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FN Mailbox – Brad bets on a better blueline

It’s early July and Brad Treliving’s offseason is more or less done.

There are some RFAs left to sign and maybe the chance a lingering UFA RW gets a deal, but the heavy lifting is over.

With the exception of Lance Bouma and Alex Chiasson’s departures, the forward group hasn’t really changed. Although a kid or two might press for a job, expect the Flames to open the season with very similar combinations to the ones they finished with last year.

The blueline, on the other hand, has had a major makeover. Gone are Ladislav Smid, Dennis Wideman, and Deryk Engelland. Travis Hamonic and Michael Stone slide into the fourth and fifth defense positions respectively, while Brett Kulak is likely to get a shot as the number six.

Calgary’s backend is now younger, cheaper, and likely, much better than it was previously. If Hamonic can rebound from an injury-plagued season and Stone be much more capable in a lesser role, the Flames should boast one of the more enviable defense corps in the league.

Is it enough for the club to take another step forward? Probably, although in the end, this whole endeavour hinges on the Eddie Lack and Mike Smith experiment in net.

That wasn’t a compliment to the Edmonton Oilers management. It was recognition of the fact that they will have the NHL’s most dangerous player in Connor McDavid on their team for the next decade. I have little doubt that Brad Treliving recognizes this and understands Calgary will need a strong and stable blueline to counter his attack.

Improving Calgary’s defense was a good idea anyways, but there’s extra incentive given what the Oilers now have in their arsenal.

There’s a chance the Flames won’t land anybody new up front since Patrick Sharp decided to sign in Chicago. Which isn’t terrible news, because Calgary already has enough bodies to fill the roster in October if needed. Candidates for RW currently are Micheal Ferland, Michael Frolik, Kris Versteeg, Curtis Lazar, Troy Brouwer, Garnet Hathaway, and upstart Spencer Foo.

In terms of other UFA options, the best guys left standing as of writing are Jaromir Jagr, P.A. Parenteau, Drew Stafford, and Alex Chiasson. If you are moved by sentiment there’s also Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan.

Jagr is probably the best overall option from a stats perspective. Jagr is slowing down in terms of skating speed, but he still has above average numbers across the board. He also scored the most of anyone still available with 16 goals and 46 points last year.

If I was Treliving, he’s the two RW I’d pursue. Jagr could be a worthwhile gamble on a one-year deal.

I haven’t heard anyone suggest Treliving hit a home run with the goaltending this summer. At best, there are those who are cautiously optimistic that this tandem can hold up while the organization’s prospects ripen on the vine.

There’s no question goaltending is the biggest question mark and potential Achilles heel of this roster. There are reasons to be hopeful that Mike Smith and Eddie Lack will be at least competent: Smith had a very good year behind a dreadful Coyotes club last season, while Lack was tracking to become a quality NHL starter before he landed in Carolina.

Of course, there are also reasons to be skeptical: Smith is 35, has battled injuries, and bounced between excellent and mediocre over the last five seasons, while Lack has been below average (.901 SV%) for two straight years and is no guarantee to rediscover his prior form.

I wouldn’t even try to put odds in this. There are too many unknown factors to even guess at this point. Can Smith effectively battle injury and age? Will Lack get back on track after leaving Carolina? Who will the coaches trust more by midseason?

For now, all we can say is that it’s possible Lack could usurp Smith, but we can’t possibly guess how likely it is.

According to Cap Friendly, the Flames have four picks in the 2018 entry draft: a third rounder, a fourth rounder, a sixth rounder, and a seventh rounder. If we go one year further, Calgary has already traded their second round, third round, and sixth round picks from the 2019 draft as well.

That means the org only has a single pick inside the top 60 over the next two years and only eight draft picks total. Of course, things can change over that time, but you can tell that management is currently prioritizing the present over the future.

