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FlamesNation Mailbag: Return of the Real Deal

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

  • freethe flames

    Unless Neal has found the fountain of youth or has taken some skating lessons there is little room for him in the line up. Outside of a few games; the only thing he has going for him this year has been his reputation. Maybe the time off has healed his injury but also stoked his work ethic; I doubt it.

    I fully expect that by the trade deadline next year one of TJ and Hamonic will be gone as will Frolik. This may happen around the draft. Worrying about the expansion draft is a fools errand as by then it is likely one of the young defenders might be gone to fill another hole elsewhere. I can’t imagine that GM’s will try and buy Seattle of like they did Vegas. The GM’s have set Vegas up to be strong for years and they have learnt there lesson.

    • SeanCharles

      I agree in that I think the team should try moving Brodie and Frolik in the offseason. I think Hamonic is the guy you keep because he is very unique within our defensive group because he is a big, RHed defensive dman that hits, chips in offensively and is a capable top 4 dman.

      Brodie has a similar skillset to Hanifin and Kylington in that they are fleet-footed, LHed offensive dmen that have experience playing both sides of the ice. Brodie clearly has the most experience on the right side and is actually more comfortable there but I don’t think it would be too unrealistic that one of the guys can make the adjustment and we run with Gio, Andersson, Hanifin, Hamonic, Valimaki, Kylington as our top 6 next year with Stone, Fantenberg and Prout as options to be retained as 7/8 guys – ideally Stone can be offloaded to open up even more cap space.

      Frolik due to his cap hit, 1 year remaining, unlikelihood to re-sign and the drama in the media with his agent will be offloaded sometime in the summer which will free up some cap room and a roster spot as well.

      Before then we have the playoffs ahead of us and I think the hope is Neal will really shine when the time comes. When Neal gets healthy I would have to say Mangiapane and Czarnik will battle it out for the final spot. I think Frolik can play on the fourth line and contribute similar results with Ryan and Hathaway – these two are the guys that have been developing chemistry and it really shows. If Czarnik slips up you can move Frolik back up the lineup and Mangiapane can sub in.

      Expansion is something we worry about a year out, not right now. Many things can change between now and then so don’t rush any choices you might have to make leading up to it.

  • Skylardog

    I know many will disagree, but Czar has shown flashes, but still remains relatively weak in terms of driving play and mucking it up – you know, the kind of play that playoff hockey demands. Since his initial JUMP back into the lineup, we have seem him become less and less noticeable each and every game. Flashes are what he gives you.

    But as of late, he has been better than Neal. Thus the conundrum. Neal is built for playoff hockey, Czar is not. So is Czar irrelevant as we prep the team for the playoffs?

    The key to Brodie and Hamonic is to either sign them or trade them. You can’t let the assets walk away in free agency without getting anything. I am of the belief you sign Hamonic, and trade Brodie in the summer. By holding onto Brodie until next years TDL, you risk injury and upsetting the team dynamics by not having your top 6 determined for most of the season.

    • cjc

      I don’t think it’s rocket science. The coaches still have faith in Neal, so he will play. They like what Hath brings and haven’t shown a penchant for benching him so far, so he will play. It will be Czarnik and Mangiapane rotating in and out of the lineup. Lazar will get a few games toward the end of season as a reward for being a good soldier and a chance to find another NHL contract.

      Whether this is what SHOULD be done, well, essays could be written about whether the bottom 6 is being managed properly, but that goes for many teams. We’re lucky that it’s the biggest issue for debate. I’m glad all this talk about Jankowski being the 2C has subsided.

      You are probably right about Brodie and Hamonic. The only issue is what you bring in on the right side if Brodie goes – does it mean that Peters has to play Kylington or Valimaki on the right side? Trading Brodie makes sense though – and it would free up significant cap space.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      Brodie is definitely the guy to be moved this summer. Hammer will get re-signed. He’s aRHS for starters. He steps up for everyone on the team. He’s harder on opposing players than Brodie. Brodie should net a younger forward with upside. You don’t just give away a top pairing guy.

      Czar is the most appropriate guy to come out for Neal. It’s just that way. 4th line does not fit for him. If you want to try keeping both, then you need to sacrifice Janko and move Bennett to C. Not sure I like that, but it’s an option. Another would be to sit Bennett, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    • Eggy

      Czar ain’t pushing anyone around but he plays fast and chippy. The chippy part is what I like about him for the playoffs I could see him potting some ugly goals

    • The Fall

      Agree, I see Czar as sloppy and chaotic with no push. Mangi is a better option.

