60
Photo Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Glen Gulutzan’s future highlights top five off-season storylines

The Flames cleared out their lockers and went in separate directions more than a week ago, but those of us on the outside are still left with numerous questions about this team’s future. There’s no doubt the fate of Glen Gulutzan’s coaching staff is the number one off-season story to watch, but it’s not the only one, as I’ve got four more to round it out.

1. The future of the coaching staff

“We’ve got a good coach. At this time…we evaluate everything.” – GM Brad Treliving

Gulutzan’s two year tenure behind Calgary’s bench has served as one of the most divisive topics around these parts in quite some time. After a deserving playoff appearance in 2017, the Flames underachieved mightily in Gulutzan’s second season; but how much of that is on the coach? As evidenced above, Treliving wasn’t committing one way or another to wrap up the season.

“I’m certainly not a believer that you just spit people out time and time again,” Treliving said last Monday. “We are going to evaluate everything without prejudice with the goal of: how do we get better? How do we correct what we felt went wrong this year? Patience in this game and this sport sometimes isn’t a virtue. Sometimes there’s time for patience, sometimes there’s not time for patience. Sometimes you have to make changes.”

Ever since the possibility of Calgary missing the playoffs became a going concern, my gut has always felt a coaching change would be made upon that eventuality. Nothing Treliving said to close out the season makes me feel all that different, mainly because he said virtually identical things about Bob Hartley before firing him in early May 2016.

Count me as one who doesn’t think firing Gulutzan is the magic elixir. Despite my issues with player usage, I still think Gulutzan’s tenure has been more positive than negative; I refer mainly to the team’s impressive possession and penalty kill gains (more on this in a separate article later this month).

I don’t deny changes need to be made, specifically with the power play, but is gutting the entire staff the way to go as opposed to making one or two more subtle changes? And if the team opts with the former, who are possible replacements?

Bill Peters has until Friday to exercise his opt-out clause in Carolina. Alain Vigneault is a free agent but likely carries a high price tag. Would the team wait to see if other NHL coaches shake loose as the playoffs roll on? Or would they look to the American League and a rookie coach like Sheldon Keefe? For so many reasons, the future of Calgary’s coaching staff is THE story to watch this off-season.

2. Potential blueline moves

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Flames have a really good opportunity to deal from a position of strength this summer. Calgary is stacked with organizational depth on the blueline, which leads many to believe they’ll move at least one NHL defender this off-season. Count me as one of those people. Here’s a rough look at the organizational depth chart with NHL AAV’s:

LD RD
Mark Giordano ($6.75) Dougie Hamilton ($5.75)
TJ Brodie ($4.65) Travis Hamonic ($3.87)
Brett Kulak (RFA) Michael Stone ($3.50)
Juuso Valimaki ($925K) Rasmus Andersson ($755K)
Oliver Kylington ($730K) Adam Fox (unsigned)

So let’s literally attack this on both sides, starting on the right. From everything I’ve seen, Andersson is ready for full-time NHL work right away. As such, moving someone ahead of him makes sense, if only to make room. In one case (Stone), I think Andersson would be an upgrade. In every case he’d present significant cap savings.

Hamilton carries the most trade value, although I think moving him would be a mistake. Regardless, though, he’d likely be able to net Calgary a top six winger in return if that’s an area they’re targeting. Hamonic and Stone, on the other hand, would likely help Treliving recoup draft picks with the latter more likely to move.

On the other side, the future of Brodie is most intriguing to me. He’s struggled mightily the last two seasons and yet still carries trade value due to his contract and skill set. Brodie won’t command what he would have two summers ago, but if they wanted to move him they’d have a couple options.

Kulak looked good in an elevated role down the stretch, granted with a small sample size. What is clear, though, is Kulak is an NHL defencemen, and a valuable one at that thanks to his long term affordability. Could he handle an elevate role over a full season? Or, the Flames could explore a left shot d-man in free agency; names like Calvin De Haan and Thomas Hickey come to mind, for instance.

Then there’s the most interesting factor: Valimaki. It’s not out of the question whatsoever we see him push hard for a spot in September, especially with players like Charlie McAvoy, Zach Werenski, Aaron Ekblad, and Olli Maatta excelling in their early 20s in recent years. If Calgary believes Valimaki is ready, moving Brodie really becomes a viable possibility.

