FlamesNation Mailbag: Back from bye

We’ve only had one game played in the past week, but it hasn’t stopped the questions from coming in. In this edition, we peep potential future blockbusters, pending UFAs, and more.

The latter. Mikael Backlund made Joe Colborne and Lance Bouma punch above their weight (and get paid accordingly), and now Troy Brouwer is doing the same. It’s not a great sample size, but Matthew Tkachuk and Backlund have seen a 4% drop in their CF as a unit with Brouwer on board. Of course, that’s going from 58% to 54%, which is still good but not optimal.

Going from Matt Stajan and Curtis Lazar to one of the best lines in all of hockey is pretty much that “a rising tide lifts all ships” cliche manifested in hockey. Brouwer might be getting on the scoresheet more often since joining the line, but that’s because his new linemates are some of the best at generating shots and shot attempts in the entire league. He’s going to look good with good players. It’s happened before (though if it boosts any trade value, is it worth it in the long run?).

On the topic of Backlund…

It doesn’t.

Backlund is an all around better centre than Mark Jankowski:

Data from naturalstattrick.com, at 5v5.

TOI/G CF% CF/60 CA/60 OZS%
Backlund 13:08 55.64% 68.58 54.69 42.03%
Jankowski 11:35 50.66% 62.92 61.28 57.84%

Backlund is just that much better at shot attempt generation and suppression than Jankowski. Perhaps he lacks the soft hands Janko owns, but he does a much better job at the all around two-way game that makes him that much more valuable. Backlund’s defensive strengths compared to Jankowski’s is why making this move would be a very bad bet. Janko’s current CA/60 would be just shy of Backlund’s career worst (2014-15: the worst possession year for the Flames ever, and the only time Backlund’s CA/60 creeped over 56).

Context is important, too. Glen Gulutzan uses the two centres in polar opposite situations. Jankowski starts in the offensive zone the most out of all Flames centres, while Backlund starts there the second least (behind Stajan). There’s also the fact that Backlund is trusted to face off regularly against the generational talents of the NHL, which can’t be said for Janko.

If the team moves on from Backlund, they’re immediately going to start looking for another Backlund to replace him. Jankowski is not another Backlund. He’s built hype this year, but in completely different circumstances that would not hold up if he was given Backlund’s responsibilities.

For those out of the know, Tyler Wotherspoon will become a group 6 UFA at the end of the year, as he will pass age 25 without the NHL experience necessary to let the Flames keep his RFA rights for another year.

Ryan Pike always says “every team has a Wotherspoon” whenever his name pops up in trade discussion, and that’s because there are many tweener defencemen out there. He’s looked great this year in the AHL (after nearly three full seasons there), but his ceiling is likely third pairing guy. The problem is that he’s been fighting for and losing that spot for four straight years. Brett Kulak was drafted a year after Wotherspoon and has nailed down the only spot Wotherspoon can feasibly have. It’s just the reality of the league.

There’s probably no real value the Flames can pry from him, so I can’t see them re-signing Wotherspoon again. I think he just leaves. Whether it’s to another NHL team or over to Europe, I can’t say, but Wotherspoon is very replaceable. The Flames can get Juuso Valimaki AHL time next season, and that’s probably more important than continuing to pay an NHL salary to a guy who isn’t playing NHL hockey.

I can’t see them making a rental. They’ve already traded away their intriguing draft picks, and they probably wouldn’t want to move prospects for just a rental. They seem to be gelling with the group they have, so what really needs to be changed?

Besides, if Jaromir Jagr and Kris Versteeg return to the ice before the playoffs start, they’re pretty much the rental-quality players that typically get swapped at trade deadline. Why pay for something you already have?

  1. Stajan is not as bad as many of his detractors make him out to be. Yes, he makes too much money for what he does and yes, he will be on the way out at the end of the year, but for what it is now, I can’t see the vitriol for him. He plays some safe, fourth line hockey for less than 10 minutes a night. Marek Hrivik is younger, but is he really going to make that much of a difference?
  2. I don’t know. I feel management doesn’t want to rock the boat.
  3. I don’t get why Arizona picked him up just to keep sitting him down. I feel there are better ways to blow $650K.

On the Hrivik note.

Hrivk is a pretty good AHLer, still unknown at the NHL level. His time with the Rangers suggested a guy who could probably hack it in bottom six minutes. He could maybe make an impression, but nothing too spectacular. He’s also 26 and probably not destined for higher things beyond that though. That makes him a perfect 13F candidate: low reward, of an inconsequential age. Him sitting isn’t the end of the world and him playing isn’t going to make much of a difference.

Brady Tkachuk is looking to be somewhere behind Rasmus Dahlin, Filip Zadina, and Andrei Svechnikov at the very least. Perhaps Adam Boqvist or even Quinn Hughes could make a case, but he’s solidly inside that four-to-six range.

Who knows how the lottery breaks, but we’re looking at teams like Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Florida, Edmonton (gulp) and Detroit to be drafting in that range. Those teams could all benefit from adding a Tkachuk (you know Vancouver isn’t going to make that mistake again), so getting them to give that up is going to be very, very pricey.

