WWYDW: Is this the season the Flames should go for it?

This season, the Flames are a top team in the NHL. They have some of the league’s top scorers, they have one of the best records, and they have some of the best underlying numbers. This continues to beg the question, though: are the Flames a true Stanley Cup contender? And if they are, is this the year to go all in?

The Flames’ rebuild probably officially kicked off when they drafted Sean Monahan with the sixth overall pick back in 2013. It was their highest draft pick in years, and they got a pretty good player out of it.

Now in his sixth season in the NHL, Monahan has lived up to his promise, particularly as the Flames have added an increasingly talented cast of characters around him: Johnny Gaudreau. Matthew Tkachuk. Elias Lindholm. Travis Hamonic. Noah Hanifin. Players like Mark Giordano, Mikael Backlund, and TJ Brodie were already there, but the Flames have gone from a scrappy team with a handful of good players to a relatively young group loaded with talent. There have been some bumps along the way, but it’s pretty much exactly how a rebuild is supposed to play out.

The next big item for the Flames, then, will be the NHL’s trade deadline on Feb. 25. It could be what makes or breaks their playoff hopes. Because, as good as the Flames are, they could still be better: they need a backup goaltender they can count on; depth defencemen ready to provide more than talented, but green, rookies can; and another top six forward and/or more reliable depth scoring. Adding one or two of those positions would probably give them another leg up on the rest of the Cup hopefuls; adding to all three positions could make them unstoppable.

Unfortunately, in order to get quality, the Flames are going to have to give up quality. It’s probably safe to say those aforementioned nine players, plus David Rittich, are safe and won’t be traded; anyone else could potentially be up for grabs, but they wouldn’t yield as good of a return. That means, in order to upgrade their roster, the Flames will probably have to give up something else of value: be it one of Rasmus Anderson, Oliver Kylington, or Juuso Valimaki; high draft picks; or perhaps both.

The problem with doing that: after trading a number of picks in order to build this team, the Flames’ cupboards are pretty much bare. There’s hope for Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane, and maybe Matthew Phillips is pretty awesome, too. There’s the three rookie defencemen, who all look to have graduated to the NHL (or at least will have officially by next season, in all likelihood). And then there’s, uh… well… nobody, really? Not any time soon, at least.

That’s all well and good for the present, because most of the Flames’ best players are still relatively young, but things could spiral out of control within just a couple of seasons if there are no additional replacements from within. (As good as the Flames have been this season, we’re starting to see it a bit already: there’s a forward spot open in the NHL because nobody has outright grabbed it yet.) It would likely be in the Flames’ best interests to retain at least some of their picks and prospects.

Besides: even if this year continues to shape up to look like a year in which the Flames will contend, that doesn’t mean it’ll be the only one. Next season could be the year, too. Or the season after. Giordano has continued to defy age (and even if he doesn’t, four of the Flames’ top seven defencemen of present are 22 and younger, so defencemen’s ages may not be the biggest concern), and Gaudreau will still be signed to a laughably low $6.75 million cap hit for another three seasons after this one. This is a team that has the potential to be good for a while longer yet, and it isn’t as though the 2018-19 season is Cup or bust.

At the same time, it’s really tough to win a Cup, so if the chance to do just that presents itself, wouldn’t the Flames have to go for it? There’s no guarantee they have four forwards scoring well over a point-per-game in any other season. Combine them with another top six forward, and this team could be lethal.

So what would you do? Is it the right time for the Flames to go all in and spend big, or should they play it a little more conservative, see how this year goes (probably with at least a minor upgrade here or there), and keep regrouping for the next few seasons instead, all without completely selling their longer-term future?

What are the expectations for the Flames this season – and can they match them, with or without going big?

  • Flamesforever

    Bide our time. Build our team smartly and efficiently from within. If a trade is to be had to upgrade our current group then do it. But without mortgaging our future. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if we play our cards right, draft and develop the way we have then there’s no reason we can’t be a contending team for the next decade. In Tre we trust. The window has been cracked open. GFG ?

  • 谢谢兄弟,我爱你

    Having lived through the highs (86, 89, 04) and the lows (almost every other year), I would not mortgage the long term contend-ability for a one-off cup run. Especially with a group of players that have practically no experience with a deep Stanley run. A decade of “Young Guns” isn’t worth it.

    • Rudy27

      I agree. Although winning the cup is the ultimate goal, I’d rather have a very good, entertaining team (with chance at the cup) for years than a one cup run followed by a decade Oilers type hockey.

