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.
You suggested on the Lowetide show that Treliving was in part reacting to Edmonton. Seriously? Or just giving his fan base the sugar-me-do?
— Cameron Hilton (@cameron_hilton) July 1, 2017
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.
With the net and top 4 sorted out, who's coming in at right wing (we may know the answer before publication)
— Lifelong VGK fan (@LiamIsNotDead) June 30, 2017
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.
does the 06/2017 "Tre hit a home run with his goaltending tandem" remind you of the 06/2016 "Tre hit a home run with his goaltending tandem"
— Bobby Golf (@icedawg_42) June 30, 2017
How to emotionally cope when a Smith/Lack tandem gets exposed? Seriously though. Smith plays bad/gets hurt – what now? Could waste the year.
— J (@jarude87) June 30, 2017
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.
— Cole Anderson (@CrowdScoutSprts) June 30, 2017
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.
Odds on Lack being the starter by January?
— Southern_point (@Southern_point1) June 30, 2017
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.
Mailbag: somewhat tongue-in-cheek but how many draft choices to the Flames HAVE in '18?
— kingcambie (@kingcambie) June 30, 2017
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.
Of the kids, which F and D have the best chance to crack the NHL roster and stick. Jankowski, Klimchuk, Andersson, Shinkaruk etc.
— cdec17 (@cdec17) June 30, 2017
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:
— Stephen Burtch (@SteveBurtch) June 30, 2017
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.
What's the logic behind buying out Murphy? I'm having trouble fully wrapping my head around this one
— Atlas ¯_(ツ)_/¯ed (@Hanoten) June 30, 2017
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.
Is the rebuild really over? If 'Yes', was it the Hamonic deal that capped it off?
— Cameron Hilton (@cameron_hilton) July 1, 2017
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.