55Dillon Dube
Photo Credit: Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports

The Flames need to pick their spots when trading away picks

As the Calgary Flames approach the Feb. 25 trade deadline, there’s already been a lot of chatter about the team using draft picks to load up for the playoffs. It’s a tempting proposition, but it’s worth examining a bit further from the perspective of asset and cap management.

The asset life cycle

Increasingly in the modern National Hockey League, key and core players are getting paid a lot and that doesn’t leave a lot of funds left for the lower half of the team’s roster. The Flames’ roster features five players with cap hits north of $5 million (Johnny Gaudreau, Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan, James Neal and Mikael Backlund) and five more making between $4 million and $5 million (Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm, TJ Brodie, Michael Frolik and Mike Smith). With star and key depth players getting paid big time, the ability of a team to find long-term success is dependent on their ability to consistently find quality, inexpensive depth players. More and more, that’s through the draft.

The cap world has basically created a life cycle for team assets:

  • A player is drafted or signed as an undrafted free agent.
  • While on their entry-level contract, that player succeeds in the minors.
  • The player is transitioned to the NHL and tries to find a role.
  • Having found a role, the player develops within that role.
  • At the completion of their entry-level deal (or maybe after a bridge contract), the team either locks the player in long-term OR flips them for future assets.

The likelihood that a player becomes a worthwhile asset – either worth locking in long-term or flipping for future assets – goes up as a player is selected earlier in the NHL Draft.

The challenge of cap management

Here’s a quick snapshot of the Flames’ cap situation for 2019-20, presuming nobody with a one-way contract is traded in the interim:

Gaudreau [$6.750m] – Monahan [$6.375m] – Lindholm [$4.850m]
Tkachuk [RFA] – Backlund [$5.350m] – Frolik [$4.300m]
Bennett [RFA] – Jankowski [$1.950m] – Neal [$5.750m]
Czarnik [$1.250m] – Ryan [$3.125m] – TBD
Extras: TBD
Buyout: Brouwer [$1.500m]

Giordano [$6.750m] – Brodie [$4.650m]
Hanifin [$4.950m] – Hamonic [$3.587m]
Kylington [$0.731m] – Andersson {$0.756m]
Extra: Stone [$3.500m]

Rittich [RFA]
TBD

The 2018-19 Flames roster has featured seven regulars making less than $1 million. Two of those players, Tkachuk and Rittich, are in line for pretty substantial raises. Even with an estimated $83 million cap ceiling next season, the Flames will have a challenge filling their roster out with a couple depth forwards and a backup goalie.

And even if you can entertain the possibility of opening up cap space via trading away an established player, there would be no mystery in what Brad Treliving would be trying to do – Elliotte Friedman often jokes during his radio hits that rival GMs don’t throw their colleagues life jackets, they throw them anvils – and it would be unlikely that those trades would net great returns.

Inexpensive help from the farm?

Even if you manage to move out an established player, then you have to replace them with somebody decent and inexpensive unless the goal is to make the team actively worse in the process.

Immediately, the thoughts for players to fill out the bottom half of the Flames’ 2019-20 roster likely jump to Juuso Valimaki and Dillon Dube. Andrew Mangiapane, a pending restricted free agent, likely won’t get a raise to north of $1 million. But the list of young, inexpensive, good players on the farm gets lean very quickly after that trio.

Let’s just say that one or two of those players get promoted: who takes their spots? It would leave the farm system dependent on so-called “quad-A” players along the lines of Alan Quine, Kerby Rychel, Buddy Robinson and Tyler Graovac. That’s not to say that relying on these types of players for recalls would be a bad thing, but prying quad-A players away from other organizations usually involves one-way deals or structuring two-way contracts with guaranteed salaries at the AHL level.

Because of the financial and developmental considerations, it’s important for NHL clubs like the Flames to have inexpensive youth waiting on the farm. And if Dube, Valimaki and/or Mangiapane are promoted to the NHL full-time, they should ideally be replaced with other inexpensive youth. That’s where trading draft picks becomes a bit of a challenge.

Replenishing the system

Heading into the 2019 draft, the Flames have picks in the first, third, fourth (via Islanders), fifth and seventh (via Hurricanes) rounds. That’s it. Five picks over seven rounds.

The players potentially entering the entry-level system are Adam Ruzicka, Martin Pospisil, D’Artagnan Joly, Milos Roman, and perhaps one or two of the European prospects like Eetu Tuulola, Linus Lindstrom or Filip Sveningsson. All due respect to the aforementioned gentlemen, but it’s unlikely that any of them will play significant NHL time in 2019-20 the way Valimaki and Dube did. These guys will need some seasoning before they become cheap depth options.