3. Matthew Tkachuk’s contract extension

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Tkachuk is eligible for a contract extension starting July 1st, and as we talked about earlier this season, there’s no reason to delay. In just two seasons, Tkachuk has established himself as one of the NHL’s top wingers, regardless of age or experience. He needs to get paid, and he’s only going to better his case if the Flames let negotiations drag into next season.

GP CF% PEND
144 56.6 (5th) 89 (T-1st)

Tkachuk’s two-year aggregate totals are impressive. On top of being a top five player in both possession and penalties drawn, Tkachuk has also been a top offensive performer for Calgary; he’s top three on the team in points and assists per 60 minutes since entering the league. It’s tough to argue he’s not one of the two or three most important players on the team, both now and in the future.

Tkachuk took huge steps forward in year two and it stands to reason that trend will continue in his third NHL season. From a Flames perspective, it makes the most sense to sign Tkachuk this summer for as long as possible. Sure, it’s never that simple, but it doesn’t change the fact it would be the ideal scenario.

Because Tkachuk will carry one of the highest cap numbers on the team, getting his deal done ASAP allows Calgary to get a much better idea of their salary framework going forward. There’s really no reason to wait.

4. Addressing goaltending long-term

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Smith is 36 years old and missed significant time with an injury for a third straight season. Smith also struggled mightily upon his return from injury. Neither David Rittich nor Jon Gillies could carry the mail successfully in Smith’s absence. Tyler Parsons struggled in his first year as a professional. These are the facts that lead to an important conclusion: the Flames still don’t have a long-term answer in net.

“That’s something we’re going to have to discuss over the summer,” Treliving told me when I asked on Monday. “What’s our plan moving forward?”.

It’s truly a million dollar question for Calgary, and has anything but an easy answer.

“Obviously Mike has got a year left and as we saw this year, (he) can be a top goaltender in this league. Beyond that, we’ve got some young goaltenders. Now…two of them obviously, David and Jon, got some NHL experience this year. I think that’s still an area that somebody’s got to separate themselves.”

Knowing all the factors involved, the Flames have a few options. They could stand pat and start the season with a tandem of Smith and, presumably, Rittich. Calgary could also look at acquiring a more experienced option to understudy for Smith. Or they could bring in a goaltender with a chance to be a number one when Smith’s contract expires.

Sure, trying to pick off one of Philipp Grubauer or Braden Holtby from Washington sounds like a great idea, but it’s no sure thing. The most realistic option seems to be standing pat with Smith as the number one, which would also buy time for Rittich, Gillies, or Parsons to separate themselves.

“I’m really encouraged about the ability level of all of our young goaltenders,” said Treliving. “Now it’s, okay, who’s coming? What’s the timeline for each? Let’s wait and see is sort of where I’m at.”

5. Pending UFAs

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The guy pictured above is the guy who’s future with the team I’m most interested in, at least on the unrestricted free agent front. Sure, Matt Stajan’s contract and role didn’t mesh up the last few years, but what if he were on a one year deal at less than a million?

CF% HDCF% OSZ%
52.2 60.2 39.8

Knowing how he performed this season, having Stajan as a fourth line option for another year doesn’t sound awful to me. His even strength metrics above, courtesy Natural Stat Trick, paint a picture of an effective fourth centre.

Yes, the team acquired Nick Shore at the deadline, and he might fill that role next season, but Stajan as a 13th forward has upside, if that role interests him. For his part, Stajan seemed pretty pragmatic about his future last Monday.

“In a perfect world, I’ll be back here,” Stajan said. “I’m a realist, I understand how the game works, I’ve been very lucky to be here as long as I’ve been; I’ve enjoyed every second of it. I’d love to be back, but I know that there’s always changes. I’m 34, I get that decisions are going to be made and I’m a UFA, so I’ll sit down with my family, we’ll see what kind of options we have, and make a decision as a family. I do intend to play hockey somewhere next year, so that’s my plan.”

The only other pending UFA that merits much discussion is Kris Versteeg, at least when looking at players who spent significant time in the NHL this season. Tanner Glass, Chris Stewart, and Matt Bartkowski all seem like foregone conclusions.

  • JMK

    Will Brouwer be bought out is still a question for me? Next summer with a Tkachuk extension is must happen but would BT consider pulling the plug this year to make room for a big move??

      • Stu Gotz

        You will feel much better if you take a few minutes and browse cap friendly.com where you will see much bigger priced contracts, longer term, and worse/older players than Brouwer. I would support a buy-out provided we have better options for his replacement.

