Saturday, June 24, 2017

Six-Year-Plan: Two New Additions Bolster Flames Defensive Corp Now and for Later

Flames general manager Brad Treliving breezed into the Windy City this week with his eyes affixed squarely on one thing -- adding a top four defenceman.

He added two instead.

One for now. One for later.

On Friday night at the United Center, with the 16th overall pick in the draft, Calgary selected strapping 18-year-old Finnish defenceman Juuso Valimaki.

Then, on Saturday morning, Treliving pulled the trigger on a deal for 26-year-old Islanders defenceman Travis Hamonic.

Now Playing: Travis Hamonic

Since arriving for good in the Islanders line-up as a 20-year-old in November 2010, Hamonic has been a fixture in the team's top four.

Last year, a season ravaged by injury, was the first time in his career he has averaged less than 21 minutes per night. Over his seven NHL seasons -- all of them spent with the Islanders -- his time-on-ice peaked at 25:01 (11th in the NHL) in 2013-14.

Solidly built at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, the right-shooting defenceman hails from St. Malo, Manitoba. He played his major junior with the Moose Jaw Warriors right up until late in his fourth and final season when he was dealt to Brandon to help them in their playoff push.

Joining a Wheat Kings team that featured Micheal Ferland, Hamonic had an impactful couple months in his home province, helping Brandon reach the conference final before they were eliminated by the Calgary Hitmen.

Expect a Bounce-Back Season

Hamonic is coming off an injury-riddled season in which three separate injuries -- thumb, knee, wrist -- limited him to 49 games.

The team is obviously counting on him rebounding and getting right back to being that very reliable player he has been over the years.

Giving you an indication of how much he was counted on by coach Jack Capuano, the season prior Hamonic led the Islanders in ice time in the regular season (23:49) and was second to Nick Leddy in the post-season (26:08) as he helped New York reach the second round in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Playing a style of game that revolves more around the defensive side of the puck, while adding a little jam, it should make for an ideal complement to TJ Brodie, allowing the silky smooth-skating blueliner to confidently dart up ice and join the rush at will, knowing that someone has his back.

Stuck with the slow-footed and less reliable Dennis Wideman much of last season, Brodie was a shell of his normal self. His dynamic 200-foot game had disappeared almost completely until Calgary parachuted in Michael Stone at the trade deadline. Just like that, the old Brodie re-appeared and the Flames promptly reeled off 10 straight victories.

So in a way, one could argue that not only does today's move add a solid second-pairing piece in Hamonic, there's also collateral benefit in that it should give you the other far better version of Brodie.

The other attraction and it's a value that can't be underestimated is Hamonic has three years remaining on a very cap-friendly deal that pays him an average annual value of $3.8 million.

Quality Human

The addition of Hamonic also means Calgary's line-up now boasts the NHL's last two Foundation Player Award winners, which is an annual award that recognizes  humanitarian work. Last year, captain Mark Giordano won it. Last Tuesday, it was Hamonic -- an Islanders alternate captain -- who was recognized for his exceptional work in that area.

Good people may not equate to wins and losses but you sure like to have them on your team. Whether it's in a dressing room or a company board room, there's something to be said about what's possible as a team when you surround yourself with people that are of high character and in it for greater reasons than just themselves.

For more on Hamonic's story, this ESPN special is a highly recommended watch.

Coming Later: Juuso Valimaki

Honing His Craft on the 200x85

Valimaki came over to North America two years ago after being selected 14th overall by the Tri-City Americans in the 2015 CHL import draft.

After a year of being here on his own, last August he was joined in Washington state by his family as his Mom and two hockey-playing younger brothers also uprooted their lives in Finland and crossed the Atlantic.

Also invited to live with the Valimaki family was fellow 2017 draft prospect and Tri-City teammate Michael Rasmussen (9th overall to Detroit).