But who’s coming up behind those guys? Who will be ready to go pro in 2020-21? The balancing act Treliving and his staff have to figure out going forward is how to replace the cheap depth players that are coming out of the entry-level system with players that will become cheap depth before they leave their entry-level years.

It’s entirely possible to keep the carousel of finding and developing good young players spinning while trading draft picks for rental players. But it’s making their minor league feeder system really dependent on their scouting staff’s ability to find, recruit and sign undrafted talent from major junior, Europe and college – they’ve done so in recent years with players like Glenn Gawdin, Nick Schneider, Josh Healey, Ryan Lomberg and Garnet Hathaway. Life could become very difficult for the Flames going forward if they take too many big swings by trading picks, so they’re going to have to pick their spots.

  • withachance

    Preach Pike. The Flames are blessed to have so many players on ELC performing so well, especially in the defencemen. The only players that are close to pro levels are Dube, Mangi, Lazar and Quine/Rychel. Not too exciting, but serviceable.

    Will be interesting to see what BT does in the offseason, once all the RFAs are signed. Predicting Frolik and Stone might be moved to clear cap and pull a trade on draft day.

  • freethe flames

    The other thing a team needs to do is know when to extend guys to the right amount of term. On July 1st the Flames can look to extend Andersson, Kylington and Janko before they take the next step and it might be worth doing so for 3 or more years before they produce to much and become too expensive. Overpay a little early before they take a big step up.

      • freethe flames

        It’s called a bridge deal and I believe GM’s are going to have to do this with their fringe core pieces so they don’t get into a bidding war. Younger non stars do not have the same kind of power a Matthews, Tkachuk etc have. GM’s need to be fair with them but need to find some bargains. The good thing is they can be signed starting July 1 and a good GM will be working at that. He has already proven he can get some good deals done.

  • Stockton's Finest

    Good article Ryan, especially mentioning the farm. Restocking the farm for full organization success and all 3 teams (Flames, Heat, Mavericks) should be a focus for future success.

  • Skylardog

    I began playing with cap scenarios and how rosters could/would/should be built for success. One of the things I heard after the Matthews signing, is that the Leafs have way to little invested in their defense core, and it will hamper their ability to be successful. Percentages of cap as to what should be spent on defense were thrown out, ranging in the mid to high 20s to the very low 30s, with most successful teams falling in that range. Toronto is near 20%.

    So for next season, based on the $85 million thrown out by TSN as the new cap, here is a rough breakdown of what a contending team may look like.

    Forwards, $50 million, 58.8%
    Defense, $25 million, 29.4%
    Goalies, $7 million, 8.2%

    This leaves $3.0 million for buyouts, bonus overages from the previous season, or cap space to beef up at the TDL (or for the $83 million cap proposed above).

    Of coarse there is room for tweaking, for example, with what is already signed for next year, adding in a 7th D at $1.0 million, and assuming Stone is on LITR, the Flames sit at $22.7 Million on defense (26.7%). With Stone in the lineup, the defense would sit at $25.2, 29.6%, almost dead on the formula above. Spending $3.5 mill on a 7th D is a bad use of assets.

    Each line rolls up as well.
    Line 1 = $20 million
    Line 2 = $15 million
    Line 3 = $9 million
    Line 4 = $4 million
    Reserves = $2.0 million
    Total, $50 million

    Pair 1 = $13 million
    Pair 2 = $8 million
    Pair 3 = $3 million
    Reserve = $1.0
    Total $25 million

    Starter = $5.0 million
    Backup = $2.0 million
    Total $7.0 million

    Cap room/buyouts/etc = $3.0 million

    Any over or under in one area, can be used in another.

    Just food for thought, not by any means written in stone.

    • withachance

      Makes sense to me – really good breakdown. To me, the Leafs are f-ed after this year. That defence is atrocious and they have no cap space to retain their mid 6 fwds. It’s going to be a juggling act every year for the next 5 years basically – should’ve traded Nylander when they had the chance

      • Derzie

        This is a really good way to explain what is coming but the Leafs don’t know: Marner will go elsewhere.

        They do have a built in get-out-of-jail-free card in that the league will up the cap based on the Leafs’ needs. I hope it down’t get used though.

    • Flaming Glory

      I cheered but I believe it may be a pipe dream to have your top line forwards signed to an average of 6.6 million (20/3). Johnny is paid 6.75 and is considered massively underpaid. I agree with your numbers in theory but I believe that there will be a disconnect from a players point of view.