    • Bawcos

      I’m ok with keeping Stajan as a 13th F and Brouwer as a 14th F. Both are NHL level players with low Maintenance that can help out in the event of a bottom 6 injury. Flames have cap space, so wait one year before buying out Brouwer. Stajan is a good guy and both a smart guy and hockey player so why not 1 year @ 850K and give a younger talent everyday game experience in the AHL.

  • FL🔥MES

    Not sure why you would trade an offensive Dman like Hamilton with 17 goals and 27 assists for help scoring up front. I would much rather keep him and find another way to upgrade on RW.

  • everton fc

    Stajan loves living here. If we don’t re-sign him, I think he retires and gets a job w/the organization. As it should be. I might also trust Kulak/Andersson – but does anyone think Andersson may be a bit on the slow side? I only ask – I’ve no opinion, other than a few comments late season, here.

    If they can move Brodie and add Brouwer, to a team w/both cap space and a dire need for “d”…

    (Someone on the previous thread mentioned Ryan Reeves. Not sure how I feel about this…)

    Keeping Kulak is smart. He’s good. He’ll get better. He’s affordable. And we have other players to re-sign. Moving one (or both?) of Brodie/Stone would free up more cap space. I’d trust Kulak/Hamonic.

    • Trevy

      Stajan already has his new house up for sale and they moved out. Don’t think he or his family are sticking around the city. I think he recognized his fate when they traded for Shore. Rightfully so too, no way they should be resigning him, at any price. Time to revamp the bottom six

  • The Fall

    BT’s biggest offseason quote so far has been the Flames: “…skill deficiency and… mental deficiency”. I honestly think the biggest issue is a true no.1 Centre.

    • JMK

      How do you get one?
      Gaudreau – Tavares – Tkachuk
      Bennett – Monahan – Ferland
      Dube – Backlund – Frolik
      Brouwer – Jankowski – Foo
      Would JT sign? Does it mess up future cap situation? Any other suggestions for #1C?

  • JMK

    Conservative approach to next season – so basically avoiding trading Brodie for a top RW. Even though I’d prefer he was bought out or traded (haha) keep Brouwer. Sign a decent right wing short term – Vanek for 2 years at $3m. Trade Stone for picks or young prospect.

    Gaudreau – Monahan – Ferland
    Tkachuk – Jankowski – Vanek
    Bennett – Backlund – Frolik
    Dube – Shore – Foo
    Lazar – Brouwer
    Giordano – Hamilton
    Brodie – Hamonic
    Kulak – Andersson
    Wotherspoon/Valimaki/Kylington

    • JMK

      This still leaves question marks for sure, hence conservative. Could a Ferland + Brodie package get a top RW (would Kulak be ready for top 4D minutes)? Is Jankowski good enough for where I’ve put him?

    • JMK

      PP1
      Tkachuk – Monahan – Gaudreau
      Giordano – Hamilton
      PP2
      Vanek – Jankowski – Bennett
      Brodie – Andersson
      PK1
      Backlund – Frolik
      Giordano – Hamonic
      PK2
      Bennett/Shore – Jankowski
      Kulak – Brodie

      • JMK

        With some exposure to PP for Ferland and Foo to mix things up from time to time. Dube and perhaps Tkachuk on PK too, although don’t want to overplay Tkachuk.

      • freethe flames

        What has Bennett done in the last two seasons to make you think he is a top 6 forward? I like Bennett and I think at this point is his development he is either best suited to the 3rd LW playing on Backs shut down line and we should be happy with 10-15 goals from him. He should be on the PK with either Janko or Lazar. PK pair 1 Backs/Frolik, PK 2 Shore/Janko PK 3 Bennett/Lazar.

    • Sterls

      I know that Janko’s 4 goal game is likely a one off, but in the preseason I would like to see some tinkering with the top two lines if for some reason we don’t get a top 6 RW. I’d try this out in preseason to see if these lines have any chemistry.
      Tkachuk-Monahan-Ferland (grity wingers, Tkachuk drives play, sets up Monny/Ferland)
      Gaudreau-Jankowski-Bennett (Bennett doesn’t really fit anywhere, but might play Ferland’s role for Jonny. Mostly I want to see more of Jonny with Janko)
      Dube-Backlund-Frolik (shutdown 3rd line, insulation for Dube if he belongs in the NHL who could be our next Backlund)
      Lazar-Shore-Brouwer (or some combination of that for the 4th).