Brett Kulak isn’t mentioned, but I think he should be penciled in as the Flames’ sixth defender. There’s really no reason to prefer Matt Bartkowski over the kid at this point. Sure, Bartkowski is older and has more experience, but we also know he’s not very good and not getting better. It’s time for the team to find out what they have in Kulak and the alternative to the kid is a career replacement-level defender.

Up front, it wouldn’t surprise me if Mark Jankowski makes the opening night roster as the fourth line center. I think the departure of Lance Bouma was done in part to make a bit of room at the bottom of the rotation for the then-23-year-old. Matt Stajan can easily slide to the left wing, leaving Janko a chance to get his feet wet.

Of the other guys, Hunter Shinkaruk is going to have to dominate the AHL this season to resuscitate his value as a prospect. He’s running out of runway at this point, so he’ll have to convince the decision makers he’s worthy of an NHL spot. He’ll also have to wait for an injury to get his chance. Klimchuk is still a work in progress and will have to take another step forward to be in the conversation.

As for Rasmus Andersson, there are indications he’s knocking on the door:

However, given the Flames’ depth on the right side on the blueline, he’ll have to wait in line. The best case scenario for Calgary long term is Andersson makes Stone redundant, allowing the club to flip the older guy for some sort of return in a year or two.

I struggled with this, too. Murphy looked like cheap, capable NHL depth with potential upside. However, the Flames’ re-signing of Stone suggests they were more interested in a battle-tested veteran filling out the depth chart. As such, that means Calgary didn’t really want to pay Murphy to be AHL filler.

Sometimes decisions like these are driven by things other than on-ice performance as well. We can only speculate, but teams will immediately move on from a player if they think there isn’t a personality/off-ice fit as well. That’s not necessarily true in this case, but it would be unsurprising if it was.

The Flames’ contention window opens now.

Calgary has assembled a quality core, they have a couple of kids still on cheap, entry level deals, and their older, impact players like Mark Giordano are still functional. The task at hand now is to fill in the gaps around the big guns and effectively manage the team’s cap.

The Flames seem to be in a good position to move up the Western Conference power rankings at this point given Treliving’s work this offseason. As mentioned, the only major weakness could be their goaltending over the next two seasons. You can bet the management team is hoping beyond hope that Jon Gillies takes a major step forward this year and gives Treliving more options should one or both of Lack and Smith fail to perform.

  • RealMcHockeyReturns

    All is well. The Murphy thing was a bit surprising but whenever if Stone not signed, you don’t say to you 4-5 strong D prospects that you’d rather give some outsider a chance.

      • Newbietwo

        Anderson, Kylington are not ready! Look at Anaheim and he likes of Mansion etc and look at his age.. They need one to two more years to fill out physically and not boat anchor and get man handled..

        I am more about giving those two guys playing minutes in the AHL and both power play and penalty kill.. And it gives them four solid off days a week to train hard

  • Newbietwo

    I have no problems or doubts about Smith.. I think he will have he’s best season yet.. I remember last year everyone in media were applauding Tres move for Elliot and Johnson and look at those same folks now.. Furthermore I found Elliott and Johnson soft minded.. Turtle like

    Murphy was moved because if he wasn’t Wotherspoon would have walked and so it Kulak and Wotherspoon time this year..

    Bouma was moved because they felt they get more grit out of Hathaway

    Chucky will not be on the first line next year because of his skating and adjusting I see Jankowski actually being the left wing on Backlunds side and not wasting his two play on the fourth line..

    That means a third line of Chucky/Bennett/Versteeg although I’d like Lazar with Bennett it means a fourth line of Lazar/Stajan/Brouwer with Hathaway as the filler

    • Derian Hatcher

      Hey WW serious question. As an oiler fan I’m both excited and nervous about the Flames. Excited cause there should be some great BOA games for the next several years. Nervous cause the Flames have made some solid moves. From what I saw, I thought GG did a pretty good job in his first year as HC. Why don’t you Like him?

