The Stanley Cup playoffs have been simply long and dreadful for Calgary Flames fans. The cup has been in the possession of the Washington Capitals now for two weeks, and it has been over two months since the Flames last played a meaningful game. There won’t be any regular season games until October 3, which unfortunately means patience is the only path to take at the moment.
Thankfully, the offseason can prove to be an exciting time. With a constant shuffling of players, coaches, and management happening over the course of the summer, the fun is not always limited to the ice surface. Dominoes are beginning to fall as we approach the 2018 NHL draft and free agent frenzy, which means pandemonium is on the horizon.
The Flames sit in a peculiar position entering this crucial two week period. On one had, almost the entire core of the team is under contract, with no major free agent decisions hanging in the balance on July 1. On the other hand, after a disappointing season, they won’t be picking until the 4th round, 105th overall to be precise, and lack a substantial pool of valuable trade chips that they would be willing to part with. Brad Treliving’s offseason plans are hindered by his previous moves made last season.
Treliving needs to hit home runs heading into the 2018-19 season. With a new coach, and his window as the team’s General Manager likely closing, these next two weeks could end up defining next season, and maybe even Treliving’s tenure as GM. As it sits today, there aren’t any tangible rumors to hold on to that would reveal the team’s direction over the offseason; it’s purely speculation at this point. Over the next two weeks, the Flames could end up on cloud nine or fall towards rock bottom. Let’s take a look at both scenarios and see which steps the team should make to end up in one direction or the other.
Cloud Nine Scenario
Step 1 – Acquire a 2018 2nd or 3rd Round Selection for Michael Stone + 2019 Selection
One of the team’s most glaring concerns entering Friday’s draft is that they won’t be picking until the 4th round. Yes, it’s entirely possible the team could find a diamond in the rough (here’s looking at you Johnny Gaudreau), but the odds a player in the fourth round will become an impact NHLer is substantially lower than in the first three rounds. Travis Yost illustrated this a few years ago:
Stone on the other hand is the odd defenceman out for many reasons. Last season he was on the wrong side of the possession battle, amassed only 10 points in 82 games, and is wildly overpaid for a third pairing role. With Bill Peters having a preference for younger prospects, and with Rasmus Andersson looking like he’s ready for a full time NHL role, look for him to replace Stone next season.
The market may not be as enticing for Stone as it was in 2017, but several teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, and Edmonton Oilers lack defensive depth and could be willing to make this deal a possibility. The Flames would gain cap space, acquire a prospect with higher upside, and simultaneously open up a roster spot for an NHL ready player.
Step 2 – A Troy Brouwer Buyout
Addition by subtraction? Two years ago Brouwer’s contract didn’t look great, but coming off a strong postseason, Treliving felt it was a worthwhile gamble. Unfortunately, after two full seasons, it doesn’t make any sense to keep him on the roster. Via CapFriendly, here is the financial break down of what a buyout would mean for the team.
The Flames would have a hit of $1.5M for the next four seasons, but would be able to save $3M over the next two. Under Glen Gulutzan, Brouwer was used in almost all situations all of the time. It didn’t make much sense, and it didn’t work out, but hopefully Peters will operate much differently this coming season. It may be beneficial to keep Brouwer around for one more year, but the same sentiment was made this time last year. Another roster spot could be opened, and the team would shed its worst contract.
Step 3 – Sign Matthew Tkachuk to a six year, $33M contract on July 1st
As was mentioned earlier, the Flames don’t have many substantial re-signings to go through after Mikael Backlund put pen to paper late in the season. With one year remaining on his ELC, Tkachuk is eligible to sign his own extension as soon as July 1st. The Flames waited until the last minute to have Gaudreau and Sean Monahan sign their contracts as RFA’s, and likely want to get this contract out of the way as soon as possible.
It’s evidently clear how important Tkachuk is to the organization’s future. Getting him signed early and to a long term deal is the best move for everyone involved.
Step 4 – Short term depth signings of Carter Hutton and others
To win a Stanley Cup in this league, the composition of most teams has been loaded with a supporting cast of depth players that embrace their roles with the utmost optimism. For the Flames the bottom six has seemed to be an ever rotating band of mediocre players, unable to find a place in the league or some who are on their way out of it.
