FlamesNation Mailbag: Looking ahead to the offseason

Well, the season is more or less wrapping itself up in disappointing fashion. Let’s take a peak on what could be ahead.

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I think the Flames prefer the offensive creativity. Given that he’s top 10 in scoring while also making Sean Monahan and Micheal Ferland better players, they can live with the occasional slip up. No one plays perfect hockey. Giveaways generally correlate to having the puck a lot, as you need to have it in order to give it away. Most of the NHL’s top names can be found on top of the giveaway leaderboard, so perhaps the stat isn’t entirely damning. If you are producing enough to justify the cost, you’re fine.

I think the Flames are one of the teams with the greatest talent disparity between players. Of course, no fourth line is going to ever be close to the first line in terms of quality, but it’s quite clear that the Flames have a major gap between top six and bottom six. The defence, promised to have four extremely capable pieces, only has two that have lived up to that promise.

In this offseason, they may tweak those areas. Brad Treliving will probably be a bit gun shy after spending three top 62 picks on an asset that is not really worth that price. I think strong performances in juniors and the AHL, combined with a weak-ish free agent market (I can’t see him splurging on John Tavares, though it would be cool if he did!), will also prevent him from picking up more players.

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So what does plunging the bottom six look like? Well, there’s going to be a lot of metaphorical blood spilled. They would have to buy out Troy Brouwer, as he’s pretty old and not getting much better. I think the next step would be to walk away from Garnet Hathaway. Besides an excellent eight games or whatever, he hasn’t been much of a factor in any way. I would demote Curtis Lazar to the AHL, as he hasn’t really proven himself to be much more than a replacement-level player with 200+ games played.

Step two would be to hand the keys to the younger generation. How does a heavily sheltered line of Mangiapane-Dube-Phillips sound? Perhaps Morgan Klimchuk and Spencer Foo could start getting some playing time. The Flames have plenty of exciting youth in the AHL that haven’t gotten a chance thanks to the team’s preference for the exact opposite.

But, as stated above, realism is the issue at hand here. Are they going to pick up Brouwer’s tab for the next four years? Probably not. Are they going to give up a whole line’s worth of spots to prospects with no NHL experience? Also unlikely. I think the Flames do what they did at this year’s training camp: let a prospect win a spot, have a backup plan if they don’t.

Of the two trade deadline acquisitions, Nick Shore is interesting. He’s cheap, cost controlled, and has very good underlying numbers. Shore can take over that 4C spot if Dillon Dube is not yet ready, and be easily moved when he is. I think they only picked up Chris Stewart as an extra body. Can’t see any interest in bringing him back, unless all else fails.

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I think it’s a tough task to move someone out. Michael Stone is signed for too long and too much money when you consider that there are very few stats that say he’s good. T.J. Brodie is going to be lowballed, so I think the Flames hold off on trading him unless it’s an offer they can’t refuse. Despite the poor season, he’s been a key member of the team and Brodie returning to his best is too tempting to trade away.

It’s a waste of everyone’s time if Rasmus Andersson is not on the roster next year. He’s having a year that goes beyond even optimistic expectations, and he is still making below $800,000 for the next two seasons. I think the Flames are going to have to pull out the stops to get him here next season. We’ll see if that’s a trade or a demotion.

D’Artagnan Joly! His numbers don’t necessarily jump out at you, but he’s been one of the best players on one of the QMJHL’s worst teams. He’s been involved in 38.55% of all Baie-Comeau goals this season and 34.17% of all 5v5 goals. That’s about the same impact Dube and Matthew Phillips have on their teams, although Joly is a year younger.

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D’Artagnan is also a very strong producer of primary offence, which sets him apart from most. Among Flames prospects, Joly is second only to Glenn Gawdin (truly in a league of his own at this point) in primary contributions to goals, providing the primary offence on 31.54% of all situation goals, and 29.68% of 5v5 goals. Among the QMJHL, he’s fourth in points per game for U19 players, behind Maxime Comtois (Canada WJC, 2017 second round pick), Filip Zadina (projected top three 2018 pick), and Alexis Lafreniere (15-year-old phenom, probable first overall pick in 2020).

Another part of Joly’s success is that he has spent a good part of the season battling injuries. He began the season on IR, escaped, and then got injured again (requiring hospitalization) when he was getting hot. If he managed to stay healthy, he could probably be opening more eyes around the league.

