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FlamesNation Mailbag: Playoff performances, good and bad

After waiting for what felt like forever for the postseason to start, we’re finally in the midst of things. The Flames have had an okay start to their playoffs: a convincing, but not top of their game, Game 1 win, followed up by a poorly played Game 2 loss. The constant? Great goaltending. Everything else? Well, in most cases, there’s definitely room for improvement – so good thing it’s only two games in.

Mike Smith looks absolutely nothing like his regular season self, which is great news for the Flames. In the regular season, he posted a .898 save percentage: 53rd out of 60 goalies (minimum 20 games played). The only playoff goalies below him were Joonas Korpisalo (.897%), Martin Jones (.896%), and Aaron Dell (.886%).

Compare that to his playoff results through two games so far, where his .954% leads the pack. Korpisalo has yet to see the ice in the postseason, while Jones (.849%) and Dell (.875%) are faring as poorly as you’d expect based on their regular season results.

Will that last? It could, but remember, this is also comparing a sample size of 42 games to just two, and smart money would pay more attention to the 42 games. For the playoffs, you go with Smith as long as he continues to look to be at the top of his game; if he falters, you re-evaluate and determine if it’s worth sticking with him over giving David Rittich a chance.

The 2019-20 season, however, will be something else all together. The regular season is a marathon, not a sprint, and in 2018-19 Smith didn’t look ready for the marathon. His play cost the team points at times, and it’s all well and good that the Sharks went on a seven-game losing streak in March to basically hand the Flames the West, but those early, preventable losses could have been costly in a more competent division. When planning for an entire season you have to take the entire body of work into account, not just an arbitrary cutoff point when it was deemed he started to turn things around, and if you find you can improve on the entire body of work (which, again, he was 53rd out of 60 goalies in a minimum 20-game sample size), then you have to.

The counterpoint to this requires a couple of factors:

  1. Smith rarely, if ever, falters through a two-month(-ish) playoff run, having a postseason for the ages that makes it reasonable to believe there’s still plenty left in the tank.
  2. There are no better options.

The first point we don’t yet know, so we can’t judge anything there. The second point, though, speaks to the Flames’ futility in finding a long-term netminder since Miikka Kiprusoff retired. Jay Feaster’s strategy was to go with unproven goalies playing in European leagues (they all failed). Brad Treliving’s strategy has been to acquire proven goaltenders already over 30 years in age (initial success, then failure), and also a couple of unproven goalies in European leagues (success pending). Aside from Mark Giordano, look at the core of this team: they’re all relatively young. Who’s the goalie to match them? Is it Rittich? Who else could it possibly be? At some point it has to be addressed: just as the forward depth was built, just as young defencemen were brought in.

It would make sense to re-sign Smith if he has a truly great, sustained playoffs and if there are no other feasible options available. Otherwise? Don’t overlook an entire season of results just because it doesn’t fit the desired recent narrative.

Next season’s cap is expected to have an upper limit of about $83 million. The Flames will already have nine forwards under contract, eight defencemen, and one goalie at a little over $66 million. That leaves them with a little under $17 million to sign four forwards and a goalie, with the potential for further flexibility (a defenceman could be demoted; Jon Gillies is the goalie but maybe it could be Artyom Zagidulin; there are still a lot of moving parts).

The most notable players who will need to be re-signed are Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Bennett, Andrew Mangiapane, and Rittich. Tkachuk is going to cost the lion’s share; let’s go with the $9 million estimate (though that’s probably on the higher end). That still leaves the Flames $8 million to sign Bennett (maybe $2-2.5 million, his regular season results still leave a fair bit to be desired), Mangiapane ($1.3 million, perhaps? He’s only just getting his career started and still has a lot to prove), and Rittich ($3 million? He had an up and down season). If Dillon Dube makes the Flames full time next season he carries a cool $778,333 cap hit. Everyone fits, with possible room to keep Garnet Hathaway should he want to come back at a reasonable price.

This is also assuming no moves on defence, in which there are a number of young defencemen fighting to become and/or stay full-timers. TJ Brodie ($4.65 million) could be traded to make room. Michael Stone ($3.5 million) could be facing a buyout if the Flames really need the extra cap space (that’s a lot for a seventh defenceman).

As for Smith: he currently takes up $4.25 million on the Flames’ cap. I would assume, should he come back, it would be on a one-year deal for a fair bit less (again: regular season results can’t be ignored). I would think spending a collective $4.25 million on both goalies – assuming no major moves at that position (i.e. they’re not signing Sergei Bobrovsky) – entirely reasonable.

