FlamesNation Mailbag: Labour Day kickoff

While the football boys in red, white, and black take the field, we’ll say hello to the hockey boys of red, white, and black again.

Hockey is around the corner, with the Flames and Bruins kicking things off in China in just over a week’s time. Isn’t it a wonderful time of year?

There would have to be some disaster for that to happen.

They already have a pretty solid middle group with Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Derek Ryan, and Mark Jankowski. Adding Elias Lindholm to that list makes it a pretty enviable group, but you have to compare that to the group you’re taking him away from.  If you subtract Lindholm, the Flames have James Neal, Michael Frolik, Austin Czarnik, Spencer Foo, and maybe Curtis Lazar down the right side: a lot less depth at the RW position versus centre. Part of acquiring Lindholm was to bolster the RW depth, not the C depth. That’s a secondary bonus, but not the primary use for him.

I think if Zebulon (one of Lindholm’s middle names, and certainly the best name he has out of four, so that’s what I like calling him) spends the majority of the year at centre, it’s because someone has suffered a major injury. The next likely cause is that either one of Ryan or Jankowski has severely underwhelmed in the bottom six that they have to drop him down the lineup to fix the issue.

I don’t count Lindholm out at C for non-disaster reasons though. It is plausible for them to push Ryan out to the wing instead and drop Lindholm to 3C with Sam Bennett if they feel like reuniting the 3M line (though that would create an all-centre line). There are ways to do it without a disaster unfolding.

I wouldn’t trust either of those centres with the defensive responsibilities Matt Stajan was tasked with last season, no. Both Ryan and Jankowski succeeded in sheltered circumstances, so moving either of them to a defensive role is likely no bueno.

I think the burden will fall on Lindholm, presuming he’s on the first line. I don’t think the Flames will start treating him like Backlund, but perhaps having a better two-way player on that line provides a bit more peace of mind when you have to keep your first line on the ice for icing or other line-matching purposes. Perhaps another argument for making him a centre is so that you can have two defensive lines and two offensive lines, although it’s worth noting that Lindholm has seen a fair amount of sheltering in his career too, which makes the assertion that he’s a two-way player slightly questionable.

I’m going to say Zebulon hitting 50 is more likely. He’s going to have some top notch linemates regardless if he falls on lines one or two. If he is a constant in the top six, 50 points is likely the floor. If Micheal Ferland could pick up 40 last year, Lindholm could probably put up more.

Giving this one to Dougie Hamilton. He’s an elite offensive defenceman who has put up four straight 40+ point seasons. I think he might hit 50 this year. Noah Hanifin has put up one 30-point season and will be partners with Travis Hamonic, who is not famous for scoring points. I would put Hanifin down for about 35. Maybe in a few years they’ll be close in scoring, but I don’t think this year is the year.

One question answers the other.

It has to be Matthew Tkachuk. The NHL fantasy projections say he might get 53 points, which seems low. He was on pace for 59 last year despite not playing on the powerplay for the majority of the season. If he gets special teams time and takes another step forward, he could likely be good for more than that. He’s been tops among the Flames and close to the tops in the league for underlying numbers, so the counting numbers should start piling up shortly. He found his goalscoring gear last year too, so that’s an additional plus.

If you’re in a categories league, Tkachuk will also pick up PIMs and +/- points. He’s an all around good guy, but you already knew that.

Besides Tkachuk, I’m saying Frolik. Despite shooting the puck the most on a per 60 basis and also coming close to the top for high danger chances on the Flames, Frolik’s shooting percentage cratered and he also suffered an injury. Those are two major signs that a player is going to have a bounce back year. If he’s penciled into that offence-first third line role many think he’ll play in, those shooting skills could come in handy despite the diminished role.

Most likely to regress is Mike Smith, which we’ll explore in the next question.

We’ll give it a moderate five, but let’s think of it more as a teeter-totter than a scale.

The Flames’ goaltending is going to be good until it isn’t. Smith has defied heavy workloads, injury, and age to be an average ~.915 goalie for the past three years; it’s not unfeasible that he does it again this season. All the Flames need is average goaltending this year and that should be good enough to push them to the playoffs.

But if Smith goes down or everything catches up with him, that’s going to be very bad. But maybe things are still going to be okay! David Rittich hasn’t been a solid starter, but he’s been a good enough goalie in short bursts that he’s worth a shot. Jon Gillies has improved year over year so it’s not crazy to think that he becomes an NHL regular this season. Maybe that duo is good enough to keep the Flames afloat, even if they’re splitting duties.

That’s optimistic though. If they aren’t good enough, just like they weren’t good enough last year when Smith went down, then I guess the scariness teeters all the way to John Carpenter’s The Thing. I haven’t seen that movie, but I’ll trust you on this one.

The Flames’ disaster plan is likely both things. They’ll ride Gillies and Rittich in the initial wake of a Smith injury. The two are on friendly deals, and you might as well find out what you’ve got before you have to make a decision on at least one of them (which will also inform their plans next season, see below). Brad Treliving will definitely be making calls – I could imagine them trying to pry James Reimer out of Florida – because they’ve invested too much into this season to have it flushed down thanks to goaltending.

I think that it wouldn’t matter. Let me explain.

Assuming the cap goes up to $82M, based on the usual $2M jumps it makes on a non-Vegas year, the Flames might begin next offseason with $16M in cap space. That’s a pretty chunk of change, but the problem being that they will need to extend Tkachuk and Bennett (assuming he earns his keep, a question in itself, but we’ll assume he sticks around). Tkachuk should be around $6M, assuming the usual magic with contract extensions. Bennett might get a slight bump to around $2.5M if he nets 30-ish points next season. That’s already half of that cap space gone.