Which is why I think this scenario is just too unrealistic. It would be scary to have the Brothers Tkachuk on the same team, but it’s not going to happen. First off, no other team would allow that circumstance to happen, but also because the Flames are lacking the assets to make such a deal. They don’t have a first round pick this year, usually a prerequisite to moving up in the draft, and they don’t have a whole lot of appealing assets. Given that they’re likely to be trading with rebuilding teams, they’re unlikely to offer anything enticing enough to make these teams give up a future superstar.

Matthew? Yes. I did and it’s some of the best money I’ve spent. Brady? Look above.

  • Flames fan since 83

    I hope we can figure a way to afford Backlund. I read that the last game vs. the Jets, Michael Backlund was on the ice for only one shot against. Tkachuk was on the ice for only 2 shots against. This is outstanding, considering they were out against the Laine, Wheeler and Connor line!
    Kudo’s to Smith in goal, but Backlund doesn’t get nearly as much credit as he deserves.

    • BendingCorners

      He’s affordable as long as he is willing to stay. His only comparable on the ice is Bergeron, who scores more and is paid 55MM over 8 years. Putting Backlund at 75%-90% of that gives 42MM-49MM over 6 or more years. Expect 6-7MM per year structured to allow a trade in the final 2 or 3 years.

      • Skylardog

        They will not sign him for that amount, not under any circumstances. BT has to be looking at $5 to $5.5 for 6 as an absolute max. With a hometown discount look for $5.0.

        Therein lies the problem. He can get $6.0 to $7.0 for 6 to 8 years on the open market. Is he willing to stay in Calgary for somewhere around $6 to $16 million over the life of his next contract. I doubt it.

        And then there is the term problem, and age. For the first 3 years he is worth the money. In year 4 he drops to the 4th line, by year 5 and 6 he is Matt Stajan and the contract is an albatross.

        • Puckhead

          Agreed. Tre is “stuck between a rock and a hard place” with Backlund. If we had another defensive centre man ready to make the leap it would be an easier dilemma for Tre to deal with.

        • Mickey O

          It is 8 years max when signing your own player, and 7 years max otherwise. Treliving can’t win with this signing. He has to get it done, and as he’s said the “term is the noose.” It will come down to a battle between a 5 yr or 6 yr deal. Treliving’s best shot is to give Backlund more money per year if he can somehow avoid giving the final year of his contract.

          However it works out, the last couple of years on Backlund’s deal figure to be a problem, and a full NMC for the length of the contract will cost Backlund’s camp. Backlund hasn’t indicated he’d like to try the open market. Treliving can’t win, but that’s just the way it is.

  • Kevin R

    Would Fox not garner a top 4- 5 pick? If you could trade Fox & another piece for Brady would you do it? Rebuilds are looked at differently as there are teams that are able to inject & give young guys the minutes & have success. The Edmonton & Buffalo models are not considered desirable by any stretch. Fox is a developed high end D prospect that really isn’t too far from the NHL. Something Montreal may covet?

    • BendingCorners

      If you’re specifically targeting Tkachuk then the deal needs to be with Arizona or Buffalo otherwise the pick might slide too far down. But yes Fox plus Brodie or Fox plus Hamonic would make it a worthwhile risk – although no pick is ever guaranteed to make it the top four or five almost always do. Whether either counterpart would agree to that deal is a different question. Brodie also has a partial NMC but Hamonic does not.

      • everton fc

        I think Brodie’s worth a first, alone. But I don’t think they’ll move Brodie. And I don’t think Fox, a third round pick, garners a first. Yet.

        Conroy should be all over Fox to sign here. But Conroy also alluded to the fact Fox is a Harvard man, and most Harvard me playing sports want that degree.

    • Puckhead

      Trading Fox plus Brodie for one first round pick is craziness. Brodie alone should garner a mid to low first rounder and if Fox continues on his present course he could be golden and be worth a top 3 pick on his own.

  • The Fall

    I’m only going to say this once — We already have the better Tkachuk.

    U17 –
    Brady: 9-16-25 55GP
    Matt: 13-20-33 53GP

    U18 –
    Brady: 25-29-54 61GP
    Matt: 38-57-95 65GP

    O18 –
    Brady: 5-13-18 24GP (NCAA)
    Matt: 30-77-107 57GP (OHL)

  • Lucky 13

    Excellent mailbag today.

    1. Troy Brouwer. We are stuck with him, there’s no way around it. I like this seasons version of him vs his previous. He is defending our players and showing a (gaf) give a .. ___ attitude which is what you’d at least expect. What happens after this season is still to be determined.

    2. Backlund- sign him already. Be careful not to give him a NTC, which I hope Treliving has already considered.

    3. Brady Tkachuk- not happening
    We love our Byngs, however in what scenario are we ever going to make this happen?
    Besides Fall is right, we got the best Tkachuk. Brady hasn’t even played one NHL game, let’s temper the hype for now.

    4. Cameron- fire his butt all the way to Ottawa. Why Treliving allowed GG to bring him in is questionable. With all the offensive talent we have, we should be top 10 in PP percentage. Being 20th in the league speaks of ineptitude.

    Happy Monday FN