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FlamesNation Mailbag: Commemorating Boxing Day with reader questions

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Photo credit:Mike Gould
Ryan Pike
5 months ago
It’s the Monday Mailbag… on Tuesday! Since Monday was Christmas Day, we shifted the mailbag to Boxing Day to align with everybody emerging from their turkey-induced holiday slumbers.
Let’s dive in!
We’ll have a lot more detail about the upcoming 2024 NHL Draft class throughout the New Year.
In terms of this year’s pick, we consulted with our pals at Cap Friendly and asked around, and here’s the long and the short of it: if the Flames’ pick falls between 20th and 32nd overall, Montreal has the option to take it rather than wait for the convoluted 2025 conditions. If the pick isn’t in that range, Montreal doesn’t have the option to do so.
If the Flames miss the playoffs, they fully control their first-round draft choice in 2024.
We’ll dig into the Huberdeau of it all in the coming weeks, but I’ll just say this: Jonathan Huberdeau really seems like he’s trying. From my vantage point, he hits challenges when he tries too much and over-handles the puck. The fundamental challenge is he’s a strong east-west player on a team that’s built to play north-south hockey, and as a result you can see he’s still sorta processing what to do in some situations. When he keeps seems simple and is able to play north-south, he’s quite good. (There was a stretch of games where he was throwing hits in the offensive zone and making some nice, short passes that led to some good chances.) But the fancy stuff that’s Huberdeau’s bread-and-butter, it seems like he’s still figuring out how to add those to his repertoire within the Flames’ system.
Can the Flames trade him? I mean… anything’s possible, but I doubt it. His deal carries a full no-move clause, it’s worth $84 million, and most of it is guaranteed bonus money. So a team trading for Huberdeau has to be really sure that they can “fix” him – because you can only buy out salary if a deal goes south – and Huberdeau has to be really sure he wants to go there. Some players from Quebec really want to play in Montreal, some really don’t, because the market is really special and unique, and a pressure-cooker in two languages. Some players are wired to thrive in that environment, and some aren’t.
And I’ll say this in terms of coverage, and I don’t want to speak for my colleagues at other outlets, only myself: “Jonathan Huberdeau is struggling in Calgary” isn’t news. It’s a statement of fact by now. We like to think of our coverage here at FlamesNation as contributing to a conversation about the Calgary Flames and hockey in general, and we try to have new, interesting things to say. Repeatedly telling you, our beloved readers, listeners and viewers, that a struggling player is struggling isn’t a novel observation. If you had a friend keep telling you the same thing over and over again, you’d avoid their texts and screen their calls. We check in on the Huberdeau Situation from time to time, but until there’s something newsworthy occurring, we’re hesitant to go back to that well too often.
If I’m the Flames, I’m focusing on the blueline. Beyond perhaps guys like Ilya Solovyov and Jeremie Poirier, the cupboards on the back end are a bit bare. So if they’re doing trades with teams like Vancouver, Toronto, Colorado or Boston – just to spitball – we’d focus on some of their young defensive prospects or young roster players. Teams likely won’t give the Flames their top defensive prospect for a rental player in a trade, but it seems probable that the Flames would be able to get one of their top defensive prospects. (You ask for their best guy, and they talk you down to their second or third-best guy and everybody feels like they got what they wanted.)
The Canucks have a bunch of good defensive prospects, like Elias Pettersson (“D-Petey”), Joni Jurmo, Jacob Truscott and Tom Willander. The Leafs have Topi Niemala (and it gets lean after that). The Avalanche have Mikhail Gulyayev and Jeremy Hanzel (and getting Hanzel would allow us writers to make Zoolander jokes forever). The Bruins have Ryan Mast (and Mason Lohrei, if you want to look at slightly older players).
This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list, but just to give you an idea of the types of players we think they could (and should) target.
I’m not sure about Andrei Kuzmenko in particular, but the Flames will potentially have (a) open roster spots and (b) oodles of cap space heading into this coming off-season. Even with the cap going up by a bunch this summer, some teams will be capped out. (Edmonton’s already out of money.) So there will be, let’s say, Kuzmenko-shaped opportunities to leverage the Flames’ cap space and draft choices to fill in gaps in the roster. The challenge will be taking advantage of the right opportunities.

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