With the preseason officially underway after the Flames and Bruins kicked it off in China, we can only count down the days until the actual season begins. Until then, let’s look at the new and improved Pacific division, the kids who could make the team, and what the preseason has revealed thus far.
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Mark Stone could push the Flames over the edge, but what would we have to give up for a mid-season trade and how would we fit him under the cap if we gave him a long term extension.
Ottawa is an odd trade partner too, so it’s kind of hard to say. The obvious package to give up would be an NHL asset, an A prospect and a pick, but the Erik Karlsson (traded for depth defenceman, depth forward, B+ prospects, and picks) and Mike Hoffman (traded for depth winger, depth AHLer, sixth round pick) trades are proof that they don’t really have much of a rebuilding strategy besides acquiring multiple assets, actual quality be damned. As long as they’re young and able to play in the NHL now, it’s good enough for the Sens, as their latest big deals suggest.
With that in mind, it’s honestly hard to say what Ottawa would want from the Flames. Maybe you could sneak Mark Stone out with players like Brett Kulak, Spencer Foo, and/or Morgan Klimchuk with a couple of high-ish picks. Maybe Ottawa learns a lesson sometime between now and next trade deadline and demands higher end players like Dillon Dube, Rasmus Andersson, and/or Juuso Valimaki.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, it’s probably best to remember that the Flames probably can’t afford it anyways. The first hurdle the Flames have to clear is moving out $5M in salary to bring in Stone, assuming that they don’t have any LTIR cap relief by midseason. The first to go is brother Michael Stone, but that only saves you $3.5M (also worth noting that Mike has a 15-team NTC. It’s likely that Ottawa is on the list, and I don’t think he’d waive it if he wasn’t playing with his brother). Then the decisions get tricky. You’d have to likely ditch one of Mark Jankowski ($1.675M) or Sam Bennett ($1.95M) to make the deal work. If you can convince Ottawa to take on these players, great, but it’s unlikely and probably forces you to sweeten the pot a bit more.
If the Flames want Mark Stone, they should probably wait until 2019 UFA season. They’d either have to rob Ottawa blind or give up a lot for less than a full season of him. Either way, unrealistic.
Does Stone start the season in the press box or on the ice?
— Khalid Keshavjee (@KMKeshavjee) September 15, 2018
Mike probably starts on the ice. I think both management and player know the writing is on the wall, so he probably gets one last shot at redemption before the team parks him for good. Andersson is likely an upgrade right now, but until he wins the job, Stone gets to keep his.
And besides, it’s pretty bad business to keep a $3.5M man in the press box when he has two more years left on his contract. Parking him in the box squashes any potential trade value, and you can’t really ride it out (like they did with Dennis Wideman) because he’s still under contract for 2019-20.
Is Bennett a good serviceable 4th liner or does trading him for an asset and promote make more sense
— Cory Surovy (@7wheels) September 16, 2018
Bennett is also a player whose job might be threatened by prospects from below. The difference between him and Stone is that Bennett still has runway to actually reach his potential.
But it’s not a long runway. I think he gets this year to see if he can figure it out and develop some sort of consistency, but if nothing happens, he’s likely gone. If management is wise, they know Sam isn’t going to be the player that he was projected to be when he was drafted, but they certainly hope he can turn a corner. They have a new coaching staff and a better supporting cast, one that doesn’t put the weight of the bottom six scoring on Bennett. If he doesn’t go anywhere despite the changes, it’s on him.
I’d say the Mendoza line for Bennett is 30 points. If he can put away more than that, he will stay. Teams pay a lot more for regular 30-point scorers, so if you can keep him under $2.5M, everyone’s happy. Under 30 points and he’s going to become easily replaced by players like Andrew Mangiapane and Dube. Perhaps the mystery box factor pushes the needle in favour of the prospects (i.e.: we know what Bennett is, we don’t know what the prospects are, ergo they are more exciting than Bennett), but Bennett is certainly on thin ice. If he can’t succeed in the face of low expectations (arguably for the second year in a row, depending on what you thought he could do last year), he really hasn’t earned his spot on this team.
Pacific division has gotten tougher with incl of Pacioretty and Karlsson, Western Conf is going to be a grind. 10 teams finished above the Flames last season, so which 3 (or more!) teams can we legitimately pass to get into the playoffs?
— kingcambie (@kingcambie) September 15, 2018
The Pacific has definitely become a tougher place in the last week. Let’s break it down.
I don’t think the Sharks adding Karlsson will actually do much for the Flames. They were likely the division winner anyways, so adding Karlsson will probably just widen the gap between them and whoever finishes second. Second place is likely the Golden Knights, who have added insurance in Max Pacioretty (and Paul Stastny earlier in the offseason) to prevent them from extreme regression.
Those are probably the only two teams that are out of reach for the Flames in the Pacific. For the rest of the West, the Wild and the Preds are likely out of reach, too.
