June started pretty quietly for the Flames, but it’s been a busy last seven days or so. Once the festivities started, Brad Treliving got busy plugging the Flames’ major roster holes by acquiring G Mike Smith and trading for D Travis Hamonic. Calgary’s entry draft was capped by picking new top prospect Juuso Valimaki, a welcome bonus that adds to an already impressive defensive prospect stable.
So where do the Flames stand now? What’s left to do in free agency? And how do the new additions affect the depth chart?
If you're Gulutzan, how do you use Hamonic?
— JF Urbani (@jfurbani) June 24, 2017
To start I imagine Gulutzan will go back to the Giordano-Hamilton pairing since it was so successful last year. That means Brodie-Hamonic will be the second pairing.
Things may change down the road, however. One of the “drawbacks” of the Gio and Dougie pairing is it features both of Calgary’s best offensive defenders. If GG wants to spread out the blueline attack somewhat, he may try playing Brodie with Hamilton and Gio with Hamonic.
Hamonic had a rough season last year. Is it because he didn't want to be there anymore, or should we be worried?
— Rob Jamieson (@robscureness) June 24, 2017
We’re going to look into this more over the summer, but it’s true that Hamonic had one of his worst seasons in the NHL last year. In fact, his shot impact/hour dipped below average for the first time in his career, albeit in only 49 games.
A smaller sample of contests and a season shortened/hampered by injury suggests the player might be in line for rebound. At 26 years old, Hamonic isn’t at an age where we’d typically expect a sudden downturn.
Is hamonic an overpayment? For what else was on the market like demers?
— Travis Lentz (@LentzTravis) June 24, 2017
The Hamonic deal looks a lot like the Hamilton deal. The latter was an underpayment given Hamilton’s age and ceiling, but the Hamonic trade has a much higher bust risk. Travis isn’t a surefire top pairing guy and he has struggled a bit lately, especially last season. If he doesn’t rebound in a significant way in Calgary, it’s unlikely he will be worth the bounty Brad Treliving paid for him. However, if he does manage to solidify Calgary’s backend and push the team towards contender status, it will seem like a price worth paying.
As for Demers, I am somewhat disappointed the market for him wasn’t investigated a little further because I get the feeling Florida is looking to dump his salary more than anything. He is more expensive than Hamonic, but has put up several seasons of better than average results across the board. It will be interesting to see where he lands and for how much.
Is Brodie the best player that Hamonic's had to play with? If it is do you see that helping Hamonic?
— Colin (@DragonsDeck) June 24, 2017
Actually, Hamonic spent a lot of his season last year with Nick Leddy and Calvin de Haan, two very capable defenders. In fact, both guys have been his most frequent partners over the last two seasons, so I don’t think we can anticipate a major bump from playing with Brodie.
That said, Tyler Dellow has a deep look at Hamonic’s past here ($ paywall). In the article, he shows Hamonic has previously excelled with players like de Haan and Leddy (while being dragged down by terrible partners like Brian Strait and Andrew MacDonald. Kind of like Brodie last year, in fact). Last season is the lone outlier where Hamonic struggled with everyone, but a broken thumb and a knee injury are (as mentioned) potential explanations for that.
If you’re willing to treat the past season as a write-off and conclude that it was probably injury/Islanders related rather than decline related, which is the sensible bet to make in the case of a player who doesn’t turn 27 until August. It seems like a very smart risk and, if it pays off, Calgary quite possibly ends up with the best defence in the NHL.
Why is the GM mortgaging the team future right now
— Thomas Johnson (@thomasjohnson39) June 25, 2017
Calgary’s window of contention opens next season, so Brad Treliving is going all in to patch cracks in the foundation with what is available. I don’t like the Smith bet myself, but Hamonic may prove to be the right move given how badly the Flames needed to find another top four defender.
The good news is, the organization’s cupboards are relatively full at defense and in goal. Up front things are thinning out, though with Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Sam Bennett all in the NHL already, Calgary doesn’t necessarily need a pipeline of bluechip forwards feeding the parent club right now.
Aside from improving the club’s right wing depth, Treliving’s next steps are obvious: clear out the bad contracts from the bottom end of the roster and avoid any other Brouwer-like mistakes in free agency.
Of the fowards they didn't bother to protect which are "moveable"? Meaning we could trade them for something (anything) without a sweetener.
— James Foster (@YKJFosterYYC) June 24, 2017
Probably none of them. Matt Stajan is a capable fourth line C at this point in his career, but he’s way overpaid for that role. Troy Brouwer and Lance Bouma were two of the worst regular Calgary forwards from a shot and scoring chance perspective last year, so trading either of them is a pipe dream as well. At best, Bouma may find himself in the AHL this year so the Flames can clear up a roster spot for a more promising player like Mark Jankowski.
Alex Chiasson might have some value if the Flames choose to re-sign him (but then why would you sign and trade a depth player like Chiasson?). Aside from him, I don’t think there’s an obvious path to moving any of these guys.
Which would be better? Signing Franson to a cheap deal or going with Kulak-Andersson as 3rd pair?