      • TheoForever

        Don’t want to speak for WW, but here are some possible reasons: terrible start, bizarre line combinations and D pairings, sits kids on the bench for months, losing to Oil, the playoff thing, best players under-perform for big chunks of the season, lack of emotions, not a great motivator. GG can get out maneuvered by a turtle. We were convinced the guy was Eakins 2.0. He is probably not that bad but there are some question marks. Could be the hair thing.

        • Derian Hatcher

          Well this list may ease the nervousness. btw – no way he’s as bad as Eakins – instant shivers and cold sweats whenever that clown is mentioned. Even when CODY Eakins name is mentioned we twitch.

        • Puckhead

          Its fruitless to dwell on last season. GG is here and we can’t forecast how the season is going to unfold. There were a lot of positives last season as well.

          • TheoForever

            Yeah, GG got better as the season went along. There were still problems, but he was fixing them. We will see how it goes. Still get a laugh when he said -‘ if the guys don’t buy in soon, I’m gonna get canned’.

        • oilcanboyd

          It actually started before then…experimenting with prospects in the last pre-season game instead of getting the lines together that will start the season.

        • TurkeyLips

          Lack of emotions? Good
          Not a great motivator? Beg to differ after the “pathetic, no bite-back” speech
          Bizarre D pairings? If giving Hamilton time to learn first pairing play = bizarre, you’re wrong
          Out maneuvered by a turtle? You misspelled McLellan.

          • TheoForever

            He split the top d-men among 3 pairings, or did you forget that experiment?
            Insisted on playing Chaison on top line, buried Bennett, gave too many chances Brouwer plus kept him on PP forever. He vouched for Grossmann. Kept Andersson on the bench.
            …and there was more………

      • Skylardog

        Trying to be quiet tonight on GG, couldn’t do it. I will say is that he essentially was brought in to fix possession, but has proved in Dallas he wasn’t a possession coach. Against Anaheim, Flames were -41, no player was positive, only 2 were even, and those 2 only played 1 game and very few minutes. But everyone claims he is the 5on5 saviour. He can’t manage the bench, has no clue who his best players are, and has taken the bite out of the team. This team barely hits anymore. Under Hartley, the 12 lowest penalty minutes per game at 9:11, disciplined. Under GG, the highest at 11:39, yet they had more than 200 fewer hits. PP and PK said to have improved, but we had about the same number of goals for on the PP in 2015/16 as 2016/17, and way less goals against on the PK in 2015/16.

        Coaches almost never win cups in their first 2 hirings. It usually takes at least being in charge of their 3rd or 4th team, and 6 or more playoff seasons under their belt. There are exceptions, but they are rare. I could go on, and have at length in the past.

        • piscera.infada

          I’m not sure where you’re getting your Anaheim numbers from. In the four game playoff sweep, at 5v5, the Anaheim had a CF% of 48%, FF% of 48%, a shots-for % of 47%, and were out scoring-chanced 89 to 77 (with their high-danger scoring chances for being 78%) [all those numbers are from Natural Stat Trick].

          Now, if you’re talking straight-up +/-, first I would argue that you’re unnecessarily painting with the broadest of brushes, by aggregating individual counts of a flawed statistic. First of all, yes, in a 4 game sweep, those numbers by nature are going to look horrendous when you aggregate every individual player’s +/-–if you can’t see the flaw in that argument, I’m not sure what to tell you. Secondly, you can explain an additional flaw, because the Flames rode horrible percentages for the 4 games (this happens often in hockey–it just happened at the worst possible time).

          The Flames suffered from a cratering of save-percentage at even-strength, that finished third-worst in the entire playoffs at .903–funnily enough, of the two worse teams one got swept (Chicago–.902), and the other won only one game (Columbus–.898 [also, the goalie who ended up winning the freakin’ Vezina]). And, for the record, the next-worst team was Minnesota finishing with a .927–talk about a substantial gulf. In addition, the Flames even-strength shooting-percentage tanked similarly, and finished second-worst in the entire playoffs at 1.94. The only team worse was Chicago (0.9%).

