind our bottom nine looking like:
    Jankowski-Backlund-Frolik
    Tkachuk-Bennett-Versteeg
    Klimchuk-Ham/Stajan-Brower/Chias
    depending on who gets taken. If Jankowski doesn’t work on the 2nd line we could always put Tkachuk back with the Mikes and move Jankowski elswhere?

      • everton fc

        If we lose one of Stajan or Chiasson to Vegas, and can move Brouwer for Fleury, and Bouma for pucks, the bottom six;

        Versteeg-Bennett-Chiasson (I’d like to see this group get a full season together. But if Chiasson’s moved)

        3rd line: Versteeg-Bennett-Jankowski/Lazar
        4th line: Stajan-Lazar/Jankowski-Hathaway/Freddie H.

        If Stajan’s picked, and we keep Chiasson:

        3rd line: Versteeg-Bennett-Chiasson
        4th line: Hathaway/Shinkaruk/Freddie H.-Jankowski-Lazar

        One bottom six player I’d love to see in Calgary – Antoine Roussel. He’s be LW w/Bennett and Versteeg on RW. If we keep Chiasson, he’s 4th line RW, centered by Jankowski, w/Lazar perhaps on the LW. Again, all if we lose Brouwer and Bouma. I’d leave our first three lines we finished the season with “status quo”.

  • buts

    A legit #1 goalie, not a gap filler a #4 D-man along with a 5,6 decent pairing that’s not a fire drill like Bartkowski paired with anyone. 3 new energetic high hockey IQ, smart bottom (goodbye Bouma, Chiasson, Stajan) 6 forwards and the flames are playing at this time next year. If BT has autonomy like it’s reported and KK, BB have there noses out of the key decisions then this will be an interesting summer. GFG

  • I really like the idea of adding Sam Gagner. NHL GMs have a bit of a history of ignoring him, so I’m hoping that brings his value down. Silfverberg would be an ideal acquisition which would then move Ferland back down to the bottom 6 as a capable winger. My hope is Bouma is taken by Vegas as a fairly non-threatening option. Brouwer needs to be bought out. Period. There’s no other option. He needs to go. You can’t win with guys like this. $1.5 million buried on a buyout is still better than $4.5 mm in wasted cap space when the time comes to re-sign Tkachuk and Backlund.

    If Jankowski graduates to the NHL out of camp, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him centre Bennett and Versteeg. I caught the Ryan Huska interview last week on SN960 where he cautioned that if Janko is given an NHL opportunity, he should be given an opportunity to produce offense, not on a throwaway line with the likes of Stajan and Brouwer or equivalent. This, of course, if he looks like an NHLer. I know Jankowski’s rookie season has done little to shake the doubters, so I’m not going to proclaim him a guarantee by any means.

    It’ll be interesting. Good article as always, CR.

      • ThisBigMouthIsRight

        That’s the thing about the Ducks and the expansion draft. Because of having to protect 4 guys(Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler & (lol)Kevin Bieksa.. and having a plethora of very good young D (Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler, and on the outside looking in Josh Manson) They have themselves in a bad place. Unless they can trade some young D, the Ducks will most likely have to go 8-1 instead of 7-3-1. So Who do the ducks leave to be picked up by Vegas for nothing? Well, they have only ONE forward spot left that they can protect from these choices. Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, Andrew Cogliano, Antoine Vermette. So I believe they will protect Rakell thus leaving Silfverberg to be taken for Free by Vegas. It will be interesting to see how this whole expansion draft thing shakes things up!

      • Parallex

        They might have to. They’re asshats on the ice but they have an embarrassment of riches in terms of roster talent and they’re one of the teams I could see using the 4-4-1 protection criteria and if they do that Silfverberg is on the outside looking in.

    • Kevin R

      To buy out Brouwer is insanity. Lump sum payment you would be asking Burke & Ken King to take to Edwards is $8.91 mill & then carry a cap hit of just under 1.5mill for the next 6 years. No thanks. Dallas is probably about to sign Bishop to a 6 year deal at $6.0 mill per. That means they will have over 16.0mill of their cap allocated to the goalies. They may take Brouwer & a sweetener for Lehtenen & then we ride Lehtenen & one of the kids as back up next year. Better yet, maybe Pitt gives us Fleury for Brouwer. Better yet, add a sweetener to Vegas to take Brouwer. Buyout should not even be on the table for him this summer, if he has the same type of year next year, then next summer is the very earliest you would even consider this. Heck Arizona is always looking for assets & will take on cap.

  • C Watson

    It seems everyone is forgetting about Ryan Lomberg. He impressed Flames brass in the last 2 development camps and has been rewarded with a two way contract for next year. He is very fast and has break away speed like Paul Byron and can score. Not overly big but with a Domi like build and plays with snarl. Much more upside than Hathaway. A real spark plug.

  • MWflames

    Thoughts on trying to aquire kovi? Placing him on the third line with Bennet and versteeg would give us a very balanced attack and big pp boost…

    Hard to say what his aquisition cost would be, and what kind of contract he’s looking for though

    • Rexx

      Yeah, you get Kovalchuk and he is playing top line / top 6 minutes.
      Sadly I do not think Calgary is a destination of choice for this years (potentially) hottest UFA Forward, nor would a trade make sense for both sides.

