FlamesNation mailbag: The final pieces of business

Well, one of the major pieces of business everyone wanted (but few dreamed, myself included) finally happened, leaving the Flames with one final RFA deal before they bolt off to China in just about five weeks’ time. Let us go boldly into the post-Brouwer era of the Calgary Flames.

Moving Michael Frolik would be a bad idea for a myriad of reasons.

First off, yes he did have a bad season, but it’s an aberration. His shooting percentage cratered (as well as his linemates’), and his on-ice SV% did, too. Time and time again, those numbers tend to be susceptible to random variation and aren’t indicative of a player’s quality. By almost every other analytic measure, Frolik was the same player last year as he’s been for most of his NHL career.

Ergo, he’s the most likely bounce back candidate this year. He’s now third on the RW depth chart behind James Neal and Elias Lindholm and will probably play a more sheltered role, which could be helpful for Frolik finding his mojo again. He’s always been a volume shooter (his 9.12 shots per 60 at 5v5 led the team), so perhaps more offensive zone time with a hopeful shooting percentage bounceback will do wonders for the team.

Frolik is also one of the actual quality right wingers on this team. Behind him are Austin Czarnik (unproven), Curtis Lazar (bad), Garnet Hathaway (tough guy) and Spencer Foo (also unproven). There’s a significant dropoff after his spot on the depth chart, so trading him away is just going to create more problems. Even at his worst last season, he wasn’t as bad as the rest of these names.

Perhaps if Frolik doesn’t bounce back and his struggles reveal themselves to be age related (he’s 30) you explore a trade. But there’s no harm holding on for this season and affording him the opportunity to get back on his feet.

If you missed it, Ari’s article way back when has a lot of information on what Austin Czarnik is and how he’s performed across various leagues. It’s going to do a lot of the heavy lifting for this answer.

Basically, having Czarnik can’t hurt. He’s a player who’s been on the verge of cracking the NHL but has been stuck in the pretty deep Bruins organization for his entire career. His AHL numbers aren’t exciting, but he’s a player who will likely be a productive fourth liner. If the hyperbole is true (while I was writing this, a Bruins fan chimed in to offer his analysis of Czarnik) and he is a budding Jonathan Marchessault as many say, it’s nothing but a major win for the Flames. But realistically, he’s going to be a 25-point guy on the fourth line. I’m not even sure if the 2017-18 Flames fourth line put up 25 points, so already a major upgrade.

Let’s focus on the Heat primarily, because I have no clue what’s going to happen with KC and the only Flames prospects there are two goalies (who are both afterthoughts, unfortunately). With that said, let’s look:

Returning In Out Maybes
D Josh Healey F Dillon Dube (draft) C Marek Hrivik (KHL) RW Spencer Foo
LW/RW Hunter Shinkaruk RW Matthew Phillips (draft) LW/C Brett Findlay (Austria) LW Andrew Mangiapane
F Brett Pollock C/RW Glenn Gawdin (UFA) RW/C Darren Nowick (Sweden) LW Morgan Klimchuk
LW Ryan Lomberg C Alan Quine (UFA) RW Garnet Hathaway (grad) RW Curtis Lazar
LW/RW Buddy Robinson (UFA) RW/LW Emile Poirier (unqualified) C Mike McMurtry (ECHL)
C Tyler Graovac (UFA) RW Austin Carroll (unqualified) D Adam Ollas Mattsson
LW/RW Yasin Ehliz (Germany) C Colin Smith (Germany) D Rasmus Andersson
D Marcus Hogstrom (Sweden) LW Tanner Glass (UFA) D Oliver Kylington
G Tyler Parsons (ECHL) LW Luke Gazdic (UFA) D Juuso Valimaki
C Rod Pelley (Denmark) D Dalton Prout
D Oleg Yevenko (KHL) D Colby Robak (unsigned)
D Tyler Wotherspoon (UFA) G Jon Gillies
D Cody Goloubef (UFA) G David Rittich

In the first column, we have the players who will definitely be spending all of next year in the AHL, none of them particularly special. Healey should probably be a third pairing minutes muncher this year. Pollock arguably has the highest upside of the remaining forwards given his jump from the ECHL to the AHL last season, but probably nothing exciting. Basically, all the Heat know they have for now are their middle sixers.

Let’s talk additions, which are the exciting part. The Heat are getting three of the top 10 WHL forwards next year, and perhaps one of the WHL’s best defencemen depending on how training camp shakes down, so they should have some exciting talent. Hogstrom was apparently the SHL’s best defenceman and Ehliz was one of the better DEL forwards, so there’s a lot of prospective talent coming in.