But there’s more! You have to fill three more forward spots and two more defender spots. Those can easily be solved with AHLers for the cheap, let’s say Dillon Dube, Matthew Phillips, Oliver Kylington, and Rasmus Andersson. That’s about $3M more when you add all the salary together. Andrew Mangiapane might also get a raise, so he could land in the $1M range. Add all that together, you have ~$4.1M in cap space.

If Hanifin was on a bridge deal, the cap space would certainly increase, but only by $1.5-2M, which leaves you with ~$6.1M max. That’s a problem when the major draw is Sergei Bobrovsky. If he chooses to leave Columbus, but he’ll come at maybe $9M, and that’s lowballing. Semyon Varlamov is the next big draw, but he’ll also be expensive. That is if he doesn’t slow down due to age and injury (he is also worth avoiding for moral reasons).

After that, it’s a lot of uninspiring goalies. Will 32-year-old Cam Talbot interest you after he finishes another 65+ game campaign? Maybe Robin Lehner, Anders Nilsson, or Michal Neuvirth become starting options, but that seems farfetched. Perhaps Petr Mrazek bounces back. Basically, nothing worth splashing the cash on. Hanifin going long term tightens things up, but the Flames are likely out of the running for the prizes that will actually provide a UFA solution in net.

This is a pretty tough question to answer because the Flames have a very tough opening schedule.

Let’s limit this to the first 10 games. To begin the year, they have a home-and-home series against the Canucks, which should hopefully be two wins. After that, it’s a minor road trip through the Central against Nashville, St. Louis, and Colorado, all three games coming in a span of five nights. That’s three playoff-caliber teams, and if the Flames are as good as we think they are, they should at least win two of those games.

When they return home, they play Boston and Nashville again. That’s going to be two more tough games, and winning one is going to be acceptable. After that, the Flames go on a brief road trip out East, but it’s against the New York Rangers and the Habs, two rebuilding teams. Those should be two wins for the Flames. The 10th game of the year is against Pittsburgh at home, which is a tossup for me, so flip a coin on that one.

Add it all up, and I think we could consider a “good start” to be at least seven wins out of the first 10 games. Against that opening schedule, that’s a pretty strong statement. I wouldn’t at all panic or be surprised if they only won five of those games, however. They are the Flames and they always come out of the gate slow.

Yes and no. When Juuso Valimaki graduates to the NHL (either this year or next year) there’s almost no indisputable bluechip prospects left in the system. There is certainly a gap developing.

The closest Flames comparable is the late Darryl Sutter era of drafting. From 2007-2010, the Flames only drafted four times in the top 50, and only once in those last two years. Of those top 50 picks, the only one that still has an NHL job is Backlund.

But, the Flames also picked up Ferland, TJ Brodie, and Lance Bouma in those picks. Although the quality on those players certainly varies, they all made the NHL. Sometimes it’s more how you draft versus when you draft.

This is Treliving’s bread and butter. He’s found quality picks outside the top 50 in Andersson, Kylington, Tyler Parsons, and Dube, four who stand strong chances to become everyday NHLers in the next year or two. Outside the top 100 you have Mangiapane, Phillips, D’Artagnan Joly, Adam Ruzicka, Milos Roman, and Dmitry Zavgorodniy. Certainly longer shots, but much better than what you can usually find in those rounds.

So I don’t really worry about a developmental gap. The Flames are in a position where a first rounder isn’t going to make a major difference on this team right now, and they have a healthy amount of prospect depth that can step up in times of crisis. A lot of those post-100 players named are going to be filling that gap in the next two-to-five years, so they have clearly put thought into the long term.

I wouldn’t trade away many more picks in the near future, though. A lot of the prospects they’ve found in later rounds came in drafts that many considered to be absolutely loaded. If you compare the 2015 and 2016 drafts to the 2017 and 2018 ones, you can clearly see there’s a lot less talent to be found later. To avoid making the gap wider, they should absolutely keep a few firsts and seconds and stock up on some higher-level prospects.

Yes and no. Again.

This past offseason, the Flames hit on a lot of their pro additions. Hanifin and Lindholm were certainly good adds. They snagged Ryan and Czarnik, two good depth additions in a sea of bad ones, and added one of the better high-end UFAs in Neal. The rumoured interest in Patrick Maroon was also a good look. I would hate to over-praise management over AHL signings, but the crop they did bring in (Alan Quine, Dalton Prout, and Buddy Robinson specifically) are still pretty good adds.

But you can’t ignore the negatives. Lazar might not make the team this year (and if he does, as a sparingly used extra forward) and he was worth a second round pick to the club. Signing Michael Stone to a three-year deal despite having one of the better defensive prospect corps screams tunnel vision. Paying Troy Brouwer for four more years instead of two is pretty damning of the thought process that created that situation. If I have to compliment them for thinking about Maroon, then I must also criticize their rumoured interest in paying Ryan Reaves around $2.5M AAV for two or three years to add nothing but the occasional fight.

And you really can’t divorce the context of how Lindholm and Hanifin got to the team from the qualities of the players themselves. The Flames picked up two good players, yes, but gave away an elite player in Hamilton, a pretty good one in Ferland, and a worthy prospect in Adam Fox. It will remain to be seen if the two can reproduce what Hamilton and Ferland gave the Flames, but until then, it’s a devaluation of what the Flames already had.

So the pro scouting department is hit and miss. They can certainly get a lot of things right that have bolstered the club to where they are heading into the season, but they also have made some baffling mistakes that have cost the team long term.

Well it’s going to be the retros, so you can relax.

In 12 days, yes.

