The trade deadline is coming up, Rasmus Andersson is still in the AHL, the Flames could use another winger, their powerplay is only just now finding its legs, Mikael Backlund got a contract extension, the Olympics are on, and Christian is out of town so I did this week’s mailbag. Let’s get to it!
Seen the idea of the Flames calling up Andersson and running 7 D instead of 12 F. With the idea being they could take some stress of Brodie-Hamonic, and play the 4th line less. What is the viability of running 7D? Could it work?
— Nick Tivadar (@nicotivs) February 18, 2018
How likely is it that the flames could trade Michael Stone and a pick for a scoring winger, like Hoffman? It would be a double win because we could call up Andersson.
— Mackenzie Walton (@CamNotlaw) February 17, 2018
Do you think the Flames would trade away a defenceman (Stone, Brodie etc.) for a forward, and be ok with a Kulak Andersson pairing? Do you think they would trust a two rookie bottom pairing?
— Khalid Keshavjee (@KMKeshavjee) February 18, 2018
This is a pretty common theme that’s come up, and it’s easy to see why. Andersson is absolutely crushing the AHL with 30 points in 42 games, tied for sixth in AHL defencemen scoring. He’s only 21, but it sure doesn’t feel like there’s any justification for him to still be in the minors; unfortunately, the Flames effectively blocked him when they traded for Travis Hamonic and re-signed Michael Stone in the offseason.
Now that defence doesn’t look as good as was once hoped, and Stone’s $3.5 million cap hit while playing on the third pairing is unideal. But does that mean the Flames will be ready to take the plunge to actually commit to a prospect, in the midst of the stretch drive for a playoff spot no less? That seems unlikely.
For one thing, the Flames seem to only turn to prospects when they’re backed into a corner. (I don’t think this is exactly unique to them.) It took eight games to get Brett Kulak in over Matt Bartkowski. Mark Jankowski only got the chance to prove he couldn’t be sent back down when someone else got injured, and that’s with everyone knowing he should have been in the NHL from the start of the season. It’s really hard to see this team suddenly committing to giving Andersson a regular shift, even if it’s only 10 minutes a night, in place of a veteran.
Would Andersson be an upgrade on Stone? … Yeah, probably. Stone has a 48.17% 5v5 CF this season, 128th out of 177 defencemen with a minimum of 500 5v5 minutes played. The next worst defenceman on the Flames is T.J. Brodie, 94th with a 49.57% CF – a sizeable gap. Some of that likely comes from playing with Bartkowski, but still, if you’re looking to get Andersson in, he’s the weakest link. (And if Andersson were to be traded in his stead… that would probably end poorly.)
But the same reasons other teams might desire Stone could very well be exactly why the Flames would want to keep him. It’s difficult to see Stone alone bringing the Flames an upgrade on forward. And as the Flames are still uncertain to make the playoffs, it’s just easier to see them sticking to the status quo.
As for 11 forwards and seven defencemen, I just don’t see it happening. If Andersson’s going to get in, it has to be as a regular.
If Hoffman doesn't come to Calgary, who do you think the Flames will target going forward? Nash? Brassard? Vanek? Pageau?
— Khalid Keshavjee (@KMKeshavjee) February 18, 2018
Rick Nash and Thomas Vanek are firmly rentals – older players with just one year left on their deals – which the Flames are not in a position to add, let alone spend assets on. Derick Brassard is almost in that group, but he still has a year left on his deal. Jean-Gabriel Pageau seems like the next most likely bet – he’s 25 years old, signed for two seasons beyond this, and put up a 40-point season not too long ago – but his -2.98% relative CF (albeit with 39.41% offensive zone starts) should give pause. It’s also unclear if he’ll be able to get back up to his previous level of scoring; he’s on pace for 28 points this season.
Of course, it’s all going to come down to how much it costs to acquire one of these guys. Max Pacioretty is only signed for one more season, and he’ll be 30 then, but he’s one to watch: he’s an option with great numbers across the board, save an underwhelming shooting percentage this season.
The talk is always about finding a Top 9 RW; should the Flames be looking for someone to play with Tkatchuk/Backlund & slide Frolik down to his more natural 3rd line role? That would stabilize Janko/Bennett and get more scoring from 3M(2M) line.
— Adrian DeCorby (@decorbs) February 17, 2018
We want to see more of Tkachuk with Bennett and Jankowski, right? What's the best way to do this? Lazar or Mangiapane (or Klimchuk?) with 11 & 67 or run an 11F-7D (w Rasmus called up) and double shift 13 & 19?
— Brad (@brad_1729) February 17, 2018
There’s a lot to be said for the middle six line combinations. If the Flames, say, got Mike Hoffman, I’d be interested in seeing him with Backlund and Michael Frolik, and see if Matthew Tkachuk can boost Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski, two players closer to him in age with unrealized potential (especially on Bennett’s part). Injury aside, it does appear, however, that Frolik looks a step behind his normal linemates, so seeing him slot down to the third line would be interesting as well: he is a very reliable veteran presence who shoots a lot, while Tkachuk and Backlund could get someone who’s a bit closer to their level in scoring.
Either way, though, the Flames definitely need another top nine winger in order to make this work. Having only Troy Brouwer or Garnet Hathaway as options for middle line mixing and matching is severely limiting; neither is good enough to elevate the forward group.
I don’t think, at this stage, a forward prospect is the answer, either. No forward is as clear cut “should be in the NHL” as Andersson is, not with Jankowski having made it.
What is the Flames playoff window? Do you think they have most of the pieces needed to win the cup at this point? What are they missing?
