We’ve talked at length about the Calgary Flames’ main weaknesses entering this offseason: defensive depth, goaltending, and right wing. Brad Treliving went all-in to fix problems one and two with the additions of Travis Hamonic, Mike Smith, and Eddie Lack.
Unfortunately, Calgary’s organizational depth at right wing is still abysmal. While signing college UFA Spencer Foo is a nice summer bonus, Calgary’s starboard flank remains the team’s biggest area of concern.
What can be done to fix it?
What do they have?
Let’s first establish just how ugly things are on the right side.
Michael Frolik (left shot)
Kris Versteeg (right shot)
Micheal Ferland (left shot)
Troy Brouwer (right shot)
Curtis Lazar (right shot)
Spencer Foo (right shot)
Garnet Hathaway (right shot)
Emile Poirier (left shot)
Daniel Pribyl (right shot)
Hunter Smith (right shot)
Eetu Tuulola (right shot)
D’Artagnan Joly (right shot)
Zach Fischer (right shot)
To say this isn’t terribly impressive is an understatement.
At the NHL level, Frolik is a natural left hander who happens to prefer the right side, as is Ferland. Versteeg is a depth veteran signed to a one-year deal. Brouwer might be the worst regular skater on the team next year. And Lazar is a converted center/reclamation project.
Below the surface, things are equally as bleak. The Foo addition gives the team at least a spark of hope, but after him it’s longshots all the way down. Poirier will aim to get his career back on track after battling personal demons, Pribyl is a late bloomer from Europe who struggled through injuries last year, Hathaway is a replacement-level grinder, and Smith should probably never have been drafted into the NHL.
Calgary hasn’t been able to draft any high upside right wingers at the draft recently either. Right now, sixth rounder Tuulola is arguably the best of the lot.
As things stand, Calgary only has a single established top six right winger in Frolik, and a guy they hope they can maybe develop into one in Ferland (both of whom are actually left handed). Versteeg is a middle rotation option at this point in his career, while everyone else is a fourth liner or unknown commodity. On top of that, there is no obvious help on the way, with the potential exception of Foo.
It’s fair to say there isn’t a single high impact right winger in the entire organization.
What are the options?
1.) Sign a stopgap
This was the direction Treliving was headed on July when he targeted Patrick Sharp for a cheap, low money deal. After expending so many assets on Brian Elliott, Curtis Lazar, Michael Stone, Mike Smith, and Eddie Lack over the last year or so, Calgary is running out of bargaining chips.
Unfortunately, the list of viable stopgaps is already dwindling and the Flames won’t have much in the way of cap space once all of their RFAs are signed. The best guy left standing right now is Jaromir Jagr, but he’s 45 years old and may not care to come to Calgary for what could be his final season.
2.) Make a trade
As mentioned, the Flames don’t have a lot of assets in terms of draft picks after all Treliving’s wheeling and dealing, but trading for a legit top six winger might be their only option at some point. Can they pry James Neal out of Las Vegas by dangling one of their younger, high-end defensive prospects for instance?
3.) Rearrange internal options
If Calgary can’t sign anybody and can’t trade for anybody, they may be forced to create new combos out of what they have. This process will be made easier if Mark Jankowski is a legit NHL center, which would allow the team to move Bennett back to left wing.
What something like that could do is bump Matthew Tkachuk up the depth chart or to RW, balancing Calgary’s attack on both sides.
Gaudreau – Monahan – Tkachuk
Bennett – Backlund – Frolik
Ferland – Jankowski – Versteeg
Stajan – Lazar – Brouwer/Foo
If Calgary can develop Tkachuk on his off-wing, it plugs the top six hole in the lineup for the foreseeable future. On the downside it disrupts one of the best even strength lines in the league, but it also gives the Gaudreau/Monahan line a legitimate play driver and down low presence – something they desperately need. In addition, Bennett’s best stretch in the NHL came on a line with Backlund and Frolik.
The other possibility is to run with Ferland as a top six guy and hope that he takes a step forward on the top line. However, that leaves question marks further down the lineup:
Gaudreau – Monahan – Ferland
Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik
Versteeg – Bennett – ? (Lazar? Brouwer? Foo?)
Stajan – Jankowski – ? (Lazar? Bouwer? Foo?)
Clearly, there’s no obvious solution here. The free agent pickings are slim, Calgary doesn’t have the assets to be aggressive on the trade market, and there’s a certain amount of hope and prayer that comes with sticking with internal options.
The existing game plan may be that Lazar turns into worthwhile RW depth, but that’s essentially banking on a toad turning into a prince. I know the team really likes the player and he had a good junior career, but there is almost no evidence to suggest he’ll be anything more than replacement-level fodder at the NHL level.
Glancing at the depth chart, we can certainly see why Treliving would be motivated to add someone like Lazar or Foo, however. Without them, the right side is more of a desolate wasteland, even if neither guy is a sure bet to make an impact.
So what would you do? Charge hard for the stopgap, start dangling your high-end defensive prospects for a return, or skip all that and hope you find the answer internally?