FlamesNation Mailbag: Thinking about off-season moves and salary cap management

Photo credit:Mike Gould
Ryan Pike
11 months ago
The calendar has flipped over into May, friends, and from here on out thoughts are going to unabashedly be around the off-season. We’re a week away from the draft lottery. We’re about seven weeks away from the NHL Draft. We’re close to eight weeks away from free agency.
A lot of stuff is going to be happening before we know it. Let’s dive into the mailbag.
With our current expectation that the salary cap for 2023-24 will bump up by just $1 million to a $83.5 million cap ceiling, the Flames will need to do some manoeuvring to (a) fill out a cap compliant roster and (b) have any kind of in-season cap flexibility. We should reasonably expect that they’ll need to move out about $4 million in existing cap hits to make it work.
So you’re probably looking at trades for futures – picks and/or prospects – and potentially opportunities for the likes of Walker Duehr, Matt Coronato, Connor Zary and Jakob Pelletier, if only due to cap realities. (And also because those players have a lot of promise and have performed well at lower levels.)
With two full seasons left on his contract in Montreal, the Flames traded a first-round pick, a fifth-round pick, Tyler Pitlick and the rights to Emil Heineman to the Habs for Tyler Toffoli. It’s hard to guess what the market would be for the various Flames players heading into the last year of their contracts, but something like a second-round pick and a secondary prospect is probably a good ballpark to be thinking about. Considering Elias Lindholm was the Selke Trophy runner-up a year ago, his asking price might be a little bit more than that.
But again, this is speculation, and it’s unclear right now what the trade market would be – especially with every team likely tight against the cap ceiling.
When you decide to tear your team down to the studs, the only thing you increase the likelihood of is losses. And the challenge of drafting and development is this: you don’t know if you’ll win the lottery, you don’t know if you’ll get a player who will pan out, and you don’t know if your team will be able to bounce back quickly from getting knocked around by their opponents all season.
Brad Treliving used to say that teams go through “a lot of pain” to get those high draft picks. And in recent history, there’s no real guarantee that going through the pain to get a top two or three selection will necessarily translate to the team coming out on the other side as a better hockey club. (Not to pick on anybody, but Buffalo’s experience is quite instructive in this respect.)
If you’re going to rebuild, you need to have a more fleshed out plan than “lose a lot and hope it pans out.” Quite often, teams don’t have much more than that, unfortunately.
I think coaching styles have tended to wobble, at least in Calgary, between tactical coaches and motivating coaches. As in: coaches that say “work harder” and coaches that say “here’s a new plan” when games are tight. The ideal coach would probably be a hybrid of the two. I don’t know enough about the potentially available coaches to throw out names, unfortunately.
I’m a big fan of Seattle assistant general manager Alexandra Mandrycky. She runs their analytics apparatus and previous had a similar role with Minnesota. With hockey becoming increasing driven by finding efficiencies in terms of cap management and finding underrated players, she would be a savvy hire. If you allow her to build out her hockey operations department with a mixture of progressive thinkers and more traditional “hockey men” types, I think you could get the best of both worlds.
Dustin Wolf is waiver exempt for two more seasons, so there’s no reason to have Wolf sitting around on the NHL roster and not playing. Similarly, Dan Vladar is super young and relatively inexperienced for an NHL goaltender, so he needs to play, too. Whatever the goaltending plan is going forward, those two guys need to play games regularly if they’re part of the Flames system.
It probably depends on your soil and grass types.

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