With one game between now and February, we’re talking about Sam Bennett’s next contract, the goaltending plan, and potential playoff matchups. Won’t you stick around?
@FlamesNation Mailbag Q: How much money has Bennett added to his next contract this last 3-4 games?
— kingcambie (@kingcambie) January 19, 2019
With 19 points so far this year and 26 last year, what kind of money is Bennett asking for at the end of the season? Will the Flames have room to sign him with all the other contracts that will come up in the off season?
— Atchur "Boxcars" Service (@wmpdll) January 20, 2019
The Flames will have to be honest with themselves regarding Bennett this offseason. He’s looked better and has seemed to settle in to what he’s doing, but he’s still not as reliable or as consistent as you hope he would be. His game against the Red Wings was Bennett at his absolute best, the issue being that he rarely comes close to games like that, and when he does, he rarely strings games like that together. When he’s at his best, he could be a $4-5M man. When he isn’t, he might be at or under his current contract value. I think Bennett, depending on how he finishes the season, might ask for a reasonable raise between $2-3.5M.
The Flames might see Bennett as someone worth keeping if the price is right, but they’re not going to lose focus on Matthew Tkachuk and David Rittich’s contracts, both of which are going to be more expensive and crucial to the long-term health of the club. If they can’t fit Bennett in after those two are finished, I don’t think they’ll hesitate to trade him. Perhaps it’s unfair that Bennett will be traded for over $3M while other players will collect barnacles for the same price tag (or more!), but he’s easy to move and those guys aren’t.
32 games left….Over/Under on how many Rittich starts? 24? 25? 26?
— kingcambie (@kingcambie) January 20, 2019
I might put the over/under a bit lower, maybe even around 20 depending on how February goes. The Flames don’t need much to clinch a spot, so they don’t need to use Rittich as a ride or die option. Mike Smith hasn’t been great, but he has been passable enough that the team in front of him can outscore their opponents. A two-thirds Rittich, one-third Smith/Jon Gillies/trade deadline backup split seems most likely to me.
I think the team will try to balance rest and rust to make sure Rittich stays fresh for the playoffs. Management is probably still traumatized by the Brian Elliott experience, where he carried the team to the playoffs but imploded shortly after, so they’re probably planning to give Rittich some games to keep his joints loose without overloading him.
How realistic is it that the flames get an upgrade on a back up goalie?
— Shaun Hill (@ShaunHill88) January 20, 2019
I’m starting to think that the most realistic option is the Flames dancing with the one who brought them there. Smith has accepted his backup role and started to put up some okay-ish numbers (he’s finished over 0.900 seven times in the last 12 games). No, he’s not a starter. No, he’s not that good anymore. But he’s playing such a minor role where the damage he causes is limited. You can live with him.
If we work with those splits in the last question and you give Smith 10-12 games, you might win six to eight of them, depending on whether or not the offence shows up (they usually do). That’s still over 0.500. Without back-to-backs in the playoffs, the team can probably get away with only letting Smith start one or two games (if that) in the postseason. Why do they need a replacement that desperately when his role has been almost completely minimized?
So Smith loses you four to six of these last 32 games. Is that really worth paying an asset to fix? Can you even be sure that the upgrade really is an upgrade? The team has been burnt so often on goaltenders that they might be hesitant to pay up for another one, especially for not a whole lot of gain. The team also has to consider the headache of what to do with Smith after trading for another goalie, so it may be that they simply avoid the hassle and just let Smith take the backup position.
Do we need a 4th line LW upgrade? Whoever plays that spot seems to get benched in close games.
— Harshita Chhabra (@harshitaDBB) January 20, 2019
Nah. It’s improving the margins, which is a good idea in theory, but they’re winning games regardless of their 4LW playing five minutes or 15. Like Smith above, is it really worth the cost to replace someone who might be a factor every six games or so? Bill Peters isn’t rolling four lines like Glen Gulutzan, and it’s arguably one of the reasons this team is much more successful than last year’s (or at the very least, more capable of closing out close games). The 4LW isn’t benched because the personnel isn’t great, it’s just game situation and game management. I think that even if they made an upgrade, Peters will shorten the bench regardless.
whou would be the easiest first round playoff opponent?
— Rod Thick (@karasu8989) January 20, 2019
Let’s cast a wide net of wild card hopefuls and break them down bullet point style:
- Ducks: they’re devastated by injuries and imploding, but with John Gibson involved, it’s hard to ever count them out. That they’re still in the conversation is a minor miracle. I also don’t want to tempt fate and watch them fluke their way into a playoff win against the Flames, so let’s count them out.
- Stars: they have a lot of high-end talent up top, but nearly nothing beyond that, and even the high-end talent is not playing up to snuff.
- Wild: a very mediocre team top to bottom. They also have Bruce Boudreau, who has a history of abnormal playoff struggles. Matt Dumba is also out for the year, so they’ll be down a number one defenceman in the playoffs.
- Avalanche: a lot like the Stars, but their high-end talent is just that much better. Absolutely dangerous if you can’t shut down their top line.
- Canucks: Nothing without Elias Pettersson, but EP has proven that he can singlehandedly change games for Vancouver. A supporting cast of Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat could make them a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
- Oilers: can you really ever doubt a team with Connor McDavid on it? Well, yes, actually.
I would say that running into the Stars is likely the easiest outcome. It’s hard to say that about a team with Tyler Seguin, Alex Radulov, Jamie Benn, and John Klingburg on it, but all of those guys have been struggling and their supporting cast isn’t that great either (the Stars signed Blake Comeau to a contract this offseason, to pick on one guy). They do have decent goaltending, but their depth is so bad that they’re not going to survive in the playoffs for long.