      • Skylardog

        Our top line, yes on friendly deals, comes in at just under $18 and will for a few more seasons. Remember, as time goes by, the cap will increase, as will the money available for the top line.

        $10, $8, $2 works for example. $10, $6, $4 also.
        But, for example Edmonton, simply will have issues somewhere else if they use McD and Drysaddle on the same line, that starts at $21 without a winger.

        All it really tells you is that if you overpay at one spot, you will have to give it back somewhere else.

        Most top lines are made up of 2 high end guys and a low cost option in the form of a guy on an ELC or a good priced bridge 2nd contract. $10, $9, $1 ELC…

  • Justthateasy

    Sure give a couple of guys all the marbles and soon they’ll have nobody to play with.
    Teams can only clear cap for only so long, until there are no more takers.
    Have fun Oilers, Leafs.

    • HOCKEY83

      It’s not just oilers leafs. It’s every team that has two 8 to 12 mil contracts on their team. The flames are incredibly lucky at the moment the rest of the league will soon be in as bad a shape as oilers leafs Tampa ect

  • Ed Whalens ghost

    The idea of an offer sheet for Matty has come up a few times previously, but what if an offer sheet comes in for Rittich? That could really throw a monkey wrench into things.

  • Garry T

    Well written article. Very much to the point.

    I would do the following to help the Flames.

    1. Do a re-set and sign the guys we consider as absolute NHL players before the off season or right after the team
    finishes up for the year.
    2. We have 2 and 2 thirds of a three line, lineup. That means we need to change out as many as 4 guys so that we
    have four very strong lines for the 2019/20 season. Or if you are retaining some of the less capable, they be talked to
    and be given a program and notification on what is wanted from the for next season. If they do not do it, Stockton or
    gone.
    3. Our D is pretty good. But starting right now I would demand they all start clearing the net
    in front of our goalies. Demand that they start hitting with authority with the offensive players
    coming into our zone. And certainly hit hard when on the boards to get the puck back.
    4. We have two guys that need to understand how to leave our zone. They are Brodie and Hannifin.
    They need to be taken aside and told what needs to be done.
    5. When it looks like a line rush opportunity is viable, our forwards take off leaving the defense helpless.
    The forwards need to better understand when to leave their zone.
    6. I would extend our 3 young D.
    7. I would do a re-set at the end of 2019 and strive to find four forwards so that we do have four strong lines.
    8. Those not being capable of a strong NHL caliber of performance would be traded if possible or moved
    down to the farm for growth purposes.

    I would do a work up on who the 2019 UFA and RFA releases might be and how they would fit on our team.

    I looked at the QMJL only and there are six un-signed overage players that could be sent to Stockton and ” up”
    the talent levels there. There are more of those types of players to be had in the OHL, the WCHL, USHL and Europe. We just have to focus on mining them.

    We then have to draft and trade with purpose and really focus on those aspects. We take a
    policy of not trading any picks away for four years and only add to picks by subtraction.

    If we do that, we are going to improve and we will win cups in the near term.

  • Afterburn

    Good article Ryan. Definitely missing having a second round selection this year. I agree with most of what you say but I do think that the Flames scouting staff will have the ability to find some good young players outside of the traditional draft. I believe the hiring of Loob to also be a tremendous asset to the Flames organization this year. A hell of a former player with deep roots in European hockey that should have the to ability to identify potential impact players in areas we have been fairly inactive in the past.
    I’m of the opinion that although we need to be mindful of the organizations feeder systems, rarely do teams have an opportunity or are in the position the Flames find themselves in this year. I believe that putting the first rounder in play this year to bolster the current line up as well as to gain protection of injuries to key players is the right thing to do. I trust the Flames GM and scouting staff to make the right call on identifying who may be available at or prior to this years trade deadline to help with increasing this years teams ability to be successful in the playoffs.

    • Joeyhere

      If BT trades away a pick at the tdl I bet he will try to recoup picks at the draft by trading out Frolik and Stone
      As Ryan’s article shows that would not only restock some pics but we have to clear some older money for Chucky, and Rittich (and a bit for Bennett)

  • Brian McGrattan's Salute

    What I would like to see is a trade for Zuccerelo involving Mangiapane and our 2020 second round pick, if we are going to go after depth.

    In the offseason, unload Stone, maybe Frolik, and perhaps Brodie for lots of picks, ideally to crappy teams. Maybe resign Zuccerelo as good depth on the cheap if we feel he would be better than Frolik.

