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Photo Credit: Mike Gould

FlamesNation Mailbag: long weekend edition

Happy Labour Day, everybody!

The long weekend acts as both the final curtain call for summer, and a reminder that ice hockey is right around the corner. NHL camps begin at the end of next week when rookies report.

Let’s do this mailbag!

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Honestly, if the goal behind the “change the core” mindset that management reportedly had was shaking up the mix of the team, losing Mark Giordano to Seattle and adding two-time Stanley Cup winner Blake Coleman may have achieved that objective.

But aside from that, a lack of subsequent changes could be chocked up to some combination of:

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  • Not a lot of teams have salary cap room, which reduces trade flexibility (and the number of potential partners for big deals).
  • An unwillingness to move on from players teams would call about (Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and likely a few others).
  • An unwillingness from other clubs to send the Flames significant assets for players the Flames may be willing to move (like Sean Monahan, who’s frequently mentioned in trade chatter but is coming off hip surgery and a down offensive season).
  • A perception that this core might get better results next season after a full training camp with Darryl Sutter, which may be enough to make the playoffs in a weak division.

The Pacific Division has the Vegas Golden Knights, who are excellent, and a bunch of decidedly non-excellent teams. There are two guaranteed playoff spots in the Pacific behind Vegas, and you can make a case for a lot of teams to make or not make the playoffs.

  • Edmonton has Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who are great, but big question marks on their blueline and in goal.
  • Vancouver has cap and depth issues despite having a ton of really exciting young talent.
  • We have no idea if Seattle’s core will actually be coherent or if it’ll be a jumble of players who don’t gel like Vegas did in 2017.
  • San Jose is kind of a mess.
  • Anaheim and Los Angeles are in that awkward transition stage, as they try to integrate a lot of really awesome young prospects into existing veteran groups.
  • Calgary has nice forward depth and good goaltending, but the defensive group seems to lack high-end depth (and Chris Tanev’s excellence might not hold up for another season).

Two flawed teams will make the playoffs in the Pacific. Calgary might be one of them.

Assuming that the way Darryl Sutter ran his bench will be relatively similar in 2021-22 as it was in 2020-21, expect him to roll four lines and lean on three lines when he shortens his bench. As a result, Monahan potentially sliding to a third line might not be a death sentence, as it might give the club the ability to shelter him a bit. We’ll dig into Monahan’s game a bit more later this week, but Elias Lindholm is a superior offensive player and Mikael Backlund is a superior defensive player, leaving Monahan in a sort-of awkward no man’s land, but it might allow him to focus on either aspect of his game more than it would if the team had lesser depth.

More on Monahan later in this column. And later this week.

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It’s probably more about a lack of an obvious long-term successor than anything else. Long-term being the operative part. Mark Giordano had three seasons left on his deal when he became captain, and his long-term fit in Calgary was basically assured. With Tkachuk, what he is and where he fits into the club’s long-term future is a bit fuzzy, and he’s got just one year left on his current deal (and another year after that before he could become an unrestricted free agent). Rather than go through a bunch of captains in short order, Young Guns style, I could imagine the Flames just want to have one guy and stick with him for awhile. If Tkachuk inks a long-term extension, it very well may be him.

Got into this a bit earlier on, so let’s just dive into my back-of-the-napkin standings order:

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  1. Vegas
  2. Edmonton
  3. Calgary
  4. Vancouver
  5. Seattle
  6. Anaheim
  7. Los Angeles
  8. San Jose

(To me, spots 3 through 5 are basically interchangeable and probably fewer than five points will separate those three teams.)

I look at two metrics here: on-ice shooting percentage and personal shooting percentage. On-ice refers to the percentage of all shots by the Flames that went in while that player was on the ice, while personal refers to percentage of that player’s shots that went in. If one (or both) is below a player’s career average, then you can reasonable expect there will be some rebounding as the player’s percentages regress to their career mean.

Sean Monahan had a 6.7% on-ice shooting and 7.1% personal shooting percentage, both way below his career mean. We’ll get into some of the reasons for that regression later this week. He might not rebound to his career high or even his career average, but you can reasonable hope for some uptick (because he’s not an awful offensive player).

Meanwhile, Mikael Backlund had a measly 6.0% personal percentage, way below his career mean. That’ll probably bounce back by a couple percent next season.

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