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FlamesNation Mailbag: Looking at the grand plans

The Flames, for the time being, are a top three NHL team. That puts a target on their backs. With a Pacific Division that is becoming more and more competitive thanks to some sudden winning habits (it’s not just us anymore!), how can the Flames get even better? Do they have to make a few trades? Can they? Will they rely on internal solutions? All this and more.

Brad Treliving has been bullish with his high profile RFAs (ex: Sean Monahan and Noah Hanifin were signed in August, Johnny Gaudreau on the eve of the season), so it’s likely he’s willing to drag this thing out to keep costs low, as that is a working strategy. I think it’s safe to predict that Treliving and Matthew Tkachuk will metaphorically stare each other down this summer, and we won’t see a resolution until late into the offseason. It’s a stressful exercise, but if it keeps costs down, Treliving is going to dive head-first into it.

However, the Flames should certainly be talking right now, as Tkachuk’s play is driving costs up. Imagine if he goes to an all-star game (feasible), has a great playoff performance (also feasible), or even gets some award love (again, feasible). Now imagine if that’s an “and” and not an “or.” Tkachuk is going to get more and more recognition as one of the Flames’ elite players around the league, and that’s going to put more pressure on Treliving to capitulate or face a William Nylander holdout situation. If I were Treliving, I would probably start negotiating right about now.

As for the dollar figure? I would imagine somewhere between $7M and $8M is going to be the final number. How they’ll afford it is another question.

I can’t see the Flames really going for an impactful rental player. The cost is too high and the room so small to fit one in provided someone takes an albatross contract away from you, which is unlikely. I can’t see them going for forward depth either given how much immediate help they have tucked away in the AHL.

Veteran defensive depth might be an area they do target though. It’s all well and good that the Flames can have Oliver Kylington, Juuso Valimaki, and Rasmus Andersson play meaningful NHL minutes, but the value of playoff experience (it’s mostly perceived – remember that they signed Troy Brouwer partially for his playoff experience and likely targeted James Neal for the same reason) is going to weigh heavily on their minds. If Michael Stone is healthy by that time they will likely stick him in the lineup, but they might just gun for one more experienced vet at the deadline for safety (if they really think that Dalton Prout can be trusted in the playoffs, hoo boy).

Bending Corners writes:

It looks to me as though the Flames offensively play a very helter-skelter style. Passes aren’t tape-to-tape, they are “in the vicinity” and the receiver has to rely on quick reflexes to corral the puck and continue the play. Maybe this is why James Neal looks so ineffective? His reflexes aren’t quick enough? Perhaps he could still score 20 goals on a team that played a different style with tighter puck control – Detroit, LA, etc. What do you think?

I’m not sure that the passing structure is the issue: I will agree that passes aren’t always necessarily clean, and that when the Flames struggle with passing it’s extremely obvious, but I think to say that one of the highest scoring teams is being hampered by their passing is a stretch. If everyone else can succeed with that structure besides Neal, I don’t think the problem is the structure.

I think a lot of Neal’s struggles this year is that he’s away from the main playmakers. Neal has always been renowned for his wicked shot, which absolutely requires some perfect setups to become the automatic goals he’s known for. With guys like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Ryan Johansen, that’s no problem. I think Derek Ryan is a swell guy, but he is not any of those players, and definitely not in the vicinity. Maybe an extended spin with Mikael Backlund might be a cure for what ails Neal (it usually works with other players).

The RW spot on the second line is the only one with an actual opening that hasn’t been solved. I think Sam Bennett has been doing fine there, but he hasn’t been a legitimate difference maker. If you want to spread out scoring, putting a bonafide finisher with great playmakers is a good recipe. It really can’t hurt to try.

I’m of two minds about it. First off, Alan Quine has been a fine story for the time being. If we’re talking about merit, he absolutely should stay until the players he’s subbing in for prove that they deserve the spot. If he works, he works. Although it seems unbelievable, there’s going to be a day where the top two lines aren’t going to be pure dynamite. If your 4C (really the 5C when everyone’s healthy) is scoring goals, why complain.