Of known AHL assets, Quine and Robinson are both pretty sturdy AHLers. Robinson hit 53 points last year, while Quine has mostly been a point-per-game AHLer, albeit having not played full time in that league for two years. Graovac has had bursts of alright-ness, and projects to be a bottom six centre in Stockton. Parsons is also likely coming up, so there’s another high ceiling prospect in the organization.

Does it offset the roster losses? I would say yes. Dube, Gawdin, and Phillips are certainly upgrades on departing CHLers Carroll and Poirier. Losing Yevenko, Glass, Pelley, and Gazdic isn’t much of a big deal: all four are one-dimensional goons. Graovac, Robinson, and Quine are all about the same as Smith, Nowick, and Findlay, so lateral moves on those fronts. The real large losses are Wotherspoon, Hrivik, and Hathaway, and it’s up to the aforementioned CHL graduates to fill those spots up.

A lot of Stockton’s season will depend on who makes the Flames out of camp. There might be a forward spot open on the big roster, and perhaps a 13/14 F spot, but the defence is looking pretty tight right now. I think Mangiapane has the best chance at getting a job out of camp, which would take away Stockton’s most dominant player, but they would get stuck with Foo and Klimchuk, which isn’t that bad. If there’s no space for Andersson, Kylington, and Valimaki in the NHL, the Heat will be very happy. Getting one of Gillies or Rittich back is also going to be helpful for the team, so they’re likely going to be loaded from back to front.

Overall, there’s a lot to like if you’re a Stockton fan. There’s a healthy amount of talent being injected into the system and with the increased NHL depth, the best of the Heat will have a hard time cracking the lineup. Having multiple players that could arguably be in the NHL is good for AHL and NHL fans alike. Everything depends on injuries, but the Heat will be a force to be reckoned with come October.

Kylington will probably make some serious noise at camp this year.

He’s consistently improving year after year (he’s only 21) and has established himself as one of the best 5v5 producers among AHL defencemen. His defensive game gets flak, but he’s quietly made improvements in that regard, too. His physical tools (he can skate) are coming along quite nicely, and his decision making is also rounding out. Not quite a finished product, but much closer than people are willing to give him credit for.

And if it comes down to Valimaki versus Kylington for Brett Kulak’s spot, the contract situation gives Kylington a bit of an advantage. Valimaki’s contract can still slide if he’s in the AHL, so playing him there gives the Flames an extra ELC year (and buys him protection from a looming 2020 Seattle expansion draft). Kylington’s contract is already running, so you might as well make use of it.

I really wouldn’t worry about demotivation. He signed a five-year ELC, so I’m sure it’s been explained to him that his development is a work in progress.

A bridge deal and a long-term extension are certainly both still on the table. Two major deals involving defencemen coming off their ELCs were signed this week: Brandon Montour received $3.387M AAV for two years and Brady Skjei received $5.25M over six years. Those two contracts are the frameworks for the eventual Noah Hanifin deal.

The Bryout opened up the possibility of a Skjei-type deal happening. The Flames would still have around $2M in cap space for the year should that deal happen. Treliving has been good with driving RFA numbers down (managed to get Elias Lindholm under the reported $5M ask he had in Carolina), so perhaps there’s a few more pennies to be saved.

But I think the Bryout was a two birds, one stone move. You can certainly fork over more money to Hanifin while he adds a few more years to the deal, but what’s most important is that it’s opened up more space for the upcoming Matthew Tkachuk extension. A Skjei deal would make a Tkachuk extension much, much harder, as the only major deal coming off the books next year is Mike Smith’s. You essentially have to re-up Sam Bennett, Tkachuk, maybe Kulak, and find a goalie for about $9M-$10M in cap space. A pretty tough ask.

So maybe a Montour-type bridge deal is still what the Flames are hammering out. If he gets two years, TJ Brodie, Travis Hamonic, Michael Stone, and Frolik will be off the books too, and you can afford to really pay Hanifin his money.

We ran the numbers, and they say Mikael Backlund.

The forward As were Sean Monahan and Brouwer, who both missed time with injury at points in the season. Monahan missed seven games after being shut down (and one before the bye week), so the A was handed off to Backlund for them. When Brouwer went down with injury, the A went to Backlund as well. So your answer is Backlund.

And I know it’s a different coach around, but it’s kind of hard not to give it to Backlund. He’s the team’s second longest tenured player behind Mark Giordano and has generally been considered a leader throughout these last few years. He’ll have the A this year, barring any surprises.