      I’d label the top two lines 1a-1b as I don’t know which would be better.

      If it doesn’t work, move Johnny back up and try Byng with Janko and Bennett.

    • Hockeysense93

      Where is Andersson in his developement really? That is the question. Everyone plays well with Gio is so seems? So many more young D are being put with the teams top vet? So why not Andersson learning the ropes with Gio?

      Gio – Andersson
      Brodie – Hamilton
      Kulak – Hamonic

      3 top notch pairings who can all play 18-20 minutes. Stone traded with defense depth (Kylington) for a top 6 RW? The 3rd pairing defense doesn’t HAVE to play 10-15 minutes only, if they are obviously better then that. This way they can roll 3 pairings consistently.

  • buts

    The team is soft, slow, gets pushed around. Look at Vegas as they play with speed. Speed covers up mistakes, it creates momentum and by vegas’s example is available with low cost. FIrst of all GG has to go, get a solid backup goalie, then by trades and free agency acquire speed, also subtract the slow players like Stajan. We are only a few players playing a fast style away.

    • everton fc

      Which is why you don’t trade Ferland. And maybe why you hold onto Hathaway. None of our defender’s, outside Hamonic (maybe Gio, but not really) is going to solve the “getting pushed around” problem. Tkachuk and Bennett actually stand their ground. But I agree, we seem soft.

      We need speed. But we could also use a little grit (what team doesn’t need both, these days, particularly in the playoffs?)

      • calgaryfan

        Rittich started well but got worse the more he played, then went to Stockton and was equally as bad. I would not be willing after the season the Flames had be risking next year again. Tre’s job is probably on the line if another season of failure occurs.

      • whysoserious

        Do you find Gillies is what Dubnyk was in Edmonton, constantly on his knees yet when someone taught him to stay up Dubnyk became an allstar? I think Gillies could be our Dubnyk, now we need the goalie coach to be able to teach Gillies that skill.

  • Chucky

    If we think back two years ago the Flames had two young top notch right defensemen, Hamilton and Brodie. Why does a failed experiment with Brodie automatically make him a left defenseman after a full career of right defense success? Guess what in all of history no Ferrari has won a monster truck jam.
    The Flames are overloaded with right defense, so time to deal some but if the long term plan is Hamilton, Anderson and Fox on the right side then Brodie starts the season on the right side and he is traded after a successful half season. Trade Hamonic and Stone in the off season for picks or a right winger and by clearing the deck they could keep Wotherspoon who is NHL ready and look to replace Giordano down the road with Valimaki.

    At the start of 2018/19 the defense should be
    Gio Hamilton
    Kulak Brodie
    Wotherspoon Anderson
    Kylington

    • everton fc

      I don’t think it would hurt Kylington to be the #1 defender on the farm team, next season. He needs to prove himself, in this capacity, I think.

      I’d keep Hamonic and make Wotherspoon the extra defender. If Andersson wobbles, Wotherspoon can come in.

  • Chucky

    The question the Flames need to address regarding goaltending is where is the failure. They have consistently brought in European and drafted top goaltenders but are not getting any NHL quality graduates.

    Is the problem that scouting is not giving good evaluations or is it that the coaching staff through the system is not helping these guys develop to the point where they can play in the NHL?

    It does not seem to matter the style that the prospect plays they don’t seem to progress to the NHL level, what is the problem that needs to be addressed?

  • Oil consuming Flames

    Stajan is so polarizing, but I do think he’d be less so at $1M per season as the 13th forward.
    1 or more defencemen should be moved and adding Ferland might be just the ticket to a right hand shot top six RW.
    I think Ferland muddies the waters and confuses things. He worked on the top line, and is capable of skating with 13 and 23, but he isn’t the long term answer and will never have higher trade value than right now.
    Versteeg should not be brought back. He doesn’t want his career to be over, but it is, the injuries are more frequent and will only come faster.
    If Wotherspoon is willing, he might be a good answer for the #7 D-man on a reasonable 1-way day.
    With the depth at D that the Flames have they should also find someone to make a deal for Fox. I love the kid, and he will be good, but is it worth the risk of losing him for nothing for nothing? I know if I was him I’d question where my path to the NHL was in this organization and be really tempted to test the open market.
    I also think Gillies or Rittich are fine to back-up Smith next year, and have Parsons do a full year in Stockton splitting time with the other. Goaltending wasn’t the issue this year. Regardless how the two rookies looked while hung out to dry by the team.
    Buying out Brouwer would cost the Flames $6M cash and $1.5M on the cap for 4 years, finding someone the take him at 50% retained only costs them $2.25M for 2 years against the cap, and in real dollars. What it would do, is clear room for an entry level contract to fill the 4th RW position and be a net savings on the cap.