My better hockey sense is telling me that Quine was in the AHL for a very good reason. Prior to this productive stint, he’s had 84 games where he has been a borderline NHL player. Like many other once exciting reclamation projects, the larger sample outweighs the the smaller one. Remember when Curtis Lazar first joined the team and picked up three points in his first four games? That’s more likely to happen to Quine rather than him becoming a regular 20-30 point scorer this season.

So we’ll see. If he can stay at the NHL level, good for him. But until he proves that he can, the most likely outcome is that he becomes quieter and quieter until he’s shuffled back off to the AHL.

Speaking of. I think the answer is a firm no.

The Flames know what Lazar is, and he’s a player who is pretty bad at the NHL level. The rest of the Stockton Heat may not be that much better, but it can’t hurt to find out if they’re a diamond in the rough. Lazar was a bad player on a mediocre team last season; he’s not going to be a better player on a vastly improved team this season.

I think that Lazar is not coming back, regardless of whether or not Kerby Rychel or Quine stick. I feel both of them got the call for their superb AHL performances, which have eclipsed Lazar’s. Perhaps they have the mystery box factor working in their favour (we know what Lazar is, but Rychel or Quine could be anything!), but the likely answer is that they’re just better players. I would probably go as far as saying that they might try Tyler Graovac before going back to Lazar. If that fails, they might try Dillon Dube or Andrew Mangiapane.

Your eyes do not deceive you.

It’s hard to compare across years and coaches, but the Purple Reign line allows 49.18 CA/60 at 5v5 with a 60.28 OZS%. For comparison, the top line with Micheal Ferland last year allowed 56.37 CA/60 with 58.94 OZS%. They haven’t sacrificed that much offence either, having only dropped one CF event per hour from last season (64.66 vs 65.56 CF/60).

Is that purely attributable to Elias? Likely. Lindholm away from both Monahan and Gaudreau rocks a pretty good 52.33 CA/60 (albeit he has only been away from them for 55 minutes of 5v5 time – just over 90 seconds per game). This season, Monahan and Gaudreau away from Lindholm jump to a bad 62.66 CA/60, though the same caveats apply (they only spend around three 5v5 minutes per game away from Lindholm – 100 in total). The impact is pretty big, which seems to suggest Lindholm is the driving factor behind that line looking better defensively.

The more I think about it, the less of an impact I think either Kylington or Valimaki makes on the club’s plans for next season.

I don’t think the dichotomy of Kylington/Valimaki is a real one. They’re both developing players: the one who sticks is not going to be miles ahead of the other one at season’s end, and the one who goes to the AHL is not going to catch up in the same time frame. One is 20, and the other 21. They both have a few years to go before they reach their potential. If they need more AHL time, that’s fine. If that’s going to happen this year and next year, that’s also fine.

I don’t think either will be forcing highly-esteemed NHL vets out of top positions by next year, which makes life comfortable for TJ Brodie and Travis Hamonic. They’ll get the spotlights to audition for their final contracts. If I had to pick one for the Flames to re-sign, I think it might be Hamonic over Brodie. Both players are heading into their 30s when their current contracts are up, so they’re definitely looking for big money. While Brodie might take a hometown discount for the team that drafted and developed him, I think he might entertain offers in the $7M+ from desperate teams. It’s too far out to project what the market will look like then, but someone is going to give him big bucks.

Hamonic is a quieter figure and will likely make less than that, which could keep him with the Flames. Being an actual righty might push the team closer towards him too, and perhaps the feeling that they need to wring all possible value out of him given the price they paid could also play in. Again, hard to gauge the market years away, but it’s also possible that Hamonic stays for a shade under $5M.

  • Fat Tony

    Lindholm is starting to become one of my favorite players, not only on this team but in the league. With the Hurricanes, he never had the team around him to play to his potential. Having confidence in his team mates has allowed him to thrive and we keep talking about how good Backlund’s defensive game is? I’ll bet Lindy wins a Selke before him.

