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FlamesNation mailbag: it’s finally draft season

Folks, the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft is in two days. The 2021 NHL Draft begins on Friday. All kinds of important things are happening this week.

Let’s check in with the mailbag!

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Well, it depends how much cap space they have. If Mark Giordano is claimed and the club has some cap space, I’d do two things: sign a second pairing left shot defender to replace Giordano’s minutes and buy Juuso Valimaki some time, and explore trade options for Sean Monahan. If Giordano doesn’t get claimed, it really puts the onus on moving Monahan this off-season in order to give the club cap breathing room.

In a related thought: if Giordano does get claimed, Brad Treliving should really prioritize using the cap breathing room to try to lock down Johnny Gaudreau and Andrew Mangiapane long-term. The sooner they can do that, the sooner they can figure out what cap space they have left for Matthew Tkachuk.

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Let’s work out the salary cap math first, assuming Giordano is claimed.

Here’s who the Flames have on the books for 2020-21 in terms of one-ways and roster locks:

  • G Jacob Markstrom – $6 million
  • D Noah Hanifin – $4.95 million
  • D Rasmus Andersson – $4.55 million
  • D Chris Tanev – $4.5 million
  • D Juuso Valimaki – RFA (projected at $1.565 million by Evolving Hockey)
  • F Matthew Tkachuk – $7 million
  • F Johnny Gaudreau – $6.75 million
  • F Sean Monahan – $6.375 million
  • F Mikael Backlund – $5.35 million
  • F Milan Lucic – $5.25 million
  • F Elias Lindholm – $4.85 million
  • F Andrew Mangiapane – $2.425 million
  • F Brett Ritchie – $900,000
  • F Dillon Dube – RFA (projected at $2.032 million by Evolving Hockey)
  • Troy Brouwer’s buyout – $1.5 million

So that’s 14 players out of a possible 23-man roster with $64 million spent (and $17.5 million to fill out their roster). Assuming they carry one extra forward and defender to maximize cap space, the Flames would need to sign a goalie, three defensemen and four forwards.

  • Goalie: They’ll go external for a goalie, and probably are looking to spend around $2 million to provide someone who can spell off Markstrom for 20-25 games.
  • Defensemen: Michael Stone (RFA / $787,500 est.)  is a no-doubter as a third pairing defender, as he excelled in the role last season alongside Valimaki. Connor Mackey (RFA / $758,400 est.) is waiver exempt, so he probably bounces back and forth from Stockton as the de facto eighth guy (and first injury call-up). The big ask would be finding a second pairing defender so the Flames don’t need to throw Valimaki in the deep end,and they’ll probably need to spend around $4 million to fill that hole. (They’ll also want a seventh defender to spell off Stone ever now and then, but otherwise sit and eat popcorn, probably at the $750,000 league minimum.)
  • Forwards: Glenn Gawdin (RFA / $750,000 est.) or Adam Ruzicka ($801,666) could be effective fourth line centres. Matthew Phillips (RFA / $750,000 est.) could be a useful bottom six winger. Connor Zary ($894,167) and Jakob Pelletier ($863,333) will get very long looks at camp, and the team might want another Byron Froese-type bottom six veteran who could be an injury call-up or step up in the event Zary or Pelletier (or any of their kids) need a bit of seasoning in Stockton. And among all this, the club probably wants a middle six forward at around $4 million to provide some secondary scoring oomph.

Anyways, they could have some wiggle room to fill their openings if Giordano doesn’t return, but they won’t exactly have enough coin to lure in Gabriel Landeskog or anything wacky like that.

(If Giordano doesn’t get claimed, and if the Flames can’t move out other salary, they might have to rely on inexpensive options to fill out their roster. Again.)

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Here’s a rundown of Cole Sillinger from FC Hockey’s Sebastian Death from a February 2021 Sioux Falls game:

Cole Sillinger, who showcased his goal scoring prowess in this game with two goals, is very dynamic offensively and showed off a powerful and accurate NHL-calibre wrist shot. He has a very quick deceptive release and can shoot the puck off-balance very well. While Sillinger is not an overly fast skater, which may hinder his ability to excel at driving transition in the NHL, he is still very strong on his skates and possesses tremendous lower body strength and edges. He used his skating and IQ this game to exploit Tri-City’s defense by slowing his pace to get the zone entry and sharply cutting into the inside to put himself in a good scoring position. He also made a couple nice plays in this game where he would open his body up and use his edges to make plays off one leg or turn sideways to gain inside space on defenders. Sillinger’s high hockey IQ is what ties all his offensive capabilities together. He plays well in-between checks and is hard to cover off the cycle. This game he gravitated towards the left side of the net (LH shot) for tap-in’s when the play cycled in the right corner. He also generated several scoring chances by waiting until pressure had closed in on him before making tape-to-tape passes, giving his teammates more time with the puck. His timing and deception with his passes made him dangerous at the top of the circle on the power play this game as Tri-City had to respect his shot, which allowed him to use shot fakes to get the defense/goalie moving side-to-side before sliding the puck cross ice to a teammate at the last second. Sillinger was on point with his passes this game and often put the puck on a string, even when the opponent was in a box formation. The only critique to Sillinger’s game on this viewing was his defense. While he was sound positionally and showcased a strong active stick to disrupt passing lanes, he was not as quick as he could be when engaging the puck carrier and floated around the defensive zone at times.

Long story short: Sillinger’s really, really good.

As for Dylan Guenther? Well, he’s great. But the scouting consensus is that he probably won’t escape the draft’s top five. And if he slips to, say, sixth overall, it’s incredibly unlikely that the Flames would be able to convince Detroit to make a swap: they’d just take Guenther for themselves.

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If Matthew Tkachuk is locked in long-term, he probably gets the C eventually. For the next season, though, we probably see a rotation of guys like Tkachuk, Chris Tanev, Mikael Backlund and Sean Monahan wearing As all season (and probably no replacement captain is named).

If it happens, it won’t be until the end of the 2020-21 season – when there’s a strong indication of whether the Flames can lock him in long-term.

If he’s moved, you’d have to hope to get a first round pick, a good roster player, and a top prospect out of the transaction. Tkachuk is a heck of a player.

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