The only time the Calgary Flames have had a better start to their season in the history of the franchise was 1988–89, when they won cup.
So of course the team has entered mass quarantine and the league faces a shut down as the COVID pandemic surges into its third year. Seems somehow on brand turn of events for a franchise that has struggled for two decades to sustain any true level of success.
Assuming the shut down is transitory, the Flames still have some lingering question marks as they try to maintain their newly minted “contender” status in the league. No doubt fans and management alike are concerned with how turn this season into a kind of Cinderella story like 2003–04, and not the Greek tragedy of 2018–19.
Current questions around the Flames
On the impact of the unscheduled pause
I don’t think it will impact them one way or the other, given the reported COVID symptoms of the player affected are mild. The team was already one of the healthiest in the league, so the long break won’t be beneficial from that perspective.
That said, previous iterations of this club under Bill Peters and Glen Gulutzan tended to struggle mightily after long breaks away from the rink. They were infamously lackluster after the long all-star break back in the aforementioned 2018–19 season, for instance. However, that bad habit doesn’t seem as evident under Darryl Sutter so far.
On potential targets from the Philadelphia Flyers
Giroux is indeed an intriguing target for Calgary. Although he’s a little older at 33, the Flyers’ captain is in the final season of a contract that pays him $8.275M. The Flyers are currently 11th in the East with a -19 goal differential (only BUF, OTT, and MTL are worse) so it doesn’t seem like they will be winning anything this year. It’s reasonable to expect them to try to flip Giroux at the deadline as a result.
Despite being relatively long in the tooth, Giroux still puts up solid results at even strength. His 1.99 ESP/60 so far this season is second amongst regular skaters on the team. Over the last three seasons, he’s managed a 1.87/60 rate, which is good-to-very good (but hardly elite).
Outside of scoring, Giroux still drives play as well. Over the last three seasons his CF% of 56.2% is second behind frequent Selke candidate Sean Couturier, and his XGF% of 53.4% sits first by regular PHI skaters.
Adding Giroux would give Sutter two legitimate looks in the top-six rotation and opposition coaches a bit of Sophie’s Choice when it comes to matchups:
Gaudreau – Lindholm – Tkachuk
Mangiapane – Giroux – Coleman
Of course, the price to acquire the player and how to find a way to fit his cap hit into the Flames’ rather tight budget are unanswered questions at this point.
On contracts for the Flames’ free agents
To some degree this depends on how the rest of the season plays out, but right now all three guys in question (Andrew Mangiapane, Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau) are on pace for career or near-career best seasons.
My rough estimates are north of $5M for Mangiapane and around $9M for Tkachuk and Gaudreau each. Treliving will likely have to budget between $22M and $25M just to keep this band together I suspect.
Should that be the GM’s aim, he’s going to have to purge at least one, if not two bad money deals from the club’s books this offseason (looking at you, Monahan and Lucic). Treliving missed a potential opening for that sort of transaction last summer, with the Arizona Coyotes loudly proclaiming they were open to accepting unwanted contracts (for a price). Hopefully there will be a similar situation next year.
On the history of Kent
I am not, as a matter of fact. My mother emigrated from England when she was 16 and, as her first born son, my name harkens back to a town in her mother country.
On Brad Treliving’s trading ability
I don’t think Treliving has actually been gun shy over the years. I think he’s been painted into a corner, which has made making big deals increasingly more difficult.
The situation is a mixture of ownership mandate (always try to be as competitive as possible) and a series fo cascading bets hitting tails rather than heads put Treliving in a position where he’s frequently the bridesmaid, never the bride when it comes to big deals.
With a lack of both draft capital and cap space, landing the big fish becomes increasingly more difficult. When you don’t have a lot first-round picks and bluechippers to dangle, nor cap space to play with, it’s a challenge to come up with an enticing package most of the time. These were both major hurdles when it came to the two most recent “misses” in Mark Stone and Jack Eichel—on both cases the Golden Knights either had prospects the sellers liked better, or more cap space and easier path to re-signing the player.
On general trade targets for Calgary
Aside from Giroux, my list of Flames targets includes: Tomas Hertl, Joe Pavelski, Max Domi, Jared McCann, and Brock Boeser, with the caveat that I don’t think the Flames will want to commit to a contract that has money beyond this year.
We will get into some of these guys below, but let’s get into the Domi option. While adding another shooter/sniper to the top of the rotation is the obvious choice, I think the team could also use a world class puck distributor a la Gaudreau to buttress the second line. In part because they already have a great goal scorer in Mangiapane kind of doing it by himself on 2L currently.
Domi has kind of fallen off the radar in Columbus and was actually left exposed (and unclaimed!) in the expansion draft. Nevertheless, he was a world class puck mover and offensive creator during his time in Montreal.
If you’re too lazy to click the link, some key items from that Jack Han article:
Domi creates zone entries and dangerous puck plays in the middle of the ice, which the Flames lack in general after the dominating top line of Gaudreau, Lindholm, and Tkachuk. He’s also a miserable defensive player and not great at board play, so you can see why he fell out of favour in CBJ, especially under Tortorella. Nevertheless, his unique offensive skillset could be just what the Flames need on 2L, and the asking price for Domi should be relatively low.
As for Phil Kessel, Phil the Thrill is approaching “completely cooked” territory. His shot impacts are dire and his ES scoring has been eroding over the last three years:
On the one target to rule them all
We’ll combine these into one ask.
I don’t think the league shutters again, at least not for good. A pause has been announced but we’ll have to see.
Of the group I named above, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Calgary charge hard after Hertl. He’s big (6’2″, 215lbs.), he’s a center, and he’s a capable play driver and scorer. At 28, he’s also in the meaty part of his career arc. Hertl is second on SJS in terms of XGF% and ESP rate at ES over the last years, and is likely to be a player who is favoured by Darryl. His cap hit ($5.625M) is also relatively palatable.
Of course, a lot of contenders are going to be interested in Hertl if he is available, so the question is if Calgary can win the auction.
On Tkachuk’s special team usage
There’s likely 3 reasons for this.
- Coaches like to keep most stars off of the PK so they are fresh for other high leverage minutes during the game. There are some obvious exceptions when the player is a known high-end defensive or two-way player (usually a center). See: Elias Lindholm.
- Somewhat related, coaches also like to have other guys down the rotation on the PK because it keeps them involved in the game when ES minutes are harder to come by. Calgary has some established PK, bottom rotation guys in Trevor Lewis, Tyler Pitlick and Brad Richardson, so they tend to soak up a lot of the club’s PK minutes when they are dressed.
- Finally, Tkachuk is a threat to take a penalty on the PK, which coaches understandably don’t like. Tkachuk both draws (1.40/60) and takes penalties (1.38/60) at a high rate, and NHL officials are more likely to call an even-up than put a team down by two.
On a hypothetical with Gaudreau
This would be a difficult conundrum to tackle. There’s almost no way a trade involving Gaudreau would make the team immediately better because you’d likely return some mix of prospects and picks as the heart of the exchange. You’d have to then find a way to flip those assets plus some of the cap space you’ve acquired into an upgrade.
Treliving could definitely ask for a bluechip level prospect and first round pick to start, but that makes the team worse in the short-term. Typically that hasn’t been a major concern for the club, but this year they’re in the contender conversation.
If the Flames are at the top of the conference near the deadline, then I wouldn’t trade Gaudreau without a mind blowing offer. The option then is to try to win something in the postseason for a change and then try to flip his rights at the draft if possible.
And that’s that on the Calgary Flames
Thanks for tuning into this iteration of the TWC Mailbag!