FlamesNation Mailbag: Divisional Clinchmas
Photo credit:Mike Gould
By Ryan Pike11 months ago
Last week was Clinchmas, the week where the Calgary Flames officially clinched a spot in the best tournament in sports. This week was Divisional Clinchmas, where they clinched the top seed in the Pacific Division and home ice for the first two rounds.
Let’s check out the mailbag as we creep towards the start of the post-season!
The short answer is that the Flames’ top priority right now is retaining all their pending free agents, particularly Johnny Gaudreau.
But if we’re being honest here, the Flames’ hockey operations braintrust undoubtedly has a “Okay, but what if he walks…” wish list written in a document somewhere. And “settling” for Filip Forsberg, a smart, toolsy right shot winger, is probably not the worst outcome in the world. He’d likely be less expensive than Gaudreau, too. Is he as dynamic as Gaudreau has been (or probably will be over the next few years), nope. But if you can’t lock down Gaudreau, Forsberg isn’t a bad Plan B.
That is: if he doesn’t re-up with Nashville before free agency opens.
I would single out two players: Chris Tanev and Mikael Backlund.
Tanev is the “pairing fixer” for the Flames. He’s really helped Oliver Kylington become the player that Flames brass had hoped he’d become since they drafted him. And during Kylington’s brief absences, Tanev is the guy who’s gone through a bevy of partners – Michael Stone, Connor Mackey and Nikita Zadorov – because he’s the guy that can make it work with anybody. Lose him, and suddenly the Flames lose a big stabilizing force on their blueline.
Up front, Backlund is the shutdown guy, allowing two-way maven Elias Lindholm to be used in more offensively-skewed situations. If you lose Backlund, suddenly the Flames’ centre depth gets really lean really quickly, and you might have to use Calle Jarnkrok (or Dillon Dube…) in a situation they may not be ideally suited for.
I would expect Darryl Sutter to run his bench fairly similarly to how he’s been using it in the regular season, which involves four lines with clearly defined roles and usages. That said, depending on early results I would also expect Sutter to tweak usages and target specific match-ups to maximize results. But the success of the Flames has really relied upon using four lines and grinding the other team into dust with pace and structure, and I don’t think that approach will fundamentally change.
In my previous answer, I noted that the Flames’ style of play works best when they can use all their lines, keep everybody engaged and energized, and then just use all their players to use pace and structure to grind the other team down. But when the Flames take too many penalties, they (a) overtax their players who play on the penalty kill and (b) keep the players who aren’t on the penalty kill on the bench, both of which really mess up the team’s pace and mojo.
If the Flames can simply keep the game at five-on-five, they’ll have a really solid chance at success based upon how well they’ve played during the regular season.
The only person who probably knows for sure is Darryl Sutter, but I’d wager no. Odds are Dustin Wolf won’t be playing for the Flames in the playoffs, and the final three games will likely be dedicated to making sure Jacob Markstrom and Daniel Vladar have some swagger heading into the post-season.
The rules are pretty simple, actually!
While Stockton remains active in the AHL playoffs, the Flames are allowed to (a) have three players on their roster from regular recalls at any given time but aren’t subject to a limit of how many guys they can cycle through, or (b) they can keep all four players they used regular recalls on if they use all four before the end of the regular season. There’s an incentive to use all four call-ups before the end of the season, since it gives you a bigger roster to work with, but the other option gives them flexibility.
Once Stockton’s playoffs are over, everybody can come join the Flames. But considering Stockton is currently first overall in the AHL, the thought is they may be playing for awhile longer.
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