  • Vernon30

    Regarding the goaltending, I’d think Pickard could be an option. He’d be a cheap pickup, and could be a viable option for next year or beyond, until one of Gilles, Rittich, or Parsons are ready.

    • Quinteco

      Or Hutchinson. Florida is going to have to keep either him or Reimer (likely Reimer) and either waive one to send to the minors or trade him. Hutchinson has more NHL experience than either Rittich or Gillies and played pretty well for Winnipeg. At worst, he’s an upgrade on Rittich as a backup and at best a guy who could fill in suitably if Smith goes down or slows down. I can see a preseason trade happening of Rittich+ (maybe a 6th rounder or a C prospect?) for Hutchinson.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      Pickard was a good option 2 years ago. Last year not so much. Regardless, it means waiving Rittich and keeping Pickard for the season. Parsons heads back to the ECHL. Or, the 3-headed goalie monster here again. Sparks is the guy I would be more interested in, but that’s going to take a trade. Again, same issue being waiver eligible along with Rittich. I don’t have a lot of faith long term with Rittich becoming a starter, but playing him more often early on will give you a better sense of what he really is.

      If you are going after Sparks, then I would suggest you pull the plug on Rittich before the season starts. When he isn’t claimed, package him with Lazar and Toronto doesn’t lose Sparks for nothing.

      • deantheraven

        “I don’t have a lot of faith long term with Rittich becoming a starter…”
        I bet the Sharks thought the same about Mikka Kiprusoff.
        Just sayin’.

  • Jagrrrrr, baby. Yeah.

    “it’s not unfeasible that he does it again this season.”
    it’s feasible that he does it again this season.

    Pessimism vs optimism. I think lots of folks are feeling a bit pessimistic about Mike Smith this season.

    • Al Rain

      I’m on record counseling patience with both Hiller and Elliott and I was (clearly) wrong.

      With that out of the way, I’ll say that I’m in the optimistic camp with Smith.

  • Trevy

    Treliving is too smart not to have had some discussions with GM’s regarding goalies in the event things go south with Smith. I’m thinking contingency plans are in the works just in case. He invested too much this season to see it go down the drain cause of goaltending

  • buts

    Goaltending is and will be the elephant in the room. It was a major concern at the end of last season and BT didn’t address it. I still say a waiver pickup at the end of preseason is a good possibility. Toronto can’t protect them all. Also Hamilton is not an “elite” player.

    • Jagrrrrr, baby. Yeah.

      a select part of a group that is superior to the rest in terms of ability or qualities.
      “the elite of Britain’s armed forces”

      Dougie is elite in terms of his scoring ability as compared to NHL Defencemen as a group.

      • TKO

        Dougie was elite in his abilities to take bad penalties that cost the team games. He managed to take more penalties last year than Hanifin has his entire NHL career. that’s the elite part of Hamilton i wont miss. that, and whatever the attitude issue was that, had the team won it all, would likely be easily overlooked, but for a team that strugged and needed each other to be accountable and encourage each other, was a glaring weakness. IF IF IF it is true that he skipped the exit interviews, that alone was reason to dump him.

      • LannyMac

        Yes Jags you nailed the one skill Hamilton was very good at. Last I checked there are many skills a defenceman needs to be well round and if they excell at a number of them they can become elite. In no way shape or form other than offensive prowess is D Hamilton an elite defenceman.

  • Brian McGrattan's Salute

    I think the goaltending situation will be interesting. I’m hoping Smith stays healthy and has a nice season, but they say that only in adversity one may find greatness.

    We will have to be quick on our toes if Smith gets injured, and Rittich/Gilles aren’t up to the task.

    But what if they are? What if we find one of them takes the reigns and runs with it? What if Parsons is somehow brought up and does really well?

    What if we get Pickard and he ends up stealing the show?

    Bradley T has shown he has some guts this off-season. I’m still skeptical, but like the article said, he’s put way too much work into this team to just say ‘f it’ if Smith goes down. He will find a solution. But we didn’t get Kipper because we thought “hey, maybe we should stick up on some goalies”, we got him because we needed a goalie, stat.

    Sometimes adversity breeds greatness.

  • Off the wall

    Kids are going back to school, the days are getting shorter and Monday Mailbag is back!

    This can only mean one thing. Hockey is so close!

    I’m so excited!

    Wǒmen zǒu ba Flames, means “Let’s go Flames”in Chinese.
    Couldn’t resist…

  • Brian Burkee

    At 37 years old, playing the hardest and most athletic position there is. Hamstrings and Quadriceps just don’t hold up the same. The pessimism is more or less just being realistic about the situation. Other GMs do not and will not trade a # 1 goalie mid season if Smith faulters. Big gamble by Treliving to have no proven back up in place.

        • SGRietzey

          I think you’re mistaking “proven” with “has experience.” I wouldn’t call those the same thing. I would suggest at least 3 of the teams you named with “proven” backups are ones who would falter substantially if they had to rely on their backup, and 2 are borderline:
          -Carolina – going with a tandem of Darling (crashed and burned in his first year as what should have been their starter) and Mrazek (an inconsistent gamble; could get the job done but also fell off substantially last year). Potentially disastrous.
          -Winnipeg – explain where Brossoit has proven anything with his 0.897 sv% in 28 NHL games?
          -Vegas – Subban has played 24 NHL games that mostly came last year. He was decent with a 0.910 but league average was I think around 0.912. I think he’s on the cusp, but I wouldn’t give the benefit of “proven” just yet.

