Bill Peters is Calgary’s new head coach, which puts to bed one major offseason question. However, if the Flames are hoping a coaching change is the magic elixir to cure all that ailed them last season, they’re almost certainly fooling themselves. Calgary has a lot to address this summer and, with Peters in place, general manager Brad Treliving can truly get to work.
When we analyzed this season’s failure late last month, we came up with five top culprits: a horrid powerplay, a dismal home record, scoring depth, game management, and bad luck. Coaching can be attributed to a few of those areas, at least loosely, while the luck factor is largely beyond anyone’s control. What’s left is this team’s roster construction, which is Treliving’s chief responsibility.
Let’s face it: the Flames were way too top heavy this season, which is something we were all worried about going in. Calgary got great production from their top line and, thanks in large part to Matthew Tkachuk, pretty solid work from their second trio. From there, things dropped right off a cliff as evidenced by looking at this team’s goal breakdown.
The Flames had 17 (!) “bottom six” forwards play at least one game this season, combining for 52 goals. Mark Jankowski had 17 of those, including four in Calgary’s season finale win over Vegas, while Sam Bennett had 11. That means 15 other forwards combined for 24 goals, or 1.6 per person. That is horrifying.
To make matters worse, about a quarter of the bottom six goals in the chart above came once the Flames were without Monahan and Tkachuk to end the season. When Calgary was relatively healthy up front, their mishmash third and fourth lines contributed at an even more negligible level.
All of this leads to a very simple, but crucial, conclusion: the Flames need to significantly upgrade and/or add to their group of forwards this offseason. Chris Stewart and Nick Shore were low risk acquisitions at the trade deadline, which is fine, but Treliving needs to make a bigger splash for Calgary to take a step forward.
So what might that splash look like? Well, this year’s crop of unrestricted free agents has some interesting names, albeit with the ever-present risk of overspending. James Neal, James van Riemsdyk, Evander Kane, David Perron, and Paul Stastny are all pending UFAs and each would fit nicely on the Flames, at least from a hockey perspective. It’s a whole different story from a cap standpoint, as all five players are likely set to cash in.
You can bet Calgary will also go hard after John Tavares if he hits free agency, along with about 15 other teams. We’ll go more in depth on this in the near future, but I’ll say this: Tavares and the Flames is unlikely, but not totally out of the question. He’s very close with Travis Hamonic and would have the chance to be paired with someone like Gaudreau or Tkachuk, both positive selling factors. Landing a player like Tavares would open up so many options for Calgary, but we’ll cease with the daydreaming for the time being.
Treliving’s most likely road to travel is the trade route, which he’s never been shy about doing. Hamonic, Dougie Hamilton, and Mike Smith have all come over in significant trades over the last three years, so nabbing an impact forward isn’t out of the question by any means.
Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to who that forward might be, though. Names like Ryan O’Reilly, William Nylander, Wayne Simmonds, and Mike Hoffman, among many others, have circulated at different times over the last few months. But we don’t know if those names are actually available, the same way we have no clue what other big names could be out there. Was anyone waiting for Hamilton to be traded in June 2015?
With Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton, the Flames boasted one of the NHL’s top defence pairings for a second straight season. Unfortunately, as outlined last month, an expensive and highly touted second pairing just didn’t work out as planned this year.
Hamonic and TJ Brodie struggled mightily in their first year together. From a coaching perspective, it seemed like Glen Gulutzan and company were trying to jam a square peg through a round hole by keeping Brodie and Hamonic attached at the hip. To make matters worse, the second pairing averaged more raw, and more difficult, five-on-five ice time than what Giordano and Hamilton saw. That just didn’t make any sense knowing the performance levels of both pairings.
So what does Treliving do this summer? Hamonic had his struggles in year one with Calgary, but I’m curious how he might perform with a new partner. With a cap friendly $3.857 million hit for two more years, Hamonic is easy to fit from a salary standpoint. Unfortunately, the price paid to get him includes three top 90 picks, including a first rounder that isn’t lottery protected.
How would Hamonic look with, say, Brett Kulak, though? And would Treliving shop a player like Brodie this summer, knowing how steadily he’s declined over the last three years? While Brodie is likely not enough to net a top forward in return, a package with him involved might be able to assist the Flames in addressing their biggest area of need.
Michael Stone has two more years at $3.5 million per, which is too much for a player clearly best suited for the third pairing. I’m with many who believe Rasmus Andersson is likely an upgrade on Stone, which means trading the latter opens up a spot for the 2015 second round pick. Stone likely wouldn’t get a lot in return, but clearing his salary and a slot for Andersson would make even a late round pick worth it.
Calgary entered the 2017-18 season believing their blueline was their biggest area of strength. While it didn’t work out that way, the Flames still have good depth on the backend. As such, I think this area really could be a strength for Calgary next season, but Treliving needs to make a couple important moves to allow it.
If Calgary wants to bounce back next season, they’re going to need consistent goaltending the entire way through. Much like what we’ve seen so often in recent years, 2017-18 saw wild swings between the pipes. In the end, poor goaltending at the most important juncture really cost the Flames, as we take a look at the season in segments.
|Mike Smith pre-break (Oct. 4 – Jan. 25)||41||20-13-6||0.926|
|Mike Smith post-break (Jan. 30 – Feb. 11)||6||3-3-0||0.892|
|Smith injury with Rittich/Gillies (Feb. 13 – March 9)||13||5-6-2||0.895|
|Mike Smith post-injury (March 11 – March 26)||7||1-6-0||0.867|
Right up until their five-day break in late January, Smith was giving Calgary some of the league’s best goaltending. Something changed upon the team’s return to action on Jan. 30, though. In their final 28 meaningful games (right up to being officially eliminated on March 26), the Flames had the NHL’s worst team save percentage at 0.883.
So, as much as goaltending helped buoy Calgary during the first four months of the season, it also helped rapidly sink them over the final two months. The team didn’t have an answer when their number one went down for 13 games, and Smith struggled mightily upon his return. Treliving has a difficult task to set his team up properly in net for next season.
David Rittich looked like a competent NHL backup for a good chunk of the season and had many excited. After Smith’s injury, though, Rittich was unable to carry the ball as a temporary everyday starter. Can he be that same effective backup next season? And will this year’s experience help him if Smith goes down again next season?
I honestly don’t know the answer to those questions, which is why Treliving’s goaltending task is troublesome. Smith has missed significant time due to injury the last three seasons and will be 36 and 37 next season. Regardless of health, the Flames aren’t going to return to the playoffs with inconsistent goaltending as outlined above.