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FlamesNation mailbag: the Ides of May

Back in the days of Julius Caesar, the Ides of March (mid March) became notorious for both the assassination of the Roman leader (spoiler alert) and more generally as a time for settling debts. In the hockey calendar, it’s usually when the playoff pretenders become made apparent. Well, the 2021 NHL season began months late, so the Ides of March have been nudged into early May, and the playoff hopes of the Calgary Flames have become abundantly clear.

Let’s dive into the mailbag.

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We received a bunch of variations of a few questions, so we’ll summarize them a bit before diving into the more specific ones.

First off, “Hey, are the Flames done?”

Right now, the Flames have a 22-25-3 record and 47 points with six games to play. The maximum number of points they can get to is 59. Montreal has a 23-18-9 record and 55 points with six games to play.

If Montreal gets to 60 points, the Flames are done. If Montreal gets to 59 points, the Flames can win out to tie them at 59 points and try to eke in on the regulation wins tiebreaker. This is where the 2.5 elimination (“tragic”) number Pat and I have been using comes from. If Montreal gets four points or the Flames lose out on four potential points, the Flames can still make it in on the tiebreakers. But at five points gained by Montreal or lost by Calgary, they have no way to weasel their way in.

This is a long way of saying: “Yes, they’re done.” They’re not mathematically eliminated, but that’s coming very soon.

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Oh, and here are the tiebreakers (via the NHL); if two teams tie on these, they move down the line until somebody wins one.

  1. Regulation wins
  2. Regulation and overtime wins
  3. Wins of any kind
  4. Points earned in head-to-head games – if the teams have played an uneven amount of games, the first game played in the city that has the extra game gets dropped off
  5. Goal differential
  6. Goals for

As a matter of practice, the NHL has almost never gotten past the second tiebreaker.

“Hey, when will the Flames call up (prospect name here)?”

Reader, (prospect name here) is my favourite prospect!

As a matter of principle, expect the Flames to dress a playoff-ready lineup until it is impossible for them to make the post-season. Darryl Sutter wasn’t brought in to preside over a march to the off-season, and it’s been mentioned by a few players in passing that they’re trying to build a foundation for next season so they can get off to a better start. (This also happened in 2002-03, where Sutter’s team went 19-18-8-1 after he took over from Greg Gilbert. They missed the playoffs by 17 points, but they laid the foundation for 2003-04.)

Now, part of laying a foundation for next season is trying out some of the depth players that could have a spot there. The team’s already recalled Oliver Kylington and Byron Froese. Once the Flames are mathematically out, and this could be as early as the upcoming weekend’s games, they’ll probably use up their final two recalls – I’d be willing to bet they use them on Glenn Gawdin and Connor Mackey from the taxi squad – and probably start shutting down a few players who have been playing through injuries.

In short: the new faces getting NHL games in will be happening very soon. Expect to see a bunch of new folks for the four Vancouver games.

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“Hey, who do you want the Flames to draft?”

Presuming that the Flames don’t get incredibly great luck in the June 2 NHL Draft Lottery, the player I think they have a realistic shot of getting and would be a great fit for their needs is Edmonton Oil Kings winger Dylan Guenther. I saw Guenther a ton during the 2019-20 WHL season and even as a 17-year-old player, he stood out for the Oil Kings.

Guenther is a right shot winger who can play either side. He’s listed at 6’1″ and 185 pounds and he doesn’t bowl over the opposition physically, he’s just a smart player who hustles and contributes in every situation. Imagine a right shot Andrew Mangiapane, in terms of playing style, except a little bit bigger and with a higher offensive skill level.

My only worry is that the 2021 Draft is a gong show, with a fair likelihood that the 32 teams involved have 32 very different, divergent lists. An example of this can be found in the scouting community: the major rankers diverge massively. Just on Guenther, he can be seen anywhere from second to 12th depending on the ranker.

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Here are some prices paid over the past few years to move up in the first half of the first round:

  • 2019: Philadelphia moved up from 14th to 11th, sending a second round pick (45th) to Arizona
  • 2016: Ottawa moved up from 11th to 10th, sending a third round pick (80th) to New Jersey

In short: it probably costs a second round pick to move up slightly, and perhaps a little more than that. But as noted, this draft is gonna be chaos and teams likely have wildly different lists, so we may see a desire for more movement than we’ve seen in recent years

I know Sean Monahan gets some criticism in this market, and some of it is definitely fair criticism, but let’s focus on what he is. The guy scores goals. A lot of them, and often in clutch situations. In the past five seasons, he has 30 game-winners – only three players (Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Brad Marchand) have scored more. He’s 30th overall in goals, and from a scouting perspective he’s probably seen as a good secondary centre – you might not want to give up assets to have him be your first line guy, but he’s a second line centre who can really help your club if used correctly.

He’s also under contract for two more seasons after this one with a really reasonable $6.375 million cap hit. He’d probably be a piece in a “hockey trade” – one where teams are trading similar positional pieces looking for a different fit for their lineup. Someone in the Twitter thread threw out Sam Reinhart from Buffalo as a piece that could work and I don’t disagree, but Buffalo might need to sweeten the pot a little bit with a pick or prospect to make that work.

I have no inside information on this, but my expectation is that Brad Treliving will remain Calgary’s general manager for a few reasons.

First, he’s got a contract and ownership is already paying for an arena they won’t see revenue from until 2025 and a coach in Geoff Ward that’s not coaching their team. Their appetite to pay more people to not work or bring in revenue is likely fairly low.

Second, right before a key expansion draft is probably the wrong time to shake up hockey operations given that the bones of much of the team’s hockey operations infrastructure are built around Treliving – he’s brought in a bunch of their key scouting personnel, and it’s unclear to me if a bunch of people would leave with Treliving. This summer is when you want your whole hockey apparatus focused on expansion and improving the core of the team.

Third, the 2020-21 season was a crappy unicorn in a lot of different ways. Teams couldn’t scout as they usually do. Teams couldn’t recall players as they usually do. The salary cap was flat. Trades were tougher to make due to cap and quarantine reasons. Locker rooms were reportedly more tense than usual because the usual ways teams have of blowing off steam – going out on the road, having the team over to someone’s house for a barbecue or party – weren’t options.

Simply put, there were a lot of things outside of Treliving’s control that contributed to 2020-21 being a miserable, gloomy year and he probably deserves a bit of a mulligan because of that. That said, Treliving will likely be under higher scrutiny in 2021-22 because the runway for the current core to get it going is basically gone and some changes to that group will almost definitely be warranted given that fact.