The Pacific teams that will really be in the mix with the Flames are the remaining California teams. Although the Kings are a very old team, they’ve been playoff mainstays for the past few years and will likely be just as competitive this season provided everyone doesn’t just fall off the aging curve. The Ducks are annoyingly lethal as always, but suffer from the same problems as the Kings: they’re old. Corey Perry is rapidly declining and Ryan Getzlaf could be next. The Ducks also have a health problem (Ryan Kesler and . Patrick Eaves are both out already), so perhaps a slow start for them could seal their fate, although that didn’t stop them last season.
The Flames should finish ahead of those two teams, although it’s going to be pretty tough. They will also face tough battles against the Avs (very talented, but one Nate MacKinnon injury away from irrelevancy) and the Blues (added Ryan O’Reilly) for wild card spots, although the Wild should come crashing down this season.
However, we also must consider that there are teams that will likely try and usurp Calgary. The Coyotes look to take another major step forward with the addition of Alex Galchenyuk, but they’ve been unrealized potential for the past two seasons, so they’ll need to be seen to be believed. The Blackhawks are another aging team, but the talent on their roster through name value alone should be enough to warrant a scare. The Oilers didn’t do anything to improve on a disappointing 2017-18, but you can’t ever really count out a team with Connor McDavid on it (on the other hand, it is incredibly easy to count out a team with Ty Rattie as their #1 RW)
So briefly: they can feasibly pass LA, Anaheim, St. Louis, Minnesota, and Colorado. However, they should watch out for Arizona, Edmonton, and Chicago.
In the preliminary looks, would you take Foo, Mang, or Dube? Only one.
— Ken Potter (@krpotter) September 16, 2018
It’s very preliminary – the three have played four combined games thus far, and rookie showcase games at that – but I would go with Dube. He’s looked to be the best of the three with his speed and smarts looking to be up to NHL snuff already. It’s a very close competition, but Dube is looking like more of a complete package with a higher upside.
We’ll have to wait until the China squad is back and the preseason is underway to get a better viewing, but from what we have right now, Dube is the leader.
Which prospect(s) has the best shot at making the opening lineup?
— Khalid Keshavjee (@KMKeshavjee) September 15, 2018
That being said, realistically, it’s Mangiapane. What does the kid have left to prove at the AHL level? Although Dube outshined him in the rookie showcase, Mangiapane has the actual pro resume that backs him up. The team is very pragmatic with prospect development, so they’ll likely keep Dube down anyways for the sake of it.
Which prospect do you guys think will take the biggest step forward this year
On the flip side, which prospects is it "do or die" for?
— Prajeya Parmar (@PrajeyaP) September 15, 2018
Tyler Parsons is probably going to take a major step forward. Again, we’ve only seen him for four and a half periods thus far, but he’s looked incredible. After his troublesome pro rookie year, he has nowhere to go but up and could feasibly finish the year as the starter for the Stockton Heat depending on how things shake out.
My dark horse prospect to take a big leap is D’Artagnan Joly. He’s been an extremely strong player on a weak Baie-Comeau team and another year of growth plus an injury-free offseason could turn him into one of the best QMJHLers next season. He is definitely one to watch.
Klimchuk is the do-or-die player. The Flames purged fellow 2013 first rounders Emile Poirier and Hunter Shinkaruk from the org, so he’s likely next. He’s been consistent for the Heat the past two seasons, but he has to face off against a new crop of CHLers (Dube, Glenn Gawdin, Matthew Phillips) vying for NHL spots. If he doesn’t make an NHL impact this year, he’s also gone.
What do the flames do with Hathaway and Lazar? Do they start on the ice? In the press box? In Stockton?
— Khalid Keshavjee (@KMKeshavjee) September 15, 2018
Garnet Hathaway is likely an extra. If you read too deep into the China lines, he might get a start on the ice but given that they didn’t bring over the prospects who could feasibly crack the lineup, his spot is shaky at best. He’s a fine fourth line option who can provide some energy, and at 26, I don’t think the Flames will send him down to Stockton to take time away from younger players.
Curtis Lazar is probably the one starting the season in Stockton. Again, reading too deeply, but the Flames have him on the spare line for the China games. I think Anthony Peluso might win out the 14th forward spot (which is fine: if he’s not on the ice, he’s not hurting anybody and it’s certainly better that the older vet sits than the kid under 25), so Lazar gets demoted. If they think the “Ottawa screwed up his development” narrative is true and that Lazar can salvage his game, then the AHL is the best place for him. At best, he finally rounds out his game and actually become a fine bottom six option. At worst, he’s that in the AHL.
Lazar’s time with the Flames isn’t long anyways considering the strength of the prospect pool, so there’s no real need to keep pushing him to make it work. Guys like Foo, Gawdin, or Phillips can easily fill the right hand gap on the fourth line and potentially provide more than that. Lazar has had a lot of NHL time to prove what he is, and unfortunately he has only proven that he’s a replacement-level player.