  • buts

    Flames are the real deal…….James Neal isn’t. The play has died on his stick all year and he has definitely lost a step. If Philly or St Lou want him then let him go….preferably Philly.

      • Hockeysense9393

        Because (just like the article says) he needs elite passers to play with. Vorecek or Giroux would fit that mold for him pretty well. Flames need cap space and Flyers need scoring wingers. Maybe Neal and a prospect for Simmonds kind of deal. Simmonds contract is up after next season and he’s gonna get paid, but it’s low (under 5) right now. Neal would give them cost certainty and a sniper for years. Simmonds would give the Flames some short term bulk and scoring with some cap savings for 2 playoffs.

    • Luter 1

      Neal’s Mom must have trashed you 6 times because he is more than struggling, unfortunately you can’t teach an old vet to skate faster, so he has lost 2 steps and his reflexes are that of a beer leaguer

  • redwhiteblack

    Mangiapane still looking for his first point. I thought he really struggled against St. Louis. He doesn’t look as comfortable as an NHLer as he should by now. Looks lost on a lot of plays. Not sure what he is yet (if anything) at this level.

  • everton fc

    I disagree with a few conclusions in the article;

    1. I think Lazar does have value. This is a different team, with a different direction. To me, Lazar’s a much better fit, than Czarnik, who has proven even less in the NHL – and is actually older – than Lazar.
    2. I disagree Stone gets slotted into the lineup, upon his return. If anything, he can be shipped to Stockton for a “Conditioning Assignment”, but the most likely conclusion is Stone replaces Prout, as our #7, with Prout sent to Stockton, or picked up on waivers. Kylington’s not going back to Stockton. Valimaki will be in Stockton.
    3. We need to move Neal now, regardless of the return, to afford Tkachuk. Neal doesn’t fit here. He might, in another smaller market (Arizona, Florida, Carolina, and so on). BT was seen at the Canucks vs. Flyers game. Why – who would we want, and whom would they want, from us? Same w/the Blues – would they want, and would either the Flyers and/or Blues take Neal from us? That would be the path I’d be looking at, if I were BT.

    • SouthernFlame

      Agreed! Neal looked so out of place in yesterdays game. Truly awkward to watch. I really hope he doesnt look like that again against Dallas. If he does then leave him there please.

    • Cfan in Van

      Don’t you mean they need to move Neal before next season to afford Tkachuk? MT is still on his entry deal. Why cash out at an all-time low with Neal’s current deal, instead of wait till he actually pots a couple in the back-half of the season. I think trade deadline is the soonest they would consider shopping him, but I doubt that’ll even happen in the first year.

      • Sea of Redd

        Wouldn’t the flames get some cap relief from moving players to the LTIR? Stone and Frolik have been out for a long time. I know it’s always complicated with LTIR cap relief, but seems it would make sense to get a bit of extra $$$ for the trade deadline.

    • mrroonie

      Czarnik has been asked to fill a role where he doesn’t play every game and primarily plays limited minutes in the ones he does. In 21 games he has 6 points and his 1.58 points/60 is 10th highest on the team. This season, Czarnik already has the same number of goals and half as many points in 21 games as Lazar had in 65 games in a similar role last season.

    • oilcanboyd

      Lazar hasno value as an NHL player.
      Conditioning assignment for Stone and Valimaki for development in Stockton
      Can’t get rid of Neal when his play is at an all time low.

    • L.Kolkind

      agree with Lazar, he wanted to go to Stockton to work on his game if that doesn’t show the kind of attitude and effort I don’t know what does. Also, Lazar was never given the offensive opportunities Czarnik has, Lazar was mainly playing with Hathaway, Stajan, Bennett, or Brouwer none of whom were producing offensively last season. Before that Lazar was in the same situation in Ottawa. He asked for a chance to work on his game while playing big minutes and is doing it, I want to see him use his speed and hands at the NHL level.