Apparently, home cooking was good for the left-shooting blueliner, who stands 6-foot-2 and 204 pounds. In his sophomore season in the WHL, he more than doubled his goal total from his rookie campaign and nearly doubled his point total. His points-per-game led all CHL 2017 draft eligible defencemen.

CHL - Best Draft-Eligible Defencemen in Points Per Game

1. Juuso Valimaki, Tri-City (WHL), 19-42-61 in 60 gm, 1.02
2. Thomas Gregoire, Sherbrooke (QMJHL), 10-54-64 in 66 gm, 0.97
3. Connor Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL), 7-54-61 in 67 gm, 0.91
4. Cal Foote, Kelowna (WHL), 6-51-57 in 71 gm, 0.80
5. Artyom Minulin, Swift Current (WHL), 8-42-50 in 70 gm, 0.71

The fourth defenceman off the board, Valimaki draws comparisons to Olli Juolevi for obvious reasons. They're both highly regarded 6-foot-2 left-shooting defencemen from Finland.

Now offensive counting numbers certainly aren't everything for a guy that plies his trade on the blueline, but side-by-side, it does make for an interesting comparison with the caveat added in that Valimaki is a year younger than Juolevi, selected fifth overall by Vancouver last June.

Plenty to Like

While his offensive totals speak volumes, there is far more to his game than that.

Here are snippets from what Future Considerations had to say in this year's draft guide. Valimaki was ranked 12th in their final rankings.
  • "Smooth-skating, two-way defender who excels with not only finesse but in his ability to play a heavy and reliable defensive game."
  • "Moves extremely well for his size and can absolutely fly at an impressive tempo when he wants to apply pressure."
  • "While not an overly aggressive player, he gets in opponents' heads by not relinquishing an inch of free ice and consistently causing frustration with his ability to remain in great position."
  • "His ability to defend the rush is superior and he knows when and where to make his move on the puck carrier." 

The other thing that jumps off the page is his obvious leadership qualities.

A veteran of international play having been a fixture on Finland's national team at every age group, he captained the U16 team in 2014. Two years later he captained his U18 team to a gold medal in the 2016 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.

Last year was his first on Finland's U20 team at the World Junior Championship. As they look to bounce back from a rough tournament last year, expect Valimaki to be on that team once again this year. Heck, if the pattern holds, it's also time for him to wear the 'C' again.

The Smashville Model

What Treliving has accomplished today is established a vaunted top-four on the back end that can match up with any quartet in the league.

Rasmus Andersson
It's a similar philosophy to how Nashville is built with PK Subban and Mattias Ekholm on one pairing and Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis on the other. That group, which impressed all playoffs, was the reason the Predators got within two victories of winning the Stanley Cup.

Being able to roll out a dependable, trusted duo for 45-50 minutes of every game is a coach's dream and you can bet Glen Gulutzan is smiling today. Having that foundation in place limits your risk big time and it's how a team takes that next stride to becoming a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

To recap: Locked in for the next three seasons minimum are Giordano (5 years remaining at $6.75 million), Dougie Hamilton (4 years remaining at $5.75 million), Brodie (3 years remaining at $4.65 million) and Hamonic (3 years remaining at $3.8 million).

When there finally becomes an opening in that group, potentially in three years time, Valimaki along with 20-year-old top prospect Rasmus Andersson will play an integral role in ensuring that this elite-top-four model is one that can be sustained indefinitely, well beyond the time when one/some of the current cast move on..

Future Gazing

Squinting your eyes and peering way, way out in the distance, here is how the Flames top four defence could evolve over the next six seasons.

TJ Brodie
The disclaimer with this and you're not going to like it. This is a path that promotes patience and player development, which fans may find a buzz-kill on the day after the drafting of Valimaki.

But I'm of the mindset you set up players for success and incrementally move them up the line only as they've proven themselves to be ready. If Valimaki can continue his current trajectory, his next four seasons could see him groomed for an arrival in Calgary's top four in 2021-22. It's not as far away as you think.

