Photo credit:Mike Gould
FlamesNation Mailbag: Minor league success, conditional picks, and more!
By Ryan Pike3 months ago
The Calgary Flames are in scenic Seattle, kicking off a four game road swing that spans this entire week. After some early struggles with a team that didn’t seem all that cohesive, they’ve looked much better of late. As we ponder if the Flames can keep up their improved play and potentially climb up the Western Conference standings, let’s dive into the mailbag!
In 2021-22, the Stockton Heat won the Pacific Division. Last season, they were the regular season champions. So far this season, they’re off to a strong start.
There’s a lot of reasons why the Flames’ AHL team has been so good. Part of it is their drafting: they’ve done a good job getting players with different types of upside, in the sense that they have players that can grow into a lot of different roles that teams need. So when somebody gets called up – Connor Zary and Martin Pospisil, let’s say – the Wranglers have folks like Ilya Nikolaev and Rory Kerins that can step into their spots.
But part of it is how they’ve built out their development team and co-located their AHL team with their NHL team. The players on the AHL team have more touch points with key NHL resources than they had in the past, and that has definitely contributed to the team’s success (and their ability to develop players that can step into the NHL, and players that can step into the AHL when those players step into the NHL).
I would expect construction to begin in earnest following the 2024 edition of Calgary Stampede, but I would suggest we’ll see renderings of the building early in the New Year and perhaps detailed designs later in the first quarter.
This year’s pick is actually pretty simple. If the Flames’ pick is between 1st and 19th overall, Montreal can’t opt to take it. If it’s between 20th and 32nd, they do have the option to take it. If the Flames miss the playoffs, they’ll select 16th or earlier, which means Montreal wouldn’t have the option to take the pick.
Long story short: unless the Flames get hot and finish higher in the standings than a wildcard playoff spot, Montreal won’t have the option to take their 2024 first-rounder. More likely than not, Montreal will get a 2025 first-rounder from the Flames – whether it’s Calgary’s or Florida’s from the Matthew Tkachuk trade.
“Whose spot does Matt Coronato take?” and “Whose spot does Jakob Pelletier take?” are two pretty inter-related questions. The Flames are carrying one extra forward and one extra defender, so anybody going up to the NHL necessarily needs to displace somebody.
Right now, the seeming odd man out on the forward group is probably A.J. Greer – if you’re the Flames, you would probably like to keep Walker Duehr, even if just as an extra forward – but the question is whether there’s a top nine wing spot available with Connor Zary and Martin Pospisil playing so well. The play may very well be, in Coronato’s situation, that the Flames will just wait and see if Zary and Pospisil keep filling key roles.
The window for a potential Pelletier return likely won’t open until January – if he’s playing games prior to the All-Star Break, it’s a big deal. But since Pelletier’s waiver-exempt and won’t have played games in months and months, he probably gets medically cleared and goes to the Wranglers until he’s up to speed. So the question about who Pelletier displaces is probably more a situation the Flames would need to worry about in February or March, at which point it’s more about which players get sold off at the trade deadline than anybody Pelletier bumping anybody down to the AHL.
The short answer is, in Coronato’s case, it could be Zary or Pospisil (or Greer if Pospisil slides down to the fourth line), while in Pelletier’s case it’s probably way too early to guess.
Broadly-speaking, my external read on the Flames’ situation over the past few years is “Do the best you can with the players you have.” That probably won’t change all that much going forward, but the composition of the players the Flames have will probably change over time. The “silver lining” (if you think of it that way) of the Flames’ early struggles is that it forced the pending UFAs to ask themselves “Is this where I want to be?” and it forced the Flames to ask themselves “Are these the guys we want to build around for the next decade?”
My read on the situation is that the Flames probably divest themselves of their pending UFAs via trade before the trade deadline, even if they’re within spitting distance of the playoffs, and this year’s trade deadline and draft approach could resemble 2015’s: accumulate assets at the deadline, go as far as you can with the group of players that remain, and then find ways to maximize the assets you’ve accumulated between the draft and free agency.
(We’ll obviously get into this in a lot more detail over the next weeks and months, so consider this the teaser for a much more detailed explanation.)
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