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Photo Credit: Mike Gould

FlamesNation Mailbag: rookie camp and ennui

Rookie camp opens this week, friends! And it appears that the Calgary Flames have completed their final off-season moves, adding veteran free agents Brad Richardson and Erik Gudbranson. It appears that the fanbase is… of mixed opinions of Brad Treliving’s moves over the off-season.

As we prepare for the curtain to rise on camp, it’s time for the mailbag.

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The Flames lost Mark Giordano to Seattle, which they didn’t have much control over – it was either lose Giordano or lose a younger, cheaper defender like Rasmus Andersson, Chris Tanev or Noah Hanifin. Exposing him was the right move and not spending a first round pick and a third round pick to avoid losing him was also the right move given the circumstances.

Since losing Giordano, the Flames have added Tyler Pitlick, Daniel Vladar, Nikita Zadorov, Blake Coleman, Trevor Lewis, Richardson and Gudbranson. Adding Coleman to the top nine mix makes the team deeper – the team used Brett Ritchie in that mix last season, so this is definitively an upgrade.

The fourth line last season was a bit of a hodgepodge; this season’s looks to be Richardson, Lewis and Milan Lucic. It’s older and arguably has less offensive upside than some combination of Sam Bennett, Derek Ryan, Joakim Nordstrom and Josh Leivo, but if you squint (and everyone stays healthy) maybe they can defend better. Maybe.

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The defensive group remains uneven, and really relies on (a) Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev maintaining last season’s great play, (b) Rasmus Andersson bouncing back and (c) everyone staying healthy, so nobody needs to be played outside of their original “slot.”

It really looks like the Flames want a team that can play a suffocating, structured defensive style at five-on-five. And on paper, it seems like this could be a team that can do that – though good luck slowing down Vegas or Edmonton too often. But on paper, the team seems really susceptible to injury or key players under-performing, especially on the blueline, and it seems like it’ll put a ton of pressure on the team’s special teams. This looks like a group that’ll need to grind out a lot of 3-2 and 2-1 games, and whether they win or lose those games will depend on if their power play can out-score the other team’s.

Well, he has a contract, so that’s one reason. And his apparent plan for team construction for this season hasn’t failed (or succeeded yet). Given his tenure in the job, I would imagine ownership will wait to see how this season pans out before making any decisions about Treliving’s future. (And that would be completely logical, because the season hasn’t happened yet.)

In regular season games, Richardson is probably good for five or six goals based on his 2020-21 production levels.

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There’s a lot of hockey left to play – all of it, in fact – but it’s natural to be skeptical based on how the Flames’ roster moves this off-season stack up against the rest of the division’s top teams:

  • Edmonton added some nice forward depth with Derek Ryan and Warren Foegele.
  • Vancouver added some nice forward depth with Justin Dickinson and Conor Garland.
  • Vegas was already good, and added Evgeni Dadonov.

But, um, the Pacific is full of teams with some big holes. (And Vegas.) So it’s possible for the Flames to be a clunky bunch, but still find a way to grind out a playoff spot. But it’s reliant on the Flames figuring out their game very quickly out of the gates, everyone staying healthy, and the rest of the Pacific’s flawed teams having their flaws exposed.

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Based on the signings the Flames have made, the only Calder Trophy eligible player that will be on the roster to start the season is Daniel Vladar, the backup goalie.

I believe it’s at the Saddledome, but an announcement will be made later this week.

The mindset heading into the season is probably “with a full season of Darryl Sutter behind the bench and a roster better suited to playing a structured style, anything is possible!” So based on that probable mindset, you have to think Treliving is the general manger for the entire regular season. (As in: he’ll get the entire season to see the plan under Sutter play out.)

I do not think Sutter takes over the GM job in addition to his head coaching gig.

I would imagine Treliving is GM for (at least) the entire 2021-22 regular season.

Well, Kent, my thought process is a few seasons of less-than-stellar results has created the perception that the Flames are back-sliding a bit after the strong process that they made in the first few seasons under Treliving as general manager. As a result, the team’s making safer moves over the past few off-seasons rather than taking big, bold swings. Safer moves are less likely to be amazing or horrible, in the way that the signings of Troy Brouwer and James Neal, for example, were big swings that turned into whiffs.

Safe keeps you where you are and possibly stops any further back-slides, but safe doesn’t move things forward very much.

To quote Trent Crimm from Ted Lasso: “This club actually means something to this town.”

Perhaps more than any other institution in Calgary, the Flames are a representation of city pride and something for folks to rally around. (If you look at attendance and overall support, Calgary’s been a Flames town way more than being a hockey town or a Stampeders town or a whatever else town.) When the economy is bad or there’s a pandemic or whatever other stupid thing is going on with the world, there’s always been the Flames. And even if they’ve had a bad season, the off-season is the annual reset and when the season begins on Oct. 12, everyone will be tied for first place and there’s a chance maybe this season will be different. (Disclosure: I’m a Cubs fan, I’ve become good at convincing myself of this over my past 30 years of Cubs fandom.)

But the challenge with the Flames is this: they’ve never been awful, so they’ve never gotten a chance to reload with excellent talent in order to become great (via the draft lottery). They’ve always been decent, so they’ve only had the tools to remain decent (or slightly better than that). They’ve never gone full Oilers or full Buffalo or full Colorado (circa six or seven years ago), so they’ve remained in the middle of the pack and have always had a chance at making the playoffs… but they haven’t had the chance to amass the firepower to progress far beyond that point.

I think the rookie games will be streamed, but we’ll check with the Flames.

There’s not much you can take out of rookie camp games, but you’d hope that Pelletier and Zary would stand out from the pack in those games considering their status as the club’s top prospects.

It likely depends on how this season goes. If the Flames disappoint again and there’s a management changeover after this season, all bets are off.

I would compare this off-season to the summer of 2011: Robyn Regehr traded to Buffalo so that the team had the cap space to re-sign Alex Tanguay before he became an unrestricted free agent, and the major acquisitions to fill his void were Chris Butler and Anton Babchuk. Even though he was getting older, Regehr was a good player whose stability covered up a lot of quirks from the remainder of the defensive group. Take him away, and the group got a lot more shaky.

Honestly, the Flames have done a good job with the picks that they’ve had. They’ve arguably out-kicked their coverage in the mid-to-late rounds, and they’ve amassed a bunch of nice prospect depth all across the board. Secondary depth, sure, with a bunch of project picks, but they have few flat-out bad picks.

But since they’ve traded away a bunch of first or second round picks, their higher-end prospect base is pretty thin. It’s basically Matthew Coronato, Connor Zary, Jakob Pelletier, Dustin Wolf… and not much else. And three of those four players are becoming pros this season, leaving Coronato alone on the reserve list as the proverbial cavalry.

It’s not that they have no good prospects. It’s that they haven’t made enough picks early in the draft.

 

Milan Lucic will probably have more fights this season than Brett Ritchie.

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