As I see it:
  • 2017-18 - WHL (not old enough to play in AHL)
  • 2018-19 - AHL
  • 2019-20 - AHL to start, with call-ups to the NHL
  • 2020-21 - NHL on third pairing
  • 2021-22 - NHL in top four

Excited fans will want to see Valimaki make an impact in the NHL tomorrow, but the smart approach is a cautious approach. As an organization, never rush a player on paper. Allow him the ideal development path and if he forges his way into the top four discussion sooner, that's always a good 'problem' to have.

Two other things to note with the projections below:
  • I have Brodie re-signing with Calgary after his current contract expires. 
  • I have Hamilton becoming a free agent when his deal expires, same with Hamonic. It's the reality of the business.


Giordano (33) - Hamilton (24)
Brodie (27) - Hamonic (27)


Giordano (34) - Hamilton (25)
Brodie (28) - Hamonic (28)


Giordano (35) - Hamilton (26)
Brodie (29) - Hamonic (29)


Brodie (30) - Hamilton (27)
Giordano (36) - Andersson (23)


Valimaki (23) - Brodie (31)
Giordano (37) - Andersson (24)


Valimaki (24) - Andersson (25)
Brodie (32) - Fox (24)

Final Word

In 2008, Brodie and Hamonic were both part of that elite draft year for defencemen in which picks 2-5 after Steven Stamkos were all defencemen -- Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Alex Pietrangelo, Luke Schenn.

The trend continued throughout the draft including Hamonic selected in the second round (53rd overall) and Brodie picked in the fourth round (114th).

Part of the same draft class, now they'll share the same blueline and that could be the case for a while as they look like the ideal complement for each other.

While there's understandably going to be angst around the volume of draft picks that were traded away -- one first and two seconds with just a fourth rounder coming back -- what can't be forgotten is the team's current prospect base is still intact.

This now includes Valimaki, who calls Victor Hedman the NHL player he patterns his game off.

So while the draft picks absent in the next couple drafts could have ramification five or six years down the road, that's not the focus. This is a team very much setting itself up to win right now, not later.

And with success, the value of those picks only diminish also.

How I look at it is if on a team featuring the likes of Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Backlund, Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett, the strength of the team is its defence, that speaks volumes about the balanced team the GM is constructing.

The linchpin in all this will always be the play from the goaltenders, but by strengthening the insulation around the crease as Treliving has done, you better set your goaltenders up for success. Mike Smith doesn't need go out there and be Carey Price. He just needs to be Mike Smith.

And if two years from now if Tyler Parsons is still Tyler Parsons, then Calgary will really be in business.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.


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    Monday, June 19, 2017

    FF80F Podcast: Episode 14 - Focusing in on the 2017 NHL Draft with Aaron Vickers

    After a three-month hiatus that was far too long, the podcast is back as Aaron Vickers stopped by to chat about the upcoming 2017 NHL Draft.

    Frequently spotted hanging around the Saddledome, Vickers wears a couple of hats. He covers the Flames for More pertinent to this podcast, he is also the longtime managing editor of Future Considerations, which is a popular draft publication that scouts, profiles and ranks draft-eligible players.

    In fact, listen to the podcast and you will get 20 percent off your purchase of the 2017 Future Considerations Draft Guide.

    Episode 14 - June 19, 2017  (83:07 running time)

    Listen Now via SoundCloud

    0:00 - Segment 1 - Introduction
    • Aaron's background
    • Glimpse into his recent trip to France/Germany to cover the World Championships

    7:42 - Segment 2 - Draft Overview
    • Origin of Future Considerations
    • How the scouting staff pulls the guide together
    • Assessing the quality of 2017 Draft and what are its nuances

    21:17 - Segment 3 - Notable Names and Top Names
    • Notable family ties in this year's draft
    • Going down the list of top kids and how might the draft unfold
    • Identifying some names to watch for, who might move up or fall