      And, BT made the deal for Neal to be push this team in the playoffs, whether or not he’s worth it or capable of stepping up, Neal’s the guy. He has to find a role down the stretch; he is a major part of this roster for at least three more seasons. You just can’t bench him for long stretches.

  • Fat Tony

    I’ve been absent on this since Mike Smith looked like Rec hockey goalie on Saturday night. I just didn’t want to read all the negativity, which would have included a few comments from me I’m sure. Lets put that embarrassment on otherwise a memorable night behind us. With Neal coming back and forcing someone out I honestly have no clue who BP is going to sit. Probably Czarnik but he could very well send Mangi right back to the AHL and keep Lazar , eventually squeezing him into the lineup for the first time this season. I’m curious on how this will play out but the fact is someone is losing their job for the time being to a guy who has under performed ever since he put on a Flames sweater. If we are referring to his return as a trade deadline acquisition then I hope he comes back looking like pre Flames era James Neal and not when we picked up Chris Stewart last season

  • ColdCowboy

    One comment above by the author that I’ve heard a couple of times before is that part of Neal’s bag of tricks is his ‘mean streak’? What? I can’t think of a single time I’ve seen him even hit a guy let alone do something that resembles mean or nasty. Neal is so tame he makes Mono looks like a bruiser.

    • Jobu

      Jobu thinks this is more the coach than the player. Team is last in the league in hits and blocked shots. We dont play the body, we play the puck.

      Jobu’s theory? No reason to play the body hard at the beginning of the season and get injured, especially if you’re winning. This is likely the primary reason why Neal is missing from the scoresheet – both in PIMs and in points – he just isn’t playing HIS game.

      The game against the Wild was much more physical (though the two squads had a history this year). Now that the season is closing Jobu expects the physicality to increase. With that, and with having a break between two long playoff runs, this might be the time where Neal’s “mean streak” is unleashed…

      Sad thing is, many of us said the same thing about Brouwer and it just didnt happen. Hope this isn’t a repeat.

  • Jimmyhaggis

    “Nasty edge”, did I miss something, he never mixed it up once, that I can recall. I’m hoping he can bring some scoring, but why would it start now, does he have a scoring switch he has forgotten to turn on.
    I can’t see Hamonic going anywhere, who started that rumour? Brodie yes, he has real value to a lot of teams.
    Tonight is going to be a real litmus test.

  • Burnward

    I’m in the “he probably took the summer off, got all fat and sassy and tried to play but got hurt early and tried to fight through it… (or has some personal stuff that I pray isn’t serious)”

    Guy can play and was great last season.

    He’ll be back

    • cjc

      Appreciate your optimism, but I’m firmly in the “31-year old forward who was declining before he came to Calgary continues his decline” camp.

      Shots/60 – lowest since he was a rookie
      Corsi-For/60 – lowest since 2010-2011.
      High-Danger Chances/60 – lowest of his career.
      Just one power play goal.

      Similar things were said about Brouwer, too -that he’d get better, that he had a nasty/physical streak, that once the playoffs arrived, watch out. While it’s fair to say Neal has been snakebitten, and that he hasn’t benefited from elite linemates, there is no way he’ll hit 20 goals and 40 points /season for the rest of this contract if his underlyings continue to decline. There was no indication he came to camp overweight or out of shape, and no need to play through an injury while the team was winning.

      Now he is another body blocking younger guys like Mangiapane, Dube and Czarnik from a chance to play higher in the lineup. Can’t trade him, can’t buy him out. The only hope will be the team shipping his contract out along with a high pick/prospect to a rebuilding team that needs to reach the cap floor. Meanwhile his contract makes it more difficult to sign important pieces like Tkachuk and (potentially) a goalie upgrade.

      • Porcupine at a balloon party

        I did the same thing when I argued with buddy who said it was his shooting% and he would be back in full form. I said “he doesn’t pass the eye test, it’s not just shooting”…
        Went and looked up all his career advanced stats, and they were all pretty much declining from Nashville days, and into vgk to the worst point now in Calgary. I don’t doubt he can do better than he has this season, but I would probably consider it a big win if we get one 20 goal season out of his remaining 4 years. He’s probably a 10-15 goal, 3rd line guy now though

  • Korcan

    My gutt tells me Kylington will be traded this summer. Unless one of their three young lhd can play on their off side (i actually remember Peters indicating that Hanafin can, but we haven’t seen it), there is just no room for all three plus Gio, and i agree that they are all too good for the AHL. With the season he has had, Kylington could be valuable trade bate.