That’s not to say the Flames need to acquire six to seven players, but a few could provide incredible depth at a lower cost than what they currently have. Hutton as the backup goaltender would be the smartest move to make, if the price is right. Signs point to him staying in St. Louis, but he has also been mentioned to test out free agency. Goalie stability is key, especially with Mike Smith being another year older. Riley Nash and Tim Schaller are also interesting targets the Flames should investigate, but not overpay for. July 1st is known for its blockbuster signings, but the quieter ones somehow end up making the most noise.
Rock Bottom Scenario
Step 1 – Acquire 2018 1st Round Pick for Dougie Hamilton, or any Hamilton Trade.
A highly unlikely option based on the comments from Treliving less than a week ago, but still would be a tough sell should the opportunity present itself. It is tough to narrow down the exact value of a first round pick, as the majority of trades involving those selections end up including multiple pieces. The Flames packaged their 2015 and 2018 1st round picks in moves for both Hamilton and Travis Hamonic, respectively. Hamilton appears to be the player most frequently mentioned in trade rumours probably because he’s an incredible hockey player and would easily net the team a first rounder, at least.
Regardless, unless the team is willing to move a significant player from their roster right now, a 2018 first round pick makes little sense. It’s obvious that not all 1st round prospects end up being bonafide NHL players, and the Flames would only be able to squeeze into the 15-31 range anyway. This would be a huge risk for the GM to make, and since the team is has Stanley Cup aspirations, trading for futures would set this team back even more.
That being said, any trade involving Hamilton would be beyond questionable. With recent rumors linking the defenceman to Carolina, the Flames must tread lightly when it comes to Hamilton’s future as a Flame. Players like him do not come around that often. Should the team look to move him they better recoup more assets than what they gave up for him, or else its a failure.
Step 2 – Sign a Marquee Free Agent on July 1st to a long term contract
Calgary will have enough cap space this offseason to make a sizeable offer to one of the big name free agents, but that doesn’t mean that they should. Of course a John Tavares or John Carlson would improve the team, but outside of these two players, the long term cap implications from signing a free agent could hurt the Flames’ flexibility going forward.
Players like James Van Reimsdyk and Paul Stastny should be steered clear of; their situation screams of overpayment. Treliving has always said that teams aren’t built on July 1st, but right now the Flames aren’t building a team, they are retooling one, which means they could lean towards UFAs this offseason. Some of the players may look extremely appealing now, but will be headaches in a couple years.
Step 3 – Nothing, or the opposite of Cloud Nine Steps 1 – 4
There is a strong chance that over the next two weeks major moves could be made by fellow Pacific Division teams. Vegas has been linked to revisiting an Erik Karlsson trade, San Jose has been wanting to make a pitch to Tavares, and rumors have been circling around Edmonton acquiring Max Pacioretty. Meanwhile, the Flames haven’t been associated to any major players or moves entering the offseason. If these transactions were to occur, by process of elimination, the Flames end up looking far worse by doing absolutely nothing. It is safe to assume the Flames will be at least making some minor moves over the next few weeks, but if they are irrelevant in comparison to other Western Conference teams, rock bottom may have already been achieved.
It may seem weird that this lands on the rock bottom scenario rather than cloud nine, but hear me out. It’s clear that the Flames need to solidify a RWer with Monahan and Gaudreau, and at this point, they have probably considered some unique solutions. I just cannot see a viable situation where the Flames are able to give up pennies for dollars.
Bennett has had his issues, but is it fully time to give up on him yet? Kylington is simply a placeholder in my scenario, as a team would likely demand one of the teams’ rich defensive prospects in a trade for one of their star scorers. The Flames would end up sending an underdeveloped Bennett and one of their blue chip defence prospects for a chance of finding a RW with perfect chemistry on the top line.
Where will the Flames end up?
Calgary probably ends up somewhere in the middle of both scenarios. They will make a handful of trades, but at the same time make quality depth signings. Treliving has shown that he is not afraid to make big moves and take big risks, especially at the draft. After a disappointing season and his career on the line, it will be interesting to see what steps he takes to improve the team in the coming weeks.
What are your thoughts on where the Flames could be in two weeks? Let me know @johnmackinnon24 and @wincolumnblog