          -St. Louis – Chad Johnson got it done for what, a month and a half for the Flames before regressing? He was terrible on an equally terrible Buffalo team last year, but for a team worried whether Jake Allen can get the job done, I wouldn’t place my hopes overly high that he can carry the load if Allen falters.
          -Toronto – saying this as a Leafs fan in addition to being a Flames fan, McElhinney has been solid but is 35. He could easily fall off a cliff and I wouldn’t bank on him performing well in 30+ games if Andersen goes down; likewise, if Sparks wins the job out of camp, he’s certainly unproven at the NHL level (though I expect he’d be an improvement on McElhinney at that level if he can force his way onto the team).

    • everton fc

      We need one of Rittich (hopefully), or Gillies (less likely) to play 25 games, and be >.500, in those starts. That’ll help Smith, a bit.

      Pickard is still someone I’d be phoning about.

  • MDG1600

    The article forgot to mention the dismal goaltending the pro scouting group has brought in. Smith is OK the rest were busts. Pro scouting has been weak. If they had a “do over” I doubt they would repeat the vast majority of the free agent signings and trades. Thank god the amateur scouting has been better.

    • JoelOttosJock

      Package Brodie and Backlund for Sergei Bob! Trade and sign. Between Janko, Lindholm, Bennett, Ryan, Monny, there is enough depth down the middle. Gio, Hamonic, and Stone could each take a young dman to balance out the lines or bring back a journeyman d man in the deal.

        • DoooieStevens

          They also showed the Brodie is not an NHL defenceman. Playing under GG and with the half AHL roster doesnt help. Janko wasnt very good last year. Outside his 4 goal game and a couple solid games he wasnt good. Bennett is one of the few centerman who could shut down McJesus in the OHL. That’s worth the growing pains right there. You clown shoes need to get over points and fancy corsi nerd stats to judge players. The eye test is still the most important.

          • Skylardog

            And the eye test says Bennett is a centerman? How did that work out in the first 20 or so games last year?

            Really, your going to pin Corsi stats on me? Your barking up the wrong tree.

            I judge Bennett on the fact that almost every Flame forward was more productive without Bennett, as opposed to with him. He has been the worst Flame forward over the past 2 seasons, and I am including Lazar and Hath.

            He is also the guy, that if he can play to his potential, will be the difference between an average season, and an amazing season.

          • Jumping Jack Flash

            I hate to pile on Bennett, but if you are using the eye test as a measurement then you would have noticed that the puck would die on Bennett’s stick far too often. IMO he is a big reason why Janko’s numbers were not better. Janko was trying to get Bennett going when he should have been more selfish. He only had 1 game in the top 6 and we know how that went while GG moved heaven and earth to get Bennett goingon the top 6. To say that Janko wan’t good last year is inaccurate. He was tied with Johnny as the leading scorer in pre-season before he was sent back to the minors. I know people think Bennett and Janko will be a tandem that Peters will keep together but I see it being Janko and Tkachuk for the future.

            I do agree that Bennett has value with his grit for s playoff run. In fact I think Bennett needs to be reunited with Backlund and Frolik to shutdown McD this season.

          • deantheraven

            The eye test is still the most important.
            I agree. Rittich never frightened my eyes. Gillies did. Hopefully Rittich gets the nod as back up (and runs with it) and Gillies gets some seasoning in the ‘A’.

          • LannyMac

            My god Doooie Doo are you sure you are not watching another hockey team that has a Bennett on it. I don’t know how anyone watching the Bennett on the Calgary Flames would have even the slightest belief that kid could be a successful NHL centre man.

      • Puckhead

        That’s a high risk move that would stick a fork into Tre’s salary structure. We would have big chunk of the teams salary assigned to two goalies, plus if Bob gets injured or wets the bed we’re right back where we are now. This will not happen.

      • Kevin R

        The thinking isnt bad but I think we are pot committed going into the season as is. Deals can be done during the season but those are just bandaids. Smith is also playing for a new contract as well. Heck Vegas just extended Fleury until he is like 38-39 years old & he’s their bonafide #1 at that ripe old age. There are 3 scenarios to play out:

        1/ The Scoobie Doo Happy ending: Smith plays 58 games, has a decent .918 save & plays solid in playoffs, besides a few maintenance days he has a relatively healthy season. Riitch plays pretty good as back up, save % of .913 & actually wins some games. Flames Nation scrap over whether we re-sign Smith to a 1-2 year cheaper deal or to go whale hunting as we argue & scrap over whether Riitch & Gilles are capable next summer.

        2/The Magnum PI Suspense ending: Smith rolls along OK but suffers a LBI mid Dec & is out for 4-6 weeks, Riitch & Gilles are ok but struggle a bit, team starts posting less than .500 wins clip, Tre brings in a bandaid at a reasonable cost until Smith heals up. We wind up being in a bubble fight of our lives trying to get in the playoffs.

        3/The Romero Dawn of the Dead ending: Smith runs a long at a .908 save percentage & Riitch about the same. Bottom line it’s goaltending costing us wins but we manage to keep ourselves in with several teams in the hunt for the Wild card spots. Tre pulls off a blockbuster deal with the likes of the Canadiens for a Carey Price & we all go into fetal positions wondering what is going to happen to our cap & the cost we had to pay to get there, regardless of the outcome of this move.

