Finding the right kindling for the Flames
By Brendan Makay, Contributor
The season no one could have predicted is now over, and the offseason is in full swing. There is no better time than the present to investigate the Calgary Flames roster. The Flames won their bubble play-in game against the Winnipeg Jets, but were eliminated in the next round to the eventual Western Conference Champion Dallas Stars.
The Flames and General Manager Brad Treliving’s first big decision was whether or not to make interim head coach Geoff Ward the official head coach or seek out a replacement. Under Ward, the Flames were 25-15-3, which was much better than their record under Bill Peters earlier in the season. Due to the team’s growth under Ward, he was given the official head coaching job.
The biggest rumours that have been surrounding the Flames for some time now have been about whether or not Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are going to be dealt. Gaudreau and Monahan have underperformed during the Flames last two playoff appearances. Many are doubting their ability to perform when it really matters. They are both on excellent contracts, making them very intriguing targets for other teams; however, the difficult part would be getting a good return.
Out of the two, I believe Monahan is more likely to be seen in a Flames jersey next year — and for many to come —and it would not come as a shock to me if Gaudreau stayed around next year. It is difficult to trade your star players and rushing it only leaves you liable to getting fleeced. The outstanding play of Sam Bennet, Dillon Dube and Milan Lucic during the playoffs eases my mind about the bottom six forwards.
The Flames need to fix their top-six forward situation if they want to improve and become a cup contender. Their top six needs a big right-handed player who can play a 200-foot game and provide some offence. The problem is every team in the league would like someone like that, and sadly those types of players are limited. However, if the Flames could get a player with a couple of those characteristics, that would be ideal. The most important element to add would be a big-bodied righty, as the Flames are undersized and left-handed dominant.
The Flames’ backbone to success has been the strength of their defence. Unfortunately, that unit is about to go through a big overhaul. With Travis Hamonic, T.J. Brodie and deadline pickup Eric Gustafsson all leaving in free agency, the Flames are going to have a completely new look on the back end. With the salary cap staying flat, the Flames were unable to resign all the d-men previously mentioned and had to look for new options.
Derek Forbot, another UFA defensemen who was a deadline pickup from the Los Angeles Kings, could stay for cheap and would be a nice bottom pairing presence. There were some rumours that the Flames might shoot for the stars and attempt to sign free agent Alex Pietrangelo; however, it would have come as a shock. It would most likely involve overspending, which would not be a smart move given the Flames are close but not quite over the NHL’s salary cap.
He ultimately signed with a divisional opponent, the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Oliver Ekman-Larsson from the Arizona Coyotes has also been brought up in trade talks with the Flames, but he is now all but guaranteed to stay put in Arizona now. The Flames went out and signed Chris Tanev, formerly of the Vancouver Canucks. He should be a solid veteran, right-handed presence on a team starved for any d-man who can play the right side. With the cap being tight for the Flames, they are best to build from within for the rest of the open spots on defence.
College standout Connor Mackey, who signed with the team last year, is most likely to get a shot at making the roster, as is former second-round pick Oliver Kylington who has been in the Flames system for the past four seasons and has played games with the Flames already.
One-piece that many fans may have forgotten about is Jusso Välimäki, who missed all last season with an injury but is a solid young player with a ton of potential to grow into a great player. Those three, along with Rasmus Andersson, Captain Mark Giordano and Noah Hanifin, could make a young (excluding Giordano and Chris Tanev) serviceable backend that you can hope will continue to grow as players eventually excel in their larger roles.
Finally, in net the Flames have David Rittich locked up for another year, and their playoff starter Cam Talbot is a UFA. Although Talbot was tabbed as the playoff starter and played well, he was let go in free agency and ultimately signed in Minnesota. The Flames made a big splash in free agency and signed what I believe was the best goalie the free agency market had to offer in Jacob Markstrom. This six-year contract will finally bring stability in the Flames net, something the Flames haven’t seen since the days of Mikka Kiprusoff.
Overall, by resigning the players they most wanted to (Andrew Mangiapane and great locker room presence Zac Rinaldo), they completed the minimum requirement of the offseason, were able to stabilize the net for years to come and get the right-handed shot this young group of defensemen needed. Flames fans should be looking at this season with great optimism.
It is too difficult to predict what will happen with the rest of this unusual and extended offseason; however, if nothing more were to change with the Flames lineup, they are still in a good spot for next year.