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Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Flames’ roster already appears improved in early offseason overhaul

Standing idly by was not an option for the Flames this offseason; not after they set expectations for 2017-18 and failed spectacularly to meet them. The team’s faults became increasingly apparent as the season went on, leaving the Flames with really only one choice: big changes would have to come before October.

Mere days into the official start of the 2018-19 season, the Flames appeared to have already done just that.

The prototypical lineup for the Flames through 2017-18 often looked something like this:

Gaudreau Monahan Ferland
Tkachuk Backlund Frolik
Bennett Jankowski Hathaway
Brouwer Stajan Lazar
Giordano Hamilton
Brodie Hamonic
Kulak Stone
Smith
Rittich

Only a small handful of forwards were particularly great. The good news is that they were mostly younger guys: Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk. Otherwise, the Flames were relying on everyone to have a career year. The depth was dependent on both Micheal Ferland and Sam Bennett proving they were the real deals; they did not. When the top players inevitably cooled off – or required four surgeries, such as Monahan – there was nobody capable of stepping up. Season over.

The depth was supposed to be in the defence; it failed to live up to expectations. The top pairing did a great job, but TJ Brodie floundered throughout the year, Travis Hamonic required an extensive adjustment period to playing in the west, and Michael Stone is still making $3.5 million in a bottom pairing role while being the team’s worst regular defender for some reason.

The Flames have been struggling to find consistency at the goaltending position for years, and this past season was no different. Mike Smith started out so great the Flames saw it fit to play the then-35-year-old every single night, leaving no chance for any backup to find his footing, forcing the team to eventually turn to an untested rookie. Then the then-35-year-old playing every single night got hurt, the untested rookie couldn’t handle being a starter, neither could the other untested rookie, and the season was really over.

Sure, injuries hurt the Flames. That forward depth looks a lot better with a healthy Jaromir Jagr in place for Garnet Hathaway, and a healthy Kris Versteeg dressing 70- or 80-something times instead of just 24. But injuries hurt every team, and the Flames weren’t prepared for it.

Now, compare last year to what the Flames may have to work with this season (so far):

Gaudreau Monahan Neal
Tkachuk Backlund Lindholm
Bennett Ryan Frolik
Czarnik Jankowski Brouwer
Giordano Brodie
Hanifin Hamonic
Kulak Stone
Smith
Rittich

The Flames have focused almost exclusively on the forwards so far this offseason, and it looks like it’s paying off. Granted, we won’t know much until the puck actually drops, but both James Neal (even at his age) and Elias Lindholm are substantial upgrades on Ferland. Mark Jankowski will have to fight with Derek Ryan to get more minutes. Michael Frolik no longer has a guaranteed spot in the top six, and any justification for playing Hathaway every night is officially gone. Bennett could have Austin Czarnik – or any prospect who succeeds, really – nipping at his heels constantly. There’s more competition with a higher quality set of players, and more options when things just aren’t going right (more on that later).

In the immediate, the defence is a little worse. Noah Hanifin probably isn’t going to step in and replace Dougie Hamilton’s performance immediately; even Hamilton’s numbers in his first three years in the league beat out Hanifin’s. If Brodie is unable to return to form alongside Mark Giordano and Hanifin isn’t able to pull off a miracle of being beyond astounding right away, the Flames may have shot themselves in the foot. It’s a risk.

Goaltending is the exact same perilous adventure as it was last year, except this time around, both David Rittich and Jon Gillies have more NHL experience, which may help. On the other hand, Smith is another year older.

What’s left to do?

All that said, it’s hard to imagine the Flames are already done reshaping their roster, barring re-signing RFAs. The lineup looks better on paper, but as this past season showed us, one can never be too careful.

Is there a lot left to do at forward? Maybe the team could go after someone else, but that top six actually kind of looks like a real one now, and there’s still a chance for prospects who really impress at camp to work their way in there – though it may have to force some difficult decisions for management (i.e. waiving players who are worse, but already have a sunk cost attached to them).

The defence is still clogged. Assuming Dalton Prout is indeed the seventh defencemen, then there’s no room for prospects there at all, and the backend is likely where the Flames are most ready to plug somebody in. (What I’m getting at here is please make room for Rasmus Andersson. How can he not deserve it at this point. Please free him. And that’s assuming Juuso Valimaki doesn’t try to force his way on the team, too.)

And goaltending? Well, Bill Peters never had anything good to work with in Carolina. And goaltending is really the one position that can sink or swim an entire season singlehandedly like no other. There is a lot of cause to be anxious if the Flames don’t make any moves in net; while it could work out, is the current configuration a smart bet once again?


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  • The Beej

    What is all this talk on here about moving forwards (frolik, jankowski)?

    We finally have some depth in the event of injuries. Lets not piss that away. When Jagr and and Versteeg went down last year our options were pretty limited.

    We dont need the cap space. See Ryans article from yesterday.