    I also dont see Brodie sticking around after this year. He is too inconsistent and is becoming more and more of a liability in his own end. My prediction is Tre will use the Gio bump and trade Brodie while his value is as high as it can be. Maybe they will resign Fantenburg (i know he is a lhs) and let him fight it out with Stone for the #6 spot on the right side.

    In return, i see the Flames making an upgrade in net, either a bona fide #1, or a young up and comer to platoon with Rittich. Regardless how Smith plays out the string, i cant see brass resigning him to anything given how the last two years have gone, so they will have to do something in net. I look at the Islanders as a potential trade partner.

    So, imo this will be next year’s most likely D rotation:
    Gio Andersson
    Hanafin Hamonic
    Valimaki Fantenburg/Stone

    • Pancakes

      Which player(s) will come up from Stockton for the playoffs? I like Mang but I think all of Lazar, Quine and Rychel might be more effective in the postseason.

  • Skylardog

    They are still listing Neal as week to week so the decision on who to sit may be irrelevant.

    Ky may be available, and Stone is getting close.

    I would try to get Lazar into the lineup, but aybe nit against the Leafs. Hoping they go with the same lineup as last game, with Ritter in for Smith, of coarse.

  • Off the wall

    I wonder what the ask was for Jason Zucker?

    He sure looked great in the game on Saturday. $5.5M until 22/23.

    James Neal, $5.75M until 22/23.

    Wouldn’t that be nice if we had Zucker instead?

  • 谢谢兄弟,我爱你

    I think I’d start Neal on the 4th line with Mangi and Ryan. His #s might not be much better than Hathaways, but his potential certainly is. Also, it doesn’t mess with the top 9, and limits Neals ice time, which might be good for him when coming back from injury.

    Maybe the right way to draft goalies is to not do that. I’d say the way to go is to trade draft pick for an AHL goalie that you like. That way you have a few more years of data and scouting to counter some of the voodoo.

  • The Red Knight

    The NEal contract? I bet Iggy could have atleast 5 goals right now and would not have cost 5.5 mill , why does it feel like Neal is like 40 years old ?

  • Jobu

    Garnet Hathaway, Andrew Mangiapane, and Austin Czarnik have been playing good hockey because they haven’t been saddled with Neal.

    Though in his defense, Neal was turning a corner before he got hurt.

  • everton fc

    My thoughts (as a fan, of course!);

    1. Hamonic’s a family man, which is something I appreciate about him – family first. He and his wife want to stay here. I’d keep him around – even as a 5/6, down the road. He’ll sign for a friendly cap hit.
    2. Sitting either Mangiapane or Czarnik will be a tough call. Mangiapane has shown a very definite physical side to his game, I like. Czarnik is not that type of player. Both have earned their ice time, of late. Neither is a 4th line player. Czarnik tends to play RW, same as Neal. Mangiapane’s a LW, here. That could be the difference here – Mangiapane or Frolik/Jankowski/Neal is the 3rd line, Frolik or Mangiapane/Ryan/Hathaway, as the 4th line.
    3. Brodie will probably be trade bait, this summer. I wonder if a 1st and Kylington was the price, for Zucker? I could also see Kylington “on the move”, now that we have Fantenberg. I am not even thinking about Stone.
    4. Off-season, we need a goalie to help Rittich. Brodie/Kylington/our 1st could all come into play.
    5. If we have to lose our 1st to punt Neal, I’d do it – to a team that needs to make the cap-floor.

    • Skylardog

      Goalies are not that expensive in the summer unless you are talking about one that is elite. Ky would be an overpay for a 1B. Same for a aforward like Zucker. Ky is about all he was worth as a good young Dman is worth more than a decent winger with term.

  • Garry T

    OK, here,s my plan if I am Brad. The last two games have shown me that 2019 is an experience and a growth year. Second round we are history.
    That’s all right.

    At the upcoming draft, I am looking at the teams with a ton of picks. Ottawa, the Rangers, Carolina and Buffalo. My preference is the Rangers who have 2 firsts, 3 seconds and 3 thirds. I ask if they are interested in Brodie. I want three picks, their first two seconds and their first 3rd. Rounder. If that doesn’t work for them we need a scoring right winger off their big team or their best prospect off the farm plus the 2 seconds. We need some size and tenacious speed to go on the 3rd. Line. Someone will pay us that for Brodie. I have a feeling that Vegas might be interested in Neal. I would at least offer him up to them. They have players and prospects that fill our needs. Again tenacious fast and bigger winger or Center.

    We need a goalie. Not re-signing Smith. We have Frolik , Czarnik etc. To trade. We need a. Goalie if Parsons and Schneider are not ready. Otherwise anybody that can’t backcheck, take people off the puck are trade bait.