With a Jason Zucker deal falling through, Oscar Fantenberg was the lone Flames addition at the trade deadline.
It’s been repeated ad nauseum, but the Flames are likely banking on the return of James Neal to be their trade deadline “acquisition,” and in more than a few ways. First off, his return as a healthy body to the lineup should offer the Flames more flexibility with their roster decision. Tying into point number one, the Flames are also hoping that a refreshed and healthy Neal can start living up to the contract he signed. If all goes according to plan, the Flames can add another deadly scorer to their lineup just in the nick of time.
Will that work? That, and other things in this week’s edition of the mailbag.
Where does Neal fit in when he comes back? I am pretty sure Z gets the press box spot Neal should occupy…
— Ian Duval (@duvie27) March 3, 2019
How do you see the lines shaping up when Neal gets back? Bennett janko czarnik has worked well so I would assume Hathaway would be the guy to come out. Here’s my suggestion:
— VDK (@brettvdk99) March 3, 2019
I like that lineup. It’s pretty functional, top to bottom. I don’t think it’s a world beater or the One Weird Trick that’s going to guarantee this team postseason success, but it’s hard to argue with a lineup where you can move parts around easily based on game circumstance and not notice a major drop-off in team quality.
But I don’t decide lineups. In reality, it’s going to be a tricky dance. Neal brings the things that the Flames were looking for at trade deadline: veteran, playoff experience, a nasty edge, and the potential to score goals. Unfortunately, he has only been reputation so far, but that’s been enough to carry him to date. You may not like it, but Neal is someone the coaches are definitely going to have back in the lineup when he becomes available. They can’t help themselves.
The conundrum for the coaches is that the three candidates who are likely to come out when Neal returns – Garnet Hathaway, Andrew Mangiapane, and Austin Czarnik – have been playing good hockey in his absence.
Let’s start with Hathaway, as per the question. At 5v5, he’s the worst Flames player, but Neal is second worst (with better linemates), so the numbers can’t make a convincing argument. Hathaway doesn’t have much in the way of offence, but Neal hasn’t shown that he’s been much better, so no-go there. Hathaway has also been in the lineup for 59 games and has been very handy on the PK, so he’s clearly earned the trust of the coaches. I don’t think Hathaway’s the one coming out.
Mangiapane’s next on the docket, as he’s an AHL call-up. He’s pretty expendable right now, as he’s still waiver exempt and could get ice time in Stockton if the Flames feel that the press box is not helpful. However, he has also been looking better as time goes on and has been one of the catalysts for the fourth line. The top six has faltered in recent weeks and Mangiapane and his linemates have been there to keep things afloat. Even if Mangiapane’s expendable, would Bill Peters mess with one of the only things going right for him?
Czarnik’s next, and is probably the most likely because he’s been the healthy scratch for most of the year, but his recent body of work probably keeps him on the ice. Czarnik came out of hibernation to pick up a few goals and still looks good when he hasn’t been lighting the lamp. He’s helped kickstart a third line that had been mostly absent at full strength before he showed up. Curiously enough, that’s where Neal was pre-injury.
I think this matter won’t be resolved until one of these three plays their way out of the lineup. Right now, they’ve done enough to keep their jobs. Neal hasn’t been the player they thought they were signing, and the success of the rest of the lineup makes him a spare part at this point. I still believe there is probably more to come from Neal, but I would also totally understand if they keep the leash tight for the time being.
Flames' 1st rounder survived the TDL, probably in high 20s or 30s…does it make sense to draft a goalie at that spot? Usually hate drafting goalies in 1st round unless they're obvious NHLers
— kingcambie (@kingcambie) March 3, 2019
I wouldn’t, I just don’t think it’s a wise value move.
Prospective goaltender value is tricky to nail down. On one hand, there’s very few of them and maybe one or two who could head to the NHL, so grabbing the obvious best choice available seems like a responsible move. On the other hand, the higher risk involved versus the higher probability of other position players panning out usually always outweighs the potential benefits.
I think we can look to Carter Hart as an example of goaltender drafting done well. He was a second round pick, near the middle of the order. Mackenzie Blackwood, a year older than Hart, was also a second round pick. You can go back through draft history and repeatedly find goalies going in later rounds turning into success stories. I don’t think there’s a curse on first round goalies, just that the risk involved reduces their value.
A brief glance reveals that there aren’t any Carter Hart-type goalies who can step in the NHL at age 20, so the Flames are likely waiting three or four years when they need goalie help immediately. Even if they’re looking long-term, they’re spending a high-value asset for a high-risk prospect. It should go without saying, but they should not use a first round pick in that scenario. If they want to use a first round pick on a goalie, they should probably trade it for one. I’ll leave it up to you if you think that’s a good decision.
What do you do with Brodie and Hamonic after next year? Trade, re-sign.
— Pedro (@PedroinCalgary) March 3, 2019
It’s a tough assessment to make a year out, but I don’t think they stick around with either of them. There’s a glut of young defencemen who can take over those spots while heading into their best years.
I would probably say TJ Brodie is the most likely to be moved out of the two before his contract expires. He’s a fine soldier and I would miss him tremendously, but there’s been some signs of a decline happening that’s been papered over by Mark Giordano being Mark Giordano. With Rasmus Andersson ascending rapidly and also looking completely comfortable (in small bursts) on the first pairing, it seems that there’s a succession plan in place. I think the Flames are going to add a RHD soon enough anyways (either UFA or via draft), so his roster spot may not be guaranteed.
I think there’s a chance Travis Hamonic sticks around, but it’s light at best. Hamonic hasn’t shown the same signs of decline as Brodie has, but time remains undefeated. If he’s willing to finish his career in Calgary for a team-friendly rate, I could see the Flames doing it.
If I was Brad Treliving, I might keep both of them around until the Seattle expansion draft and see if they can bait Seattle into claiming one of them (like Vegas did Deryk Engelland) instead of one of the younger players they might have to leave exposed. The Flames are going to be in some trouble heading into the expansion draft, so maybe diluting the pool with a few established names might be a good option. Seattle will have a tough time hitting the cap floor in their first year anyways, so picking one of UFA Brodie/Hamonic and then signing them to a big money deal could help. Vegas being great out of the gate will also likely pressure Seattle into going for it early, so picking up an established name rather than a prospect could influence their decision making.
Where do you see Valimaki fitting in next year? Realistic point totals?
— dura_mater (@mater_dura) March 4, 2019
Back to that glut I referenced earlier.
I honestly don’t know. Unless the Flames surprise us all this offseason (it’s always possible, but I doubt they’re opening a spot by trading away a vet this early in Juuso Valimaki’s career), they’re probably going to roll into 2019-20 with Giordano, Brodie, Hamonic, Noah Hanifin, and Andersson as roster locks. That’s one spot open for Michael Stone (still around!), Fantenberg, Oliver Kylington, and Valimaki. Who knows if Stone will be healthy for next season, if he’s still around the organization, but that’s still three defencemen vying for one spot.
Fantenberg, if he sticks around, is likely the seventh defenceman, so it’s a position battle between Valimaki and Kylington. Luckily, both are waiver-exempt, but they’re both certainly NHL ready. Kylington scored 14 points in 18 AHL games before coming to Calgary and Valimaki is no slouch with nine in 13. The Heat have been noticeably better with at least one of them in the lineup, but will it be better for either of them to be parked there? How can they be expected to get better at the NHL game if they’re toying around in a league they’re clearly too good for?
Maybe the Flames experiment and try a rotating 6D role for the two. Maybe training camp reveals that one hasn’t progressed as far as the other and the decision comes easier. A lot will change between now and next September.