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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Eight From 80 Feet: Eight Random Thoughts on the Current Happenings with the Flames

Fourteen games to go. Halfway through Calgary's season-long six-game homestand. Sounds like a fabulous time to break out a little Stray Cats and strut through a fresh Eight From 80 Feet.

In this recurring content feature which is a roundup of sorts, I offer up eight random musings on the current goings-on with the Flames. This includes what's happening with the NHL club as well as throughout the organization.

So if you're ready, let's rock this town, rock it inside out.


1. Backlund Burning it Up

It's been quite an offensive tear recently for Mikael Backlund, who turns 27 years old on Thursday. The seven-year vet has 10 goals in his last 18 games, this coming after he scored only five times in the first 50. He is closing in on his career high of 18 goals set two years ago.

Getting on the scoresheet is viewed by many as Backlund merely getting the recognition he deserves for the strong 200 foot game he already plays but it's one thing to be an excellent two-way player possession-wise, but it's also important for that territorial edge to turn into actual goals and not just shot attempts.

No pun intended but the Swede has been not known for his finish in his pro career to this point. It's for this reason that an extended run of consistent production like this is exciting for the club and its fan base as it proves that he is capable of contributing at a higher end offensively than he's shown so far.

Over this stretch of five-plus weeks, Backlund has been one of the NHL's hottest goal scorers.


NHL Top 10 in Goals - Since Feb. 6

1. Filip Forsberg NSH, 14
2. Alex Galchenyuk MTL, 13
3. Alex Ovechkin WSH, 12
    Zack Smith OTT, 12
5. Brad Marchand BOS, 11
    Loui Eriksson BOS, 11
7. Mikael Backlund CGY, 10
    Jason Spezza DAL, 10
    Mark Stone OTT, 10
    Mark Scheifele WPG, 10


He's also been one of the team's top producers over that period.


Flames Top 10 in Points - Since Feb. 6

1. Gaudreau, 5-12-17
2. Backlund, 10-4-14
    Monahan, 6-8-14
    Brodie, 0-14-14
5. Giordano, 4-6-10
    Hamilton, 3-7-10
    Bennett, 2-8-10
8. Colborne, 5-4-9
    Frolik, 3-5-8
    Hudler, 3-5-8


Together much of the season, Backlund and Michael Frolik have formed a really nice partnership as exhibited on Backlund's shorthanded goal on Friday. The two complement each other and given the similarities in their games and roles, I'd expect them to spend a lot of time together in the future.


2. Grant Getting Closer

Last week in this piece I speculated how the Flames would use their four allotted AHL call-ups -- of which they've used two so far (Garnet Hathaway, Joni Ortio). I suggested they might keep one of the recalls in their back pocket for Grant, who had been Stockton's best player by far (23-15-38 in 30 gm) when he suffered a fractured jaw in practice on Feb. 8.

This weekend, Flames assistant GM Brad Pascall told me Grant is back skating with the Heat now and that they expect he's 7-10 days away from returning. If so, that puts him back on the ice with still eight or nine games remaining on the Flame schedule.

As a pending group 6 unrestricted free agent, you would think Calgary would have some interest in re-signing the 25-year-old centre given his size (6-foot-3, 202 lbs), prowess at the face-off dot and abilities on the PK. If so, a wise negotiating ploy would be to bring him up and give him some more NHL action over the final couple weeks.


3. Flames and Jets in a Dead Heat

With playoff hopes dashed, many draft-focused fans are keeping a close eye on the inverse standings these days. While I doubt the Leafs can be caught and the Oilers, with three fewer games remaining than most of the other teams, would be the favorite for 29th, things get interesting after that.

As of right now, the Flames and Jets are tied with identical 28-35-5 records and both also have 26 regulation/overtime wins (ROW). So what is the next tie-breaker? I'm glad you asked.

Next they go to head-to-head record but with a catch. When the teams play an uneven amount of home games as is the case in the three-game Jets-Flames season series, the first result in the city that hosts two of the games is excluded. So the Flames 4-1 win over Winnipeg at the Saddledome on Dec. 22 is tossed out. The only game that counts so far is Winnipeg's 3-1 win at the MTS Centre on Oct. 16. The other game goes this Wednesday when the Jets are in town.

If Calgary wins in regulation to make it two points each in the season series, the final tie-breaker should they be even in points and ROW at season's end would be goal differential on the season. In that, Winnipeg (-27) currently holds the edge on the Flames (-31).


4. Ortio Putting Himself Back in the Goalie Conversation

A few weeks ago, I wrote an in-depth two-part feature that generated a lot of positive reader feedback on the state of the Flames goaltending:
  • Part 1 - The Present - With the prospects currently in the organization, what is needed, when and for how long?
  • Part 2 - The Future - Looking at over 25 candidates to be in the Flames crease next season.

At that time, it really looked like Ortio was done with this organization. There was a refusal to play him in Calgary while Kevin Poulin had been the better of the two goalies in Stockton.