    • Jessemadnote

      I don’t know if I agree. I could get behind a move like Winnipeg made last year: A 1st, a 4th and Eric Foley for Paul Stastny. Winnipeg was essentially in the exact same boat as we are and I doubt they go to the conference final without Stastny. That’s valuable experience for the young guys.

  • Orrwasbest

    I have never been a rent a player fan and think the Flames need to stop trading draft picks now as long term success is dependent on a steady flow of low salary players playing on entry level contracts filling out the lineup. I would only make trades that won’t hurt the teams future. Trade Neal or any of the other bottom six forwards if they can net us a backup Goalie. Beyond that live with what we got, its a strong team and can make a run with the talent they already have. Trades don’t always enhance sometimes they screw up existing chemistry.

  • Justthateasy

    Answer is no. There is no playoff experience at this time. Experience has to be built upon. Don’t sell the farm on a long shot which is what this would be.

    • BendingCorners

      Best answer I’ve seen yet.
      The core will be good for a few years but playoff experience is necessary.
      I expect BT to do something at the TDL but not likely anything huge or expensive.

  • Off the wall

    I’m really enjoying the comments. Interesting observations from all of FN.

    Here’s my take. I will prelude this with, I stepped on my rake yesterday and bashed my head pretty good. So a concussion might be driving my thought process.

    You know possum’s often play dead when threatened? Yup, they can appear dead anywhere from 40 minutes to 4 hours.

    That’s James Neal. He’s our possum. Unfortunately, he’s been playing dead for 3 months.

    I’m going out on a limb and saying he gets back to being the Real Deal. He was great with Vegas, we all know that. As much as we are disappointed in his play, he isn’t Brouwer. He can and WILL be much better in the 2nd half. It’s already coming and I can feel it. We’re impatient, but patience brings rewards. Either that or I’ve severely damaged my brain. Take your pick.

    Smith isn’t going anywhere. Treliving isn’t going to deal him unless Smith agrees to it.

    From my perspective, we’re probably going to pick up a D, that’s about it. I’d be surprised if Treliving does anything else.
    However, remember how pissed he was with our team last season? I’m not going to rule anything out, but I’d still be surprised if he makes any substantial deal.

    Let me say this though. I agree with Skylar, our season merits challenging for the Cup. These opportunities seldom present themselves the way it has this season. It’s magical to watch our Flames. We’re not even playing our best and yet we lead the Conference and the Pacific!
    Piss off Vegas.

    I think we could go all in and win, however Treliving is more patient than you and I.

    Besides, you never know what your players are capable of, until you push them into the fire.
    And a FIRE can bring out the BEST in our team, that’s why we’re Flames! ?

  • Joeyhere

    Thanks FN members – The comments today for he most part make a lot of sense
    We can’t acquire Stone or Tarasenko for nothing. This core is good! We would sink our self back to years of “young gun” mediocrity if we mortgage our future
    Yes a few more adds may (stress May) mean we go further this year but may also flop. We need to be realistic make smaller tweaks and be competitive not just for this years cup run but a contender for years to come

  • Heeeeere’s Johnny

    There’s no guarantee they have four forwards scoring well over a point-per-game in any other season.

    Unfortunately there is no guarantee that they continue their torrid pace this year either. Im not all in on going all in. Stay the course, continue to make great hockey moves. The young .d may be the key to this whole thing. Give them another year and then see where we are at.

  • FLT

    Tre inherited a roster with a lot of holes, and had to spend to fill some of them. Now that the team is competitive, I hope he shifts focus to building a sustainably successful team through the draft and shrewd acquisitions – not leveraging future assets for short-term help.

    If material upgrade is available for CHEAP, by all means go for it – but trade deadline buyers seem to be losers far more often than not. Same goes for July 1.

  • Skylardog

    Many of you already know where I stand on this issue. It is not just what we have, it is also how the competition fares as well and how we match up against them.

    If we were in the Atlantic Division, with the strength of Tampa, you probably bide your time.

    But they only become a team we have to beat in the Finals, not in the first or second round. We showed we are very close to their calibre in the shootout loss.

    We also have the number on almost all of the Central division. We have the number of Nashville and Winnipeg, who are likely to be a conference final opponent.

    That leaves the Pacific contenders, Vegas and San Jose, and likely first round opponents if you finish first in the Pacific. That means Dallas, Minnesota, and Colorado. Anaheim is looking more and more unlikely.

    We have Colorado’s number, the same cannot be said for Minny and Dallas.
    We are currently in a tossup against Vegas and/or San Jose. We play one or both in the first 2 rounds.