Things will be tight, but we know Treliving has performed well in keeping cap hits down, so I think they’ll be fine, even with Tkachuk getting paid.

Speaking of Bennett, he’s an odd case. I wouldn’t go so far as to say long-term – he hasn’t come close to posting the results of a Mikael Backlund or Johnny Gaudreau – but I think he sticks around for a while yet, should he want to. He isn’t a player one worries about locking up for years to come, but he’s good depth that has a track record of strong playoff performances (though, as has been in a theme in this mailbag, regular season results can’t be ignored). He’ll also only be 23 to start next season: his restricted free agent years, at least, seem like a good starting point for the Flames.

I would have to guess – because I don’t actually know, and I don’t think anyone’s ever going to get a straight answer out of the Flames (most teams don’t speak poorly of their own players) – it’s due to James Neal’s reputation as a scorer. This is the first season of his career in which he’s failed to really produce offensively, and he has his moments in which it looks like he’s about to do something and then just doesn’t (a bad bounce, he loses track of the play, he can’t keep up, and everything in between).

That, and experience. The Flames went with Smith over Rittich because he has far more experience; it’s not a stretch to think that’s why they’re going with Neal over, say, Mangiapane. Smith’s current results speak for themselves and work in his favour; Neal’s do the opposite. At some point, you would think Mangiapane’s efforts and talent would be recognized and he’d get the promotion, but it seems to take some time to concede that the rookie might be better than the vet.

I really think that would be a mistake. TJ Brodie is one of this team’s top six defencemen, easily, and while he’s prone to bad games at times (like Game 2) he’s also still entirely capable of good games (like Game 1). If anything, his skating ability alone should keep him in the lineup; being able to cover as much ice as he does is valuable, and it’s not like he was the only defenceman giving up breakaways.

That doesn’t mean he has to stay on the top pairing, but he should at least stay in the lineup. He and Rasmus Andersson could swap partners (as they have in the regular season), and Brodie could remain an insurance policy if Andersson ends up overwhelmed on the top pairing (the alternative would be… nobody). If any defenceman draws out, it would likely be Oscar Fantenberg, who has played by far the least out of all Flames defenders (averaging 12:57 a game; Andersson has been getting 18:53, and Brodie 23:51).

Say, for example, Juuso Valimaki draws in: how about the Flames telling Brodie to focus primarily on covering for him? Again: his skating would allow him to do just that.

Brodie on the bottom pairing still gives the Flames a lot of good options. No Brodie at all takes a lot of them away. Oliver Kylington would probably be one of the closest comparables in sheer ability to cover the ice, and you definitely want Brodie in the lineup over Kylington at this stage of their careers. Any of the other options could very well find themselves in difficulty trying to keep up.

I would say yes, but then, I would also try to angle work to buy a jersey for you if it’s a requirement… if that’s feasible, that is, I don’t know your workplace. But a shirt should be acceptable either way. Jerseys are expensive!

  • Skylardog

    If Smith does play like he is through a long playoff run, he will not be looking to sign for a big pay cut. Remember he is not a $4.25 mill goalie, he is making $5.667 million with Arizona picking up the difference.

    So comes the dilemma. If he falters and becomes “Bad Smith” we don’t want him, but could get him for less.
    If he puts up Conn Smythe type numbers and leads us deep or even to a cup, then he will want more than we can or should pay him. “Good Smith” won’t fit in the cap plan.

    Either way, he likely isn’t, and shouldn’t be around. Unless he wins a conn Smythe then signs for $3.5M.

    • withachance

      If Smith wants anything more than 2.5M I really doubt Tre signs him. BT not really the sentimental type when it comes to the cap, im not worried at all.

    • Flames fan since 83

      I think you are confusing James poor skating for lack of motivation.
      If your correct, and motivation is a factor, then no amount of sitting is going to help. In fact maybe that is what he wants, because the pay check is the same either way.

    • Justthateasy

      Jesus yes. Sit Neal. He’s nothing more than a lazy sloth that has lost his touch. Play somebody that can hit and wants to play. And make it clear that if Jankowski does not want to get involved he sits next. There’s no excuse for young guy to not take these playoff seriously. Everybody else that’s not involved should stand up and take notice of Johnny’s play.

  • Flames fan since 83

    I definitely think Brodie should not be sat out. I would like him to move to the third pairing with Valimaki.
    TJ should play about 16 – 18 minutes and be told to lower his risk taking and cover for Valimaki.
    Anderson to play on the top pairing.
    GFG.

