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FN Mailbag – Bennett, Backlund and loose ends

If the NHL season started tomorrow, the Calgary Flames could more or less ice a full roster. Brad Treliving has accomplished most of his offseason to-do list, leaving him a healthy six to eight weeks to tie up loose ends.

For the Flames GM, this is a preferable position relative to his last offseason, when contract talks with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau dragged into the fall (and, in fact, wiped out Gaudreau’s training camp).

With the hiring of a new coaching staff, the late addition of various players including Gaudreau and Kris Versteeg, Calgary entered 2016-17 in a state of disarray. It took weeks for the coaches and players to find their footing, resulting in a lousy October that almost capsized their season. This time around, the Flames should be able to hit the ground running.

So what’s left? Re-signing Sam Bennett, beating the bushes for another quality winger and, maybe, starting to talk to Mikael Backlund about a contract extension.

Bennett is a player I’d prefer to bridge at this time, so I’d likely choose to add another free agent, with the important caveat that the free agent has to be worth a damn. That list probably begins and ends with Jaromir Jagr right now, so if the Flames are not considered an option in the Jagr camp, then maybe they can push to up the commitment to Bennett.

Of course, this assumes that Bennett’s camp is open to a longer term deal, which I doubt. My guess is the player and his agent would prefer a one- or two-year bridge so they can angle for a much bigger contract down the road.

This is an avenue worth exploring, although Calgary’s cap room is a major obstacle when it comes to this kind of deal. If their trade target has a cap hit over $2.5M or so, the club would need to somehow dump salary in order to fit him on the roster.

Troy Brouwer and Matt Stajan are obviously the first two expendable deals that come to mind, but I’m not sure there’s a way the Flames could move those contracts outside of buying them out. I’m also not sure how eager ownership would be for another buyout since they are already paying Lance Bouma, Ryan Murphy, and Mason Raymond to not play for them this year.

I doubt there’s any sort of handshake deals out there, but it makes sense for Treliving to get his major RFA deals done as quickly as possible nonetheless. It clarifies the Flames’ cap picture and gives him an idea of what the team can (or can’t) spend in their quest to shore up the forward depth.

Assuming there are a few UFA targets he has in mind, Treliving is also racing against the clock to get them an offer before they sign elsewhere. He can’t really do that until he knows how much money he has on hand.

The Flames are betting that Curtis Lazar’s usage and illness entirely accounts for his poor results at the NHL level. There seems to be great organizational faith the player is far better than the results he has shown to date.

To some degree there is evidence to support this perspective, at least in terms of the theory that Lazar was sunk by bad circumstances. For instance, here is an XGF (expected goals for) model compiled by Cole Anderson in regards to Lazar:

This is rather complicated, but the thing to pay attention to is the red line – it represents the XGF Diff (expected goals differential) of an average NHLer if he was deployed in the same fashion as Lazar. As you can see, it’s not pretty and shows that Lazar wasn’t really put into a position to succeed as a Senator. The blue line shows his actual XGF differential was worse than expected over the span of his career thus far, but at least this gives us a different baseline for expectations given his prior treatment.

This look suggests there could be an average player lurking beneath the rubble of Lazar’s time in Ottawa. Of course, he might also just be a replacement-level guy who got snowed under as well. We won’t really know until he plays in better circumstances.

I imagine Treliving will turn his attention to extending Backlund when all of the other major priorities have been taken care of. The two-way dominance of the 3M line and Backlund’s recognition as a Selke candidate makes retaining the player a high priority.

There are a handful of comparables we can use to establish a floor and ceiling for Backlund. For instance:

  • Travis Zajac (eight years at $5.75M)
  • Frans Nielsen (six years at $5.25M)
  • Tomas Plekanec (six years at $5.0M)

All three of these guys signed deals that ate up a bunch of UFA seasons and were known as quality, tough matchup centers who are good but not great offensively (the outlier is Zajac. His number looks a little outrageous now because he signed his deal years ago after managing 62 and 67 points seasons. He has since settled into a hard minutes, 45-point pivot).

It’s probably fair to consider Zajac’s $5.75M a ceiling for Backlund’s contract, while we can also assume $5M to be the floor. The closest comparable to Backlund is likely Frans Nielsen, who spent years putting up similar results in a similar role for the New York Islanders. As such, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Backlund’s number come in around five to six years at $5M and change.

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  • moore_tweets

    I’ve always liked Backs. It’s great to see him finally come out of his shell over the last couple of seasons. I hope he keeps up the great play, and gets rewarded for it

  • The GREAT WW

    We need to remove Byng from the line with Backlund this year before we extend him.
    We need to see if Backlund can drive his own line or if he was just the beneficiary of playing on a line with a generational talent last year.

