FlamesNation Mailbag: On tough decisions, past, present and future
Photo credit:Mike Gould
By Ryan Pike4 months ago
Dear readers, happy October! The Calgary Flames begin their 2022-23 season next Thursday. Before then, though, they have to set their opening roster next Monday and they have some tough decisions ahead of them.
As we mull over the tough decisions they have yet to make, let’s discuss tough decisions they’ve recently made (or made in the past) in this week’s mailbag.
On deciding between young and old players (we got a few of these questions…):
This was a really common line of questioning this week, particularly after Matthew Phillips was placed on waivers and Jakob Pelletier and Connor Zary were sent outright to the Wranglers.
First off, let’s get one thing out of the way: Flames management thinks they have a really, really good hockey team on their hands. Like, perhaps a team that could be capable of winning a championship (or at the very least challenging for one). And for better or for worse, what you think a team can accomplish definitely frames your personnel decisions.
When Brad Treliving came into the general manager’s chair, the Flames were not good. Like, very not good. Like, they finished fourth-from-last in the season before his arrival. So the Flames had the ability to integrate and have patience with young players like Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, Johnny Gaudreau and some others because expectations were incredibly low. Let’s put it this way: Gaudreau’s growing pains in his rookie year weren’t going to derail the Flames’ championship aspirations… because they didn’t have any yet.
But when you think you can win, and win now, your philosophy towards back-filling your roster changes somewhat. Instead of looking for players with upside but unclear downside risk, you probably get a bit more risk averse and instead skew towards players with well-defined downside risk but unclear (and perhaps low) ceilings. And so you tend to see teams pushing for Cups filling their roster with guys with NHL experience in very specific roles – we’re looking at you, Brett Ritchie, Trevor Lewis and Cody Eakin – because their downside risk (the worst-case scenario for those guys in those roles) is well-established at the NHL level.
Whether or not this mindset is the correct one is yet to be seen, but when you see how much success Detroit had over-ripening their young players in the AHL until they basically kicked the door down and grabbed spots on the NHL roster, you can pretty easily imagine why Flames brass might think it’s a good idea at this point in time.
So to summarize briefly: the Flames don’t hate Matthew Phillips (or Jakob Pelletier or Connor Zary or whichever prospect you personally love the most), but they probably also don’t want growing pains from young players in unfamiliar roles being the reason they don’t win a Stanley Cup.
On the waiver wire:
Players who have played over a certain number of games or have had a certain number of seasons pass since they signed their entry-level deal have to pass through waivers before being assigned to the American Hockey League. Their rights are offered to the other 31 NHL clubs before they’re able to be sent to the minors.
The 32 NHL teams are assigned waiver priority in inverse order from last year’s standings until the end of October, after which point they use the current season’s standings – for example, for October this season, Montreal gets first dibs, followed by Arizona, Seattle, Philadelphia, and so on.
- If nobody puts in a claim, the player can be sent to the minors and is exempt from waivers until they’ve spent 30 days (cumulatively) on the NHL roster or have played in 10 NHL games, whichever comes first.
- If one team puts in a claim, that team gets the player for their NHL roster
- If multiple teams put in a claim, the team highest on the waiver priority list gets the player for their NHL roster.
Chaos often ensues when a player is claimed, and then the claiming team waives the claimed player in an effort to send them to the minors. In this case, it’s regular waiver rules, except if the team that originally lost the player on waivers is the only team to put in a claim for them, in which case they can claim the player and then assign them right to the AHL without going through the waiver process again. (If you want to feel really bad for a player, check out Adam Brooks’ waiver history from 2021-22, when he was claimed four times.)
But anyway, most of the times teams don’t claim players on waivers because they have a full roster (and no ability to open a roster spot) or they’re up against the cap, or sometimes just because teams value their own marginal players more than they value another team’s.
On top six concerns:
We’ll get into the goaltending piece later on, but I don’t think the Flames will be trading a goaltender this season because they really like their depth and they have the Vezina Trophy runner-up from last season and two really good inexpensive players behind him.
The challenge for the Flames in “fixing” their top six and even top nine winger situation is this: good players are pricey, and the Flames don’t have a ton of cap space. Teams who have good wingers aren’t going to just give them to the Flames, and if I’m a team with a winger that the Flames might covet, I’m asking for an arm and a leg and Matt Coronato because I’m in a position to do so.
Additionally, the Flames feel that one of the reasons they weren’t more successful in the playoffs was their defensive depth wasn’t up to snuff; I don’t think they’re in a hurry to necessarily move a defender after spending the off-season trying to address depth in that position. This might change depending on how the season unfolds – and probably at some point we do see some kind of blueliner for winger swap because it does make a lot of sense – but right now I think they’re in wait-and-see mode.
In 1986, rookie Mike Vernon dominated Winnipeg in the regular season, and so he was given the assignment in the first round of the playoffs against the Jets over Reggie Lemelin. But at that point, Vernon was the coveted prospect and the Flames didn’t have the kind of contractual ties to Lemelin that they currently do with Jacob Markstrom. And all due respect to Lemelin, Markstrom is a better goaltender relative to the rest of the league (second in Vezina voting) than Lemelin was. I don’t think Vladar’s going to be their go-to guy in the playoffs while Markstrom’s around.
That said, Vladar has been excellent in the pre-season, and it wouldn’t shock me if the Flames leaned on him a bit more this season than they did a year ago. He started 19 games in 2021-22, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he got closer to 25-28 this season.
On Michael Stone:
There are 31 other teams that could use a Michael Stone. He’s good and aware of his limitations (and so he doesn’t do too much on the ice). He’s able to sit for weeks at a time and then come in and give the Flames quality minutes. And he’s seemingly willing to take lesser money and/or a smaller role to be in Calgary because it fits his lifestyle (and his family’s) and he thinks the team can win. The guy is a top notch pro.
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