    • withachance

      I do like Fantenberg though. He’s been solid since the acquisition, havent made any mistakes, is physical, and just not a liability. Dont need to throw Valimaki in to a baptism of fire.

      • Flames fan since 83

        I agree with your comment about Fantenberg. I suggest Valimaki because he is a better skater, Bigger Body, Higher stick skills, plus has more offence. Vali does give up experience, but that’s it.
        Valimaki has tons of baptism by fire. From captaining every level of Jr team he was ever on for his entire life. He’s ready!

    • Skylardog

      The best defensive pairing, granted they have been getting easier matchups than Gio and Brodie, is Fantenberg and Ras.

      The problem in the OT winner was that Backs and Gio were tired and can’t play the minutes they are against MacKinnon. Mac blew by them both.

  • Skylardog

    Not sure how you are arriving at $17M to sign the players we need for next season Ari.

    Lets clean up the roster a bit to start. Gillies is not one of the goalies here next season. He is lucky to have signed a 2 year deal otherwise he would be looking for work. That means we have to sign 4 forwards and 2 goalies.

    I moved out Kylington to Stockton to get down to 7 defensemen. That helps a bit.
    I also moved in Dube as he should be here and has a low cap hit.

    With all that done (and 6 players left to sign), I have the cap space at just $15.94M remaining. Matty, Benny, Mangi, and Ritter take up 4 of the 6 spots and should be no brainers, but if we go with your numbers, $9 for Matty, $2.0 for Benny (he will ask for a bigger raise), $1.3 for Mangi, and $3.0 for Ritter, that is already $15.3. We can’t even fit in Gillies with the remaining $0.64 at that point and still have another forward to sign or bring up as well as a realistic goalie option.

    There is no Hathaway in this either. He is a UFA, like Fantenberg.

    A Stone buyout or moving him and retaining half becomes essential. Even that doesn’t get you a good 2nd goalie or a top six forward we are already showing signs of needing. Someone else, at the very least, has to go…

    I have posted a link to the capfriendly team I have started for this analysis.

    https://www.capfriendly.com/armchair-gm/team/1118333

    • withachance

      Yeah 17M seems a bit of an overestimate.

      I think likely cap moves by BT this offseason will be a Stone buyout, likely Smith goes unsigned by BT, maybe a Brodie and/or Frolik trade, and Tkachuk signing under 9M (i think a realistic estimate is the 8.5M range) – If that happens, I think there is room for a top 6 upgrade.

      Would you say that works cap wise and in terms of realism?

        • Skylardog

          Yes. Moving Brodie means we can keep Fantenberg if we like and get Valimaki in the lineup.

          I would also like to find a way to move out Janko plus a pick and Kylington for a very high end top line centre or right wing. We will need another top 6 (or top 3) forward to increase our chances of winning a cup. Frolik out as well as Brodie and Janko puts that kind of move in reach.

          Too early to buy out Neal. We can’t have him on the books for 8 years can we?

          • withachance

            Neal is here for the next 2 seasons probably. I like Janko, but I think Kylington + pick can get someone like Kapanen from a cap strapped Leafs right? Frolik traded at the draft for picks slash high end prospect?

    • MDG1600

      May as well rip the band aid off and buy out Neal this summer as well. So far his most notable contribution in the playoffs has been a couple of glaring turnovers at our own blue line.

      • His Dudeness

        But him out now he’s in the books for 8 years. Buy him out when Seattle enters the league and (if it’s the same as when LVK joined) it doesn’t count anything against the cap. I say bag skate Neal as early and much is allowed by the CBA and find the most uncomfortable stool for him to sit on in the press box during games. Some metal piece of crap with wobbly legs.

  • MDG1600

    I am surprised the top line wasn’t mentioned in the bad performances category. Johnny has looked good on a few rushes but otherwise through two games they have spent very little time in the Avalanche end of the ice. I would really like to see them create some sustained pressure in the Avs end. They need to make life harder for the Avs defence because I think it will expose some weaknesses.

  • Longshot1977

    Like many here, I think Neal has been shockingly bad so far, particularly in Game 2. Missed opportunities, fumbling and confusion both with the puck and away from it, SLOWNESS.

    We’ve been waiting all season for “The Real Deal” to show up. Guess what? What we’re seeing on the ice is the “real deal” for James Neal. He’s a write-off at this point. Drop him to line 4, move Bread-Eater up, or just sit the guy and let a keener like Dube draw in and try to write himself into history and next year’s roster. The kid was Captain Canada for the juniors in 2018 and lead them to gold, for crying out loud. He’s probably more ready for the pressure and intensity of NHL playoff hockey than most at his age.

