Folks, we’re getting into the back half of August, and the onset of prospect camp is just a few weeks away. Heck, by the second week of September, players will be reporting and soon the season will be upon us.
Let’s dive into the mailbag, shall we?
I’ll say this: I think Jakob Pelletier is a really, really good hockey player. He was superb (and consistently so) for the Stockton Heat, a very good team, last season, and he did so while playing pro hockey for the first time and living away from family or billets for the first time. For a guy going through a lot of transitions, he did great.
But the NHL is Serious Business, and tons of players have had AHL success and failed to click at the NHL level for various reasons. The thing that gives me pause about the Flames’ depth chart right now is that the Flames don’t have a ton of insulation in case of injuries or Pelletier not clicking right away.
I imagine the Flames will either look to free agent additions or use their ample defensive depth to potentially facilitate a swap to bolster their forward ranks.
I really like the Flames’ projected top six forwards.
For wingers, you have Jonathan Huberdeau, Andrew Mangiapane, Blake Coleman and Tyler Toffoli. Up the middle, you have Nazem Kadri and Elias Lindholm. You can probably mix and match wingers and forwards – and even move Lindholm to the wing if you want to load up from time to time – and produce two productive, dangerous forward units.
Behind that top six, though, the next three forwards up are Mikael Backlund, Dillon Dube and Jakob Pelletier. I like each of those players, but I’m curious (as seen in the prior answer) what the Flames can do to add a bit of depth in case of injuries or just Pelletier not clicking immediately at the NHL level.
Depends on the price. Evan Rodrigues has been a really productive pro and can provide really solid minutes playing in the middle of the forward rotation. Heck, he can even play up the rotation in a pinch, though him doing so gives me Dominik Simon flashbacks if leaned on too often.
Considering how they were both used, I wouldn’t be shocked if Michael Stone or Brett Ritchie made camp appearances. (Stone was excellent in his role last season, after all.) Beyond them, I could see the Flames looking for forward depth and versatility with names such as Viktor Rask, Brendan Perlini or others of that ilk (not these exactly players, but these types): middle six to bottom six forwards who can play on either side and be bounced around as needed for different line-up configurations.
I like Matthew Phillips and think he’s a good organizational asset, but what role would he fit on the NHL roster? The winger spots are mostly full, aside from the slot many have pencilled Jakob Pelletier into, and I’m not sure if using Phillips in a fourth line checking role (and playing with checkers) would be the best use of his talents.
Right now, I’d say his chances are low-to-moderate.
If I’m a general manager, and I expect the cap to be creeping up in a couple of years, I’d rather do what I can to keep Nazem Kadri’s cap number down a bit and use the money I save in the interim to squeeze in another helpful player or two under the cap ceiling. If you believe you have a team capable of winning – and I believe the Flames think they have such a team – then you need to find ways to help yourself, and keeping Kadri’s cap hit down helps that.
If I’m the player, I want stability and to be paid well relative to my peers, and I think this deal accomplishes this for Kadri.
Honestly, I don’t have a huge feel for this yet, and I think it depends on what dynamics emerge among the leadership group during training camp.
Jonathan Huberdeau will be the team’s highest-paid player starting in 2023-24 and is under contract until 2030-31. He previously wore a letter for several seasons in Florida. I would be blown away if he’s not an alternate captain when the season begins.
I don’t think this is necessarily urgent business, but I’m sure the Flames would love to have it dealt with before the beginning of the season to avoid distractions and put the sole focus on the team (on and off the ice) on winning a Stanley Cup. (I don’t think that the contractual statuses of Matthew Tkachuk or Johnny Gaudreau were distractions last season, but I think the Flames want to make life as simple off-ice as possible to enable success on-ice.)
Definitively? Not necessarily, but it’s pretty close. Their goaltending is probably about as good as last season. Their defensive group has been upgraded. Their forward group may be a little bit worse, but is arguably a group that can be used in different ways than the 2021-22 group. The fact that on paper the group looks this good is a testament to the management group’s wheeling and dealing this off-season.
We’ll see what else happens before camp begins, but the Flames look like they’ll be a good hockey team in 2022-23.
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