Here’s Cory Pronman’s take on Joly:

Aside from wanting to write about a player called D’Artagnan, I’ve watched Joly play a couple of times and think the Flames may have something here with their sixth-round pick in 2017. Joly is a 6-foot-3 forward with nice skills, makes some plays and works. His foot speed worries me, but overall when I’ve seen Baie-Comeau, I see intriguing upside in this pick.

Can it be all three?

I think the questions of Glen Gulutzan’s usage have been addressed enough, so it’s pointless to rehash them. He made some bad decisions and they cost the Flames points. But if playing Brouwer, Tanner Glass, and Matt Bartkowski draws ire, what does that say for the people who signed them?

Often overlooked is how the roster is not good enough, and that is doing more damage to the season. Management half-assed this offseason, and some of the cracks were showing during the most recent rough patch of the season.

Mike Smith was a good get, but they still don’t have a reliable backup for when he goes down (and at 35 with injury history and a heavy workload, don’t bet on him staying completely healthy or completely good). David Rittich and Jon Gillies both had their positive moments, but also nosedived during crucial moments. By my count, bad backup goaltending has cost them nine games (sub-.900 SV%). Can you rely on that when there’s a good chance the Flames will need someone not named Mike Smith to play 30 games next year?

(Better question: can you rely on management to find a solution given their track record with goalies?)

Moving out, the defence is better in name only. Travis Hamonic and Stone may sound better than Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland, but the underlying numbers suggest that they are lateral moves. They took the bet on Hamonic that he would rescue Brodie, but have appeared to have misread both players. Andersson is outscoring all but one Stockton Heat forward (he’s younger than all of the forwards to boot), while Stone is signed for two more years and is now being outplayed by Brett Kulak, who was in the ECHL three years ago and the AHL last year.

The third line somehow still has Hathaway on it, he of three points since the calendar changed over, and who is on pace to score 17 points over a whole 82 games. This is acceptable because the next best options are Brouwer, Lazar, and Stewart, and it might be a wash if you swap those parts around. Regardless, that line can only score every five or six games and seemingly against the weakest opponents (Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski have had multipoint games as linemates against the following opponents: Buffalo, Arizona, Vancouver, St. Louis). Otherwise, they’re invisible, which is not great considering that secondary scoring was a sore point from the 2016-17 season that really needed to be addressed.

I would include the fourth line in the bottom six woes, but you should really not be expecting your fourth line to be scoring for you. Given the proximity between the fourth and third line in scoring, there’s an obvious problem that needs addressing.

And yes, bad luck is a part of this, but only amplifies the other problems. The top two lines have seen massive scoring droughts despite controlling the majority of the shots in most games. Without secondary scoring, the team can lose despite strong performances from their goalies, as they have done in 13 games when their goalies have posted a .920 SV% or above.

Sometimes that happens, but 13 times is lunacy, and that belongs on a management that has failed to acquire reliable scorers despite it being an obvious need for two seasons now. The highest points total any of their right wings have ever scored at any point in their careers in 45, set by Michael Frolik in his rookie year. Given that he’s more of a defensive winger, this is pretty inexcusable.

If someone is getting pointed to, it’s the coach, as they are the easiest scapegoat always. Management has had great results with regards to most things, so they get a pass. Unless things go seriously south from here on out, I think no one loses their job.

Non hockey questions (actually, some hockey adjacent questions)

I have never really listened to The Fall before, and they have about 30 studio albums by my count, so I crash coursed them on Spotify while writing this and I’m sorry to say that I did not get through all of them. Hex Enduction Hour was my favourite. It was near the front of their discography, chronologically speaking, so I imagine I am leaving a whole lot out.

I would have to say Mark Giordano. He’s only played eight playoff games (unfairly), so he’s had plenty of time to work on his game.