    40:44 - Segment 4 - Revisiting Flames Recent Draft History
    • Revisiting Brad Treliving's first three drafts as Flames GM
    • Calgary's situation heading into the 2017 draft

    53:44 - Segment 5 - Talking Calgary specific
    • Discussing possible Flames targets at pick No. 16
    • Assessing the Curtis Lazar and Michael Stone trades
    • Late round targets and how to best approach late picks

    71:35 - Segment 6 - Listener Q&A
    • Answering questions submitted to Facebook

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    One popular question I get from newbies in the podcast world is when do people listen to podcasts? Well, if you have BlueTooth in your car as I do, I'll stream it from my phone onto my car stereo and listen as a I run around town doing errands, etc.

    If you're travelling, download it to your iPod and listen on the flight. Or while you go and walk the dogs. I have heard from people who have warehouse jobs and listen to them at work. There are endless possibilities.

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    Thanks for listening!

    By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.


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    Saturday, June 17, 2017

    Examining the Smith Trade: Eight Points to Ponder Before Passing Final Judgment

    In a city that does love its hockey Mike's, you can add yet another.

    Although based on the initial reaction, this one has a lot of work to do to build up the same fan adoration that exists for the other three.

    It took up until nearly the 11th hour but Flames general manager Brad Treliving finally found a name to scribble into that vacant slot at goaltender before submitting his protected list to the league office today in advance of the Vegas expansion draft.

    Joining Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik and Micheal Ferland is goaltender Mike Smith.

    Nope, that's certainly not the sexy name the residents of Flames nation were hoping for. Far from it.

    Poaching from his old organization once again, Treliving acquired Smith in exchange for college defenceman Brandon Hickey, a conditional third round pick in 2018 (that converts to a second rounder should Calgary make the playoffs) and the rights to pending UFA Chad Johnson.

    Regarding the latter, trading away Smith left Arizona with only one goaltender (Louis Domingue) and two spots to fill prior to the expansion draft. Per expansion rules, all teams must expose at least one goaltender that meets the stipulated exposure criteria, as well as protect one goaltender. Adding Johnson quite possibly was nothing more than a paper move to help the Coyotes meet that requirement. Johnson is a pending free agent on July 1 and could still end up signing back in Calgary.

    To describe the fan reaction to the trade as lukewarm would be a gross overstatement. Based on what I observed on social media, many fans were outraged at the acquisition.

    The sky falls a lot when you're a passionately invested fan of any sports team and in this market, fans love their Flames.

    In hopes of shortening the lines at all the walk-in clinics and urgent care centres around town, here's a closer look at eight angles to the deal. Perhaps after taking a deep breath, taking a step back, and taking some of these points under consideration, the need for medical attention will subside.

    Eight Points to Ponder:

    1. Surprisingly Solid Save Percentage

    Those that dabble in advance stats will often quote even-strength save percentage as a more fair way of comparing goaltenders.

    To quote Rob Vollman from his book Stat Shot, "Power-play opportunities are so dangerous that even a short hot or cold streak can have a disproportionate impact on a goalie's year-end save percentage."

    Over the last two seasons, 52 goalies have made 40-or-more NHL starts. On that list, Smith ranks 11th, which is around the 21st percentile. That's actually pretty good. Here's a look at the top dozen along with other notables.

    Even-Strength SV% (2015-16 thru 2016-17)

    1. Carey Price, .935
    2. James Reimer, .934
    3. Matt Murray, .933
    4. Braden Holtby, .931
    5. Craig Anderson, .931
    6. Corey Crawford, .931
    7. Sergei Bobrovsky, .930
    8. Devan Dubnyk, .930
    9. Antti Raanta, .929
    10. Jonathan Quick, .927
    11. Mike Smith, .927
    12. Henrik Lundqvist, .927

    Other than how high on the list James Reimer is, those are some of the best at the position. Here are some other household names that fall behind Smith.