    Ideally, Brodie and Ferland are moved for a RHS RW, Brouwer is moved or bought out, and Stone is moved for picks at the draft.

    The following are players who should return from this year’s roster with blank spaces to be filled by trade, promotion, or signings.

    Gaudreau – Monahan- ( )
    Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik
    Bennett – Jankowski – ( )
    Lazar – Shore – Hathaway

    Giordano – Hamilton
    Kulak – Hamonic
    ( ) – Andersson

    Smith – ( )

    Stajan
    Foo

    • Oil consuming Flames

      I only say Stajan, because he’ll come back for $900,000 and be a good veteran who works hard in practice and not complain about playing only 15 games and fill in for injuries.

    • ThisBigMouthIsRight

      Really, I’d just put Foo(RW) Next to SB & MJ and peg them as the 2nd line. hmmmm? maybe this instead.
      Gaudreau – Monahan- ( )
      Tkachuk – Jankowski – Foo
      Bennett – Backlund – Frolik

    • PrairieStew

      Moving Brouwer is nearly impossible -even at half price – he can veto half the teams in the league. Moving Brodie, Stone and Ferland might bring in something of value – really hard to tell at this point. After the playoffs teams will be evaluating where they fell down and how to fill those gaps. We are all pulling for Andersson, but will he be mobile enough to compete on a nightly basis. I doubt Kylington is ready – he was not on top pairing in Stockton, so he’s going to have to make a big jump.

  • Jeremy

    In a best world to me both Brodie and Stone get moved.
    Kjillington and Andersen could come up and the Flames could get both players RW hopefully and Draft picks,.

  • Flamesfan4life

    Johnny-Tavares-foo(or traded for rw)
    Tkachuck-Monahan-bennett
    Janko/dube- backlund-frolik
    Versteeg-janko/Dube-Brower
    Extras hathaway and mangi
    Foo would be a good net presence on the 1st keeping tkachuck and jonny apart helps with matchups.
    Versteeg on the 4th is not hurting you plus you get a powerplay specialist
    I would package up hamonic and Ferland for a top rw

    Gio-Hamilton
    Brodie- Stone
    Kulak- Anderson
    Extras tspoon ( if he resigns) kylington or Golobeuf
    If Valimaki has a good showing at training camp he could make another dman trade bait

  • PrairieStew

    1. Coaching – I think they get 20 games to start before they are fired. I don’t agree with this, but it’s what I think happens.

    2. Blueline moves – Karlsson might not be returning to Ottawa -they could fetch a good package if they move his last year, that would contain prospects but no one to play now. Would the Sens be interested in the Stone brothers on the same team – Michael helping to fill the Karlsson void cheaply. This would be for a second and third round pick, or for Ryan Dzingel. If the Sens want to also add Brodie – then Stone and Brodie for Hoffman and their first.

    3. Matty’s extension – do it now – give him Gaudreau money even if it is only for 5 years

    4. Goaltending. Rittich can be added to any package to help bring in forwards. Sign a 2 year deal to established backup guy – Bernier, Hutton or the like. Hope that Gilles or Parsons takes a step forward to replace Smith after next year. Use a low pick or sign an undrafted goalie.

    5. Calgary’s UFA’s probably not returning – though Stajan might. For all those that think Shore is better – his career numbers ( ages 21-25) are identical to Stajan’s output over the past 4 seasons. The only advantage Shore has is he is younger, and likely to slide less than Stajan. I highly doubt Shore will, at age 26 break out to be much more than he has been over his 5 years as a pro – a 15-20 point fourth liner.

  • Bertsy81

    I don’t see any UFA’s being re-signed. That said I really like Stajan and Steeger as people and team members and wish them all the very best. If either of them came back for cheap I wouldn’t be angry or sad… bit puzzled maybe

    Same with Gully. If he were to stay I would be surprised but could probably roll with it.