    WW

    • MarbledBlueCheese

      Backlund has been driving lines with sub-par players practically his whole career. He’s made a habit of putting a shine on other players that they probably don’t deserve (see: Bouma, Lance; Colborne, Joe)

    • Flaming Glory

      I a new flames fan so I can’t say for sure but I think he was great at driving his own line before chuky ever was dreamed of. The points may not have been there but underlying stats were. As for chuky I think he undoubtedly made a difference but I think backs is far better than you give him credit for.

    • country mac

      very loose definition of generational, a player who will not come close to a point per game average in his career is probably not even a hall of famer let a lone generational.

    • freethe flames

      WW we agree on something; that Tkachuk needs to be moved to another line and I would suggest it be with Bennett and let’s see if he moves the needle with Sam. Where we disagree is the value of Backs who has for the last 2-3 years added value to whoever was lucky enough to play with him(interesting how we all fail to talk about Frolik’s steadying influence); the line that make sthe most sense to me is Janko/Backs/Frolik. Everything we have heard about Janko’s development screams this would be the best fit; 200 foot game, offensive upside, pushes possession; this sounds like this line. It would also allow Janko to take secondary face offs and work on this part of his game. Now the thing is he has to earn his spot.

      • Kevin R

        Yup. After Tre saying that Ferly will be starting the year on the Monahan Gaudreau line, that is what I like to hear. Give the kid a chance to determine the size of his next pay grade. What I would like to see is MT moved with Bennett & Versteeg & Janko slotted in with Frolik & Backlund. What I would really like even more is MT, Bennett & Jagr together & slot Versteeg with Lazar & Brouwer on the 4th line. Curiously, is Stajan traceable to a team like Vegas or even Pitt who is looking for a 3rd or 4th line centre & not having to pay a high acquisition cost. Also, we still have a buyout possibility for Stajan but I think he still has value in the NHL.

    • TurkeyLips

      I agree Backlund may become questionable at $5 million per when he’s past his prime. This is reasonable skepticism, especially for a late blooming player such as him.

    • Flames fan since 83

      WW, I would like to keep the 3M line together at least for the start of the season.
      I’m not against seeing what Backlund or Matthew can do apart later, but not right off the start of the season.
      My reasoning is because one cause of our horrendous start last season was too much Change at the beginning of the season. (new coach, new system, new goalies, new contracts for JG and SM).
      We have enough new changes for this seasons start in Hamonic, two new goalies, and possible a young forward.

    • oddclod

      Troll. You don’t need to alter anything to find out if Backlund is legit. He loves Calgary more than any import ever did & it’s starting to show on the ice. If you can’t see that he’s a driver you’re blind.

  • Flaming Glory

    I would not lock him up for more than 4 seasons. He will be 32 by the end of that contract. We’ve all seen what happens when you have over paid vets on the team. He is lights out right now but it is important to remember that he won’t always be. We don’t need another stajan albeit a higher caliber stajan.

  • freethe flames

    Sam Bennett is more and more reminding me of a young Backlund; let’s be patient here. He already has shown a little more offensive upside than Backs at the same age and of course he has a bit more of an edge than Backs has. Get this bridge deal done. As for Backs a pay raise between $1.5m-2m is in line with the players mentioned and would only take up between 50-65% of the cap savings when Stajan’s contract gets finished. Again get this done.

    For the Flames to acquire a legit top 6 RW the cost will be much higher than a defensive prospect and a goalie prospect. Think one of Bennett/Ferland as a starting point and then add the prospects.

    Here’s hoping Lazar proves BT right. (I suspect Cameron had some say during these trade talks; he must see the upside of Lazar).

    While I give BT credit for improving our D-core(looks like lots of depth), I am unsure of the goaltenders but am prepared to wait and see but other than adding Foo and trading for Lazar at the end of last season he is depending on a lot of internal growth from within; Johnny/Monny/Ferland/Tkchuk/Bennett/ all need to have better seasons. Lazar/Janko/??? need to prove to be effective NHLers. And some how Brouwer has to be significantly more effective than he was last year; the only time he looked good was in the preseason with Tkachuk and Bennett but that quickly stalled. Jagr would be an interesting addition but I am not sure it is worth the risk. I could see him with the Johnny/Monny line and on the first PP unit; what that would do is push some other guys to different roles on this team and possibly allow 4 solid lines. Say Janko/Backs/Frolik, Tkachuk/Bennett/Ferland, and Versteeg/Stajan/Lazar with Brouwer in the press box giving the odd night off.