    14. Cory Schneider, .926
    15. Ben Bishop, .926
    19. Brian Elliott, .925
    22. Frederik Andersen, .924
    24. Cam Talbot, .924
    25. John Gibson, .924
    29. Marc-Andre Fleury, .923
    31. Chad Johnson, .923
    33. Pekka Rinne, .922
    34. Tuukka Rask, .922
    37. Martin Jones, .921

    The Justified Asterisk

    If you look at Smith's career statistics, the worst of his six seasons in Arizona was three years ago in 2014-15. As a refresher though, that was the year Arizona went a pitiful 24-50-8 for only 56 points. In the last 15 years, only three teams have compiled worse records:
    • 2013-14 Buffalo Sabres, 21-51-10, 42 pts
    • 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche, 22-56-4, 48 pts
    • 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres, 23-51-8, 54 pts
    I mention this because when you play goal for one of the worst teams in recent NHL history, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that your stats are going to suffer. Anybody quoting historical stats for Smith that covers a body of work of three or more years is going to have numbers that are weighed down by that one particularly disastrous season.

    I have no idea how much it impacts it overall but it's definitely something to keep in mind. You know that on that woeful team he would have been facing far more high-danger chances than most goalies. 

    2. Dragged Down by the Coyotes Defence

    Further to the above point, while I'd take Oliver Ekman-Larsson on my team any day, the list of defensively strong Coyotes defencemen is rather short. Alex Goligoski put up decent numbers offensively as No. 2 in blueline minutes but his strengths are more in the attacking zone.

    Now you're into guys like Connor Murphy, Luke Schenn and Michael Stone, who admitted when he was rescued by Calgary that he was having an off-season. Rounding out the group are raw kids like Anthony DeAngelo and Jakob Chychrun.
    Further compounding the overall weak Coyotes blueline was the team's inexperience and lack of depth at centre, which is typically the next most important position defensively when it comes to stifling dangerous chances from the slot. Other than Martin Hanzal's 51 games, the next two most relied-upon pivots were rookie Christian Dvorak and sophomore Jordan Martinook. Add to that a host of fourth line spare parts like Josh Jooris, Brad Richardson only played 16 games and Alex Burmistrov who only appeared in 26 games after coming over from Winnipeg.
    While Calgary's been no defensive juggernaut either the last couple years, the talent level overall that Smith gets to play behind now will comparably be much higher. It's safe to say the Flames top four will be much better, even without knowing the identity of who will play with TJ Brodie. Calgary's obviously much deeper up the middle also with Mikael Backlund leading the way, Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett and veteran Matt Stajan.

    It will be both a refreshing change for Smith and also be a better situation to succeed.

    3. Manageable Money

    With Arizona retaining 25 percent, that whittles Smith's annual average value down to $4.25 million. It's not cheap but it's less than what they paid Jonas Hiller when Calgary brought him in three years ago.

    Based on last year's goaltender cap hits, that AAV for a goalie would rank 22nd in the league, placing Smith in the lower-third income bracket of NHL starters.
    For a guy whose recent play ranks him well inside the upper third of the league in terms of EV SV%, paying him a salary consistent with what the lower third are earning is a fiscally sound equation.

    Plus, with the salary cap increasing, that means Treliving should have money left over to address other shortcomings such as rounding out that aforementioned top four D.

    4. Short Term is the Best Term

    While longer term with the right player -- someone younger that could be a long-term piece -- would have been welcomed, two years of term has all along been viewed as the ideal fit because don't forget, Treliving is also standing 5 feet and 8 inches away from a dart board and is still holding three fine-looking darts in his hand.

    Tyler Parsons, David Rittich and Jon Gillies are all in the Flames pipeline and that's who Smith is bridging the gap too.

    While Calgary's history of developing goaltenders is pretty poor, when you've got three young men being groomed simultaneously, the odds that you hit the bullseye on at least one are far greater than if you only had just one, which has often been the case in the past.