        See the way I see it, if Smith falters & Riitch & Gilles dont suddenly do a Murray imitation ala Penguin style, we have to plug this huge hole. & as Christian said, their arent too many I trust to be no brainer bonafide #1. Bobrovsky is one I do think fills that void, maybe Cory Schneider & he scares me. Bobrovsky is the one I think would be the most reasonable for cost to acquire. It seems Columbus are content to roll with him this year, even though they dont want to meet his salary demands to be in Columbus. That means Columbus will be in the playoff hunt & there is no way they part with him at the TDL. But come June Tre may be able to cut a with Columbus. Lets assume Bennett has a better year, hits around 38-40 points but is unable to crack our top 6. Columbus grants Tre permission to negotiate with Bobrovsky like Tampa did with Bishop & Tre knows he can get Bob inked to an $8.5-9.0 mill deal for 6 years, the cost will be Bennett. Do you do the deal? Keep in mind Bennett will probably get a 2.0-$2.5 mill raise in his next contract in order to extend him. Food for thought, Im bored & it’s raining :-<

      • HOCKEY83

        Bobber is one of the most Elite goalies in the league. That trade may happen if you’re throwing in a first rounder as well…plus he will also want 8+mil for 8 years. That won’t happen so the Flames would be renting him for way too much.

        • Kevin R

          I just dont see Columbus trading him at the TDL anyway, their team is too good to be a seller. But come June & they know he walks for free, the cost drops significantly & personally, if we gave up Bennett for him, I would think Columbus should add something back, not much but maybe a 2nd or 3 rounder sweetner. Columbus has some impressive goalies in their pipeline.

          • HOCKEY83

            The cost on Bob will never drop. Either you’re giving up great players to attain him for a year or you’re picking him up in free agency for an outrageous salary.

  • Skylardog

    Proper rest for Smith may be the key. Many of us on here were screaming to have Smith get a night or 2 off, and then boom, down he goes.

    I remember the day he got injured in particular. There was absolutely no reason for him to be in the lineup that game. Rittich had been kicking butt, and had a better save% than Smith. The comments on here were how it was a mistake to play him. But GG puts him in, he gets hurt in the last seconds, and the season is over.

    Look for max 60 games from Smith. I believe his game began to tank as the coaching staff continued to use him night after night. This will be one of the ways I will judge Peters this season – How he manages his players to get a full season out of them. Manage those nagging little injuries before guys go down for weeks, or months. We have the depth to do that.

    On that note I hope Neal only plays about 75 or so games.

      • Skylardog

        Smith was the story for the season in the first 30 or so games. He got tired, plain and simple, and his game regressed. He was posting the second best save percentage in Flames history a few weeks prior to the injury of those playing more than 25 in a season (behind a out of mind Kipper season). Rittich, on very limited games was ahead of Smith in save percentage. Player management was the issue, not capability.

        • Brian Burkee

          Skylar you say Smith got tired after 30 games. I agree with that, but how many other starting goalies are already that tired after only 30 games?????? That should have been a huge sign for BT. Most starting goalies start to get tired near the playoffs. Not 30 games into a season. Bottom line is 37 years old is OLD for a starting goalie in any league.

          • Hockeysense9393

            You don’t get it. We know he’s older and needs more rests…that’s the point. The best way to do it is spread that first 30 games out till after the new year, then he won’t be tired when he has played 30 games. This gives the backup more reps earlier in the season to find a groove. Then you ramp up Smiths games to get into more of a groove down the stretch. Then by the time he hits the playoffs, he’s totally ready.

          • Skylardog

            Smith had started 32 games by December 31 last year, only Jake Allen had played more at 33. There were 14 guys at 30 or more though. But the age factor is the point. Knowing his age makes it all the more important to manage his playing time. He could handle 32 at that point, his save percentage was 920, with a 2.56 GAA. It is what happened as the games started piling on.

            And at December 31, Rittich had played in just 5 games, started 4, and went 3-1-1, with a 924 Sv% and 2.04 GAA. Limited games but superior numbers to Smith. He had proven to be a competent backup. There was no need to overuse Smith. If Rittich had come in and stunk up the joint I would have understood playing Smith for 32 by then. But there was little falloff, at that point, by going with Rittich.

          • Jumping Jack Flash

            I know the stats show that the average goalie starts to decline in his 30s, just like players in a lot of sports. However, there is nothing indicating that Smith is going to fall off a cliff. From what I have seen, he lives a healthy lifestyle and keeps himself in peak shape.

            I expect he is not going have a weak defensive system in front of him that leaves him out to dry like last year. This should limit the wear and tear on his body. It’s true that older players have to work harder to stay in shape and play against younger players but Smith is a freakish specimen. He can dunk a basketball, he can drain a 200 foot shot into a six inch cutout of a hockey net in like he did in an all-star game. That is not normal. I am sure we all know athletes that are twice our age that could run us into the ground. Instead of looking at Smith as a ticking time bomb that could implode look at him as an outlier that defies explanation when he is healthy…like a Roger Federer.

        • deantheraven

          Player management was the issue, not capability.
          The crux of the biscuit, as Frank Zappa would say. I believe Rittich can be a solid backup (I was going to write ‘ a solid number two’, and as much as we all love them, that’s not a fair analogy).Smith and Rittich will be solid in net as long as they’re managed properly.

        • KootenayFlamesFan

          I’m sorry FN. That was petty. I’m just bored as heck without any meaningful hockey stuff to talk about. Let’s get this season started already so that the flames win, the coilers lose, and the trolls vanish.

          • DoooieStevens

            Hmm Squishin riding coat tails..I dont care if you guys trash my comments. I’d rather you do. Most of you guys on here I doubt played or coached a game over peewee c. Bandwagon jumpers..oh smith is the flames goalie so he must be good and I must defend him because I cheer for the flames. This site should be called rosecolored glasses nation. I’m not a troll. I dont agree with a lot of the bad moves this donkey GM has made. You dont like my comments? Etah dic

          • JoelOttosJock

            Bahahaha! Too funny. Well I guess Skylar is a troll than too. He goes against the grain. I guess I’m a troll to. I may not agree with Dooies thoughts all the time but he is bang on right about the rose colored glasses.

