FlamesNation Mailbag: Ideal lines, trade talk, and the concept of hope

Photo credit:Mike Gould
Ryan Pike
4 months ago
The Calgary Flames have three games remaining before the All-Star Break, and 16 games remaining until the March 8 trade deadline. Understandably, fans are smarting a little bit after back-to-back setbacks against Toronto and Edmonton.
As we get set for a busy week leading into the All-Star festivities, let’s dive into the mailbag!
Oh boy. This is a good question! Let’s operate under two assumptions: no trades and everybody currently under contract is healthy and available:
Huberdeau – Lindholm – Sharangovich
Zary – Kadri – Coronato
Mangiapane – Backlund – Coleman
Pelletier – Dube – Pospisil
There are two lines I’m not touching at all: Lindholm’s line and Backlund’s line are arguably as good as they can get. I swapped Pospisil down to the fourth line for Coronato because (a) Coronato probably needs to be a top nine guy to generate offence, (b) Pospisil’s size and physicality would really compliment Pelletier and Dube’s speed and forechecking, and (c) having two good wingers would probably help Dube adapt to being a full-time centre fairly effectively. That fourth line would suck to play against, which is the entire point of a fourth line. (Extra forwards would be Greer and Ruzicka.)
Hanifin – Andersson
Kylington – Weegar
Oesterle – Tanev
Admit it: you want to see Kylington and Weegar on a pairing together. And Tanev on the third pair would balance pairings out and make the Flames blueline a bit less top-heavy and tougher to match against. (Extra defender would be Gilbert.)
Their goalies are pretty solid as-is.
We’ll get into this in a bit more detail during the All-Star Break, but the challenge for Jacob Markstrom is his age and his contract. (Yeah, I’m aware that’s a lot like Brad Treliving’s common joke about contract negotiations being done “except for contract and term.”) He’s 33 and on a deal that expires after the 2025-26 season – that’s this season and two more afterwards.
Let’s say Markstrom is on an expiring deal, or even one with a season left after this one. If you’re an acquiring team, there’s not a ton of long-term risk there, so you’re probably okay with giving the Flames some hefty assets to acquire him. And heck, if there’s not much time left on the deal, maybe the Flames can be convinced to retain some salary on the deal. But with multiple years left and a $6 million cap hit for a guy that’s well into his 30s, it’s understandable that teams may be nervous about giving up too much.
And I believe Sportsnet’s Eric Francis brought this up in a recent column: Vegas won the Stanley Cup last year with a relatively no-name goaltending tandem. If you’re a contender and you have a choice between spending assets and cap space on acquiring a goaltender or a defender to beef up your team defence, adding the blueliner might be the better investment because goaltending is voodoo, but strong team defence can make your existing goaltenders look like world-beaters. (Look at how Vegas handled their team-building for last year’s Cup team.)
You don’t necessarily need great goaltending to win a Cup. You need good enough goaltending.
I thought Matt Coronato was decent against Edmonton, but struggled in some areas. Specifically, he seemed to have challenges making decisions quickly enough in the offensive zone with the puck. Some of that may just be because of how Edmonton’s built; they’ve quietly been one of the NHL’s better defensive teams, in part because they use their speed really well to pressure puck carriers.
Coronato’s been really effective in the AHL in terms of making quick decisions and executing with the puck. But in the NHL, everybody’s a little bit bigger and faster than in the AHL, and that’s an adjustment. We’ll see how Coronato looks this coming week against three teams that are not quite as good as the Oilers. The next three games will be a good litmus test for where Coronato’s all-around game actually is.
When you hear our pal Frank Seravalli at Daily Faceoff joke that the Flames can’t trade everybody and that they need players to play on the team next season, this is sort of the off-shoot of that. We’ll have a better sense of how teams’ 2024-25 cap situations are looking after the trade deadline, but think of it this way: the cap is going up by about $4 million for next season and some teams have already spent a bunch of that money already.
If you’re the Flames, maybe you can turn an extra second or third-round pick from this trade deadline into some cap relief for another team and a useful roster player for the next season or two. A player you select in the second or third round this summer probably won’t be NHL-ready for another two or three years; a player you acquire with that pick could help the team now. Those two factors need to be balanced going forward, especially if the goal is to have the team be competitive when the next barn opens in 2027.
I think by now we’ve established that the Flames have a lot of good players, but no true stars or superstars. The Flames have been a good enough, structured enough and hard-working enough team that they’ve managed to stick around the playoff picture – even after their horrible October – despite having no stars or superstars. They’ve been able to go toe-to-toe with some really good hockey teams. They might not have won all of those match-ups, but they’ve been in the thick of them and competitive to the very end.
If the idea is to cycle out some older players and cycle in some prospects with untapped upside, you can see how the Flames look generally this season and it’s not too hard to imagine plugging in those youngsters and the team getting better over time. As I noted earlier this season, they really need to hit a home run in the draft to find a true difference-maker for their team, but the team as constructed has good bones. They just need to make a few upgrades, ideally landing an elite piece via the draft.

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