Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Pool Outlook for Calgary

It has taken some time and a whole lot of patience, but the Calgary Flames had found their stride again, settling in on a lineup that would net them enough wins to make it into the playoffs.  It was their second trip in three years, as this roster hit a bit of speed bump in the 2016 season, but the core group of forwards and defensemen are now rounding out together and the audition of two new goalies seemed to work in their favour as well.

Of course, their reward for their turnaround season was the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the playoffs and that was a lesson in playoff experience, something that the Flames will eventually need down the road and the only way to get it is to play.

The lesson was quite short and not at all sweet, but that isn't to say that the Flames didn't teach the rest of the league a thing or two about their own group, as they remained feisty through a pretty tough sweep from the Ducks and now the team's management has likely identified some holes that they would like to fill in the off-season, so they can continue this upward trend, in both the standings and in the playoffs.

There was a lot of excitement around the Flames on draft day, especially since the draft is conducted in Calgary.  The first run through the player list saw 14 Flames taken in the draft, both Johnny Gaudreau and Brian Elliott were 1st round picks and then they were spread out well afterwards.  Even with 14 picked already, this didn't appease the appetite of the poolies, not dropping any and picking up two more at the swap in Week Eight, but the bubble burst a bit in Week Seventeen, as four were dropped and two were picked up.  When everything was said and done, there were 15 Flames on active rosters in total.

The 2017 season production from Gaudreau was his lowest in the last three seasons, finishing with 18 goals and 61 points in 72 games, but you could argue that his all around game has been coming around a bit, which has helped the team succeed in other areas of the game.  Those numbers, however, dropped him down to 56th overall (a 3rd round pick) and 38th among all forwards in scoring, so the high expectations above, were not quite met in the regular season.

Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, rookie Matthew Tkachuk, Michael Frolik and Kris Versteeg all joined Gaudreau as pool worthy forwards, all finishing in the top 200 at the position, rounding out a pretty decent offense through the year.  Dougie Hamilton emerged as the team's best defenseman, ranking 9th among all blueliners in scoring and he was joined by Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dennis Wideman, as the pool worthy defenders.  In net, the two new faces on the team shared quite a few minutes, which both earned themselves pool worthy statuses, as both Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson were better than a point-per-appearance in the season, but questions loom over both of them.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

When the Flames added Dougie Hamilton, their blueline was full of 20+ minute defenders and I said there were going to be a lot of issues... and there were.  It wasn't until Hamilton could log more minutes before he was doing anything productive and with four pool-worthy defenders above, this Flames team could be in the same boat.  Dennis Wideman is a candidate to move and I think it's fair to think that he will, opening up the top three guys, have a better bottom three and this team should operate a little bit better.  Sorting out the defense, depending on who wins their number one job, how much this team tears away because of the new contracts, this will all play big roles in their season.  The Flames will live and die by these factors and someone can't really predict luck.  Ideally, the Flames move Wideman, get a number one and they'll be in the playoff picture, but if they fail either way, they'll be back in the lottery.

Trying to move Dennis Wideman was a much tougher political task than it really appeared a year ago.  The controversy hung over top of him and the team and it cost them a lot of penalty minutes through the year, yet the Flames overcame that and made the playoffs.  The team really started to hit their stride when Wideman was a healthy scratch for a long period of time, but he was still pool worthy, even playing in only 57 games.  The scratches probably helped to sort out the team and their minute hogs, because they did end up playing like a better unit by the end of the year.

2018 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Johnny Gaudreau 6.750 Mark Giordano 6.750
Sean Monahan 6.375 Dougie Hamilton 5.750
Michael Frolik 4.300 TJ Brodie 4.650
Mikael Backlund 3.575
Matthew Tkachuk 0.925
Troy Brouwer 4.500 Josh Healey 0.859 Mason McDonald 0.823
Matt Stajan 3.125 Rasmus Andersson 0.787 Tyler Parsons 0.759
Lance Bouma 2.200 Oliver Kylington 0.762 Nick Schneider 0.617
Mark Jankowski 0.925 Keegan Kanzig 0.631 Thomas McCollum 0.613
Daniel Pribyl 0.925 Matt Bartkowski 0.613
Hunter Shinkaruk 0.902
Morgan Klimchuk 0.894
Emile Poirier 0.894
Dillon Dube 0.793
Brett Pollock 0.712
Ryan Lomberg 0.710
Andrew Mangiapane 0.705
Hunter Smith 0.693
Austin Carroll 0.670
Freddie Hamilton 0.613

The Flames are always going to be popular at my draft, so the impact is generally on how good the team actually does, more than anything else.  The Flames still have a number of good quality players to pick from, as you can see above, but the poolies (and fans!) are anxiously awaiting to see who will take the mantle of the number one role in net.  The Flames join Buffalo and Vegas as the three teams, so far, that don't have a pool worthy goalie on their table in these outlooks, which will make the goalie market sizzle.

Potential Losses in the Expansion Draft

The Flames have some tough decisions to make at this expansion draft, especially on what ratio of players that they want to protect.  If they protect seven forwards and three defensemen, they could potentially lose Michael Stone or if they went four forwards and four defensemen, they could potentially lose Curtis Lazar or Micheal Ferland.  I would likely try to take my chances with protecting more forwards and maybe grease the wheels a bit, by moving a pick, to sway Vegas away from Stone.  It is a troublesome position, that's for sure.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

This year, free agency will undoubtedly help the Flames and their overall flexibility.  Contracts like Dennis Wideman's $5.25 million, Deryk Engellend's $2.9 million or even Brandon Bollig's $1.25 million come off the books and it starts to open up some space.

The Flames have four pool worthy players heading to free agency, as both goalies, Wideman and Kris Versteeg are all unrestricted this summer and I could only see one, maybe two coming back from that list of four.

Cap-wise, I am showing them with 32 players and a buyout on the books, coming in at $65.8 million, currently leaving them with $7.2 million against the ceiling, before paring down the roster.  Knock $7 to $9 million off that number and you get an idea of where they are going to be with a 23-man roster.

The Flames have a couple of potential new faces to come in the 2018 season, starting down the middle with Mark Jankowski, their 1st round pick from 2012.  He's slowly being brought along, now in the AHL system and his size could earn him a very long look at training camp this year.  We got to see 2012 3rd rounder Jon Gillies make his NHL debut in 2017 and his size and athletic ability could earn him a back-up job this year, depending on how the Flames do in free agency.

Needs at the 2017 Entry Draft

Improving the back end has to be a priority for the Calgary Flames, even if it is a longer-term project with their youth.  I think that Juuso Valimaki is the kid that fits the bill, especially as a project player.  According to the scouts, he already has the size that is needed in the Pacific Division battles, he's got some good puck moving abilities, but his focus needs to be on his skating.  The best part about having young defensemen in the system is that they get a little bit of a longer leash for how long they need to develop into an NHL-calibre blueliner and this will be a boost to the Flames, if they can nab a kid like this, especially in the long run.

It's really hard to put a prediction down on the Flames, when you don't know who is going to be the number one goalie in town, but with a defense corps, which is now led by Dougie Hamilton, they would be best to try and get the harder working goaltender, rather than the flashier goaltender, especially since the three key defensemen aren't always known for clearing the front of the net too quickly.  The Flames are not short on scoring, they'll just need to tighten up the back end a little bit.  This is no easy task.  The result of the 2018 season hinges mainly on the goalie they choose and right now, the Flames are on the tipping point of making the playoffs or not, probably more than any other West team today.
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