    • MDG1600

      Salary aside – Hathaway is a scoring downgrade from Frolik and the Flames are still lacking offensive depth on RW. I think the Flames trade a defenceman this summer for more scoring depth on RW.

      • Rudy27

        Yes, but Hath is 4 years younger and he doesn’t get to play with Chucky and Backs. So points fewer points are expected from a 4th liner. Plus we need to make room for some of the young guys like Dube. Might be a good time to get the best out of a Frolik trade.

  • Raffydog

    The top line has to be better. They got a bit of a flukey goal last game, but I wouldn’t say they are causing many problems for the Avs defence. Somebody yesterday suggested putting Bennett at center, and I’d like to see that. Bennett at least looks engaged, Monahan looks as if he can barely wait until this is all over.

  • Dunk

    I think the problem is our meek players Backlund, Lindholm, Brodie, Monahan… and our non physical defense thats unable to stop the cycle. Its time to put on your Big Boy pants and give Bennet a hand. If not it will be a short playoff run. Get Brodie out of there already anyone would be an upgrade Valimaki would be my choice… Hopefully Smitty has more magic for us……… Lets Go Flames Go

  • Joel Ottos Jock

    FN is such a funny group. The 12 or so games leading to the playoffs had most praising Neal, how he had turned the corner and better watch out playoffs. 2, yes 2 games in which thebFlames went 1 and 1 including an overtime loss and the lynch mob is back on Neal. Feels like I may get pitchforked for saying as much! The exact opposite for Smith. Majority of the season he was being strung up, and now, after 2 games (a very small sample size) there are readers praising him like he is the second coming of Jeebuzz. I even read a comment about resigning him. Thanks for laughs boys.

  • Kevin R

    What I am about to post will get trashed but until I am proven wrong in the post season, I rest my case.
    We all thought the Lindholm acquisition solved the missing link for our top line. Well he did during the regular season. & in all fairness, we need this type of production to get us into the playoffs. So weigh that against the lack of playoff success from this trio going forward & pick your poison. But these guys vanished as soon as the urgency and intensity started to ramp up after the all star break. Slashing & cross checking have now replaced the hooking & grabbing the NHL made a mission statement to eliminating from the game. That Cole is one vicious SOB & as much as I love Benny dinging him, how nice would it have been to have a Reaves tune him in. & then have the same conversation with Zadorov. If we want to have a soft top line like we have, you need to make room on the ice for these guys to play. Leafs are finding that out as well. Matthews has been pretty well a non existent 12.5 mill cap hit. So Ari, when you say Bennett isnt in that longterm Flame conversation, I shake my head. If you are building a team to win the Cup, Benny is exactly the type of player you want. The bonus with Benny is he has skills to get in the scoring summary & because he hasnt scored 80+ points like our top line I guess he’s deemed expendable. Bennett & Tkachuk have 3 points each, they both have more than both Gaudreau & Monahan have combined at this point. These are the guys you build a top line around. If we can get Benny signed to a 6 year deal for $25 mill I would do that in a heart beat. Dont know if he will take it but you need to try.
    I guess my point is this team is constructed to being a top divisional team during the regular season, but until we can get more grittier top players like the Bennett’s & Tkachuks, this is not a team to go deep.

    Right now, who would you rather have, Neal at 5.75mill for 4 more years or Reaves & even if you paid him 4.0mill on that deal we got outbid on, for 2 more years after this? I think & would not be surprised if Flames rebound & beat the Avalanche. I think we have a better overall team. It’s the series after that(should we be fortunate enough to get out of this first round) that scares the bejesus out of me.

    • withachance

      Toughness is all well and good, but it has to be functional toughness. You want toughness, how would it feel to play Prout every night? I dont want JG or Monny to be hitting or truculent, I want them to score. They’re not doing that atm and thats why everyone is picking on their lack of physicality.

      Yeah, Neal has been inconsistent to say the least so far, but hindsight sure is great isnt it. At the day of signing, if you asked every person in the league, Neal was a much better get than Reaves: he could score goals and is a tough customer (obviously hasnt panned out but could anyone say with 100% confidence that it would be like this?) If BT signed Reaves for 4M last summer there probably wouldve been riots on here about it…

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      Can’t trash you for saying what others are thinking. The reality is that we don’t get into the playoffs without Monny and Lindholm offensive production. Just like we don’t get into the playoffs with Bennett hovering around 35 points.

