FlamesNation Mailbag: Alas, onto the off-season
Photo credit:Mike Gould
By Ryan Pike9 months ago
Friends, the Calgary Flames played two rounds of the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs. Unfortunately, they lost in the second round to the Edmonton Oilers.
So what’s next for the Flames as we head into what seems primed to be a very important and eventful off-season? Let’s check in with the mailbag as we begin to sort everything out.
If the Flames re-up both Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, neither will be cheap. Expect the duo to make a combined $22 million next season, or somewhere around there. So that means finding efficiencies down the rotation. I understand the temptation to move Andrew Mangiapane, because he scored 35 goals and the Flames could probably get some nice picks and/or prospects for him. But here’s the danger of doing that: is Dillon Dube ready to play in the top six? And/or is Jakob Pelletier ready to play in the NHL full-time?
Having Both Dube and Mangiapane give the Flames the ability to insulate Pelletier a bit and not necessarily rush him into NHL duty next season. If one of them are playing elsewhere for cap reasons, the Flames suddenly have a lot less roster flexibility and are really dependent on Dube and/or Pelletier being ready for the next step.
We’ll find out Ryan Francis’ fate by mid-week, but my feeling is if the Flames were really amped about signing him, they would have done so by now. Maybe they feel that they have too many smaller offensive forwards in their system right now, and Francis might be lost in the shuffle if they signed him. (They had him in Stockton to open the season and, to be honest, that’s more or less what happened there: he was lost in the shuffle.)
In terms of the Heat, I’ve been impressed by Justin Kirkland lately, but Jakob Pelletier and Matthew Phillips have also been really good. I’ll also point out that Rory Kerins played three games of playoff hockey, coming straight out of the OHL playoffs, and he didn’t look a bit out of place as a fresh-faced 20-year-old. That bodes well for his future as he transitions full-time to pro hockey next season.
1) Mike Gould touched on this on Twitter earlier this week and mentioned it on the site, too: the Flames have a good defensive group, but everybody is slotted one notch too high. Imagine if the Flames could get a top tier blueliner and have them playing with Noah Hanifin or Rasmus Andersson on the top pairing, and then one of them dropped down a bit, and so on. Goodness knows how the Flames find cap space for that, but adding a very good blueliner would push the Flames over the top.
2) This was asked earlier, but I’m leaning “no.” Having forward depth and flexibility by having Dube, Mangiapane and Pelletier all potentially on the NHL roster would really help ease Pelletier into the NHL and give the coaching staff all kinds of ability to mix and match depending on situation.
3) Matthew Phillips is a great AHL player, but I’m not sure what the niche he could fill in the NHL would be – at least with the Flames. My gut says Phillips could be an NHL player in 2022-23, but it might be with another organization.
4) At this point, I don’t expect Milan Lucic to retire.
If Milan Lucic does decide to retire, his cap hit comes off the books entirely for 2022-23. My understanding is that if he does so after he gets his yearly signing bonuses in July, he keeps his bonuses but the Flames would no longer owe him any future salary. (It’s a weird structure, but that’s why players negotiate specific things like signing bonuses into their contracts.)
Again, though: I don’t expect him to do this.
The current escrow debt for the players – the amount of money owed by the players to the owners to ensure that hockey-related revenues are split 50/50 during the lifespan of the collective bargaining agreement – began this season north of $1 billion and are still pretty hefty. At this point, don’t expect the NHL’s salary cap to go up until 2025-26 or so. At that point, the cap jumps up because of the windfall from the new American television deals with ESPN and Turner Sports.
As for the gambling revenue: that’ll help, but they’re likely much less of a factor than the American TV deals and won’t hit anybody’s cap space until 2025.
We’ll get into more detail about this in the next week or so, but something in-between $10 and $11 million should fit. In the back of my head, I think offering Gaudreau an eight year deal worth $88 million would be enough to get him to avoid exploring the open market.
Anything north of that makes it tough to fill out the rest of the roster, though.
Having seen the entirety of both of their NHL careers to this point, I’ll say this: they’re both really, really good at different things. I think Gaudreau is pure finesse and can use his speed and creativity better than 99% of the NHL. I think Tkachuk is a better two-way player than Gaudreau, but has less offensive ceiling. But he’s so skilled in terms of puck retrieval, hockey sense, and potentially unmatched league-wide as a pure shit-disturber.
I think having both is ideal. If you have to choose, it’s probably based upon your preference of the playing style you like to see. Both players are top-flight NHLers.
I really like Phillips as an AHL scorer, but I’m not sure he can go from the AHL to the NHL’s top six, particularly playing the tough-minutes role that Mangiapane has filled on Mikael Backlund’s wing.
At this point, Adam Ruzicka might just need a full summer of training and a good camp. He’s got size. He’s played in the Flames system and watched them a lot from the press box during the playoff run, so he’s gotten a few different perspectives of their system. Heck, he got a bunch of practice reps with the NHL group, too.
If Ruzicka has a good summer and a good camp, he has a really good shot of beginning the season in Calgary. (With the NHL team, not the AHL team.)
It was a perfect storm of things. Chris Tanev was missing, which pushed a lot of the defensive group out of their depth. A bunch of guys were playing hurt, including a good chunk of their defensive group. A bunch of guys got a bit too scrambly in their defensive schemes and gave Edmonton nice scoring chances. Jacob Markstrom did not have a good series.
The Flames were big beneficiaries of good luck basically all season, in that they got the bounces and nobody significant really ever got injured. But that rebounded against them in the playoffs, the worst possible time for bad puck and/or injury luck to hit you.
Based on Brad Treliving’s track record, most items of note should be completed in the period between the NHL Draft (July 6 & 7) and the opening of free agency (July 13).
The NHL schedule for 2022-23 will likely be released around draft weekend, if last year’s release schedule is any indication.
I’ll say this, the Flames have been victims of economic circumstance, a lack of planning, and good ol’ bad luck over the past few decades.
- The great teams of the 1980s were summarily dismantled in the early ’90s when the Canadian dollar crashed and the Flames simply couldn’t afford to pay everybody.
- The hockey side of things limped along for much of the ’90s before the currency assistance fund was created to help the Canadian clubs that were challenged by the low Canadian dollar (and the spending disadvantages they faced relative to their American counterparts).
- Things rebounded under Darryl Sutter, but the team lost the entire 2004-05 season due to a lockout and then the playing style changed drastically after the lockout, leaving the hockey ops side playing a bit of catch-up… which basically continued until Brad Treliving’s arrival in 2014.
Honestly, in a 32 team NHL it’s freakin’ tough to make the playoffs – half the teams don’t even make it – and it’s even tougher to battle through the playoffs now with the amount of talent in the league and the salary cap attempting to evenly distribute it throughout the league’s teams.
If the Flames can hold onto their high-end talents – looking at you, Gaudreau and Tkachuk – and keep getting contributions from the capable depth they’ve amassed, they’ll probably remain competitive within the Pacific Division and have a fighting chance in the playoffs. If they lose Gaudreau and Tkachuk, I’m very curious what exactly the plan would be to remain competitive in the near future.
It’s going to be a fascinating few months, Flames fans.
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