          • Squishin

            Uh…huh. So here’s the thing, Doooie. The way you have been commenting is to crap all over someone’s ideas with your dimwitted cliches, without providing any detailed insights or smart takes. You’re not even funny about it.
            Skylardog provided a clearly-written and logical series of thoughts on Smith, and your response was to talk about turds. That’s why people trash you. It’s not because of your opinion, it’s because of how you say it.
            Disagreeing is something that happens, and that’s part of the fun. But I respect the people who can disagree without being douches about it.

    • Squishin

      Agreed, dog. I remember that GG’s over-reliance on Smith was one of the factors that turned many FN members against Gulutzan. Rittich was doing so well in his first season! He should have gotten more games as a backup, as opposed to being suddenly handed a starter’s workload after only playing a handful of times.

      Why the comment on Neal?

      • Skylardog

        He is the one guy that hits me as needing an occasional night to rest and recuperate. Hoping Gio is not another.

        Neal is the one guy that is unlikely to be capable of playing first line minutes night after night. Not sure where Peters will use him, but he will need an occasional night off to ensure he is playing at his best.

        He played 71 games last season. Missing a game against one of the leagues worst teams, on a back to back set of games would be a way of properly managing a key veteran.

      • Brian McGrattan's Salute

        This is why it bugs me all the hate Rittich receives. I always wonder how he would have done if he had the appropriate amount of games by the time Smith got injured (if Smith even would have then been injured).

        • Kevin R

          I dont hate Riitch & Im officially in favour of the Flames going status quo in net for many reasons. First, I think Smith is a good goalie & is capable of doing the job & carrying us a ways in the playoffs. When he’s on, he looks good. Second, we need another year to see what Riitch & Gilles do because neither took the opportunity that was dropped on their laps last year by the throat & run with it. That’s what young elite goalies do, they get their foot in the door & they force decisions for Management. I am just so skewed with the coaching & how much I hated how this team was coached, that I am ready to give all these goalies a do over before making major adjustments.

          • Jumping Jack Flash

            Rittich is a curious one. He looked like he was getting shafted in the AHL when Gillies was the chosen one despite Rittich looking better. Gillies got a NHL game at the end of 2016-2017 against LA and looked good in the win. On the other hand, Rittich only received a period of playing time and was just OK. The trend continued the following training camp and pre-season with Gillies getting more playing time. Finally, when Rittich got his chance he seized the opportunity. For the first time he jumped ahead of Gillies in the org depth chart. He was playing well but not enough to stay sharp. When he had to be the #1 guy due to Smith’s injury, he stumbled. When he shared the crease with Gillies for the Flames he fell flat on his face. In fact when he was sent back to the AHL he wasn’t even the best goalie on Stockton. If I was a betting man I would say that Rittich used this hiccup to re-energize his career in the off season. The commitment that Tre has made to Rittich and Gillies is sure to help their confidence something GG failed to do last year.

    • freethe flames

      54 for Smith 28 for the Rittich/Gilles pairing with a 4/2 or 2/1 split. I might start the season with the 4/2 split to allow Smith to develop some routine and then mid season go 2/1 and then if he is healthy go back to a 4/2 for the playoff push. They also need to factor in back to backs especially when travel is concerned. I would also say if one of the backups posts a shutout then you back to him regardless of the rotation.

      If they decide to pick up an alternative there are still a few teams with 3 guys so look carefully at these guys.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    I fully expect the Flames to be in the hole after their first 20 games. Let’s hope it isn’t too deep and the that the rest of the Pacific Division is also digging down and not building up.

    Why the slow start? First off there is the ridiculous Red China Blues trip. For a club that already logs a lot of air travel during the regular season, this is really an unwelcome and unnecessary trip. Second, in addition to the coach trying to implement new systems and putting his imprint on a team that was devoid of character and commitment last season, the players have to adjust to their new coach. Third, so many new faces in new places. Every line and every pairing is expected to have a different look from last season, so there will be no business as usual when the season opens as guys try and find trust and chemistry with each other. Fourth, the club has a bear of a schedule in its first 20 games. As well as playing the reigning champs, they have tilts against heavyweights Nashville (2), Boston and TO. Also there are some long flights to accommodate some odd scheduling. For example, 23 October in MTL and then back home for 2 games before going east to play the Leafs and Sabres on the 29th and 30th and then back to Cal to play on 01 Nov. Why they have to take 3 long flights across the country in less than a week is bonkers. Finally, just as the Stamps play their best football of the season in the opening months of the season, the Flames tend to do the opposite.

    While I fully expect the Flames to be a sub .500 club for at least the first six weeks of the season, hopes are realistically high that this team should be solidly in the mix for a playoff spot by the all-star break.

    I caution, however, that if the club does indeed flounder out of the gate and that only Smitty provides reliable goaltending as was the case in the first half of last season, then the very sensible notion of giving the backup a larger role may have to tossed out the window as the club rolls with Smitty night after night to try and make up lost ground. Given that unfortunate scenario, a playoff berth might be a stretch.

    Despite all his wheeling and dealing this offseason, Tre has not tinkered with his goaltending. Could the success of the season hinge on the men in the masks? Very much so. By doing nothing, Tre is showing a lot of faith in what he’s got as another goaltending floppa might very well mean the end of the line for Tre as Flames’ GM. I am pretty sure Tre knows this, so his confidence in standing pat or being able to fix bad goaltending on the fly is rather admirable. If the players show as much confidence in their own abilities as Tre does in his own abilities, it could be a very fun and extremely successful season for the Burn, Baby, Burn.