  • FlamesFanOtherCity

    Considering that the best C that Neal has played with all season is a defensive C in Backlund, it’s not hard to imagine him struggling. His most frequent linemates have been Bennett and Janko. Recently, Ryan and Mangiapane. Don’t expect much until you fix the line he’s playing on. And perhaps play him on a PP unit that can actually enter the zone or control play. Backlund doesn’t belong on the 2nd PP unit. Brodie can’t contribute much. Ryan is fine for winning faceoffs, but struggles in down low play. Maybe play Ras and Hanifin on the 2nd unit, with Neal, Janko and Ryan(Czarnik or other)? Not enough point shots and not enough ability to hold the blue line in the present lineup.

    • The GREAT WW

      Linemates are not the issue with Neal; his lack of puck handling is.
      Every time he touches the puck he fumbles it away, it’s strange how poorly he handles the puck, way below AHL level.
      It’s like he has never played before.
      And we are not even talking about his lack of speed or give a F… attitude at this point.

      We must trade him. We will need to take another questionable contract back I’m sure….

      WW

  • Off the wall

    James Neal gets the ire off most of us here. I’m really disappointed in his play, however when you’re shooting at 4%, ( Hamonic is at 4%) you’re not going to score much.

    I think the biggest thing I noticed, is that he’s behind the play, often in a defensive posture rather than moving up in the play. No idea why?

    Based on what I see, he might be better off on the LW, his strong side. It would allow him to receive passes on his forehand ( a little easier) and drive down the left wall. I believe he played LW for a game or two and looked more comfortable in those games. Just my own thoughts.

    Regardless, it’s great that our fabulous 5 have been playing amazing. It would be nice to have Neal become number 6?

  • Kevin R

    The boys like each other & are developing great chemistry in the dressing room that shows on the bench & ice. Even Neal was stoked after that O/T goal against Philly. I honestly dont see any Trade Deadline deals we will need. Dont mess with what is unfolding. Stone should in reality be a player we sell at the TDL but for whatever the value we would get he would be pretty decent in that depth role for playoffs. Stone we can deal with no problem. I would say watching Kyllington & Andersson, that Brodie would be a good trade piece at the draft in June. We know we cant re-sign both & the kids are showing they are pretty good in responsible roles. If this continues through playoffs, we could be looking at a decent prospect & an extra 1st rounder at the draft for Brodie. Thankyou once again Gio!!!!

    • His Dudeness

      Let’s just pretend for a second you are a fan of another team, pick any team. Would you want to trade for Neal? Would you want to trade for a guy who has 4 1/2 years left at 5.75? A guy who can’t skate anymore, can’t receive a pass, and cannot score on wide open nets (Backlund can’t either but we don’t pay him to score goals). Quine has as many goals as Neal does and he has played only 5 games!!

      He is not trade bait, nobody wants him. You MIGHT be able to trade him and a prospect or pick to a team like the coyotes.

      • Brian McGrattan's Salute

        Yeah I just don’t understand anyone who is claiming that we need to trade Neal. This isn’t ‘chel 19. We can’t just trade a FA we just got, with not yet half of the season played. Seriously, I know this is Calgary fans were talking about (myself included), but hockey doesn’t work that way.

      • freethe flames

        The argument that I heard made was what his salary ask will be if he pots 20 again this year couple that with his concussion problems and the Canes reportedly are skeptical of keeping him long term Not saying I agree with them but that is what has been reported.

  • Kzak

    In regards to the last question, the upcoming expansion draft will also play a significant role in these decisions. In all likelihood, it will be a d man selected and all of our young guys will be exposed (Kyller, Vali and Ando). So if we sign both Brodie and Hammer, then we can only protect one of Gio, Hanafin and the three young guys. Tre did a great job with the last one and I assume he’s already looking into the future in regards to the expansion draft.

  • Smithwick

    I know there are mixed opinions on Eric Francis but this morning he got asked about Neal in the room. Paraphrasing, he said, “he came in, in the pre season with the Real Deal swagger. But the room sort of took him down a peg as in yeah we’re already pretty good too. Since his attitude is much better.”

  • Off the wall

    I washed my coffee mug in the dishwasher last night.

    It came out gleaming silver.
    It resembles the Lord Stanley.
    I etched my FN name in it.