          With regard to the penalties: I’d like to give the players more than one season under Gulutzan before I determine that he’s the one to blame for them being “undisciplined”. I seem to recall the team actually creeping up in terms of penalties in the second-half of Bob Hartley’s final year. I’m also not convinced that penalties year-to-year are indicative of much. It seems as though they are susceptible to random variance, except in very obscure situations–like Winnipeg (but that has a nearly four-year history, and we’re not there yet).

          Your PP and PK arguments are contradictory. You say at the outset of the argument that they had more penalties against, and fewer power plays for, but you then note that they scored as many power play goals for, and gave up more power play goals against. The percentages were higher this season. You basically just noted how percentages worked, but used that as an indictment that the percentages don’t make sense. I’m sorry? That’s patently ridiculous.

          I can’t speak the “bite” argument, because I simply don’t agree. I also don’t agree that it matters, even if I did agree with your general sentiment in that regard. So, agree to disagree there, I guess.

          I also have no idea what you’re getting at with your last point. Are you saying “only hire coaches on their third, fourth, fifth, et cetera… stops, because those are the only coaches who win cups”? That doesn’t really seem to be indicative of anything, really. I mean, I guess if you extend the argument to “only hire coaches who have won a cup before, because they are more likely to win a cup”, I could maybe agree. But I think we can all note that there are several issues with that line of thinking. Logically, the “playoff experience” argument makes some semblance of sense, like saying “experience at doing ‘x’ generally helps with successfully doing ‘x'”, but again, there are a significant number of coaches who have plenty of playoff experience, who haven’t won a damn thing. That last paragraph seems entirely anecdotal to hiring someone, but I’m not sure it has much bearing on actually critiquing the job someone has done with a particular organisation to-date.

  • BurningSensation

    A twofer on my questions! Thanks!

    (Though I maintain there was at least ‘some’ pandering to the Oiler base in that interview)

    I would agree that Hamonic’s arrival heralds the window opening, as Cgy’s D-corps is now among the elite – and defense wins championships unless you happen to have a generational talent (or two) at F.

    My fear is that we have arrived at a contending stage by mortgaging the immediate future at the draft table, hamstringing the flow of cheap ELC talent necessary to keep a window open, and blocking developmental paths for the young talent we do have.

    That said, cheap, young defenders are the coin of the realm, and one or more could be packaged off to aquire young talent that fits our forward needs (RW, and eventually C).

    Now all we need is for our young forwards to take a collective step forward, and for Smith to be league average or better till Gillies takes the job away from him.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      These are valid concerns but, we care-coup our draft picks in a hurry especially at the trade deadline when reasoning goes out the window. When Ras shows that he can do what Stone can….he can be flipped for at least a second….RD are high in demand. Similarly, Brouwer might be more enticing for another team trying to make the playoffs. Calgary might have to eat some salary but he could be worth a second.

      • oilcanboyd

        I am willing to give Brouwer some rope here. Maybe he was pre-occupied with off-ice issues – like building a house…the rope is short, however. He needs to storm out of the gates and prove his value to the team.

      • Skylardog

        The trade deadline is a 2 edged sword. If we are in contention, then we will not be moving pieces to get picks back, and that may include Stajan, who is useful as a solid depth player (just don’t like his paycheque for that role).

        If we are getting picks back, then we have had a bad season, and leveraged the farm to fail. Don’t like either scenario from a “future” standpoint.

        • piscera.infada

          I believe his point re: Stone was, “if Andersson proves he can usurp Stone, then Stone can be flipped”. That reasoning stands, although I’m skeptical of how likely it is. I do think that this was part of Treliving’s reasoning with regard to the three-year term, but Stone absolutely must re-establish his trade value for that to happen. If he can become what a team might view as a top-4 defensman, and Andersson has made him redundant, his contract is not so obscene that it cannot be traded.

