Why now is the time for the Flames to make their move
Photo credit:Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
11 months ago
When general manager Brad Treliving traded a first-round pick and a prospect to acquire Tyler Toffoli earlier this week, it signalled something. For the first time in his tenure, Treliving has given his team significant in-season help ahead of the trade deadline in the form of a bona fide top-six forward.
It’s a calculated risk, but if you ask me, it’s a worthwhile one. For numerous reasons, I think it’ll be quite some time until Calgary is in as good a position to make a deep playoff run as they are this season. It seems like the guy calling the shots shares that opinion.
“You’re around the game long enough, you know when you believe it,” Treliving told me on Monday afternoon. “I believe it in this team. And I also understand that this is an opportunity with a group that’s playing very well that had a specific need.”
Let’s take a closer look at all of what is going right for the Flames right now.
On the ice
So much of what Calgary has accomplished so far is on merit. For more than half a season, the Flames have dictated play, controlled possession, and suppressed chances on a regular basis. There are no false flags or red herrings in the way Calgary plays, and it shows in some of the most telling five-on-five metrics. Underlying numbers courtesy Natural Stat Trick.
More important than how the Flames have played so far is how their game projects going forward. We’re 47 games in, which is a solid sample size that suggests Calgary’s success is sustainable. Knowing that makes it easier to pull the trigger on a “win now” move like this week’s Toffoli acquisition. At this point, and with this head coach, it would be shocking to see the Flames fall completely off a cliff.
If Calgary’s top line isn’t the NHL’s best, it’s in the top two or three. Johnny Gaudreau is getting legitimate Hart Trophy buzz. Elias Lindholm has a strong case for Selke Trophy consideration. Jacob Markstrom is one of the leading Vezina Trophy candidates. Chris Tanev remains a premier shutdown defenceman, while Rasmus Andersson’s game is trending in a high-end direction.
Here’s the thing: we don’t know if the Flames will get the same type of performances from all of the above next year; they very well could, but they might not. What we do know, however, is Calgary’s top players are playing at an elite level right now and have all season. As such, you can see the wisdom in trying to maximize these performances by upgrading the roster.
The salary situation
“We have players that are priorities to get signed…the reality is they’re not going to be making what they’re making next year what they’re making this year,” Treliving admitted when he joined me this week.
In Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Andrew Mangiapane, the Flames have three of their four 20-goal scorers in need of new contracts. If you add Oliver Kylington the mix, that’s four important players Calgary doesn’t have signed going into next season. Oh, and every single one is due a significant raise.
Furthermore, all four of Tkachuk, Gaudreau, Mangiapane, and Kylington are on team-friendly deals at worst. In three cases, we’re talking about absolute sweetheart numbers. To retain all four players, the Flames are conservatively looking at adding an extra $10 million to their cap, if not more. With the upper limit only projected to go up $1 million, Calgary will have to make a sacrifice or two.
Maybe it means Calgary won’t have the luxury of a $6.375 million number three centre in Sean Monahan. Or perhaps it means not re-signing Nikita Zadorov ($3.75 million) and/or Erik Gudbranson ($1.95 million), who have combined for an effective third defence pair. Whatever the case, the Flames will almost certainly have to backfill with cheaper options next year to retain their priority pieces.
In 2022, the salary cap is the largest factor in determining a team’s window to win. In Calgary’s case, their cap situation is set to change dramatically in July. For Treliving, trying to maximize now when he has this type of flexibility makes sense. That approach is further emphasized by how well his team is performing.
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