Calgary Flames

The Win Column Mailbag: Calgary Flames training camp musings

Welcome to the second instalment of The Win Column’s weekly mailbag series.

Last time around, we talked about prospects, the Calgary Flames’ possible bottom-six configurations, jersey designs, and a whole lot of other stuff.

Calgary’s 2021–22 training camp kicked off Wednesday with a day of off-ice activities. Group skates started Thursday, with the team’s veteran-laden “Group 2” likely serving as an early blueprint for the opening-night lineup.

Unsurprisingly, many of your questions revolved around either rookie or training camp. Let’s delve right in.

Going camping

Odds Pelletier or Zary makes the team?

Aman Kurji on Twitter (@AmanKurji)

Honestly? I think the odds are slim. The “Group 2” shown above looks pretty close to what we’ll likely see as the final roster. I think it would take a significant injury or an extremely impressive camp for either of them to make it.

Neither of them have much professional experience—Zary has nine AHL games under his belt while Pelletier has zero—and both are probably behind Glenn Gawdin, Adam Ruzicka, and Matthew Phillips on the injury replacement depth chart.

With those vet signings, do rookies with a completely different skillset have any chance to make the team? If the spot open for competition is 4th line wing and Sutter wants size and grit there, Phillips isn’t exactly the first name to come to mind.

More like Bore-ophyll on Twitter (@HockeyAccount2)

You mentioned Phillips—I actually think he might have a chance to endear himself to Sutter by putting his excellent work ethic on display. He has an impressive motor and always skates hard. I think those qualities could possibly end up outweighing his size.

Phillips has an entirely finesse-based skillset but is capable of backing it up with hard work. He keeps his feet moving and exercises great control over the puck.

Prospect talk

Why is Ryan Francis not signed yet?

Rob Tullis on Twitter (@PreveaArt)

Francis is heading back to Saint John for his age-20 QMJHL season. He technically doesn’t need to sign a contract right now.

That said, there’s no real downside to doing it—he’d likely get a signing bonus for 2021–22 and the first year of his deal would slide to 2022–23 if he remains in junior—and I could see an agreement coming together while Francis is in Calgary for training camp.

Which prospects caught your eye most at rookie camp this year?

Khalid Keshavjee on Twitter (@KMKeshavjee)

I was relieved to see Martin Pospisil score a few goals and play well after missing significant time with two injuries sustained halfway through the 2020–21 season. He’s a skilled, versatile, pugnacious forward who projects as a possible middle-six forward in the NHL.

I also came away very impressed with Jakob Pelletier, who I haven’t watched a ton since the Flames selected him in the 2019 draft. He’s extremely fast and confident with the puck. I think he could be a mainstay in he Flames’ top-nine as soon as 2022–23.

Player outlooks

If Tkachuk is unable to bounce back this season how should the Front Office approach his upcoming extension?

Boyan Demchuk on Twitter (@Boyan_Demchuk)

How do we define Tkachuk “bouncing back”? He scored at a 63-point pace in 2020–21 and, according to Evolving-Hockey, provided the Flames with $6 million of value against his $7 million cap hit.

If that’s his floor … well, I don’t think the Flames should hesitate to lock him up on a long-term deal at or near his $9 million qualifying offer. He’s capable of being a near-point/GP physical winger who can take over games. It will be very interesting to see how he responds to a full season of Darryl Sutter behind the Flames’ bench.

If Markstrom goes down for an extended period of time (hopefully not, knock on wood), do you feel confident enough in our goalie situation right now that they could still help get wins? Or would we be looking at more losses than wins in that case?

Nate Thomas on Twitter (@tatenhomas)

Er… I think it would be disastrous. The Flames’ backup goalies collectively have seven games’ worth of NHL experience.

I’m sure Dan Vladar is talented but it might be a little early to expect him to take on the lion’s share of an NHL workload. If he can’t effectively fill in, the Flames’ only hope might be for a Dustin Wolf miracle.

If Markstrom misses more than half the season, I think we see the Flames challenge Anaheim and San Jose for eighth place in the Pacific Division.

Do you think this is Dube’s year to break out?

Hugo Sorbetti on Instagram (@hugosorbetti)

Possibly, although a lot of it is out of his control. The Flames just brought in Blake Coleman to play in the top six, meaning Dube will probably slot in on the third line. He miiiiiiight get playing time on the second power play unit.

Dube had a decent offensive year in 2020–21 but he’ll have to force his way into higher-leverage situations and gain more of Sutter’s trust if he wants to receive increased playing time with the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Andrew Mangiapane. That’ll probably be the key to Dube’s numbers skyrocketing.

Catalysts for change

What do you think are the key indicators that the Flames will use to determine whether to go all-in for the playoffs or to fold and rebuild?

Khalid Keshavjee on Twitter (@KMKeshavjee)

If they’re obviously out of contention by Christmas, I think we’ll see significant managerial change—more on that later—and the trade market intensify for the likes of Gaudreau, Tanev, and Monahan.

But… I think they would have to be 10 points out for those big changes to occur. Never underestimate the Flames’ ability to say, “just get in and anything can happen.” If the eighth Western Conference playoff spot is even remotely in their sights, I think they’ll stand pat throughout the season… and possibly risk losing Gaudreau for nothing.

Who do you think is first on the chopping block to get traded or fired if the Flames are unable to play well during the season?

Boyan Demchuk on Twitter (@BoyanDemchuk)

Flames general manager Brad Treliving will likely be the first to go mid-season if things aren’t panning out as hoped.

In such a situation, I’d expect Darryl Sutter to move to the GM spot and Kirk Muller to take over as head coach.

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