With the way the Flames have played this season – to say nothing of how they ultimately bowed out of the postseason dance – there’s little to look forward to but next year. So, while the corpse is still fresh, we ask: what changes need to be made to this roster so that this time a year from now we’re all excited and not disgusted?
Here is a rough composite of what the Flames looked like throughout the 2017-18 season:
|Johnny Gaudreau||Sean Monahan||Micheal Ferland|
|Matthew Tkachuk||Mikael Backlund||Michael Frolik|
|Sam Bennett||Mark Jankowski||Garnet Hathaway|
|Troy Brouwer||Matt Stajan||Curtis Lazar|
|Mark Giordano||Dougie Hamilton|
|T.J. Brodie||Travis Hamonic|
|Brett Kulak||Michael Stone|
Players that are decidedly not problems are: Gaudreau, Monahan, Tkachuk, Backlund, Giordano, and Hamilton. That’s two-thirds of a first line, another elite winger, a shutdown centre, and a top defence pairing.
That also leaves two full lines, the entire right forward side of the ice, two defence pairings, and two goaltenders that need help. Yikes.
Frolik typically has better years than this, and is in the midst of posting his worst shooting percentage since he was buried in defensive zone starts in Chicago five seasons ago. It’s reasonable to think he’ll have a better season next year.
Hamonic had to adjust to a new team, but has looked increasingly steady as of late. Perhaps, after his first full season in the Western Conference, he’ll look even steadier over the course of the 2018-19 season.
Jankowski has held his own rather well as a rookie, though of course more scoring would be nice, especially considering the offensive zone starts he gets. But also: rookie. Plenty of potential to have a better season next year, now that he’s experienced the rigours of the big league for almost a full season.
Kulak is in the same boat as Jankowski: plenty of potential, even if, in his position, he isn’t expected to score as much. At worst, the Flames do have a bottom pairing defenceman who isn’t a liability out there.
Ferland is a pretty good player, but is he cut out to be consistent first line material? If he isn’t frequently putting his effective shot to use, then no, probably not. That doesn’t mean he has to be jettisoned, but it does suggest that if the Flames can put him in a position where they’re less dependent on him having constant success, they may be better off.
Bennett was chosen fourth overall for a reason, and we’ve seen that reason in flashes over the course of his first three seasons. But that’s all they’ve been: flashes. When he’s gotten the chance to perform in the playoffs, he’s been outstanding, but he’s got to help his team make it there first. Is the player who made himself a top draft selection still in there?
Brodie has gone from being a perfect partner for Giordano to flailing whenever he’s paired with anyone else. He’s still an excellent skater, but short circuiting has led to far too many questionable decisions this season, a number of which have resulted in goals against. Is there any hope he regains his prior form, or is it time to cut bait?
Smith has been outstanding for half the season (27 games with a save percentage of .920 or above), and atrocious for almost the whole other half (22 games with a save percentage of .910 or below). Smith helped win 17 of those first 27 games (and ensured at least a point in 23 of them); in the worse half, the Flames were only able to win eight out of 27 times. Can Smith be more Jeykll than Hyde next season?
Rittich is along the same lines as Jankowski and Kulak: a rookie who hopefully has more to offer, though when it comes to goaltending, there’s no safety net. Either he sinks or swims. Jon Gillies is in a similar boat.
Hathaway should not be playing on the third line. He’s probably alright as a 13th forward occasionally filling in on the fourth line, but nothing more than that.
I’m loathe to say “abort” to the fourth line, because they haven’t been the worst part of the Flames as of late, but they don’t quite fit into the other categories. Brouwer and Stajan clearly can’t play at the levels their salaries dictate, but that won’t be a concern for Stajan much longer; meanwhile, though Brouwer is one of the weaker Flames overall, in reduced circumstances he isn’t all bad.
Lazar is a mystery: while he’ll probably never turn out as good as the Flames must have hoped when they traded for him, as a depth player, there are certainly worse options to have.
Stone simply isn’t adding much to the Flames, and when you take his cap hit and the number of defensive prospects the team has waiting behind him into account, he isn’t providing much value.
What’s most pressing?
The Flames need more scoring power up front. They can improve on Ferland; if that involves Tkachuk playing on the top line, then they’ll need to find someone else capable of playing in a shutdown role. The Flames also need both Bennett and Jankowski to take a step forward; if they don’t, then they’ll be left with an underwhelming bottom six, again.
Brodie has to figure out what’s going on; if that isn’t possible, then the Flames will still be looking to fix their top four – though this time, they may have internal options at the ready.
Goaltending is a total mystery. Do you put your faith back into Smith, Rittich, and Gillies? Can they improve on this season? Because if they stagnate, and the Flames can’t fix their scoring woes, the team may be in trouble next season, as well.
What would you do?
How do you fix the scoring problems up front? Try to sign John Tavares? Trade for Mike Hoffman or Brendan Gallagher after all? Ship out Bennett in hopes of someone better? Hope and pray a prospect will be ready in six months?
What about forward depth? Is what they have adequate? Will Nick Shore make for a suitable regular centre? Would it make sense to re-sign Kris Versteeg?
Can you clear up the defence at all? Is it time to trade Brodie? Or could Brodie perhaps find a new home on the bottom pairing, and make way for, say, Juuso Valimaki alongside Hamonic?
Do you go after Antti Raanta on the free agent market? Do you try to trade for someone else? Or do you maintain faith in the goalies the Flames currently have in their system?
What would you do? How would you plug the holes in this roster?