  • TurkeyLips

    Great stuff as per usual Kent.

    Suffice to say, GM Treliving has done an admirable job of shoring up our team weaknesses over last season. Flames were in the top 10% of the league as far as productive offseasons go. Huge respect to this man and you can just see how much he’s personally grown to fill demanding GM shoes. Professional sports GM is undoubtedly one of the most demanding jobs in the world, and it’s cool to see “older guys” show such personal growth, inspiring actually. Roster players must feel good knowing their GM is working hard to field them a respectable team.

    It’s probably wise to keep our cupboard stocked with the remaining prospects we have, it’d be unsettling if it were drained further. And nobody is going to trade for our table scraps without equivalent coming back. Why do people have to be constantly reminded of that? If Jagr ends up filling the R wing hole, that’d be the sweetest cherry on top of an incredible offseason sundae. Can’t wait for the season to start.

    • BurningSensation

      I’d be OK if Treliving rearranged some of the depth on the farm to aquire a young scoring RW piece, like a; Julien Gauthier, Anthony Mantha, or that 6’5″ behemoth Bertuzzi clone Minny drafted (Jordan Greenway?).

      Someone; young, big, RH who can score goals.

      Otherwise best keep the powder dry, and don’t waste it on a vet.

  • Lucky 13

    It will be nice to start training camp with our boys ready to go this season. Good on Tre for getting this done early.

    As for Bennett, I can see him signing for a 2 year bridge deal in the area of $2.25M a year.

    Having a functional training camp- pre season is going to make a world of difference between a slow start and coming out of the gates ready.
    GG, this is on you now!

    Can we change our idiom to reflect some meaning behind this squad?” It’s go time” is fine but very bland…. like chicken without spices.

    How about-
    ” Talent is a Flame, teamwork is a Fire”

  • class1div1

    Would not be surprised to hear that Bennetts camp is looking for a one year deal , and more interested to see where he fits into there plans.As are many fans.

  • buts

    If Kulak, Raz and Kylington all show that they can play in the big league, then BT should trade Hamilton for a top line forward and prospect. You will never win with Hamilton.

  • DKramer

    Maybe I’m an optimist but I like lazar. And although I was sceptical about Smith he has grown on me a ton. And lack back in VAN looked like he had lots of potential and that’s when the Flames got to view him the most. So I trust their judgement on him that he can be a backup that doesn’t give you an automatic L. Ferland is on a good deal. Versteeg is on a good deal. At this point I just want the season to start so we can all watch some hockey

  • Connor'sGotHart,Ross,Lindsay!

    Obviously you bridge Bennett. It’s not like a guy with 26 points has any negotiating power. 2.3 max. I mean Ferland had 1 more point and he signed for 1.75.

  • Jobu

    2018-19 season, I’m guessing Flames will likely have $12 mill in cap space next season after Bennetts bridge and the entry level spots are filled (Backup Goalie, 6th and 7th D men, 2 bottom line forwards all on entry level or sub 1m contracts) to sign Backlund and a replacement for Versteeg (if we dont keep him). Put Backlund at 5.5 (which I think he deserves) and spend another 5 on a top line RW winger for a 2 or 3 year deal. You might have to bridge Tkachuk and/or Lazar in the short term to make it work beyond 2019-20 (Ferlands re-up?) but could well be worth it!

  • Just.Visiting

    I’d like to see a story evaluating whether Gaudreau should be moved to the RW to try to address the ongoing first line RW concern. Playing the off wing doesn’t seem to hurt Patrick Kane or the Hawks. Seeing the stats outlining where his shots and goals come from could offer some very beneficial insights. Given that Tkachuk will end up with first line minutes at some point, this lets the Flames determine if that will be as a LW or RW, as Tkachuk played RW in junior.

    I don’t understand the sense of urgency to sign a UFA or to weaken the prospect pool even further when we already have what appears to be a solid top eight with viable options for the ninth spot (Janko, Foo, etc.).

    While it is great to be competitive this year, the following seasons are the prime window. Getting an incremental uplift this year that hurts the next 2-3 years is shortsighted.

  • buts

    Hey snottss do you realize the only D partner thats been able to play with doogie is Gio! When paired with everyone last year at the beginning he struggled, the year before with Hartley it was the same. Did you see the bonehead penalties he took last year? Did you see him disappear the playoffs? Did you see him chicken out physically against the Kings, Ducks and sharks ? Don’t forget his collapse in the Canada/Russia wjc here in 2011. Mark my words boston got rid of him for a reason and one of the reasons is he will disappear in the big game. And lastly your dropped on the head comment should get you banned. I don’t put out a statement that I don’t back up.