However, finally getting the chance to make consecutive starts, Ortio has gone on a nice little run. His 2-7-2 record doesn't reflect it as he's had a lack of run support but he's got a .915 save percentage in March and going back eight starts to when this string of playing time began, he's put up a .912.

While Niklas Backstrom is owed a couple games for waiving his no-trade clause to come to Calgary, if I'm the Flames it's Ortio that gets all the stiffest challenges down the stretch. I'm talking about St. Louis on Monday, the Kings (both times), the Ducks, Chicago, etc.

By the end of the season, the Flames need to know if Ortio is a legitimate option to be the back-up goalie next season or if the club is looking for two goalies this summer as I originally speculated would be the case.


5. Glimpse into the Future

For one night and one night only last week, Flames fans got a sneak preview to how the team's blue-line could and should be constructed in 2017-18. In Wednesday's 3-2 overtime victory against Nashville, Calgary was missing Deryk Engelland and Ladislav Smid (both injured) as well as Dennis Wideman (suspended).

As a result, the core big three of Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie and Dougie Hamilton were joined by Jyrki Jokipakka, Jakub Nakladal and Tyler Wotherspoon.

The $11.7 million in salary from Engelland/Smid/Wideman was replaced by $2.6 million for the other three. That's a saving of over $9 million in salary without a discernible drop-off in play. In fact, many would argue the blue-line was better with the three younger guys.

With big raises due this summer for Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, and with Sam Bennett in line for a new deal next summer. Plus, with money needed to bring in some goaltending, Calgary will need to have 'value' contracts throughout the bottom six up front as well as on the third D pairing. This is not the situation today.

The question is can Calgary get to that more desirable payroll structure sooner than two seasons from now. Engelland, Smid and Wideman all have one year remaining on their deals.

While I'd argue Engelland is the most tradeable of the three, a question that has come up frequently with the other two is a potential buy-out of their final year at season's end. Should the club choose to go down that path and note that there is very little history of Calgary doing this in the past (I believe Shane O'Brien is the most recent, and that was a different management team), here would be the impact on the team per the buyout calculator on General Fanager:

Wideman
  • 2016-17 - Cap hit is $1.25M instead of $5.25M
  • 2017-18 - Cap hit of $2M (instead of $0)

Smid
  • 2016-17 - Cap hit is $833K instead of $3.5M
  • 2017-18 - Cap hit is $1.3M (instead of $0)

Because of the way buyouts work with the cost for buying out the contract spread over twice the number of years remaining on the deal, it means Calgary would have an extra cap hit in 2017-18 when otherwise those contracts would be off the books. However, the overall savings especially in cap relief in 2016-17 makes it something I wouldn't rule out.

While we're on the topic, here's the cost to buy out Mason Raymond, who also has one year remaining and is currently playing in the AHL. Again, I would think this is a possibility.

Raymond
  • 2016-17 - Cap hit is $1.05M instead of $3.15M
  • 2017-18 - Cap hit is $1.05M (instead of $0)

The buyout window opens 48 hours after the Stanley Cup final ends and expires at 3 pm MT on June 30.


6. Yearning for Another First Round Pick

Dallas is second overall and if the playoffs opened today would be the top seed in the Western Conference. This is both good and bad news if you're the Calgary Flames and have a vested interest in the Stars fate given the quality of draft pick they receive from the Stars in the Kris Russell deal hinges on it.

If Dallas reaches the third round of the post-season -- and home-ice advantage as it stands now would help their cause, that pick will become a first rounder in the range of 27-30. It would be 27 or 28 if they are eliminated in the conference final, 29 if they lose in the Stanley Cup final or 30 if they win it all.

On the flipside, if the Stars are eliminated in rounds 1 or 2, that second round pick would almost for sure be in the 50s. That's barring the unlikely scenario that Dallas has a brutal final four weeks and all four division winners get punted from the playoffs in the first two rounds.

Based on the standings today, a first or second round exit would mean the pick going to the Flames would be 55 or 56 depending on whether the Capitals get knocked out early or not.

As for the second rounder from Florida in the Jiri Hudler deal, there are similar what if's. If the final standings mirror how they looked at the start of play today (so disregarding games played) so the Panthers finishing second to Boston in the Atlantic, and if there were no upsets in the playoffs, that second round pick to Calgary would be pick 53.


7. Mangiapane Surpasses 100 Points Again

Can't stop, won't stop.

Capping off a seven-point weekend, Flames 2015 sixth round pick Andrew Mangiapane chalked up his seventh consecutive multi-point game on Saturday with two goals -- including his 50th -- and adding an assist. With four regular season games to go, the 5-foot-10 forward has picked up at least three points in each of his last three games.

Mangiapane has been especially good in the calendar year 2016 with points in 28 of 30 games and 65 points (33 goals, 32 assists) in that span for an average of a gaudy 2.2 points per game.

