The definition of insanity is loosely put as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. Now I’m not saying what the Calgary Flames are doing is insane, but they do need to take a good long look at what they have (or don’t) and go from there.
In many ways the 2016-17 Calgary Flames season was an improvement on the previous year. The team started slow but ended the year on a 21-9-1 tear to earn the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference. The playoff run however wasn’t as fun as the last 31 games. The Flames bowed out in the first round after being swept by the Anaheim Ducks. While they were in all four games against the Ducks, it became clear that this team isn’t a championship calibre team.
Calgary Flames Off-season Plans
They have a good core led by Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, and Dougie Hamilton. All four players are still young and have plenty of growth left in them. Upfront they have a solid complementary group of players in Mikael Backlund, Troy Brouwer, and Michael Frolik. Veteran forward Kris Versteeg enjoyed a solid season with Calgary. It would be foolish to let him walk for nothing. The defence has two very capable players in captain Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie.
But what does Calgary’s management team go from here? What’s the long-term plan?
Solve The Goaltending Conundrum
Brian Elliott was supposed to be the answer to the Flames goaltending woes. Ever since Miikka Kiprusoff retired in 2013 Calgary has struggled to find a netminder to completely grab the reigns.
Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller, Reto Berra, and Joni Ortio have all had a chance to be the answer in net, but ultimately failed. To say Elliott struggled early as a flame would be an understatement. In his first 23 games in Calgary his numbers were almost the opposite of what they were in St. Louis. He went 8-12-2 giving up 65 goals on 596 shots, recorded zero shutouts, and “earned” a save percentage of .891.
But all that changed after Calgary’s 5-1 loss in Montreal on January 25th. In his final 26 games of the season, Elliott went 18-6-1 with two shutouts, and a .925 SV%. He also showed an ability to make quality saves when his team needed it, making 686 of them in those games.
While that’s all well and good its his playoff performance that was truly eye opening. In four games Elliott’s numbers were abysmal. 0-3, .880 SV% and 3.89 GAA. To say the four losses rest squarely on the shoulders of Elliott is unfair, but he was brought in to a job that is yet to be completed.
Looking at the Market
The good news for the Flames is there are other options available. Ben Bishop stands atop Calgary’s wish list. After all he’s younger and better than Elliott plus he has big game experience (Team USA’s 2016 World Cup of Hockey Team and an appearance in the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals with Tampa Bay). However, Bishop’s rights were just traded to the Dallas Stars and he is expected to sign with the team. Should Bishop be officially off the market, Calgary could go after veteran Ryan Miller or Steve Mason.
They could also explore possible trade options. The Pittsburgh Penguins could move Marc-Andre Fleury prior to the NHL Expansion Draft. The Detroit Red Wings are in the same boat with veteran Jimmy Howard. While the Washington Capitals may lose Philipp Grubauer. These could be options for Calgary as well.
As of right now the Flames have $51,175,400 committed to 13 players for the 2017-2018 season. The core players are all locked up through 2020-21 and the team will have RFA control over Sam Bennett and Tkachuk. Even if the salary cap remains relatively the same then the $13,125,000 still owed to both Gaudreau and Monahan won’t be an issue. Where they might get into some trouble is with their veterans.
Both Michael Frolik and Troy Brouwer could be a potential problem down the road for Flames.
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Both Brouwer and Frolik are two potential red flags down the road. More so Brouwer because at 31 he’s begun to enter the downward part of his career. A physical forward that has a lot of miles at a large cap hit could be a problem when Calgary will need money to sign Tkachuk and Bennett.
The real concern comes with captain Mark Giordano. While Giordano is still an effective NHL defenceman, the window to trade him and still get fair value in return is closing quickly. Giordano put up his lowest point total since 2011-12 (excluding the lockout shortened 2013 season) with 39. A guy that was known as a solid offensive piece on the blueline who doesn’t score at the rate he used to, isn’t worth $6,750,000.
Finding The Right Pieces
While I’ve already touched on Calgary’s core group of players, the rest of the roster has yet to be explored. At the time of this article being written, the Flames have 12 players hitting either restricted or unrestricted free agency. Of those players, there’s only three that Calgary should seriously consider keeping. Veteran Kris Versteeg, Michael Stone, and Chad Johnson.
Versteeg enjoyed a solid year putting up 15 goals, 22 assists in 69 games, all while primarily playing as a secondary scoring option. He brings championship pedigree, having won the Stanley Cup twice with the Chicago Blackhawks (2010 & 2015). He’s also managed to fit in nicely with the Flames young core. As for Stone, he’s the perfect bottom pair defenceman that can also play further up the roster if need be. Johnson is a solid backup option to whomever Calgary brings in to be the starting goalie. The most intriguing about all three guys is it wouldn’t cost very much to bring all three back.
The long term plan for Calgary should be to continue building around the core and finding the right players to fit in with that core. What they shouldn’t do is spend big money on aging free agents like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.