    • freethe flames

      Your pessimism is clear but lets take a look from another light. In all likelyhood the NHL team will be training under the direct instruction of the head coach and his staff without the distraction of long term projects/prospects getting the way. The players will be together and have a long time for team building which could help them develop that needed team identity. For me the key is how they manage the time when they get back; don’t rush the older guys back into preseason games.

    • JMK

      I’m repeating myself from a previous thread but in relation to the China trip; last year was the first year with LA and Vancouver heading west. LA and Vancouver were 2nd and 4th in the West respectively at the end of October. Small sample size warning however the trip to China didn’t slow those teams down. Chemistry and new coach and all that may be relevant but heading to China may not have been the reason LA and Vancouver got off to good starts but it didn’t inhibit them.

    • KootenayFlamesFan

      I generally don’t agree with much that you say but I do agree with this post right up to the goaltending part.

      If goaltending is an issue, the even bigger issue will be the rest of the team and the staff as per last year.

      On the other hand, if we come out of the first 20 games above .500, I think we are pretty much guaranteed to be playoff bound outside of a disastrous injury situation.

      You do make some valid points BMN, but would it hurt to be little positive just once in your life? There certainly isn’t a valid reason for the pessimism.

      • BlueMoonNigel

        Have you already forgotten the last time the team made the playoffs when a subpar Elliott damned his mates to an undeserved first round sweep?

        As for being positive, did I not say that I expected the club to recover from its slow start and be solidly in the playoff mix by the all-star break? What’s negative about that? If the team has a firm playoff grasp in February, making the playoffs is then in its own hands.

        Did I not also praise Tre’s confidence in sticking with his goalies? On a club that he has seriously remodelled since last April, he has strangely done nothing about the goaltending. That tells me he is fully confident in what he has and that if they falter during the season, he can fix the problem without losing the season. That is high praise for Tre that should be an inspiration and a model to his coaches and players.

        Lots of positives in my comments if you want to acknowledge them.

    • Joeyhere

      I hope people take the time to read your comment blue moon. It’s long but worthy of discussion.
      The same fans who say we should sign a tested back up goalie are often the same ones who often say we need to develop from within in order to stay under the cap. If Rittich and Gillies dorm oaky at the nhl level we won’t know what they are. There are very few goalies who develop like Matt Murray- more common is the Connor Hellebuyck model.
      Gillies and Rittich need to play in the nhl – they need to make mistakes and learn from them. If we trade or get a established second goalie yes it’s less risky in the short term but we still won’t know about our prospects
      It’s a fair debate to say if thats the right move – after all we seem to be close in every other area. But your main point is Trev has taken a risk – it’s a bold move he knows that his career may depend on it – if Smith gets injured he is reliant on his untested backups – that alone may be scary but it deserves respect.

      I hope Rittich/ Gillies is solid for 20-25 games and Smith is playoff ready but the only way to develop a nhl goalie is to let hom play in some nhl games

  • aye

    To all the goaltending critics out there, every team is essentially a bad starting goalie (injury or off year) away from a disastrous season, i.e. Talbot and Price last year, but on the flip side, some surprises emerge every season, i.e. Hellebucyk, Hutton last year when Allen sucked, and Budaj the year before when Quick went down. Bottomline, good teams don’t let one facet of their team ruin their season, and rise to the challenge (VGK). I believe the Flames are more than a bubble team this season, and should only need league average goaltending to get in, if they get elite goaltending they should be challenging for the conference title.
    As for Rittich, I think we saw enough flashes to indicate he has the ability, just need to learn to handle the pressure, and it’s too small of a sample size and under less than ideal circumstances to write him off just yet. Good teams make their goalies look good, and vice versa. So, call me an optimist, I’m not nearly as down on the goalie situation as many here.

    • Getpucksdeep

      Bingo. Something like 7 of the last 8 cup winners developed their own goalies from their own systems. Goaltending is a bit of Voodoo. For some strange reason other teams rarely cough up top 4-5 starting goalies and even then its because they scored yet another one from their system. (Pitts/Wash!) The Flames have the unusual luxury of having 3 really good goaltending prospects which very few others can match. Before selling the farm how about we continue to develop our own.

    • freethe flames

      There are other factors that will impact our goalies; BP will have this team taking fewer bad penalties, this should lead to fewer PP goals against, the team will likely be more structured in it’s own end giving up fewer quality chances and this team should also score more goals reducing the need for goalies to steal as many games.

  • TKO

    I’d like to see a line of Bennett / Jankowski / Frolik

    Bennett & Jankoswki are both really good shooters,
    Frolik has really good passing/playmaking skills,
    Frolik raises the possession game of everyone he plays with (CORSI)
    scoring wise this could become the defacto 2nd line or xlose to it, matching Tkachuk / Backlund / Lindholm

  • Nighteyes

    I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that I think Rittich has starter potential. Goalie’s always bloom late because being starter requires a level of mental focus and maturity that often hasn’t developed enough in the early 20’s, and he is of the ripe age where that typically happens. Before Smith went down, he was really lights out, and showed that he’s capable of playing in the league in the least as a good back up. Granted, he did crap the bed after Smith went down, but so did the rest of the team. For an unexperienced rookie, being relied on to take the team to the playoffs unexpectedly certainly was a mental damper on his performance. I think Smith will be fine if we limit him to under 60 games, Rinne, Anderson, Luongo are still good starters, you just need to manage them smartly. I’m not saying it’s guaranteed Rittich will pan out, but I think too many are too low on him for no good reason other than crapping the bed along with the entire team with that aberration of the last 20 games of the season.