    Little things make me happy!!

  • FlamesFanFromMI

    I m glad boys won. Neal…. here is my question, a seasoned player doesn’t just fell off of cliff right after he signed his final big contract before he disappears. If you guys remember way back when Gio signed everyone was saying the same that since his contract he doesn’t care. Yeah these guys make lot of money but I don’t think money is main motivation love of hockey is. So what’s wrong with him? I don’t know but that’s why all the staff surrounding the players needs to figure it out.
    On another note, why Mike Smith is getting shove down our throats? I bet he will start against Dallas, why? I have no idea and then we be holding our breath on first shot, shots close to period end or a softie that even previous NHL goalies can’t understand.

    • oilcanboyd

      Whether Flames fans like it or not, we need two goalies the rest of the season and the playoffs, possibly even three. So, Smith has got it going lately and we need him to keep it up. Can’t let either goalie sit for long periods while playing the crap out of the other.

      I would not be comfortable trading for a goalie mid-season. Usually doesn’t work out.

  • Garry T

    Tkachuk is a wonderful player. No question he will become a great leader for the Calgary Flames or another club. Everyone on here is forgetting he is a Restsricted Free Agent and Treiliving has control and he needs control.

    Every player now wants the big guaranteed contract and to do that you need a $ 200,000,000.00 cap per year and that is not conceivable. If a survey were completed today, taking the season and post season into consideration, a Flames year is extremely expensive and not only are the Flames within $ 700,000.00 of the cap restriction, they are probably bordering on a max dollar per seat revenue stream. “ Bing “ today, with an increase for his improved play is a $4,000,000.00 to 4.5 million player until the end of his RFA service. No more, no less.if you break the team into 3 categories, top six plus 4 D , Middle top 3 and 2 D and finally your 4th line. You are dealing with 3 pay scale factors. You do not mess with line 4 dollars for forwards and D. $700,000 to $900,000.00 a year. Your line 3 grouping is $2.5 to $3,000,000 grouping and your top ten have to be budgeted into the remaining cap with $3,000,000 in cap space left open for a variet of reasons. TV is near it’s revenue peak. Growing the league revenue will be minimized upon Seattle joining. A league any larger is too cumbersome.

    Then when you are watching games, take a few minutes to see how the cameras pan the crowds. Vancouver has quite a few empty seats, Calgary does too. Ottawa is in deep sh”””””t, playing to poor crowds. Even Montreal numbers are down. The Islanders, Detroit, Buffalo, St. Louis, Avalanche, Ducks, Dallas, are not playing to 80 percent houses. Then you have Az. 6-10,000. Carolina, 6-10,000, Panthers with blacked out sections. There are teams that need to be moved. Yet the players and their Agents ignore this for obvious reasons. So before you start awarding players huge money look what it did to Edmonton, is doing to Toronto. The league actually needs to call a work stoppage or get the Players union in line.

    • BendingCorners

      TV revenue is a big factor and the Rogers deal runs till 2025. Maybe at some point revenues decline, and if they do the cap will go down with it, since it is pegged to revenues. No lockout required in 2020 unless the league and the union get into a big bun-fight over the number years required for free agency.
      Flames salary structure has served them well so far; they do have a couple of bad contracts in dollars/impact terms, but BT can fix that in the summer if he decides he needs to.
      Tkachuk might have even more leverage than Nylander, who held out till December and received a fair deal. I would be shocked and amazed if Tkachuk signed for anything less than Gio and Johnny, and expect he will get more, since the cap has gone up since those signings, and looks set to increase again this summer.

      • Hockeysense9393

        I’m thinking, like most young Superstars, Tkachuk’s salary will reflect the term. I could pretty much see the same as Nylander if not just a tad more (to compensate for his pro-rating). It’s not so much the actually cost as the term that comes into play. If BT wants under 7 say…then it will end up 6 years or possibly even 5, as apposed to 8 years. It’s the cost certainty related to the salary structure. This seems to be BT’s way of assessing and planning. He has a number in mind, so he negotiates term.