    These are the 4 teams (you can add in Anaheim as the fifth) that have the ability to shut down the first line most nights. They can beat us in a 7 game series because on 4 nights out of 7 they could hold Monahan’s line pointless at 5v5. It becomes a real tossup on whether we can get by any of these in a 7 game series.

    It would be a shame to do all we have done so far, finish first in the Pacific, and go out in round 1 in game 7 against Dallas, when you realize that just a minor tweak to get secondary scoring is what would have got us through to the second round.

    We need one more top 6 forward.
    We need Stone back, or one more veteran defenseman with size.
    We need a backup.

    On the goalie front. There are back ups, but most are struggling. Howard is the only one that is
    1) Having a good season, 0.918 ish Sv%
    2) On a team that is not going to the playoffs.
    3) Has a contract that ends at the end of the season.

    If we don’t take him, guess who will – Winnipeg or Pittsburgh. Everyone else that is headed to the playoffs has fairly solid goaltending. And if he goes to Winnipeg, our advantage over them is lost. Sometime when you can win, you make a move so the opposition can’t.

    Dube-Mangi or Quine

    2 scoring lines
    A shutdown line
    And a line that if the opposition doesn’t pay attention to, will either run you over (Benny and or Hath) or pot some goals if they can find their scoring touch (Neal)

    This is the year. Can ya feel it?

    • cjc

      Re. Top 6 forward
      Not really. The 3M line is one of the best shutdown lines in hockey when they play together. They are well ahead of their competition in GF% at 5v5 this year (and we now how much goal differential means to you 😉

      Re. Stone
      Stone was on the bench in favour of Andersson before injury. If anything, the team is probably hoping they can shut him down for the season so he can be LTIR’d for cap relief.

      Re. Backup
      We need a backup, but Howard is a starter and the acquisition cost will be quite high. Thinking they will want at least a first, which might be fine since ours will probably be in the 24-31 range. Would the pick be enough though? Seems Detroit would want something more. Plus Smith would need to agree to it and Calgary would need to find additional cap space.

      Re. Lazar
      Why on earth would the team bring Lazar back to play in a third line role, higher than he was ever playing last year (and higher than Bennett/Neal)? I understand that people get sentimental about mid-20s guys who can tear up the AHL, but he is not what is missing – last time I checked, the team has been a lot better without Lazar on the roster. Maybe he sees a few games on the 4th line as an injury replacement during the r/s, but he won’t be in the playoff lineup if the Flames are healthy.

      Re. lineup
      Also, I doubt Jankowski gets a mid-season promotion to 2 C when Backlund has been doing everything asked of him there.

      • withachance

        Everything here. Asking prices for Howard and premier players in midseason will be astronomical for their value. Dont understand the fantasy proposals on here for Schenn (a top tier Center) or Kapanen (top 6 winger for a contender).

        The Flames dont have the assets to even get the other teams to the table right now, without hemorrhaging the team’s futures. See what this lineup can do deep in the playoffs and reassess in the offseason.

    • Quinteco

      I agree with everything except the reasoning behind acquiring a backup. The Flames need one to get through the regular season, not for the playoffs themselves. If your backup is seeing lots of playing time in the playoffs, you’re probably doomed regardless. So, in Winnipeg gets Howard and the Flames don’t, that doesn’t really change the advantage because in an ideal world, he’d never even play in the Conference Finals.

    • Jessemadnote

      I’m not sure I trust Backs or Janko as a 2C. If we could make a move to wheel Schenn or Hayes that would be the type of move that could put us over the top IMO.

    • Porcupine at a balloon party

      Gave your post a ‘cheer’ despite being a fair different than my point of view. But there are a few points I like:

      1) take the environment we are in… Winning the West and going through the Pacific with Nashville or Winnipeg on the other end seem to be a pretty good scenario for the flames based on how we’ve played against them. This is one of the most direct routes to Stanley Cup the flames have had in years (or ever??). But it’s still no guarantee. I’m in disagreement about loading up due to our empty cupboards, but I do agree that the situation does call for some tweaking to plug the holes (backup goalie for sure).

      2) Addition by subtraction (trading Smith + middle round pick for a backup) might be our best bet

      3) a top 6 forward would be great, but don’t think we can leverage that right now (however treliving has a way of making magic happen). If we can add without mortgaging future I’m all for it.

      4) I would like to see a solid second scoring line + a shutdown line but it’s a little tougher than I think you’re making it out to be. I’m not convinced Jankowski is ready for second line duties yet, or that he would be a better scoring option than Backlund. And there’s still the question of who’s going to be that second line scoring winger. Moving Lindholm to second line center or rw night work, but how much does that effect 13/23??? Might be a net gain, might not… Probably evens out overall.