    Tree has his core now. I understand the desire for a deadline pick up. Personally, I would want that first round pick to stay though, and for us to get lots more picks. I look at our prospect pool, and we’ve gotten some really great guys out of it on D, but it would be really great to get some forwards that can really shake things up.

    We all know it, but this is how we become competitive for years to come. This feeling of winning all the time, of watching great hockey games from my favorite team? I don’t want this to end. I don’t want us to have to retool in two years. I want this for as long as possible. So ideally Tre can work on getting us some picks, and help shore up our wonderful core.

    • Afterburn

      If we could get a player like Zuc for next years second and Mangi, I would be all for it. I’m just feeling like this year is really presenting the Flames with an opportunity to make some noise in this years playoffs and I would be disappointed to not do anything. Not sure how many times the opportunity presents itself. Would love to be able to get something done without using this years first rounder if possible.

      • everton fc

        I continue to think Zuccarello could be a fine acquisition. I’d move Mangiapane and the 2020 2nd, for Zuccarello, though I think someone will float a first towards NYC and pry Zuccarello from the place of my birth.

        But I’d make a play for Zuccarello, and I’d still move our 2019 first, for Dzingel.

    • bork bork bork

      The more I think about the rental market, the more I’m hoping we target Zucc. I think he’s a piece that could allow us have 3 excellent lines with minimal disruption to chemistry. You could leave the top line and 3M together, and Zucc might be the sort of tenacious, playing-making winger that helps get Neal scoring. If Neal could get going, it would be like adding two impact rentals. (Also interested in Toffoli, Nyquist, Dzingle)

  • MDG1600

    Good article. Based on most comments I read here I feel that the value of strong drafting is consistently under estimated and it seems lost on a lot of people that Stanley Cups are won on the strength of good drafting. Flames have gotten to real good place but are about to experience the true burden of the Neal contract when they try to sign Chucky and upgrade this roster next summer. I honestly don’t think it is too early to start talking a buyout of Neals contract.

    • Afterburn

      I definitely agree with your comment around strong drafting for future success but also think with so many good young players currently on the roster that are signed for the next 3-5 years, Calgary does appear to have bought themselves a little time before we really see a pinch point in drafting. I fully support having as many picks as possible under normal circumstances but I believe this year to be as good as any to put picks and prospects in play to bolster the odds of success in this years playoffs.

    • Heeeeere’s Johnny

      I don’t think buying out Neal is a good idea. Not even considering whether his bad shooting percentage might normalize we would end up with $2mm of dead cap money for 8 years. Piling up dead money is another recipe for disaster. Like it or not I think we have James Neal for at least two more years unless we lose him to Seattle or some other GM has a brain fart.

      • MDG1600

        I guess my thinking is that $2M/yr of dead money is better than $6M/yr of dead money. My assumption that many don’t agree with is that Neal is effectively a lost cause – he is so slow and his hands are so bad now that I just don’t see him contributing at all – not even in the playoffs.

      • everton fc

        I agree. Neal is used to higher quality linemates. He should be good w/any linemates – Frolik, for example, seems to be able to play w/anyone (not saying he’s ever been like Neal, though he has more goals this season). Neal needs guys w/pace around him. Zuccarello would be good w/Neal. So would Dzingel.

        • Brian McGrattan's Salute

          Yeah, I agree. Z. is a quality play maker. He plays with edge, and has speed and hands. What more could one ask for a cheaper rental? He has, both fortunately and unfortunately, been tearing it up recently, too: on an 9 game point streak currently, he has 15 points, including two nights with 3 assists, and one night with 2.

          This is a guy I get playing with Neal ASAP. I picture a guy like Benny learning a lot from this guy, too.

          I dunno, I’m fully on board with this rental. But a first round pick would be very steep, though I agree that NYR will likely ask for that to start.

        • MDG1600

          Neal can’t keep up to guys with pace. Neal does not “need” better linemates, he needs to be a better linemate. He plays with Johnny and Mony after every single PK this year and I don’t know that they have scored a single goal on the ice together. Anyone getting paid almost 6M a year should be driving the play and leading the charge. Don’t understand why you guys are making excuses for his poor play.

  • Heeeeere’s Johnny

    One thing that occurs to me is the Flames as they are will be very attractive to unsigned free agents esp. college and Europe. The Flames are an elite team with a couple of openings and minimal quality depth. The path to an NHL spot is pretty clear and when you get there you will be playing meaningful, rewarding games. Write the script and start selling!