  • freethe flames

    The argument that I heard made was what his salary ask will be if he pots 20 again this year couple that with his concussion problems and the Canes reportedly are skeptical of keeping him long term Not saying I agree with them but that is what has been reported.

  • johnny4prez

    For me Neals issues cant solely be due to playmaking, last season he primarily played on a line with Erik Haula and Alex Tuch, I refuse to believe that those guys are that much better than jankowski, bennett, ryan etc. Watching Neal it seems like his hands are non-existent. He stands in the right places, is good in the corners but cant handle a bouncing puck for the life of him. Him losing his hands isn’t a result of father time just more of a mental issue. Once this guy starts scoing this team is gonna be nuts. Even if he only scores 10 goals this year hes much more effective off the puck and less detremental to his teammates then Brouwer was. Come playoffs the Real Deal will have found his magic and from him thats all we will need this season.

    • Luter 1

      He’s either on something or needs to be on something. He’s fidgety on and off the ice. Seems like a strange dude. Your absolutely right , his hands right now are gone for some reason. He cannot get the puck off his stick

    • Hockeysense9393

      If this is what Flames fans have to worry about this season? I’ll take Neal being the goat on a team like this for the rest of the year at least. I’m thinking the Flames are fine, he’ll be fine, and the second half of this season will be fun to watch. Maybe he sparks after Christmas, or maybe he sparks in the playoffs. He’s earned at least a full season to get his game to where (we) he wants it.

  • seamax

    I get that NHL teams do love “veteran experience” come April, but if Michael Stone’s whopping six playoff game resume (two of which came in 2012) is sufficient to displace one of Andersson, Kylington or Valimaki, we are in big trouble.

    • Hockeysense9393

      Settle down seamax! I would put the point of having Stone’s veteran presence as far from being In trouble lol. That’s what he is exactly…veteran presence. He is there to push the rookies and keep them sharp just as much as he adds depth to jump in at any time. These guys are proud…I’m sure he will be itching to displace any kid ahead of him. I’m sure he’ll be just fine come playoffs if his number is needed.

  • The Great perra

    Power rankings on TSN actually have the Flames at #2. This shocked me. Not because I don’t feel they deserve it, but because the Flames usually get little love from the main stream media. So cool to see.

    • Hockeysense9393

      I’ve been thinking this, week after week! What do they need to do, to get fair recognition in this Eastern bias view of Hockey Echelon Standings? Its slapping everyone in the face and they are finally forced to take notice. The Flames are really good.
      Recognize!!

  • Redleader

    Anyone notice I’m always way ahead of everyone? I put Gio in the Norris conversation long time ago, also said we should have sign TKACHUK before the season started. I said Bennett should go on second line, I said Smith would rebound back , hey Trevling I’m available for a position.

  • freethe flames

    For me the question is should BT put all his chips in for this season? It drove me crazy when Sutter would use up his assets to try and make the team better just to flounder in the first round of the playoffs. This is a very good hockey team but is it really a contender and will one or two pieces make it one. There are still a number of big questions on this team. Will the goaltending hold up? We ask this a lot on this site; so the question is what would the cost of acquiring a goaltender be that would put us over the top? For me it would be high and I would likely not do it. On D; when healthy we are currently 8 deep and the constant talk of trading Stone when he gets healthy for late round draft picks is silly; getting an NHL defenceman who is better than Stone at the deadline will be very expensive. I would rather live with the kids mistakes and him rather than lose significant assets. Up front the big 4 are great but we all know that the playoffs are a different beast and teams find ways to hack down top skilled players during the playoffs. so the question is do you add another piece or do you hope that Neal, Backlund, Frolik, Ryan find their offence and that guys like Bennett, Czarnik, and Janko grow into their games and produce more offence. Again what is the cost of acquiring a difference maker. There is depth in the organization as we are seeing in Quine, Rychel, Dube, Mangiapane, and yes even Lazar in the bottom 6 but can they produce enough O when times are tough. I say stay the course unless there is a significant injury or you can acquire someone who is not a rental player in a good hockey move.