  1. I think hockey is more of a brain game than any of the other four sports, and you really can’t take PEDs for that. Jaromir Jagr survived until his body nearly entirely broke down because of how intelligent he was as a player. There are a decent number of players who are athletic specimens, depending on how you measure it (i.e. height, speed, power, etc), that just aren’t as good because of their inability to see the ice. Matthew Tkachuk isn’t much of a physical freak (he’s about average, as far as athletes go), but he doesn’t need to be one. His intelligence makes him borderline elite, whether it be the way he sets up his linemates or the way he goads people into powerplays.
  2. For other drugs, a big factor is that the NHL does not have marijuana on its banned substance list. It’s frowned upon, sure, but the most it will get you is a phone call. Harder drugs will get you treatment programs, but the most common drug is pretty much fair game. For comparison, the NFL is just starting to stop caring about it this year. And that’s only according to anonymous sources, so who really knows.
  3. From that Maclean’s article, the NHL appears to be quite hush-hush about its drug treatment program, keeping all results a secret. The other big three leagues announce failed drug tests, which furthers the appearance that this doesn’t happen in the NHL. Being the smallest of the four leagues also helps them avoid the spotlight.
  4. But don’t pretend it doesn’t happen. You can hear plenty of murmurings from your friend who knows a friend about players partying a bit too hard. The ’80s Oilers were notorious for their partying habits, and their major crime was being in the spotlight long enough to get noticed. Just like their counterparts in other sports leagues, NHL players are young, 20-something men with more money and fame then they’ve ever known. They’re going to party, and they’re going to party hard.
  5. The real issue with the NHL is legal drugs. The prescription drug culture in hockey, ranging from AAA to the NHL, is well known and often joked about (see: “Goon”). Despite their role in the deaths of Wade Belak and Derek Boogaard, there’s likely no chance that teams have slowed down the prescriptions. Mike Richards is probably not the only one to be carrying oxycodone between the borders, and it’s probably only a matter of time before another story pops up.

  • Honkydonk

    It pains me big time to say this but I just don’t see this folks.

    Are we really going to beat SAN Jose, Vegas and Edmonton twice? I say we go 500 right there and that’s only 6 points. Then you throw away two games we have played more that leaves four games and if you won’t those it’s another 8 points.

    So realistically lights out you get 14 points for a total of 92.

    Game Over

  • Greg

    Wait, what? This is a poor UFA crop?

    To my eye, it’s light-years better than last year, when Jagr and Iginla were two of the better RW options available. Tavares, Perron, Neal, Grabner, van Riemsdyk, Kane… Thorton, Nash1, Nash1, Bozak, Filpulla. That’s actually probably the best crop since ridiculously long-term contracts became a thing.

    Not all of those are going to be a legitimate option, and some of them are probably a bad-contract-before-ink-dries acquisition (hello David “career highs” Perron), but any of them would be an upgrade to our forward lineup.

    My hope is for:
    1. Sign 1 legit top line forward to join JG and SM on the top line
    2. Bump Ferland down to the 3rd line… really, him, Jankowski and Sam Bennett is not a terrible 3rd line, especially if any of them improve with age
    3. Realistically, flames might buy out Brouwer’s last year but not 2 years, so put him on 4th line RW. Bring back Shore and let Stajan walk. Versteeg is tough with the injury, but I’d give him a PTO and force one of the prospects to have to beat him out for the last forward job.

    That’s all the improvements you need up front IMO. TBH, I don’t know why “Flames can’t score enough” has been a common talking point. Their GF is right in line with other Western playoff teams. It’s their GA that has been abysmal. Of playoff bound teams, Colorado is the only one is the same hemisphere as them there.

    • Greg

      On the backend… obviously Mike Smith is #1 again, and realistically, you have to let Gilles and Rittich battle for the backup spot. What else are you going to do? Find another ‘veteran’ backup and never, ever give them a chance to move up?

      Defence, if you can get the same kind of package for Brodie or Hamonic that you gave up for Hamonic, I think you pull that trigger. Otherwise, I think you have to stick with them and hope a new coach (cause I think that’ll happen if they miss the playoffs) gets them back on track.

      Stone should be able to get you a mid-round pick still. I think you do that at the draft, sign another Bartkowski (but not Bartkowski) to be the extra body, and let the prospects battle for the open job.

      Or you throw a bomb and trade for Karlson 😀

      • FL?MES

        Here’s the thing though. Once the refs put away their whistles come playoff time our first line is screwed. Either we make some big trades and surround JG with skilled beef or do something more drastic. Don’t get we wrong, nice guys are great but nice teams don’t go the distance. We have some skill and good D but we don’t have snipers and nasty bruisers that bring it in the postseason.

  • Justthateasy

    Flames lose everybody else wins. Hahaha I’ve had enough. I’m going on vacation. I hope you lose every game from here on in so we can fire this coach.