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FlamesNation mailbag: welcome back to hockey

Hello, readers. It’s been a long, extremely uneventful time since we’ve last done this, but it’s preseason and we’re getting back up to speed with the issues the Calgary Flames face, such as signing Matthew Tkachuk, and making room to do so.

Really, nothing’s changed but the date.

Well, yes, in the sense that they probably hope that everyone will be a little better than last year, but I don’t think the expectations are that Jankowski will emerge as the 2C or find an extra gear to his game. Centre-wise, the Flames already have Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund ahead of Jankowski, Derek Ryan as a guy who can do the same job, and Elias Lindholm as an emergency option. The team is fine with or without Jankowski taking a step forward or back.

He’s 25, which is generally “is what he is” territory regardless if they’re a seven-year or three-year pro. For $1.6M, the Flames are happy with that.

The extended question is whether or not the Flames re-sign him. For what he is, he’s fine, but he’s still replaceable. The Flames could easily find a replacement within their organization or look to free agency to find another one for cheaper money. With a $1.7M qualifying offer and arbitration rights, the team might be forced to pay him somewhere above $2.5M, which is money they feel they can save with an AHL graduate.

Ryan outlined a plan a few weeks ago about how the Flames could pay Matthew Tkachuk a reasonable amounts of money, use Juuso Valimaki’s LTIR money, and still fit under the cap. It’s pretty neat, and Andrew Mangiapane’s signing gives the Flames just a pinch more flexibility.

I think it’s what will likely happen, even if it comes with the challenge of only being able to carry a single extra player until more cap space opens up. The vaunted Big Trade that’s supposed to be coming has yet to arrive and with most NHL rosters solidified, I don’t think it’ll happen this September. Injuries and other randomness will open up the opportunity for a trade, but that opportunity may not arise until November or December.

If things get desperate closer to the regular season, they’re probably going to have to try and shed money by fire selling bottom sixers and trying to make space. Jankowski ($1.6M) and Austin Czarnik ($1.25M) are the only two candidates who fit that description (technically Sam Bennett and Mangiapane do too, but there’s no way the Flames flip them after the two sign team-friendly contracts). Czarnik is a player that can be more easily replaced, but Jankowski will also be the only one to fetch any sort of return (if a team wants Czarnik, they’ll just need to wait for the Flames to waive him).

I would say it’s more of a cap purgatory, just to continue the afterlife metaphor (even if it’s a little bit clunky). The Flames are in for tough times next season, but things get much better after that.

The Flames stand to lose ~$18M in cap hits next season dedicated to just seven UFA players (Michael Frolik, Czarnik, Alan Quine, TJ Brodie, Travis Hamonic, Michael Stone, Cam Talbot). Of that group, the team is looking to replace Frolik and Brodie internally, which cuts $8.9M out of the cap. Talbot could fall into that group depending on how prospect goalies perform, but in case nothing materializes there, a replacement should cost about the same. Czarnik, Quine, and Stone can be replaced internally too, though the cap hit gained is only about $500K.

Hamonic is one of the major keys to determining the Flames’ cap situation for next year. At 29, he’s still performing at a high level, though the spectre of old (hockey) age looms. The Flames are reportedly looking to re-sign him, but if the number gets driven up past a palatable range or if he’s looking for one last major contract, it could deter the team. An extension might add an extra $1-1.5M in cap hits, but a replacement might cost about the same as his current contract (hope that Alexander Yelesin turns out to be very, very good).

The RFA class isn’t going to be that expensive either, with Andrew Mangiapane, Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, and Jankowski being the only RFAs who might get more than their qualifying offer (and one of them may be gone, as mentioned). Again, it’s difficult to project what those contracts will be before the season starts, but you could perhaps wrap all of them up for under $6M. That helps too.

There will also be trades and buyouts, so there’s always potential to shed cap space between now and July 2020.

Lastly, the cap will also continue to rise, and will be boosted by the Seattle expansion team combined with a new American TV deal. They aren’t doomed the same way the Kings are doomed, but they really, really must be careful not to pointlessly gunk things up again.

First call-ups are a pretty easy group: Glenn Gawdin, Matthew Phillips, and whichever of Stone/Brandon Davidson get sent down. Of the Stockton group, they’re far and away the best players available and offer more than veteran bodies like Byron Froese and Quine. Stone or Davidson aren’t particularly interesting players either, but they’re the most experienced, and will probably see call up time before Yelesin ever does. They would like for everyone else to get some pro experience before becoming NHLers.

I don’t think any of these players will make the team out of camp in a significant way, however. With cap troubles and most positions already filled, there’s simply no room for them until the Flames desperately need them. There’s also a pretty major gap between the talent of the Flames’ bottom half of the roster and the best of the Stockton roster, so it’s unlikely someone steals an NHLer’s job.

Definitely not the top six. Hopefully not the top six.

It’s a weird mix in the bottom six though. You could try him with Jankowski, though the issue with that line is that they’ve always needed more of an offensive finisher and Lucic is absolutely not that. The Ryan line might be worth looking at, as Ryan is more of a responsible, calmer centre that worked well last year in the fourth line role, but the Flames might want him in a more expanded role, which Lucic might not be able to handle

Based on early training camp lines, it appears Lucic will be with Ryan, but I think that will change at some point. It depends more on the Ryan/Jankowski depth battle rather than how Lucic performs.

Bill Peters seems happy with the way the Gaudreau-Monahan-Lindholm line worked, so I don’t think he’s rushing to change that. Lindholm has been a lowkey part of that line’s success, offering the ability to take right-handed draws and providing defensive stability for a line that struggles with that.

If Tkachuk sees regular first line time, it won’t be until after a few games have passed. The rumoured Lindholm at centre option has been discussed, and depending on how players like Dillon Dube and Mangiapane fit into the mix as NHL regulars, the lines will be juggled. Just not right now.

As the cap situations stands right now, a bridge is the only option. There’s no way they can sign him for more than two years at a sub $7M cap hit. Unless a lot of room opens up quickly, it will be a bridge.

Those are the nuclear options, and I don’t think that it ever happens.

Blind guessing, but I feel the Flames find a way to sneak Tkachuk in before the regular season starts, even if it’s on a contract that sets them up for a gigantic money deal way down the line. At worst, it gets ten games in before Treliving makes a major move to open up cap space. The deal will be signed, it’s really just a matter of when the Flames find space for it. They are going to actively try and find that room, not wait it out until Tkachuk blinks.

A trade isn’t palatable to the Flames. They’re a team in the midst of a contending window with a tentative deadline of 2022 (when Mark Giordano and Johnny Gaudreau become UFAs). Even if they get multiple first round picks, and an NHL roster player in return, that’s not enough to counter losing a player like Tkachuk. That would weaken their chances immediately, and the future assets wouldn’t payout before 2022. Trading Tkachuk is punting on all of that hope to avoid paying a player just a million more than the cap allows you. There’s ways to avoid that fatal strategic move.