The handy SKATR Comparison tool is Nick’s toy of choice here. It basically condenses a player’s production through various metrics and measures them relative to the entire league.

Before we get to comparing, let’s answer the first question: Derek Ryan is one of, if not the, strangest NHLers around. He had a milquetoast WHL career, could only find pro work in the now-defunct United Hockey League, played CIS hockey for the University of Alberta, and then found work in Europe in Austria’s league. After plying his trade there, he got the attention of the Swedish league and spent one season there (leading the league in points) before making his way back to North America and the AHL. There, he worked his way up to being a 29-year-old rookie who played reliably and consistently in the bottom six. I can’t think of any NHLers with a career trajectory even close to that.

In Carolina, Ryan filled a need as a bottom sixer on a team that didn’t want to spend a lot of money. His rookie year was alright stuff for a third liner, but his second year is what made a reported 20 NHL teams interested in his services. Ryan jumped out to just under 40 points, posting eye-popping possession numbers for a guy in that role. Naturally, he’s drawn some comparison to Backlund, as both were analytical darlings in the bottom six.

And there’s some smoke to that. Peeking at the chart Nick provided, Ryan and Backlund are mostly similar in terms of results, but the contexts are very different. Ryan is a very sheltered player, seeing way less of the defensive zone, ice time, and competition that Backlund does (but also doesn’t get as high quality teammates). I think what this says about Ryan is what I’ve said in the previous paragraph: he’s one of the more productive players in the NHL, but almost exclusively in a depth role. If given Backlund’s workload, he’s probably not going to survive long as the 2C.

So then is Ryan likely the Flames’ third best centre? Here’s him compared to Mark Jankowski:

The usage context is about the same for Ryan and Jankowski. Both received a fair amount of sheltering, although Ryan got more icetime and higher quality teammates (though he did see slightly harder competition). The major difference is that Ryan blows Jankowski out of the water in most categories, save for individual goals and shooting.

For next season, Ryan probably starts as the 3C. Sorta because that’s what he’s paid to do, sorta because he’s a favourite of the coach, sorta because he’s thrived in a 3C role. He’ll probably see some struggles though, as he’s going from Jeff Skinner and Justin Williams to Sam Bennett and (likely) Michael Frolik as his wingers, but his short NHL career has demonstrated that he’s a pretty strong player as a 3C.

Note: This may be the last mailbag until September-ish because of all the news slowing down.

  • buts

    The elephant in the room is that there’s no proven backup goalie for Smith. A killer for the team if one isn’t found. Gillies and Rittich are not the answer.

  • Jagrrrrr, baby. Yeah.

    Does Hanifin become the Flames 2nd highest paid D? If not, then he’s capped at $4.65M with Brodie on a long term deal, or he gets bridged at ~$3M.

  • deantheraven

    Kulak’s contract makes him moveable at the deadline.(And Brodie, too. Dare I say Brodie or maybe Gio to TO?) … Tre will recoup some picks, either then or at the draft to keep the pipeline flowing.
    . Hopefully Kulak plays well enough to garner interest by February. Then hopefully we’ll see what we have in Oliver K. Of course, he’s 21 and on a 5-year ELC so I guess as long as he’s on board with the plan, great.
    Valimaki has to stay in the ‘A’ next year, no matter how good he looks in camp, or Seattle will snatch up him or whoever else the Flames can’t protect.

  • everton fc

    Going after Karlsson is a Feaster move. In fact, I could see Feaster trying to get Bobby Ryan, if the Sens ate some cap. I hope BT doesn’t get suckered into a move for Karlsson. Or Ryan.

    Find a way to poach Brady from the Sens. Stone’s little brother wants out, as well. He’ll be the next to jump ship. So I can’t see our Stone wanting to go there. If we keep Stone, then Kulak may be an asset the Sens would want. Think cheap assets who can play now, when it come to the Sens. Anyone who gets Karlsson for a year will have to pay him ludicrous money, with term, next summer. We don’t need that kind of contract hanging over us like a millstone.

    I think our 1st in 2019 would be on the table, along w/a player like Kulak and/or Kylington, for Brady. I think Bennett being moved is too much for an unproven draft pick, regardless of where he was picked, and whose brother he is. The Sens will lose Brady, but there are probably a lot of teams Brady would play for (St. Louis?) if he can’t be a Flame. The Sens will look to maximize his value, obviously, for no way does he ever play in the capital city. I just can’t see it.

