FlamesNation Mailbag: counting down to October

The 2020 NHL Draft is three weeks (and one day) away. The opening of free agency is just shy of four weeks away. Things are gonna get busy in a hurry.

Into the mailbag!

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It depends a lot on what the other teams do, to be honest. Vegas is the toast of the division, obviously, but Edmonton, Vancouver and the Flames are clustered together – I’d give the Canucks the edge based on how strong their emerging youngsters have looked.

In other words: it’s way too early to tell, and it’s probably worthwhile to take a deeper look once the dust settles after free agency.

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If the Flames are trading Johnny Gaudreau or Sean Monahan for magic beans, draft picks or Ruslan Zainullin, yeah, they’ll take a step backwards. But if they make hockey trades, maybe they can get a different mix or a different style of hockey than they get from Gaudreau (or Monahan).

As Elliotte Friedman mentioned, particularly in regards to Gaudreau, the Flames aren’t going to do a trade just to do it. They’ll be careful with it, if they end up doing it.

It sure sounds like Geoff Ward will be named full-time head coach.

When Ward became interim coach, director of player development Ray Edwards joined Martin Gelinas and Ryan Huska as assistants. Smart money has Edwards returning to his prior role and the Flames working with Ward to hire another assistant coach.

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Yes, but…

Yes, productive players on entry-level deals are going to be crucial for the Flames (and the rest of the league) over the next three-to-five seasons as the cap remains flat or moves up only by teeny tiny amounts. And the Flames have been pretty good at using the draft under Brad Treliving to find useful hockey players outside of the first round – guys like Andrew Mangiapane, Oliver Kylington, Rasmus Andersson, and Dillion Dube – with a handful of others (Matthew Phillips, Adam Ruzicka, Emilio Pettersen, Dmitry Zavogorodniy, and Dustin Wolf) looking untested but promising. Given how much of a crapshoot the draft can be, more picks is always preferred.

That said, the Flames have found some nice players from college, Europe and major junior who have signed as free agents – among them David Rittich, Colton Poolman, Connor Mackey, Luke Philp, Carl-Johan Lerby, Johannes Kinnvall, and Glenn Gawdin – and they likely feel that their ability to fill in the developmental gaps with free agent signings has given them the ability to use picks to load up elsewhere.

It’s hardly foolproof, but it’s what teams that feel they’re contending (or close to it) do.

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Let’s be clear here: the Flames are in a better position on the ice now than when Treliving arrived. There’s fewer bad contracts, they have better prospect depth, and the team’s made the playoffs fairly consistently (or at least been in the picture for much of the season). They were an also-ran in the last years of Darryl Sutter and the entirety of Jay Feaster’s regime. The Flames might not ever win a Stanley Cup under Treliving – spoiler: winning in the playoffs is tough as heck – but they at least seem to have a plan of how they want to build and what they’re building towards.

That said, Treliving’s made some mistakes. His free agency big swings are often whiffs, leading to an expensive buyout of Troy Brouwer and a swap with Edmonton to rid himself of James Neal’s ugly deal. Losing useful players like Paul Byron (to waivers) and Brett Kulak (in a blah trade with Montreal) also wasn’t ideal, especially given that the team spent several years developing them and didn’t really reap many awards. The goaltending carousel – 11 goaltenders used over six seasons – is a blemish. The 2014 draft class, while nominally scouted under interim GM Brian Burke, was Sam Bennett and a whole lot of nothing else.

All-told, Treliving has strengths and blind spots like 31 other GMs. His blind spots – overpaying leadershippy physical dudes to score goals in their early 30s – have tended to lead to expensive course corrections.

He’s not perfect, but no GM ever is.