      It does not appear that Monny, Lindholm, Neal, and Janko are going to move the needle as a Stanley Cup contender. I will not put Johnny in this category since he is exceptional and needs a little more grit with talent on his line to play bigger…you know like a young James Neal. I am going to go a little farther and say that even if we go deep in the playoffs I would like to see a change in our grit meter. This won’t be popular but I would move Monny in the off season for Carolina’s Josh Anderson+. The guy is a more skilled quicker Sam Bennett in a much bigger frame. This is the younger James Neal with wheels and swagger.

    • Captain Ron

      Hey Kevy!
      I have thought about everything you have said here on numerous occasions. I came to the conclusion that although the concerns are real, before I worry about the next round we have to get out of this one first. That said though I don’t think you can really tune in a guy like Reaves in any meaningful way. He isn’t going to change much even if he got a beating from someone. The best way to combat guys like him are to either keep him off the ice by scoring first and maintaining a lead as often as possible, and making him play in his own zone by cycling the puck. I noticed in games against them he gets tired quicker than most smaller guys. Another option is to dress a 4th line of Hathaway, Bennett or Neal, and Prout. Honestly I don’t know if game planning around what Reaves does is the best idea. After watching last nights game though I must say it is surprising to see what he can get away with. I think we should be more concerned with what Stone, Stastny, and Pacioretty are doing and compare that to some of our top guys so far. If Monahan, Neal, and Lindholm etc. don’t start scoring it won’t matter what we do about Reaves. The NHL has decided that wrestling matches and vicious cross checking is acceptable around the net after the whistle has blown. They need to clean that up if you ask me.

      • Kevin R

        Hey Captain. Thing is, Kane would be targeting the Statsny’s, Stone & Pacs if he didnt have his hands full with Reaves. These guys are playing bigger because they know they have a nuclear detterent sitting on their bench. Ive seen us play a physical game by committee & they have held their own but can they do that game after game in the playoffs. I wouldnt have any objection slotting in Prout on the 4th line. The guy that needs to sit for a game is Janko. He’s a big boy & needs to get some hunger & fire in his belly.

        I actually would like to see Lindholm centre a line with Bennett & Tkachuk next year. If Janko can get a mean streak then he would be the guy but Backlund has a way more mean streak than Janko. Maybe Im just frustrated because we won the Conference my expectations have shot too high. I dont know. We’ll see how they respond tonight, I expect a way better game. Brodie is playing too much & the Avalanche have really studied the films on our PP & are anticipating the drop back passes & the slick delay fancy back pass across to the D or trailer when they enter the zone. The Av’s were sacrificing one guy to play just outside our blueline behind the puck carrier so we need the awareness to make them pay on a 4 on 3 in their zone with speed. We may have to bait them on the first PP & then burn them. Brodie doesnt seem to have that awareness out there.

    • Derzie

      Bang on Kevin.
      The NHL preaches skill and respect until the all star break. Afterwards, they get the refs to let more stuff go. The skill players get supressed and the plugs rise up. Players that are both skilled and tough (very rare) manage to survive.

      So what does the NHL want? Seems to be they want to have their cake & eat it too. Look at Tampa. On the brink of elimination. Why? The rules have changed. Players that are not skilled are now allowed to hold, rough & slash the good players. Old school fans eat it up and the stars of the game shift from guys like Kucherov, Gaudreau & Stamkos, to the likes of Clutterbuck, Compher & Reaves. The best thing that can happen this year is that every skilled team gets eliminated in the first round. To hell with Bettman and his shady tactics. Why do you think Vegas is a perennial finalist? They got the memo and ability to stock up on the players with grit and get a whole team full of them to compensate for the lack of skill. Then they go and get Stone with the extra picks the league gifted them.
      All at the expense of teams like the Flames. Bettman is a slimy weasel.

  • fretsey

    Tkachuk is not worth 9 million and Bennett should NEVER be traded,he’s the only one who’s GAF meter is always at 100%. Smith should signed for backup goalie dollars and year to year contract

      • fretsey

        I agree Joel (except Tkachuk)…I should have said “if no better options available” Smith for back-up goalie at back-up dollars and year to year contract

        • Kevin R

          Smith is at best 30 games per year which will equate to a backup paycheque. The better backups out there make around 2.0 mill per. Smith is 37, save percentages are not working for him to get a long term bigger money deal. I would think he realizes that. Tkachuk will be in that $7.5 mill range on a 6 or 7 year deal. Unless he’s the MVP in the playoffs & Cup win. Then that gets guys an extra mill or two on their deals.