  • PrairieStew

    I’m of the opinion that Tkachuk should move up to the first line and play with Gaudreau and Monahan. That would put Ferland in his proper place on the left side of the third line. Bennett goes back to the wing with Backlund and Frolik. Jankowski centres Ferly and Versteeg, if he comes back. Stajan centres the 4th, unless he is picked – then it is a platoon of Lazar and Freddie. Brouwer gets one more year to redeem himself unless you trade him to Dallas for one of their goalies ( only one year left on contracts)

    • Jeremy

      I’m in agreement for the most part. I’m just not sure about giving Jankowski a third line starting point. I think he’ll grow into it, maybe by December, but not October.

  • mcardoza

    I’m shooting for jagr, trade for Brett Connolly. Matty claimed as expansion. Bouma demoted. Brouwer eating pop corn in the both being the “good guy in the room”

    Johnny mons jagr
    3m
    Versteeg bens Ferland
    Lazar janks Connolly/ chainsaw

  • #97TRAIN

    LETS GO OILERS👏🏻👏🏻 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
    LETS GO OILERS👏🏻👏🏻 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
    Come on Flamers I cheered for your team once!

  • Newbietwo

    I think you are going to see

    Johnny/mony/chucky
    Jankowski/Backlund/Frolik
    Ferland/Bennet/Lazar
    Bouma or /Hamilton/ Brouwer or Chiason if not taken or Stajan really depends who Vegas takes

  • Denscafon

    I don’t get this delusion that some people have here that Rutherford would trade MAF away for Brouwer. Pens need all the cap space they can get. So unless BT offered our first and Brouwer for MAF I just don’t see how it makes any sense for them to take a horrible contract off of us. They probably would rather have maf’s 5.75 mill in cap space freed up than get 1.25 mill relief with obtaining Brouwer

  • freethe flames

    Building the bottom and being able to create a 4 line team needs to come from within IMO there is no need to go hunting for anyone to fit this need. If however you can find a RW who can surplant Ferland on the first line great. I would have no problem with lines that look something like this: Johnny/Monny/Ferland, Tkachuk/Bennett/Versteeg, Janko/Backs/Frolik, Stajan/Lazaar/Chaisson(Hathaway). Down the road hopefully Mangiapane can replace Stajan. The reality is there is no space for Bouma; if you can’t move him bury him like Bollig and unless a miracle happens(either he remembers how to play or he gets picked up by Vegas and I’m not sure which is the most unlikely) you might have to buy Brouwer out.

  • Blackgold

    UFA isn’t an option. Bishop put Calgary on the no trade list. Have to still overpay for UFA’s as Flames still not an elite team that is seen to win the cup in the next few years.

  • everton fc

    Leave Ferland with Gaudreau and Monahan, and he’ll score 20+ goals. So will Gaudreau. And Monahan may get 30. No one wants to mess w/the 3M line. Why mess with Gaudreau-Monahan-Ferland?

    If anything, we’d be wise to look for a better 3rd line RW option than Chiasson. If Chiasson is on our 3rd line/RW with Versteeg and Bennett, they’ll produce. But an upgrade on Chiasson, with Chiasson as 4th line RW…

    Lazar’s addition means the organization has some plan. Maybe it’s a 3rd line of Bennett-Lazar/Jankowski-Versteeg, and a 4th line of Freddie/Lomberg-Lazar/Jankowski-Chiasson. Not bad. But I think Lazar’s addition may be to move Bennett to LW.

  • Franko J

    I agree with Puckhead — NO free agents over 30. There are enough options in the bottom six with what the Flames currently have in the organization to improve the bottom six.
    If anything I think Treliving has learned from the last “character” guy he signed.

    Like on D, let the young guys try to earn their spot come training camp next year.

  • Puckhead

    Hockey teams should run their organizations more like European football (soccer) clubs, where there is a big emphasis on development and prospects are money in the bank. Ideally there should be a consistent stream of good young talent ready to graduate to the NHL. And when some players are ripe there is nothing wrong with selling high to ensure that there is a steady stream of picks and prospects in the system.

    Good prospect development is money in the bank and can keep an organization competitive over the long-term.

  • HOFer_dirty30

    Honestly at the risk of breaking up the 3m line, tkachuck I think would play well with Monahan. Tkachuck plays behind the goal line, Monahan scores from the slot. That’s what they both excel at. Add in gaudreau with his speed in space and that’s an A class first line.

  • freethe flames

    So the simple solution to becoming a contender boils down to 3 simple things; I hope BT is listening to all of us hockey guru’s. Upgrade the D by signing 2 veteran NHL defenders that can play the 4/5 spot or higher up and hope that one of the young guys on the farm can make the leap and be a solid #6. Acquire a starting goaltender and a back up who can help steal games; maybe the back up can be one of our kids. Sign our own free agents and hope that they can push the pile and replace the $10mm line from with and that all of our under 25 crowd can show significant growth in your game. And do all of this and keep under the salary cap. Good luck BT. (Also some want you to add a significant upgrade over Ferland for the top line)