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FlamesNation mailbag: bigger plans

The Calgary Flames haven’t had the best start to their season. Maybe (definitely) it’s a bit too early to panic, but what could be the long term impact if things keep going this way?

Bill Peters. The roster is almost entirely unchanged from the year before. If the results don’t come even though not much is different, that’s on the coaching staff. With the contender window open until 2022, there’s not a lot of patience to let him work it out.

There’s certainly bones to pick with how Brad Treliving has constructed this team, but they aren’t enough to get him canned. It’s hard to fault him on the lack of addition this off-season when two major moves – the Nazem Kadri and Jason Zucker trades- were nixed for reasons beyond his control. The James Neal/Milan Lucic trade will obviously be scrutinized, but ownership probably doesn’t have an issue with replacing a non-productive fourth liner for another one (who’s already somewhat of a fan favourite) with a cheaper cap hit and fewer actual dollars owed.

The Flames wouldn’t send down Lucic. His NMC does prevent this, but there’s no real reason to doing it. The team seems happy with him for the time being and probably don’t like the idea of having $4.25M (Lucic’s cap hit minus the savings from demoting him) in dead space.

If they’re looking at getting rid of Lucic after this season (which they should), the likely plan of action is to pay his $3M signing bonus and shop him to a team looking to hit the cap floor. Post signing bonus, Lucic is only owed $10M over the next three seasons despite carrying a $15.75M cap hit over that time. Ottawa is probably the only option for that, seeing as they could possibly lose ~$20M in cap hits in the next season, even though they’re already the league’s thriftiest team. It will likely cost a few top 100 picks, but opening up $5.25M is pretty valuable for a team looking to add in their contender window.

Again, that’s contingent on Lucic waiving his NMC, and there’s no guarantees that he would do that to move from a contending team to the league’s worst franchise.

It’s hard to say this early on, given that we absolutely need more time to evaluate all the names I’m about to say before attaching hypothetical AAVs and contracts to them, but let’s dig into it.

A chunk of it will be funneled right back into the team. As of right now, the 2020-21 roster contains ten forwards (two RFAs- Mark Jankowski and Andrew Mangiapane), four defencemen (two RFAs- Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington), and one goalie.

Let’s look at the internal situation first. I can only see the Flames re-signing one of their UFAs, and it’s either going to be one of TJ Brodie or Travis Hamonic. Hamonic seems the likely bet, but it will depend on AAV and whether the team really wants to go with a long term contract for a guy who is turning 30.

For RFAs, Mark Jankowski is likely on the way out which saves a bit of cash, but also opens up another roster spot. Mangiapane’s contract projections will depend on how he does the rest of the season, so it’s tough to spitball his future AAV right now, but I can’t imagine it goes higher than $2M. Ditto for Kylington and Andersson, though Andersson will probably get a few more dollars than Kylington.

Internal development should plug some of those holes, but it can’t fix all of them. Realistically, only Dillon Dube and Juuso Valimaki will likely be full timers on next year’s roster (with the usual contingencies applying). Other prospects might make their cases from now until next preseason, but for now, those are the only two with realistic shots. If the Flames can turn one or two extra names into full time, quality NHLers by next, it would help a lot, but don’t bet on it.

The majority of the cap space should be spent on free agency. There’s a pretty loaded UFA class coming up, and the Flames could certainly use the opportunity to add some prestige names to their roster. Taylor Hall is obviously the big get, but other wingers like Mike Hoffman, Alex Galchenyuk, Chris Kreider, Tyler Toffoli, Vlad Namestnikov, and Evgeni Dadanov are available. Defensively, Jake Muzzin, Roman Josi, Sami Vatanen, Tyson Barrie, and Torey Krug could test the open market.

A lot will change between now and July, but as things stand now, the Flames are probably looking forward to having an expensive July 2020.

Here’s a comparison of the stats from this season thus far, where they were at the same point last season, and how they finished last season.

5v5 CF% 5v5 FF% 5v5 SF% 5v5 GF% 5v5 SCF% 5v5 HDCF% 5v5 xGF% 5v5 SH% 5v5 SV% PP% PK%
2019-20 (9GP) 52.60 51.60 51.70 43.75 50.00 48.18 51.00 6.57 90.95 15.6 86.5
2018-19 (9GP) 52.72 50.09 47.91 56.76 48.82 44.39 47.29 10.19 92.86 15.8 76.5
2018-19 (82 GP) 53.83 53.11 53.08 55.65 53.53 52.65 53.14 9.09 91.81 19.3 79.7

Pound for pound, the Flames are just about where they were to begin the year last season, and even show some improvement in some categories.

There are some major differences, however. First and foremost, the Flames aren’t getting pucks to the net as effectively as they were last season. They’ve nearly halved their total high danger chances (13.3 per 60 nine games in last year to 7.3/60 this season, though they have also done the same defensively which is good), and generally aren’t as dangerous in the offensive zone. They’ve also been a bit permissive in the defensive zone too, so they’re really undoing some of the good. I’m not sure if that’s effort or rust, but it’s something that’s gotta change.

Seeing as how the Flames had similar issues driving the puck and generating chances to begin last season, I figure this is something that will work itself out through the course of the season. The major difference between this season and last season is that the team isn’t covering their flaws with 10% shooting. If the Flames were able to shoot as well as they did through nine games last season, they would have seven more goals this season, putting their 5v5 GF% at 53.85%.

SH%, as we’ve seen time and time again is extremely volatile and not an indicator of team quality. That will correct itself over time, though the Flames could do more to influence their chances. This team isn’t getting the bounces yet, but they aren’t playing perfectly either. It’s still early in the season and both of those things will likely change.

To briefly answer the second question, first to get traded is likely Jankowski. He’s probably the easiest to flip, and can save the team some valuable cap space without providing a burden for any trade partner.

I don’t think expectations are out of whack- this team won the West last season and didn’t move any key pieces in the off-season, they should be better. Adding Lucic and Cam Talbot is not enough to sewer this team.

The issue is that expecting the team to be perfect out of the gate is folly, and so is confusing a rough start with a team’s actual quality. To borrow a phrase from European footy, form is temporary, class is permanent. The Flames are much better than they are showing, and they will eventually show that. It’s a long season and there has to be patience.

We don’t really need to bring up that the Blues were last place in January and won the Stanley Cup, but it seems fitting. Things change quickly, and with 72 games left to play, there’s plenty of time for that to happen.