    Guys I’d be willing to move, for Brady (and I like Kulak);

    Ideally, Stone. But I can’t see him going there, unless his little brother says he’s committed to staying. I’d also consider Kulak, Kylington, maybe one of our young goalies (and I’d look to bring in someone like Pickard, as the replacement).

    • The GREAT WW

      My guess is that Ottawa will want a player who want to be there and are a feel good story; ie; players coming home…..

      I see 2 on the Flames that fit that bill (not including Stone);

      Bennett or Jankowski……they are both from around there and on decent contracts. They may actually be happy to be in Ottawa…..!!!!!!!!

      Who would you part with for Baby Byng?


  • Puckin

    I don’t know when or how, but somehow the next trade I think will be Boston for Tuka Rask. We need a long term no 1 goalie. With due respect to our current goalies.

      • FL?MES

        Assuming that this is correct then the only remaining question marks are:

        1) Neal or Lindholm on the first line?

        2) how will the bottom two lines shake out and which prospect will take Brouwer’s spot?

        3) who will sit in the popcorn box

        4) Will Ras make the squad and, if so, what happens to Stone?

        5) will Rittich or Gillies be the backup?

        Am I missing anything?

        • Off the wall

          Yah, one thing..
          I think WW, Puck and Otw are old enough and (wise) enough to stop clamouring over BTF.

          I love ya guys, and I don’t want you to think I’m better, because I’m definitely NOT. I’m the worst!

          I just think it’s time to let go and move forward… we have a lot to be excited for!!

          • Off the wall

            Short story. My step-son whom I’ve never mentioned ( 11)has Autism. Everything is black and white to him. He’s a really cool kid, but social skills are … wanting, that would be the best way to describe it.

            Two days ago I was listening to him on his video game. He plays Fortnite with others his age group.
            Well, he was just hammering on this kid who wasn’t as good as him. “ You suck” he kept repeating over and over.

            I had to shut him down from the game. It was chat time.

            I explained it’s not acceptable to call people names, nor say bad things to them.

            He replied, “ Well they do suck, so why shouldn’t I tell them “
            Black and white…

            I told him, “ You know how you struggle with hard math questions.? How would you feel if someone told you that you were dumb”

            “ But I’m not dumb, I’m bored with math” …Black and white

            After several methods of trying to get him to understand, he finally got it.

            Today, I heard him apologizing several times to someone online.. for the first time!! It was a small victory, but one nonetheless.

            I can’t very well tell my step-son that it’s acceptable to berate other’s, when I’m doing it myself.

            As much as I have to teach my step-son little things, he helped in teaching me today!

          • FL?MES

            Let it go and move on OTW. It’s a hockey blog. I like you and will defend you, as I will pretty much everyone here in the FN community. We’ve got a pretty amazing thing going here.

          • FL?MES

            And even though I crap on WW at times (Backlund) I admire him because he is fiercely loyal. Also, the guy doesn’t crap the bed if you call him out or disagree with him.

            The thing that is different with you is that you open up and let us get to know you. In doing so you bring our sometimes narrow hockey views back into perspective and get us to see the bigger picture. Keep on doing what you do best – helping us see hockey through a different lense.

  • meat1

    WW…(in a potential trade for Baby Byng)…I do agree that this might be the perfect time to move Bennett…throw in Stone if it helps…I don’t think we’re flush enough in draft picks moving forward to part with anymore of them. So it becomes prospects. If I give Bennett, and Stone….I think adding Kylington would be a fair starting point. I think Karlsson will leave and maybe Kylington can somewhat replace that. Stone maybe helps the other Stone decide to stay, and Bennett might be everything Baby Byng ever becomes? If I’m the Flames, I would consider this.

    • FL?MES

      All this OTT talk is craziness.

      At this point in time Baby Byng is an unproven prospect with good pedigree. He’s not worth two nhlers and a decent prospect (my apologies WW). Don’t get me wrong as I would love to have him here but let’s be patient and see how things in OTT shake out.

      The Karlsson thing is a pipe dream. He’ll likely end up on a team south of the border with cap space for picks as prospects. It’s rebuild time in OTT.

      • everton fc

        I think “Baby Byng” is worth far less than Bennett, if he chooses to stay in school. Why would we give up Bennett AND Stone, for Brady Tkachuk? Who/what else come our way?

        I just don’t see the sense in that type of a trade.

        The Sens already have cap issues – they won’t want Stone. Kulak’s a more likely “piece”. Our 1st in 2019 might also be part of the discussion. But Bennett or Jankowski – particularly Jankowski – to me, that’s way too much.