    • Atomic Clown

      That comment was about as true as Walter’s statement of Tkachuk carrying Backlund. RH shooting 6’5″ dman that’s 24 years old, averaging 45-50 points a season. Dougie Hamilton is not a shutdown dman, he is a offensive dman, and yes, he definitely needs to work on how to use his size to his advantage infront of the net and the corners without taking dumb penalties, but that takes time. If we’re trading Dougie, it’s for Seguin/Tavares level players

    • TheoForever

      Let me guess you also believe: Larsson is better than Hamilton, Russell can play as #3 D with Sekera injured,
      Sekera is solid #3 and Russell is solid #4 and neither is grossly overpaid.
      Cute………..

    • Baalzamon

      If Hamilton is as bad as you think he is, then Giordano is the best defenseman in the league by an utterly ridiculous margin. Like, we’re not talking about “this guy should be a Norris finalist every year” good. We’re talking “he should win the Norris, Hart, and Lindsay trophies every year before a single game is played because he’s just that much better than every other player in the league” good. There’s no other way to explain how good that defense pair is.

      To me, it seems far more likely that you’re just completely wrong about Hamilton. But whatever.

      • Connor'sGotHart,Ross,Lindsay!

        Hamilton and Giordano had excellent years but don’t discount the first 2 months of the season where the Flames d really sucked.
        Just like in football , where defence is ranked by points scored against,Calgary was 14th in the league in goals against.
        So while they get points from the backend it still shows that they are only in the middle of the pack in keeping the puck out of their own net.
        So does the acquisition of Hamonic and Stone make them the best in the league??
        If they don’t suddenly become the best d in the league don’t blame the goalie AGAIN like you have the past 3 years where you thought you had Dryden between the pipes.

        • Baalzamon

          The Flames were the 6th best team in the league last season at suppressing scoring chances against. It was goaltending.

          You should also take note of the fact that I only mentioned two defensemen in my post. There were six other regulars (Brodie, Wideman, Engelland, Stone, Bartkowski, Jokipakka). Giordano – Hamilton was the best defense pair in the league–and that’s a FACT not and opinion. But there were always two other pairs playing in every single game.

          • piscera.infada

            You’ve completely missed the point, and now you’re just arguing against yourself. You really have no idea what you’re talking about, do you? In fact, I’m not even sure you read @Baalzamon‘s post.

    • RedMan

      is there a law somewhere that states that trolls MUST make stupid comments and shun all wit, humor, or sense of knowledge and intelligence? if so, glad to see you keeping withing the rules

        • Flames fan since 83

          Connor’sG… the thread started out discussing specifically Hamilton’s worth, and expanded to Gio partnered with Hamilton. Then expanded to what many pundits are saying that Calgary has one of the top D in the league with the addition of Hamonic and signing of Stone. The conversation is specifically about D men and the D GROUP.
          Then you, totally off topic, start spewing “Team Defence” and stats. Team Defence includes: Goalies, Forwards coming back etc. Which is very different from what everyone is discussing.

          • Flames fan since 83

            Connor’sG… “every year”?? umm, we had two years of “team D issues”. (15/16 and 16/17 seasons) 14/15 Hartley took us to playoffs with one of the lowest goals against in the league.
            What you hear from Calgary is fans boasting one of the best “D pairing” in the league. Gio and Brodie and then followed by Gio and Hamilton pairing.

        • Puckhead

          Although wearing Fancy Ass blue jeans may make 1 out of 1,000,000 men feel more confident, studies have shown that there is no correlation between wearing super tight ladies pants and increased IQ. It’s a fact!

        • TheoForever

          The goalies were not hung out to dry, Eliot just for some reason had trouble stopping the pack. Oilers d performed worse than Flames d, the only difference was save percentage of the goalies. The coiler d allowed more chances, especially secondary, and more danger shots. Your goalie stood on his head. You gonna love next season, Oiler regression in 3 months, book it.

          • Connor'sGotHart,Ross,Lindsay!

            Whenever someone says ” book it” they think they are the smartest in the room.
            Edmonton’s defence bent but didn’t break last year and they were rock solid in the playoffs when it counted, yet the d in Calgary sucked in the playoffs with your 3 Norris trophy candidates.

          • TheoForever

            The smartest men in any room, are the architects of the worst decade of suck that gave you mickyD.
            The fact is that in the playoffs Moose couldn’t stop shots that every other goalie wood. Your goalie stood on his head. The 3 top Flames Defenders were not the problem. But you know better….