In a lot of ways, Michael Frolik had a strong 2018-19 season for the Calgary Flames. In a few other ways, though, he had some challenges – and those challenges may send him packing for another city during the off-season.
2018-19 season summary
Frolik’s season was pretty all over the place. He played on three different lines, missed a good chunk of the year due to injury, and also was healthy scratched twice. The off-ice chatter about a potential mid-season trade unfortunately overshadowed some really strong on-ice performances.
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The product of the Czech Republic missed 17 games this past season: 15 of them were due to a high ankle sprain suffered late in the fall, while he was healthy scratched once in October and once shortly after his return to the lineup from his injury in December.
In addition to his scratching, Frolik’s agent Allan Walsh tweeted displeasure in late December (and later in the season) regarding how Frolik was being used by Flames head coach Bill Peters. Once a stalwart of the vaunted “3M” shutdown line alongside Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk, Frolik bounced around a ton early in the season; as the coaching staff tried to get Austin Czarnik and James Neal going at various times, Frolik was bumped to the third line, fourth line and the press box.
The weird thing is that there really wasn’t much of a performance-based reason to drop Frolik off the proverbial cliff – he looked sluggish prior to his scratches in October and December, but for the most part his numbers were rock-solid despite not getting as much ice time as he had in the past. He saw very little power play time and was gradually de-emphasized on the penalty kill during the season in favour of Derek Ryan, Mark Jankowski, Garnet Hathaway and Elias Lindholm. (Backlund also received less PK time, but he remained prominent at even strength.)
Across the board, Frolik kept the puck moving in the right direction when he was on the ice. He had the second-best Corsi For percentage of any Flames forward – only Tkachuk was better. Offensively, Frolik was across the board one of the more productive players per 60 minutes: second or third among regular forwards in shots, shot attempts and scoring chances, while sitting fifth in high danger chance generation. He was sharp at shot and shot attempt suppression – second among regular forwards – but he tended to bleed scoring chances and high danger chances against, sitting a rather ordinary eighth among forwards.
If you’re thinking that the Flames needed to build for the future – and get Neal going due to his lengthy contract and Czarnik going due to his youth – then using Frolik further down the rotation and potentially having him boost a bottom six line makes a good deal of sense. That said, it’s also very much a case of trying to fix what wasn’t broken: the 3M line was one of the better two-way lines in the game and Tkachuk’s growth helped make that trio one of the more dangerous second lines as well.
For whatever reason, that wasn’t good enough to keep him in the top six until after Neal and Czarnik fizzled in his old spot and he was cemented into the top six out of necessity.
Compared to last season
Across the board, Frolik’s numbers were pretty much unchanged from the prior season. He played against roughly the same level of opposition and was used in roughly the same situations – the 3M line was given more frequent offensive zone starts than in the past. His underlying numbers didn’t really change very much either.
Like Backlund, Frolik’s shot generation rates dipped a slight bit but his suppression was improved – resulting in lower event shifts than in prior seasons. Beyond that, he performed essentially as he has since arriving in Calgary.
What about next season?
Let’s get this out of the way: I fully expect Frolik and his $4.3 million cap hit to be traded during the summer. He was almost traded prior to the trade deadline and the factors that led the Flames to explore trade talks haven’t changed.
What are those factors? There’s the on-ice and the off-ice.
- On-ice: Frolik is a veteran right winger whose placement in the top six is blocking opportunities for the Flames to try out the likes of Sam Bennett, Andrew Mangiapane and Dillon Dube in the top six. He’s good, but the Flames need to figure out how to help their youngsters progress and Frolik’s presence complicates that. Peters also seems to have a preference for having shot balance on his lines as well as multiple players that can take face-offs, so Frolik’s status as a lefty who plays the right side and doesn’t take a lot of draws is challenging.
- Off-ice: Frolik is a relatively expensive veteran entering the final year of his contract who can potentially be replaced in the top six by younger, cheaper players – which in turn would help create cap space to use in other areas. In addition, the Twitter chatter from Frolik’s agent about his role creates a distraction that the Flames would be happier without.
If Frolik remains in Calgary, he’ll likely be handled similarly to how the Flames handled him this past season. Given the complications that created, he probably won’t be back.
2018-19 player evaluations
#4 Rasmus Andersson | #5 Mark Giordano | #7 TJ Brodie | #8 Juuso Valimaki | #10 Derek Ryan | #11 Mikael Backlund | #13 Johnny Gaudreau | #18 James Neal | #19 Matthew Tkachuk | #21 Garnet Hathaway | #23 Sean Monahan | #24 Travis Hamonic | #27 Austin Czarnik | #28 Elias Lindholm | #33 David Rittich | #41 Mike Smith | #55 Noah Hanifin | #58 Oliver Kylington