        As for Karlsson – again, a “Feaster move”. Steer clear. Let someone else pay him $10-11mill a season, with term, next summer. If we can get Brady Tkachuk for our 2019 first and someone like Kulak or Kylington, that’s the deal. No Mangiapane. No Jankowski. No Bennett. Brady’s still an unproven player. He may end up like Bennett. Who knows? But if he stays in school, the Sens will lose him. That’s our opportunity, but only if we don’t have to give up too much. (Note, our draft picks, after the first round, are might lean next season, if we make the playoffs – so do we take the gamble, toss our 2019 first for Brady? Take a look at the Sens lack of draft picks, next summer; they have none until Round 2, then Rounds 4/5/6. Now they’ll fill some of those holes, when they move Karlsson. But if Karlsson can get you a high first, or two, along with a handful of NHLers, and Brady another first…)

        • FL?MES

          Karlsson will NEVER come here with BT at the helm. An $11M contract undermines the salary structure that he has worked so hard to achieve.

          Because we WILL make the playoffs this year the 2019 plus a prospect could be in play. I highly doubt Tre would do this but who knows with him. The main reason I don’t see this happen is that we are in a win now mode, the roster is pretty much full, and Baby Byng might need more time to develop?

      • Redleader

        I’d have to agree puck ,unless Brady is projected to be on a 3 or 2nd line this year ? I don’t think Brady will be nearly as good as his big bro . Just wait we can pick him up for a 3rd rounder in a couple years .

  • everton fc

    The only other way to get Brady Tkachuk is to move a player like Kylington (or maybe Stone, if they want to convince Mark to stay) and take on one of their many bad contracts, with the Sens retaining salary. This might be the more obvious/less discussed route to Brady Tkachuk, regardless of team, and one I am sure the Sens are pushing, if they are speaking to the Flames. But who wants Ryan’s contract, even at half price, “forever”, or even Gaborik’s half-price, until 2020-21? These are some massive challenges for the Sens. And we thought Brouwer’s contract was bad!)

      • The GREAT WW

        Sometimes I read posts that suggest our 2019 first round pick should be part of the package.
        Why would Ottawa trade their 4th overall pick for a (much) worse pick?!
        It makes no sense.
        We need to trade NHL players for Baby Byng, like it or not….


        • everton fc

          Personally, I don’t see Brady Tkachuk as a Flame, at least coming from the Sens. Maybe after he leaves university…

          The Sens need to move bad contracts. That will be part of any discussion, if Brady Tkachuk opts to stay in school. Which he will.

          (As for trades and things not making sense in Ottawa… They haven’t for years!)

        • FL?MES

          True, but we just don’t have much to offer. Bennett has yet to prove himself, Stone is ok but his brother is probably telling him stories about the tire fire that is the Senators. Kulak is Kulak.

          It can’t be nhlers. It would have to be….I have no answer.

      • everton fc

        Agreed, on both fronts. But I bet the Sens have to try. I simply don’t think Brady Tkachuk is worth Bennett, unless it’s part of a bigger package deal.

        And I wouldn’t move Jankowski at all.

        • Off the wall

          Vancouver faces the same dilemma with Quinn Hughes, their #7 pick. Gotta remember his younger brother Jack will be drafted next year as well, maybe even going #1 overall. Perhaps he waits until he sees who drafts him before making a decision?

          I’d like to think that blood is thicker than water and hope we can get another Tkachuk.

          I just don’t know what it would take. I’d rather watch Baby Byng stay in school and let him become a UFA, as opposed to giving up TOO much for him.

  • oddclod

    Bing finna play in Calgary, they will ask for Valimaki. Sorry a late first and Bennett ain’t gonna cut it. I say no. We got the offensive Tkachuck. Count your blessings.

  • Chucky

    If Brady wants to be traded he will reduce his value and announce he is going back to school. With the Gaudreau experience of completing his degree the Flames have a good story to tell so they may be able to wait until September and then make a deal that is better than reasonable. Treliving is always looking to cut an imaginative deal so don’t be surprised if the preliminaries get put on hold until Brady is back in school.

  • TheWheeze

    As far as parts of FN being worried about Gio’s age, don’t forget Chris Chelios played until he was 48. And Gio is cut from the same physical cloth. A bull. In shape. Has the DNA. I’m not worried the least bit

    • Flames Fan in Edmonchuck

      Treated him like crap? Because they supported him through his addiction/behavioural issues, chose not to give up on him when they could have, went out of their way to get him a mentor in big Ern and then made him a millionaire???? Crap indeed.