Welcome to February, everyone! It’s the 11th month of this damn pandemic and the second month of the 2020-21 NHL regular season. With the Calgary Flames hovering around the .500 mark, y’all got good questions!
Hopefully, we can find some good answers! Into the mailbag we go!
Sam Bennett questions!
For me, it depends on time frame. The Flames aren’t under any particular time pressure to make a move: Bennett’s still with the team and they’re not in immense salary cap difficulty to the point where they need to make a move right away.
That said, if the Flames do make a move in-season and don’t take a forward back in the swap, I’d prefer to see someone like Glenn Gawdin or Matthew Phillips get into the mix. Buddy Robinson and Zac Rinaldo are rock-solid depth veterans that are (a) cheap and (b) don’t really need to play given where they are in their developmental arcs. But Gawdin and Phillips are inexpensive, young, right shot forwards who could help the Flames now (and get better at pro hockey as they do it).
From what I’ve heard, this isn’t a new frustration for Bennett. He was drafted to be a top six forward and simply hasn’t been able to get that role on a consistent basis. Some of that is on him: when he’s gotten the chance, he hasn’t performed in a manner that made it impossible to move him out of the gig.
But since Bennett was drafted in 2014, the Flames have drafted Matthew Tkachuk (who went right into the top six and fit like a glove), Andrew Mangiapane (who took longer but has found a niche in the top six) and Dillon Dube (who looks to be finding a spot for himself, too). And they traded for Elias Lindholm, who’s become a top six staple. He’s been nudged down the pecking order by these acquisitions and hasn’t done quite enough to steal a spot back.
Even if the Flames trade Johnny Gaudreau in the next couple seasons, there’s no obvious big minutes spot opening up for Bennett in the forward group that wouldn’t be an easier fit – stylistically or cap-wise – for Dube, Mangiapane, or potentially even Jakob Pelletier or Connor Zary.
Both the Flames and Bennett have been patient, waiting for him to blossom into what they both hoped he’d be – Playoff Sam Bennett, but in the regular season. It hasn’t happened yet. With Bennett’s patience seemingly running low, it makes sense to give him an opportunity elsewhere.
It’d be nice if they could add to their crop of young defensemen – Mike Gould trotted out the possibility of a swap with Montreal for Victor Mete, which I like – but something along those lines would be beneficial to their depth. As much as Johannes Kinnvall is tearing it up in Europe, for example, it would be problematic to rely on him as the bulk of their offensive-minded defenders outside of the NHL.
It’s sort of a chicken and egg kind of thing. Mikael Backlund had similarly wonky usage as a young player but his underlyings were constantly impressive, to the point where it really wasn’t a big surprise that when he (a) stayed healthy and (b) got better linemates his offensive numbers popped.
For Bennett, he’s had decent if unspectacular underlyings and while he was good in the playoffs with good linemates, the same usage in the regular season often resulted in turnovers, penalties and a demotion to lesser responsibilities. The coaches have all liked Bennett, but they’ve been risk-averse (as coaches often are) and he gave them reasons not to trust him for too long in larger roles.
Honestly? I’d bet on Seattle right now.
Presuming Milan Lucic waives his no-move clause and is exposed (and there are no significant trades in the interim), I have the protection list looking like this:
- Goalie Jacob Markstrom
- Defensemen Mark Giordano, Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin
- Forwards Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, Mikael Backlund, Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane
The most prominent exposed players would be Lucic, Bennett, Chris Tanev, Oliver Kylington, and pending free agents like David Rittich, Derek Ryan, Josh Leivo and Nikita Nesterov. Arguably the most appealing exposed Flames player would be Bennett, young, hungry, and with a few years of team control left before he’s a free agent.
Questions about other stuff!
So far, the Flames have played 35:00 of five-on-five hockey with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Dominik Simon as a line. They’ve out-scored the opposition 3-1 and had an expected goals for percentage of 54.65%. With Josh Leivo on their right side, it’s 0-0 and xGF% of 50.77 (in 25:18), and with Andrew Mangiapane on the right side, it’s 0-0 and xGF% of 47.47 (in 9:30).
Stylistically, Gaudreau and Monahan need a puck retrieval guy with them: someone who can forecheck, battle in the corners for pucks, and then feed it to ’em. So far, Simon and Leivo have had some good success in that role, with Simon seemingly faring slightly better than Leivo, but the sample size is small enough this early in the season that it’s basically a wash between the two choices.
Chris Tanev has been awesome – and I’m willing to admit he’s been a much better stylistic fit than I thought he’d be – but I simply cannot see the Flames exposing their captain in an expansion draft. Given how important Giordano is in the locker room and in the greater community, the optics would be awful.
Barring a trade, the protected defensemen will be Giordano, Andersson and Hanifin. They’ll gamble on Tanev’s age and hefty remaining contract – $4.5 million for another three seasons and a no-trade clause – will scare Seattle away.
Later in February, maybe, but probably not right away. I think Geoff Ward wants to see some consistent 60 minute performances from his team before he starts mucking around with his lineup, but I wouldn’t be shocked if we see Buddy Robinson or Zac Rinaldo get a game here or there on the fourth line. The third line will probably remain as some combination of Bennett, Backlund, Leivo, Simon and Mangiapane until one combo starts clicking.
February’s got a crazy schedule – 15 games in 28 days – and the Flames will try to keep everyone relatively fresh and/or healthy when they can by swapping depth players out. (Probably from the fourth line.)
Heck yes. I don’t know the precise recipe, but always advise on going heavy on the cinnamon.