    If anything it is defense (stone) gets moved because Anderson has earned a spot.

    As it is now we can do something simple like put Lazar on waivers if we need to. As it is now our lineup has balance and options. And we can still fit in a prospect while still keeping things competitive.

    Gaudreau monahan Neal
    Tkachuk Backlund Lindholm
    Bennett Jankowski Frolik
    Mangiapane Ryan Czarnik

    Brouwer and Lazar as extras. Perhaps Hathaway and Lazar battle for that final spot. Foo and Czarnik battle for a roster spot. With Frolik on the 3rd line Bennett and Jankowski get a steady vet to work with.

    Tinker with the lineup i proposed as you see fit. We have options and pieces can be moved around. But if you start moving players out and we run into injuries then we are screwed again.

    We finally have a bit of depth. Why do some of you want to undo that?

    Maybe next summer when we know more about what we have in Phillips Dube Mangiapane and Foo, then sure move Frolik and buyout Brouwer if things are looking good. But for now we have a really good balance here of vets and youth. And now we arent forced to play Brouwer up the lineup. We have other options.

    • Loud_voices

      You are crazy if you think brouwer isn’t going to be in the lineup. I heard Bill Peters talking about how much he respects Brouwer. And a guy getting paid that much to warm the bench looks pretty stupid in the worlds eyes. Not to mention hes a good gritty player. And hes only as good as the team around him. He was 12th on the team in points this year with only 3 players above him that get paid less and 2 out of 3 of them (bennett and ferland) got all the chances in the world to play on the top line and with our best players, as brouwer basically got consistently different teammates all season long filling in for injuries with barely any time to develop true chemistry until a little near the end. So dont count brouwer out and look for a rebound season this year with more talent to solidify a lineup. And im not saying brouwer didnt get any chances with good players this year but Brouwer played consistenly with the least skilled players on calgary like bennett, stewart, Shore, stajan, and lazar.

    • Bawcos

      Agree Beej, Finally they have depth. I’m even willing to put the $5.75M Neal on the 3rd line for now. But BT missed by not trading Stone(as of yet). Always thought that was the first order of business – Must Move Stone!

  • Mickey O'Reaves

    Giordano, Hanifin and Hamonic. Those are the only 3 that I’d figure to not be going anywhere.

    Stone, Brodie, Kulak. Andersson might even be in play. Can’t see them moving Valimaki, no matter what.

    Still looking for one of ‘those guys’ to crack some skulls as needed somewhere in the lineup. F and D. It has to happen somewhere.

    Dalton Prout is good at that, but he’s not going to play everyday.

    • Loud_voices

      You would have to be stupid to move stone or Brodie at this time. You wouldnt get the return you deserve and you would probably just hurt the team. And they would also have to be fairly stupid to move andersson without giving him a decent chance in NHL to prove himself, specially since everyone keeps talking about how he doesnt belong in the AHL. Valimaki is a star and unless we get a massive return for him, he wont be moved. Dalton Prout was probably specifically brought in to allow andersson and valimaki to test the NHL waters more freely without hurting the stockton heat. The only D that made any sense to move was Dougie Hamilton. Simply for the reason that hes way over rated…… hes lazy, has no hockey sense, and is a poison in the locker room.

  • Off the wall

    Well I guess you could say that Treliving had a massive plan in place. He went to the draft with basically nothing and managed to pull off a trade that not only shocked us, but made us wonder where he was heading.

    If you read the comments from draft day until today, it has been a stark contrast in terms of comments. I’d say overall it’s been a blast to watch the dominos fall and the comments become positive.

    Now we’re all speculating possibilities about lineups. I love it. We’re all engaged and excited!

    If any were doubting Treliving prior to the draft, I hope that you can at least give credit where credit is due.

    Treliving is invested heavily in our Flames. You don’t make a trip to Michigan with Rebar in tow, just to sign Czarnik, unless you’ve done your homework.

    That’s just one example!

    He’s already 3 steps ahead of us. Him and Peters’ are reshaping this team. I love Mickey’s O’Reeves ( great handle) term of Treepete.
    Sorry if I misspelled it Mickey.
    Don’t pummel me!

    Speaking of tandems… Treliving and Peters’ make a pretty good tandem!

  • oddclod

    And we got a real Babcock clone (highest compliment) behind the bench. This team was 15pts better alone. Can’t stress how much buy in you get when you have real coaching DNA. It’s gonna be a real entertaining season. Oilers and Canucks finna be real jealous this year. GFG

  • Flamesfansince04

    Tre says “Neal gives us an element that I haven’t seen in my time here”. Isn’t that a polite way of saying that “Brouwer was a crap shoot so hopefully Neal can pick up the pieces”

  • Lazarus

    A lot this season will depend whether or not Brodie can pull his head out. The team finally gave in and shipped Dougie out giving Brodie the teams best defenseman and Captain as partner. If Brodie fails still, his trade value will plummet