— Khalid Keshavjee (@KMKeshavjee) February 18, 2018
I think, the way they’re set up, their window should be open for a few good years yet. They have the relatively young Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Dougie Hamilton signed to excellent cap hits and performing at high levels. Matthew Tkachuk is in that conversation as well (just without a long-term cap hit yet), and locking up a shutdown centre in Mikael Backlund – who is a little older, but hardly ancient – keeps that window open.
They absolutely need at least another solid scorer, though. They’ve lucked out in Micheal Ferland being everything they’d hoped he’d be, but that’s partially nullified by Bennett’s lack of progress. There’s no telling just what Jankowski’s actual ceiling is yet, either.
Mark Giordano is a big question for how long the window will stay open – he’s great, but also on the older side – but that’s offset with the stable of high end defensive prospects the Flames have waiting in their wings. Goaltending is a question, however; without a young, surefire starter, that’s just how it is.
In short, they’re looking pretty well set up for the next couple of seasons, and don’t even need long shot bets to stay that way – but they need a little more to get over the hump.
The Flames PP is not where it should be.
How much blame should lie on the players shoulders and how much on the special teams coaches? And how can/should this issue be addressed?
— Society & Life (@yourkind_human0) February 17, 2018
It’s on the coaches, I think. Gaudreau is one of the top scorers in the NHL this season and Monahan is a goal-scoring leader. Did they suddenly forget how to put the puck in the net when up a man? We’re already seeing massive improvements with Dougie Hamilton on the powerplay – and it’s just plain stupid that it took this long to get him up there.
Remember that the first unit was incredibly reliant on Kris Versteeg, the only half-decent right shot the team had at their disposal, and when he went down, the powerplay went down with him. It’s not any player’s fault it took the coaches two months to figure out that Hamilton is also a pretty good right shot.
The first unit should be left alone for now. They’re the best players on the team, and they’re scoring. Hopefully Versteeg will be healthy soon enough to actually be able to join the second unit and make a positive impact there. There isn’t much else that can be done to address this at this point in the season: either the Flames’ best players will take things into their own hands, or they’ll continue to languish.
Is Mike Fisher a good comparison for Mikael Backlund? Similar stats over their careers. Haven’t looked into his underlying numbers, but based on his stats he seemed to be effective well into his 30s. Could we expect this from Backs?
— Brendan Olson (@BrennyBaller) February 17, 2018
This is interesting, and I’d never thought of Mike Fisher as a comparable. Backlund took a little longer to start putting up solid scoring numbers, and while he’s not on pace at this time for another 50-point season, he’s still tracked to hit the high 40s.
From ages 28-33, though, Fisher was a sub-50% 5v5 CF player, and has only been a positive relative player twice in the past 10 years: +0.46 in 2007-08, and +0.94 in 2013. Backlund has consistently been a 50%+ guy, the 2014-15 season aside, and has always been a positive relative player; his worst relative corsi was +2.07% in 2014-15.
I understand the hesitation in signing a player Backlund’s age to a six-year deal, but he doesn’t rely on physicality to be successful: he relies on his smarts. Those aren’t going to go away. A drop off is absolutely going to happen at some point, but he’s a very strong player in his own right, and it’s easy to see him still being effective later in his deal, maybe just not to as dominant an extent as he has been on this current contract.
When Troy Brouwer comes back does he regain his A captaincy or leave it with forever flame Mikael?
— Timothy Smith (@TimoteoSmith) February 18, 2018
I think he gets it back. Why cause unnecessary drama? Though Backlund should have been awarded an A years ago, and he should definitely have one full time by now. But I think having an A is more semantic than anything else; Backlund is one of the elder statesmen in the Flames’ locker room and a letter on his chest isn’t going to give him any more or less authority.
Who is the best #foreveraflame at the Olympics?
— Kat (@ktcant) February 18, 2018
I’m enjoying Rene Bourque again! And though I’ve really only watched the Canadian team in spurts, the Czechs seem to be doing well with themselves, and Roman Cervenka, Roman Horak, and Jakub Nakladal’s names all keep coming up. Good for them.
Hey Ari if you had to compare Flames players to Olympic sports who would correlate to what?
— Atlas ¯_(ツ)_/¯ed (@Hanoten) February 18, 2018
Oh hell yes.
Gaudreau is a skills guy, so he goes with aerials or big air. Tkachuk is kind of in that same level, but I see him as more of a slopestyle or halfpipe guy.
Monahan strikes me as a curling guy; his high shooting percentage speaks to that (though he’ll have to up it to make his shots). Ferland, too, he’d probably be great at takeouts. I don’t know who rounds out their team, though. Bennett and Jankowski, perhaps?
Backlund plays big minutes and apparently won the Flames’ accuracy competition, so I’m giving him biathlon.
Mark Giordano gets the biggest minutes, so he’s my cross country guy.
Hamilton skates like a deer and Brodie’s best asset is his skating, so they’re my ice dance pair. Or maybe they’re both solo contenders, I dunno, but I bet Hamilton could lift Brodie.
Bartkowski won the Flames’ fastest skater competition, so I’m putting him in long track. I’m not sure he’s shifty enough for short track; he’d probably be the guy constantly taking everyone out and getting penalized. Maybe that’s Kulak’s area?
The big guys are going on bobsleigh: Troy Brouwer, Michael Stone, Garnet Hathaway, and Curtis Lazar.
I’m not sure what to do with Frolik, Travis Hamonic, Matt Stajan, or Versteeg. Alpine? Ski jumping? Luge? Skeleton? In that order? Sure, why not.
Although hockey is an Olympic event, too, so…