          I would absolutely point out that the same above reasoning goes for Hamonic, and even Brodie, should those prospects really show that they’re ready for prime-time. Again, this is even less likely to happen, but it does give the Flames some potential flexibility should the prospects progress as hoped.

  • Puckhead

    The acquisition of Hamonic and Smith were huge. I think people need to sit back and put themselves in the position of the returning players. These moves show the players that status quo is unacceptable and there is an expectation for success. You’ve probably read some tweets from Gio, Gaudreau etc. and these guys are excited to start the season. It’s hard to put a price tag on confidence but expect the team to rachet things up this season.

    Also, no need to worry about leveraging the present for the future. The core of the team is young and positioned to be competitive for the foreseeable future. As prospects develop and slowly graduate to the NHL, some of the older players will be traded away for picks and prospects.

    Go 🔥 Go!!!

  • freethe flames

    There are currently 4 rw that I have time for as UFA’s. Jagr and Vanek both could play in our top 9. Chaisson and Parenteau could both play in our bottom 6. I don’t see any of them signing with us and I’m okay with letting it play itself out with who we have.

  • Raffydog

    We need to quell the expectations on the D a little bit me thinks. The last few seasons all the “experts” and a lot of us all said the Flames strength was the defence, and it’s probably been one of the most glaring weaknesses. I hope it will be better, and I think it will be better, but let’s give them 10 games or so before we hold judgement

    • everton fc

      Good question.

      We have an opportunity here to take a real close look at some prospects we are all excited about, but who may not pan out, when given the opportunity. Next year and the year after will be the same. If we sign a UFA forward, guys like Manigpane and Lomberg are pushed back in the queue.

      If we trust our scouts and our drafting, we give our guys a shot. To me, Lomberg’s a more interesting player right now, on LW, than Shinkaruk or Poirier. But that’s “me”. Why? He seems to be a guy who would be a real pain in a playoff series. Just like Ferland. And a player like Hathaway. I would love to see a 4th line here w/Lomberg (or Klimchuk) on the LW, and Hathaway on the right. Freddie could centre. If this trio could keep up and prove solid defencively… They’d be a real pain to play against.

      Brouwer’s presence is a real problem. He is taking a RW spot from a prospect. Or from Versteeg, ifwe did indeed go w/Mangiapane or Klimchuk, on LW.

  • HOFer_dirty30

    I hope a prospect pushes stajan out of the lineup before the end of the season. I like stajan, he’s consistently good and a leader but that’s why unlike Brouwer he is moveable

    • HOCKEY83

      Brouwer spent the last 2 seasons learning a brand new system on 2 different teams. He finished the season better than Bennett ferland and Stajan. The entire team performed poorly last season. He was just slightly under the stats he had in st.louis so the flames got exactly what the new they were paying for. He played 8 less games then he did the season before and got 14 less points. He averaged a minute less ice time per game then when he was in St.Louis. There are reasons for everything and most teams fans just like to run their mouths without actually trying to figure out why. They paid 4.5 mil to him to do what he’s done over the last few seasons and he very nearly did that. He’ll rebound. The team will be better this season. Everyone’s stats will benefit this season.

      • Skylardog

        I liked the signing last summer, mainly because it was for only 4 years when other players were getting 6 year deals for more money. That was my honest view of it last July 1.

        Having said that he was less than expected, and pulled down players that he was sent out on the ice with. GG fed him icetime that he did not deserve. His points per 60 minutes of PP time was about half of Ferlands, yet he got 178:45 minutes of PP time to Ferlands 35:27. Ferland was top on he team in PP Points per 60 by the way. Yet Brouwer got 5x the PP time. Might be a slam on GG here, but Brouwer benefitted from the mismanagement. You should pick up some PP points even if you are a fairly incompetent player on the PP with JG, Mony, and the best D pairing. He wasn’t the one driving the PP, he was just a passenger.

