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FlamesNation Mailbag: Flipping the calendar to October, answering your questions

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Photo credit:Mike Gould
Ryan Pike
6 months ago
Friends, the calendar has flipped over from September to October. The Calgary Flames begin their 2023-24 regular season in nine short days. As we wind down training camp and get emotionally prepared for the 82-game grind of the season, let’s check in with the mailbag!
I’m not sure if I can identify five that will be “big” pieces, because it depends how you define “big.” I will say that the Flames do a good job of finding players that can play different roles in the NHL, which gives them the ability to put players in the big time.
In terms of “big impact” guys, Dustin Wolf seems like a future starter in the NHL, Jeremie Poirier has the dynamism in his game that could allow him to run an NHL power play, and Connor Zary is such a smart, versatile player that he should be able to do a lot of different things once he figures the NHL pace out.
In terms of key role guys, Ilya Solovyov has shown really well at Flames camp so far because he’s a really low-maintenance, steady shutdown defender. He can eat hard minutes at the AHL level, which allows the coaches the ability to use guys like Poirier and Yan Kuznetsov in different situations. And William Stromgren’s got size and smarts, which should help him figure out how to be a reliable 200-foot forward going forward.
And in terms of impact, don’t underrate the mentorship impact of Brett Sutter on some of the younger players in the Flames system. Sutter’s played pro hockey since 2007-08. He’s entering his 17th pro season. There’s very little Sutter hasn’t seen and adapted to, and he’s a great resource for the team’s young faces.
I’ve really liked Connor Zary in camp, but the big challenge for him is he’s played just a single full pro season and he’s still got growing to do. Does he help the Flames win appreciably more than an older player like Dryden Hunt or Ben Jones or Kevin Rooney? Or is it better for the Flames, in the long run, if Zary spends a few extra months getting big minutes in the AHL rather than playing a smaller role in the NHL?
Zary’s future is bright, and I’m thinking the Flames have his long-term development in mind more than anything else. So my gut says he doesn’t start the season with the Flames… but we probably see him in the NHL at some point during the upcoming 82 games.
If you’ve read this site at all since Kent Wilson launched this place in 2009, we’ve been Team Backlund from Day One. Why? He’s so damn good at helping stabilize linemates that need development (or have holes). In Sunday’s skate, Matt Coronato was on a line with Mikael Backlund. I’m very curious to see if they’re used together during the remaining pre-season games because Backlund’s style of play really supports puck possession… and if he can feed a pure shooter like Coronato the puck, it feels like they could get quite a few goals (or at least scoring chances). The only challenge would be deployments, as Backlund’s line is typically used as a seek-and-destroy “tough minutes” tandem to neutralize the other team’s best scorers. Do you want to have a fresh-faced 20-year-old rookie in that role? (Counterpoint: It sure worked well when they did it with Matthew Tkachuk.)
To make a long answer shorter: of the three established NHL centres on the roster, Backlund’s two-way prowess makes him a great foil for Coronato, but how he’s typically been used by previous Flames coaches might throw Coronato into the deep waters of shutdown hockey in a really challenging manner.
Oh man, so many come to mind. Chris was a great resource to chat about in terms of analytical concepts or things that were being written about in the public sphere, and he was a great person to talk to about books. He turned me onto a lot of non-sports books that provided new ways of looking at analysis. I think some of the last couple he recommended were “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman and “The Undoing Project” by Michael Lewis. Chris looked at hockey in a really unique way, and he was great at trying to help others understand his perspective.
I don’t think so. Patrick Kane is 34 and has dealt with some injuries. Once he’s healthy, we’re assuming that he’ll have a few contenders pitching him low cap-hit deals, so even if the Flames have the cap space to offer him – and they don’t right now – there will be tons of others vying for his services. He’s a winger and would need to be playing in the top nine (and/or get significant power play time) to be worth a contract. I don’t think the Flames would want to be playing a 34-year-old over their younger, internally-developed wingers at this point in the organization’s trajectory.
I haven’t dug into comparables for Noah Hanifin in too much detail, but if I’m his agent I probably look at his offensive production and ask for something similar to MacKenzie Weegar’s eight year deal with a $6.25 million cap hit. I’m not sure if the Flames can afford to keep Hanifin and everybody else they would like to keep, so they’ll need to make some tough choices in the coming months (and years).
In terms of trades this summer, or lack thereof, I imagine Hanifin remaining a Flame was a product of offers not being particularly strong for his services. League-wide nobody really has any cap space and so with a few exceptions, we didn’t see a big shuffling of talent with moderate-to-high cap hits.
There’s an Event Centre Committee meeting on Thursday morning at City Hall. As of last word, the definitive agreements to solidify the previous term sheets and memorandum of understanding involving the City, the provincial government, the Stampede and Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation. If nothing else, we’ll get an update at Thursday’s meeting regarding where everything is at in the process of finalizing the deal… and perhaps some ideas regarding timelines for next steps and actually getting the proverbial show on the road.

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