  • Porcupine at a balloon party

    I’m off the mindset that if you want to win the Stanley Cup it’s about getting to the dance as many times as possible. This team has not had a good track record of maintaining teams that can make the playoffs with consistency for almost 30 years. I understand loading up for a run, but the reality is we loaded up to get to where we are now. I would rather preach patience at this point. Agreed with forever flames initial point that if something can be done without mortgaging the future, do it. But don’t trade away the very limited assets we have for future viability. Let’s make Stanley Cup runs a routine ordeal, not a couple years and then rebuild for ten.

    Side note, I don’t have many complaints about BT but the asset management of our defence to start the season really doesn’t look good right now. Could’ve had a free year of development with valamaki in AHL, and he wouldn’t of been eligible for UFA a year early if we let him grow there. Kulak is playing great in Montreal and I really don’t understand the treatment of him over the summer and then trading him away and now needing exactly what we needed when we traded him away. Stockton has suffered immensely from not having quality defenceman, and one or both of kylington and valamaki would’ve really fixed that. O well, I digress, just nitpicking at this point. Go flames go!!

  • Lazarus

    Goalies are crazy. You just never know what can happen. Younger Flames fans won’t remember 1993 when Kelly Hrudey sucked and got yanked after Game 3 and Robb Stauber came in to win the next 3 and eliminate us 4 – 2. Robb F#$&*@% Stauber!
    Or 1995 when a shell shocked Irbe was yanked and Wade Flaherty came in to finish the Flames off winning game 6 and 7 (in double OT) .
    So never say never regarding Smith.

  • Chucky

    I do not see the scary cliff. Everything about this team indicates that it will be better next year, with the exception of Giordano who MIGHT lose a step. Any deal that would have a long term positive impact is a good idea. Anything that sacrifices the future for current success is a sing of immature impatience, hopefully Treliving feels secure enough to accept this years result for what it is and focus on winning the cup several years in a row.
    If you want comfort in this position, think about which player is having a worse year this season than last. I have trouble getting anyone past Smith. Next season Smith is gone and there is a large group who will have some playoff experience and be in a strong position to make a run.

  • freethe flames

    This is the first year of a 4/5 year window. I am torn between the go with them that brought you and the all in group. IMO the Flames should not use their 1st rounder for a rental; they must get back a player with term or a RFA that makes them better at one of the three positions mentioned. If the other draft picks can be used as part of a deal that brings the Flames closer even if it is a rental then I am okay with this. The problem I see is that the assets the Flames have are not seen as valuable outside our market. The one guy who might be tradeable and get something similar back is Frolik; some sort of hockey trade. Unfortunately the guy that most of us would like to move is Neal is almost untradeable; we would likely have to pay to move him. BT also has to balance the whole idea of team chemistry which none of us are close enough to the team to understand. Are Mike Smith and Rittich close; does Smith give Rittich a sense of security? If so moving Smith might hurt Rittich; last year it did seem to impact him.

  • Pete80

    We have some big contracts to sign coming up, so anyone we bring in will be another potential Brower, or will be a rental. I don’t like giving up value for either. It will have to be a good value contract on a younger player to make sense. I think we can get depth defense and a backup goalie for cheap, but big splashes are a bad idea

  • Rudy27

    I don’t like the prospect of giving up one of our young (or any) D-men currently playing to bolster a run at the cup. Good D-men are harder to come by than adequate forwards, and one weakness on defense is much more noticeable (detrimental to the team) than a weak forward (remember how Wideman would get burnt for a goal almost every game?). You can overspend on going all in and still not win the cup. Right now the smart money is on Tampa, but a lot of things can happen before the last game of the SC Finals, including a key injury or a good goalie having a rough patch.

    • The Beej

      Folks need to have more patience with Neal. People were saying the same thing about Hamonic last year. It took a while but he has melded his game into our system nicely.

      Neal has a super low shooting% and that is not going to last forever. Also he doesnt get top 6 minutes on this team and part of his role is to give young guys some skill to play with. He is generating chances and we shouldnt get bent out of shape over short term results.

      At this point we would likely have to give up assets to move his contract. We dont have many assets to spend and there is a better way to spend them than on moving Neals contract.

      That said we cant wait forever and Neal does need to start producing.

      But for the time being.. patience patience. Knee jerk reactions can tend to backfire.

      Consider if we made a knee jerk reaction and moved Hamonic for pennies on the dollar last year. That would look real bad now.

    • slapshot444

      Patience, that only comes with the next NHLPA negotiations, as early as next September, if they get it in the deal and if there is no extended lock out.