        When given the proper ice time, which hopefully we will see this season, he will tank to career lows. However I think GG like him, and we may see him get lots of ice time to start the season. That move, and a bad start, could cost GG his job.

  • Parallex

    I think the Flames need one more piece up front… Jagr, Vanek, Parenteau, Iginla still up for grabs and we should grab one of them. I kind of think we’re going to be just holding until Treliving figures out the RFA contracts and knows exactly how much he has to work with.

    • Skylardog

      Not sure who they get, but I think they would be better off moving a couple of pieces for an upgrade rather than signing a UFA. Trade someone off the roster, like Ferland, and a prospect or 2 (one of Rittich or Gillies comes to mind) and then use the cap space available now, and Ferlands salary (whatever it is) to get a RW that can play at a high level. That would provide about $4.5 to $5.0 of room for a very good RW or Centre.

      • flames2015

        So in order to fill a hole, we are going to trade a roster player that creates another hole? The Flames are high on a guy like Ferlund, and protected him for a reason. All of Treliving trades were done for draft picks in order to keep roster players as is. I can see us potentially adding a cheap veteran, or saving cap space for trade deadline in March.

        • Skylardog

          The Flames don’t know how to use Ferland. He is my favorite Flame. But he isn’t quite right for JG and Mony, a prospect belongs with Backlund on left, and Tkachuk should play with Bennett. That leaves him as a 4th liner, which is a waste.
          If you could get an upgrade from Ferland on RW for JG and Mony, then it is a good move.

          One of Gillies or Rittich will be expendible, with Parsons in the organization. I think we have room for 3 prospects up front right now, Janko, Foo, and 1 other (I see F. Hamilton and Hathaway as going to the AHL as they lack upside). Brouwer and Stajan should be in the Pressbox until an injury. Moving Ferland out, and bringing in a top RW does not change that. Still leaves room for 3 prospects.

        • Skylardog

          So I am clear, we have players that can play on the 3rd and 4th lines. There are no holes in the bottom 6. Heck Brouwer is a bottom 6 forward, we just pay him too much. So is Stajan.

          Our hole is a top 6 forward, in particular, a RW for Mony and JG. This type of move addresses that. Hey, throw in Stajan and eat half the salary, and we have between $6 and $ 6.5 for a top RW. But that would cause problems next summer signing Backlund.

          • Puckhead

            Tkachuk on first line and Ferland with Bennet and Versteeg on the 3rd line. You can go shopping for a 1st line RW but there is no guarantee that they’d be any better. Both guys would play on their off wing on the 1st line but if they put up points who cares which way they shoot

          • Puckhead

            No offence Skylar, as you’ve obviously given the line combinations a lot of thought, but maybe you’re starting to overthink things a bit too much. Maybe the prudent thing to do is wait and see how things unfold in the first month or two. Maybe to answer to the 1st line RW position is under our noses? I’m really hoping that this is the case.

      • freethe flames

        In order to get a top 6 c/rw that would improve this team your idea for a trade is far from adequate. The talks would likely start with Bennett and 2 prospects (say Fox or Andersson and Gilles) plus a $6m+ long term contract. If you traded for a K Hayes the cost would be Ferland and the same prospects plus he may turn into a 1 year rental. So the two thoughts are either sign one of the UFA’s for a 1 year affordable deal and allow the young guys (Foo) a season in the AHL to develop and that would not be a bad thing or hope that all or at least most of the question marks work out; Ferland or Tkachuk on the first line(RW), the other with Bennett and Versteeg, Janko works out as the LW with Backs/Frolik or the 4th Center, Lazar as the 4th center or 4th RW, Brouwer returning to form(maybe they plan to give him a chance
        with either Johnny/Monny of Tkachuk/Bennett. And our someone really surprising us out of camp. I am not for making this kind of trade.

  • Toofun

    It feels like the team is set early this year. It’s not finalized and there might be room for someone to play their way onto the roster but compared to last year, this year seems much readier to go.