    • deantheraven

      I’m with you, ‘eyes. and Skylardog made it clear: Properly managed, a tandem of $mitty and Rittich should provide at least league average goaltending. I don’t think Tre is taking a risk here at all. Like Tina said, “We don’t need another hero”, just two good, solid men in masks.

    • Brian McGrattan's Salute

      100%. Go Rittich! I think the flames org have not taken him as seriously as they should because of Gillies’ “pedigree”. But I think Ritty is the guy this year.

    • aye

      Don’t think it’s because fans are down on Parsons, it’s just that right now he is at least 3 years away. Given the way last season went (much like Gillies’ first season), even if he’s lights-out this season, he’ll probably need another year to prove he’s indeed ready to take the next step, so he is definitely not in the conversation this year, unless Flames run into injury trouble with their goalies like VGK and CHI last year.

  • everton fc

    Not sure it means anything, but I took a look at the Frontenac teams Bennett played on. Most everyone never made it very far in even minor league professional hockey. Even Lawson Crouse hasn’t amounted to much, yet, though he’s still only 21, and Bennett’s still only 22.

    Give Bennett some time. He may amount to no more than a 3rd line player. But he may prove a very useful one, at the right cap-hit.

  • Albertabeef

    I’m looking forward to the season. Three things happened that make me more optimistic for this season. No more Hamy, Brouwer, and no more Burke. Three cancerous toumers removed, should be a good season. But with splitting ways with Ferly and Poirier, is Grats still working as teams substance abuse guy?

  • Hockeysense9393

    Wow…how to put a Labour Day Kickoff into perspective. Watched my first Stamps game of the year, the Labour Day Classic of course. What a game!! A roller coaster ride for sure. It shows how adversity works lol. Starting pretty solid of course for both sides, then everything changes. Good throws dropped that cost the home team a TD multiple times. Losing one of the better offensive receivers to injury, and then one of the best QB’s in the league down. I was asking myself…why am I watching this!? Then something washed over everything. Bo Levi showed his colours as a leader and the defence showed theirs. I think it was 3 turn overs in a row and totally took over the 4th quarter hands down. It was 20-20 in score, and Bo Levi did what he had to (what he could) to lead the team to victory in the final seconds. This is a sign of a good team, and this will translate city wide.

    • Getpucksdeep

      I’m a huge Stamps fan and can’t believe guys spent the afternoon here while that absolute corker of a game was being played. I’ve seen every Stamps game and that was by far the most entertaining. Glued to my seat the whole game!

    • aye

      Stamps were very lucky to pull out the win, that penalty on 2nd and 10 turned a sack into a first down on the final drive was huge. The score could’ve easily been flipped.

      • Getpucksdeep

        It could have but by the same token it was a clear cut pass interference play. Mitchel was aiming that way but never got to throw it. IMHO Edmonton turned over the ball too often and it cost them It was anybodies game tho!

  • Jimmyhaggis

    Interesting questions. Goaltending is a huge problem, Smith goes down, watch out. BT better be on this right now, he’ll have no bargaining power when Smith goes dow, and believe me hw will.

  • Puckhead

    I talked to a some of the support staff for the Heat at the airport tonight. I guess I just missed the coaching staff but they’re here to kick off training camp in a few days. We talked mostly about the player changes this summer and they were are definitely excited for the season to start for both teams.

    Hockey’s just around the corner so breathe easy everyone.

    Saying this because hockey is around the corner and I can sense that

    • everton fc

      The weather today certainly felt like hockey was right around the corner! 😉

      I think The Heat will be an exciting team to follow. I think Rittich will prove who he really is, come camp. If Smith goes down, I honestly think Rittich can keep the ship steady. I am not as insanely concerned about our goaltending, though it does stand out as a potential weakness. But I also worry about Ryan – some here say he can skate. Well, he obviously can, but he’s not one who is “fleet of boot”. If he peaks, we have to punt him to the 4th line, so having Jankowski here is a blessing. I am also not sold on Czarnik, though I hope I am wrong, of course.

      We shall see, soon enough.

  • CatBear

    I have more faith than most in Mike Smith. I saw his consistent game last year. The start of last season was ALL Mike Smith. It took the Flames skaters nearly a month to find chemistry in front of their goaltender. It was the Flames offence and defence that couldn’t wrap their head around a late signing of Gaudreau, the infrequent appearances from Jagr, and whatever was going on with Hamonic, Hamilton, Brodie and Giordano. A team wide stumble. Every night was saved by Mike Smith and the 3M line who held the fort day in and out. The team was actually in a playoff spot and something happened when they couldn’t win in overtime or shootouts four consecutive games around the end of January.

    The season went to the pots when Smith got hurt. He was the rug that tied the room together. And Brad Treliving knows this as they have history together in Phoenix.

    • freethe flames

      The problem with this statement is the Johnny hold out was the year before. The problem was the belief that the young guys were ready to carry the load for secondary scoring and that vets like Stajan, Versteeg and Brouwer would also provide secondary scoring. The kids Bennett and Janko were inconsistent; Lazar did not produce offensively and the 3 vets and Jagr once he was signed did not live up to expectations. This year should be different; I fully expect Neil, Ryan, Lindholm to produce more than vets did last year and I fully expect the kids to be more consistent and therefore produce more than last year. Goal scoring should be up and I expect the PP to be better. I also expect the team to take less lazy penalties and therefore the PK should be better.

    • Hockeysense9393

      The Flames definitely look more stable and are way deeper then last year. There is more competition this year for playing time, which means more focus. There is a feel of maturity and cohesion in the lineup that just wasn’t there last year. I believe that we are going to see a more driven hockey team this year, and it will be backstopped by solid goaltending.