While he is 11 months older than Dylan Strome and 13 months older than Mitch Marner, he shares the same draft year as the other two highly-touted OHL prospects, who went third (Arizona) and fourth (Toronto) respectively in the 2015 NHL Draft. After being passed over in his 18-year-old season, Mangiapane had to wait until pick 166 to hear his name hollered last year.

The intrigue with the comparison is Mangiapane's production isn't that far off the other two:
  • Mitch Marner, London, 54 gm, 39-72-111
  • Dylan Strome, Erie, 53 gm, 36-67-103
  • Andrew Mangiapane, Barrie, 56 gm, 50-51-101

While the age thing is certainly not something to disregard, it's maybe not as big of a factor as would normally be the case given they each have had the same amount of major junior experience. Often in these cases, the older player also has an extra full season of major junior development under his belt. Not so in this instance as all three are in their third year in the OHL.

By no means am I putting the Flames prospect in the same tier as the other two, but the point is Calgary could have done far worse with a sixth round pick. That deep in a draft, you're pretty much in 'Hail Mary' territory at that point.

Considering Calgary's co-MVPs this season Johnny Gaudreau and TJ Brodie are both fourth round picks and given the eerie coincidence that diminutive Flames great Theoren Fleury was also taken with that exact 166th pick used on Mangiapane, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about what the future might hold for this young man, who I fully expect to turn pro next season.




8. Nearly Graduation Day for Jankowski, Gilmour

On Saturday, Flames prospects and Providence College teammates Mark Jankowski and John Gilmour, both in their senior season, played their final game at Schneider Arena, which is the Friars' home rink and located right on the campus of the Rhode Island school.

The 2-0 victory over Merrimack gave Providence a two-game sweep and puts them in the Hockey East final four to be played next weekend at the TD Garden in Boston. Now a single-game elimination format, the semi-final goes Friday, March 18, and the final goes Saturday night.

However, even if they lose, this isn't it for Providence. As one of the top ranked schools in all of college hockey, the defending national champs will at minimum still be an at-large invite to the 16-team NCAA Division 1 tournament that opens up in four different regional locations on Friday, March 25.

It is when the Friars reach that point two weeks from now that one loss ends their season.


Why This Matters in Calgary

The reason I bring this up is both Jankowski (1st round, 2012) and Gilmour (7th round, 2013) are eligible to sign contracts with the Flames as soon as their season is done. If they don't win both games to make it through that opening weekend, Calgary would still have seven regular season games remaining at that point. On the other hand, if Providence wins both to advance to the Frozen Four. Those final games at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, don't go until April 7-9. The Flames final game is on the Saturday night of the final -- April 9.

Should Providence lose on that Mar. 25-27 weekend, what could happen is the Flames dangle the opportunity for Jankowski to dress for some NHL games this season and sign him to an entry-level contract almost immediately. This is how things played out in the past for Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold, Kenny Agostino, Ben Hanowski, etc. When you sign after the NHL trade deadline, you cannot play in the AHL so it's NHL or nothing.

With Gilmour, a smaller (5-foot-11, 180 lbs) but very mobile defenceman, who has quietly had himself a career season with 23 points (9 goals, 14 assists) in 32 games, things could unfold the same way as Jankowski. Or, Calgary may try a different tact.

If they are, indeed, interested in signing him and that's not a guarantee (see Coda Gordon), they could attempt to sign Gilmour to a pro contract that doesn't begin until next season. In that case, he could go down to Stockton right away, sign an amateur try-out (ATO) and play some of the final games for the Heat. This is the route Kenney Morrison took when he signed last spring. Battling some injuries, Stockton is certainly hurting for personnel on the blue-line these days and it would be a chance for Gilmour to get in his first taste of pro hockey.

So keep your eye on college hockey over the next couple of weeks. A repeat trip to the Frozen Four or an early exit, it will be interesting either way.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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6 comments:

  1. Great work Mr.Haynes. The opposite of garbage writing .

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  2. That Lance Bouma contract looks awful right about now.

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    Replies
    1. It is what it is. Cost of doing business. Sometimes circumstances are such that you need to pay more than ideally you would to get a deal done.

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  3. I'd love to hear a scout go into detail on why Mangiapane didn't get drafted higher. Any ideas Mr. Haynes? The only reason I have heard is he isn't big.

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    1. Was never even drafted in the OHL bantam draft so has been a late bloomer the whole way and the spotlight never really got onto him for that reason. After going undrafted in his 18-year-old year, 19-year-olds typically don't get much love as teams are fixated on 18-year-olds thus he went so late after a 100-point season. I suspect there may have been a growth spurt in there that came late, which worked against him getting noticed earlier. Definitely a topic to get more into this summer and will make a point of doing so. Probably in July when he's in town at development camp. Maybe around the draft if the opportunity arises to speak to one of the team's amateur scouts that works out East.

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