  • corsiainthockey

    I’m almost at the point where I would spend the first round pick to skid Neal away, if there was a taker. I thought he was going to help this club but 4 more years at $5+ M is going to hurt more then giving away a late first. But that’s only if someone will do the trade.

  • Off the wall

    I remember as a young lad, I once forgot my lunch at home. We had a 45 minute school bus ride to school, (rural Ontario) so I was going without that day.

    My bus driver, Bert was a sweetheart of a man. He told me he’d bring me a lunch.

    Well, it turned out I heard on the intercom at lunchtime, that Bert had a lunch left on his bus.
    Thinking he brought me one, I went to the office to collect it.
    I was 6 years old and very naive.

    I went to the office and there was Bert, holding the brown paper lunch bag. I gave him a hug and sauntered off with this huge lunch. Bert looked confused, but he didn’t say a word.

    It’s was the best lunch I think I ever had! I normally had one peanut butter and jam sandwich. We had 9 other kids in my family, so food didn’t go far.

    This lunch had cookies, TWO sandwiches, apple and a drink!
    I thought I hit the lottery.

    Unfortunately, someone else went hungry that day. Bert didn’t bring me that lunch. He was merely returning the lunch left on his bus. I still don’t know to this day, who’s lunch I ate, but it was some good. However, in hindsight I always felt guilty about taking it upon myself to presume it was meant for me.
    I really should have asked Bert first.

    Treliving always refers to “so many mouths to feed”, when talking negotiations. And it’s a fact. I appreciate that coming from a LARGE family. If I eat more than my share, another family member doesn’t get their lunch. It’s simple economics for that many mouths to feed on a budget.

    Thinking about my past a lot these days. I wish I would have made some different choices in life, but you can’t go back. You can only forge ahead. I’m happy we have a GM who understands this and I feel confident that his commitment to our team will help us through the ( cap) lunch crunch!

    Side note- I apologized to Hrudey for using that term ( I’m not going to repeat it) out of context. It was NEVER directed towards you, nor anyone. It was egregious to even repeat it.

    Honestly.

    Let’s put our differences aside, please. We have a amazing season and I love reading our FN members comments. It’s what motivates me for my mornings. That and coffee.

    I’m sorry for my outburst yesterday. I was frustrated. Let’s move forward, shall we?!

    • Heeeeere’s Johnny

      I always appreciate the humanity you show here. Keep it up! Regarding the tone within this community I was cheering your comments regarding imposters and trolling by members of the nation. I don’t think it was out of line. Thanks for what you contribute.

  • Joeyhere

    Great article Ryan
    It also emphasizes the incredible cost of free agents and there long term effect
    At best overpaid on July 1 at worse a lingering budget after buyout (Raymond, Brower, Neal??)

  • MDG1600

    To the point of why having draft picks AND drafting well is so important I would submit that every single anvil on the roster over the last 5 or 6 years (Brouwer, Raymond, Neal, all the FA goalies) ended up on the roster because Calgary had no homegrown prospects that could fill the role that Calgary was looking for. So they go out and overpay for a UFA. If any of Poirer, Klimchuk, Baertschi, Granlund, Reinhart or Hunter Smith had developed in to someone the Flames thought could score 20 goals in the NHL we probably never end up overpaying Neal.

  • Orrwasbest

    A point I have brought up many times is not to give up the cheap years of these players. Having Valimaki Dube in the nhl this year costs you down the road. You can’t keep doing this and be successful long term. You must use the cheap years the CBA allows to be continually competitive. This is an issue beyond trading draft picks but just as relevant!

    • RealMcHockeyReturns

      Your comments about “giving up” the cheap years makes no sense. Using up the cheap years of a rookie/2nd year3rd year guy to have him play in NHL – especially when you team is competitive – is smart and is saving the Flames money and they are performing as well as a veteran costing 2-3 times as much.

  • Korcan

    The way Frolik has publically voiced his frustration, via his agent on twitter, with his role in Calgary, i fully expect him to be moved this summer. Tre makes it clear he doesn’t wants players who don’t want to be in Calgary. He should bring a decent return (draft pick) and some cap space relief.

    I could also see Brodie (if Tre feels Andersson is ready for a top 4 role) and possibly Stone being moved. Brodie should be a valuable commodity after the season he is having, and he should bring back a good return (pick/player) and, again, some cap relief. Moving Stone will be a bigger challenge, and instead could possibly be used to help bring his brother to Calgary.

    Finally, i can’t see any reason for keeping Czarnik around. If they can unload him for a late round draft pick, there are a number of prospects who bring what he offers at a cheaper price tag.