FlamesNation Mailbag: Merry Clinchmas
Photo credit:Mike Gould
By Ryan Pike1 year ago
The Calgary Flames have qualified for the best tournament in sports. The Flames punched their ticket to the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs based off an Edmonton win on Saturday – but also, as Darryl Sutter noted, their work over the past 75 games.
With seven games to go and the division crown still up for grabs, let’s check in with the mailbag!
We’ll dig into this in a lot more detail heading into July, but there are a few fun players expected to be available more or less around when the Flames pick. Among them are Ottawa 67’s forward Vinzenz Rohrer and Soo Greyhounds forward Bryce McConnell-Barker, both of whom are really good young players who happen to play with current Flames prospects: Rohrer plays with Jack Beck and McConnell-Barker plays with Rory Kerins. The Flames may feel they know more about them than other teams to based on those teammates.
The Flames have a magic number of 3 to clinch the Pacific Division and seven games left. They also have two pairs of back-to-back games remaining. I would imagine we see Daniel Vladar play three times in the remaining seven games. The goal is to get the team in ship-shape before the puck drops for Round One, and the Flames have a final two weeks where the travel’s not too bad and the games are fairly well spaced-out, so it seems unlikely that Vladar gets more than three games.
Broadly-speaking, the Flames likely have a big white board figuring out how to work their cap space over the upcoming off-season. Their main priority is getting Johnny Gaudreau locked down, followed by their key restricted free agents. Their philosophy is primarily “Hey, we’ll worry about it after the season is over.” That is to say: I strongly doubt they’ve had conversations with any players currently under contract about jettisoning them to make the team’s cap situation less dire. They’re focused on maximizing the current season with their current players.
That said, they’ve probably had broad conversations about possibilities with their agents, because priming the pump early could be key to getting players with no-move or no-trade clauses on board with moving onto somewhere else.
Have they had the conversation with Milan Lucic? I’m willing to bet they have not. Will they? I’m willing to bet that it’s an option they would seriously be considering given Lucic’s cap hit and where he’s currently sitting in the lineup: a $5.25 million fourth line player is a luxury that they cannot afford next season.
The Flames have used two of their four regular call-ups following the trade deadline, using them to add Connor Mackey and Adam Ruzicka to their NHL roster. At this point, the Flames are carrying 24 players: two goaltenders, eight defenders and 14 forwards. Considering Darryl Sutter really doesn’t like juggling extra players – he really hated the taxi squad – it seems unlikely that the Flames load up too much.
The Stockton Heat are also in the midst of one heck of a reason, and there’s likely a desire among Flames brass not to muck up their mojo too much. I suspect we see a couple new faces for a game or two – I would be shocked if Jakob Pelletier isn’t one of them – but they’re probably going to keep the band together in Stockton, barring any injuries on the NHL roster.
Honestly, some of it seems like a pre-playoffs malaise – it’s inevitable that during a long season, players see the playoffs a little bit over the horizon and there’s a bit of a lull in their game. (They’re human, after all.)
But in Tyler Toffoli’s case specifically, he was slotted onto the Mikael Backlund line and has been used in more of a shutdown role of late, as compared to his third line role that involved a bit more offensive zone time and weaker opposition (relative to Backlund’s line). He hasn’t been demolished by the opposition by any means, but it’s a different role, one with less attacking time than he previously had, so it’s inevitable that his underlying numbers take a dip in the transition.
Are they Flames riding a lengthy, lengthy winning streak? Nope. Are they playing strong 60 minute games? Nope. And it’s worth being a tad concerned about that, sure. But in a broader sense, they’re winning far more than they’re losing and even in the games where they lose (or require comebacks to win), it’s not like they’re running around like Timbits players – they tend to be in the right spots and just lose battles or execute poorly. That’s much more fixable than teams that completely abandon their systems, or simply don’t have them in place.
But I’m sure everybody would be happier if the Flames win (most of) their final seven games in decisive fashion. We’ll see if they can put a tidy bow on the regular season and can head into the playoffs with some swagger in their game.
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