— Atlas ¯_(ツ)_/¯ed (@Hanoten) June 25, 2017
Cody Franson is a proven NHL defender, so on the face of it, he would be the better choice. NHL coaches are skittish enough about playing one rookie blueliner at a time, let alone two on the same pairing. That said, I would like to see Rasmus Andersson get some looks at the NHL level this year.
Of course, this assumes Franson would be willing to sign in Calgary as a cheap, third pairing guy. That may not be realistic.
One thing adding a veteran like Franson does do, however, is protect against injury risk. Franson can likely move up into a top four role fairly easily if Hamilton or Hamonic are hurt. That becomes a tall order for a 21-year-old rookie like Andersson.
What's gonna happen to their D prospects with the top 4 locked in for the next 3 yrs? Is Adam Fox more likely to wait for FA? OK/RA traded?
— Калина (@kalinah) June 24, 2017
The Flames are certainly facing a future traffic jam given their established top four rotation and large collection of young defenders. All of Hamilton, Brodie, Giordano, and Hamonic are locked in for the next three years, while Andersson, Brett Kulak, Oliver Kylington,
Keegan Kanzig, Adam Fox, and now Juuso Valimaki could all be pushing for spots within that window.
It’s perhaps the best problem to have in the NHL. As the Hamonic trade proves, quality defenders are highly sought after and can garner attractive returns.
As such, if Calgary starts to see big gains in development from any of their prospects, they’ll have the option of trading one of the established guys and slotting in the kid or flipping the kid to recoup some of their picks. This will obviously depend on a variety of factors such as Calgary’s cap position, the performance of the incumbents, the handedness of the usurper prospect, etc.
What this structure may dictate, however, is a succession plan to ease Mark Giordano out of the number one defender role as he ages. The captain remains Calgary’s best overall blueliner right now, but at 33 years old that is unlikely to continue too much longer. Ideally, as the kids progress, Giordano will be eased down the rotation or potentially traded down the road.
How realistic is it to expect Treliving to shore up 1RW by season start? Who is best option on current roster?
— Bobby Golf (@icedawg_42) June 24, 2017
With a handful of players left to sign and running out of cap room, do we see Ferland back on that top line next season?
— Tyler Cowie (@tcowie13) June 24, 2017
It’s going to be tough to do that this summer.
Treliving’s three priorities entering the offseason were starting goalie, a top four defender, and a top six right winger. He chose to aggressively pursue the first two, which cost a lot in terms of future assets. It’s not impossible that he may court the Vegas Golden Knights to move a Jon Marchessault or James Neal, but the Flames’ bargaining position is now hobbled by their lack of draft picks.
Unless they want to dip into their store of defense and goalie prospects right away to strengthen the wing position, they may have to settle with, say, re-signing Versteeg and hoping either he or Micheal Ferland can play with Gaudreau and Monahan this year.
What rw free agents are there that interest you other than Williams cuz we know he is good.
— Mauricio Cardoza (@Msea91) June 24, 2017
It’s a very short, not at all inspiring list. Aside from Justin Williams, you have aging gambles like Jaromir Jagr, Shane Doan, Alex Hemsky, and Radim Vrbata. [ed. What, no Jarome Iginla?!] The lone big name guy left is Alex Radulov, but he’s looking for a large, long-term contract from Montreal and probably not in Calgary’s ballpark.
If the Flames are willing to look on the left side, there is Patrick Sharp, Patrick Marleau, Chris Kunitz, and Thomas Vanek. Some of these guys seem to have tread left on the tire, though there are clears signs of decline for all of them.
Are the Flames busy on July 1st or wait until August for backup goalie, 5D and right winger?
— Elliott Ulrich (@EllUlrich) June 25, 2017
There’s no impetus for the Flames to charge out of the gate on July 1 at this point. The free agent market will be awash in veteran backups, although the team could just choose to go with one of its kids instead. Same for the bottom pairing defense slot.
As mentioned, the ideal candidate for that role is probably Franson, but if he isn’t keen to come West or play on the third pairing, there’s a lot of guys who will be looking for work later in the summer. Word is Calgary is still talking to Michael Stone, but the numbers probably don’t work if he’s looking for second pairing money again.
If the choice is not to go with kids on the third pairing, whoever is brought in should be on a stopgap-type deal: two years or less and not overly expensive. As mentioned above, Calgary has a lot of hopefuls knocking on the door so it would be folly to stuff the bottom end of the roster with veteran contracts.
how long will CGY wait before abandoning the Mike Smith plan? How bad does Smith have to play before they get a real goalie?
— Sapp Macintosh (@MacSapintosh) June 24, 2017
Anything at or below the level of goaltending they received last year will be considered a failure, I think. Smith will definitely get at least one season to secure the net and show he’s still a solid NHL starter. If things don’t go well in year one, the Flames may go back to free agency or start to promote aggressively from within to find an alternative.
I imagine Brad Treliving is hoping more than anything that one of Jon Gillies or David Rittich takes a step forward next season and starts pushing for a full-time job. Gillies’ mediocre debut in the AHL has set the succession plan back a bit and thrown doubt on whether the kid can truly turn into a number one goalie. We can only wait and see how things unfold this year.