    Here's a snapshot of where all three should be at in their careers when Smith's contract expires:

    Tyler Parsons

    By then will have two years of AHL/ECHL hockey under his belt, assuming he turns pro this fall as is expected. For comparison, fellow OHL graduate Matt Murray was late in his second pro season when he got called up to Pittsburgh late last season and led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup. So could he be ready that quickly? I wouldn't call it likely but it's certainly possible.

    David Rittich

    Turning 25 this August, he's truly the international man of mystery here. Came over from the Czech Republic advertised as "raw" and proceeded to outplay Gillies in chalking up a .925 SV% and five shutouts in his first season. The Flames may have something here. Two years from now, he'll have three years in North America on the resume and you never know, that might include one season in the NHL. Time will tell.

    Jon Gillies

    By the summer of 2019, will have three-plus seasons of AHL experience under his belt. Considering he had season-ending surgery just a month into last season, he's only amassed just over one year so far. For college grads that ascend to the NHL, three full AHL seasons is usually the sweet spot.

    Here's a look at NCAA grads in the NHL today. I've included the round they were drafted, how many years of college they played and how many games/seasons in the minors they played. Jonathan Quick got to the NHL the fastest but as you'll see, his path was more the anomaly.
    • Jon Gillies (3rd round, 3 years) - 1.25 seasons and 46 gm in AHL
    • Jonathan Quick (3rd round, 2 years) - 1.5 seasons and 71 gm in ECHL/AHL
    • Connor Hellebuyck (5th round, 2 years) - 1.5 seasons and 88 gm in AHL
    • Cam Talbot (FA, 3 years) - 3 seasons and 118 gm in ECHL/AHL
    • Cory Schneider (1st round, 3 years) - 3 seasons and 136 gm in AHL
    • Scott Darling (6th round, 2 years) - 5.5 seasons and 158 gm in SPHL/ECHL/AHL
    • Ben Bishop (3rd round, 3 years) - 4 seasons and 165 gm in AHL
    • Chad Johnson (5th round, 4 years) - 4 seasons and 170 gm in AHL
    • Ryan Miller (5th round, 3 years) - 3 seasons and 172 gm in AHL
    • Jimmy Howard (2nd round, 3 years) - 4 seasons and 186 gm in AHL

    So if you're those three kids, you're excited today that the starter's job is still right there in waiting for them. They won't threaten for it this fall but by next season, you never know.

    If Gillies or Rittich busts onto the scene as early as next year, there are lots of options of what to do with Smith. You can move him, or keep him around as an experienced back-up.

    Smith's addition buys more time for these prospects to develop properly while not blocking their path whenever the first one is ready.

    5. Affordable Acquisition Cost

    I'm not going to tell you he came cheap. But if he backstops Calgary into a playoff spot, a second round pick (although late second round) is a price many GMs would be willing to pay to bring in a No. 1 goaltender and then get a chance to be in the post-season party. Remember what Nashville did coming out of the No. 8 spot in the West. You just never know.

    Let's not forget that the names thrown around in goalie rumours the last month included Sam Bennett. Heck, I proposed in this piece earlier in the week that it could take surrendering Gillies to bring in a potential No. 1 goaltender in waiting. Instead, both of those players remain.

    The only prospect they parted with was Brandon Hickey, who is an interesting situation as they might well have lost him for nothing next summer anyway.

    Hickey was a third round pick in 2014 whose value rose initially. But where he slotted in comparison to the likes of fellow D prospects Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington and Adam Fox was subject to debate. I've heard whispers that some within the Flames front office weren't as high on him as they once were.

    In returning to Boston University for a final season, the Flames faced the very real possibility of losing Hickey for nothing if not signed next summer before Aug. 15.

    Knowing that Calgary badly wanted to sign him this off-season but couldn't get it done, it's not a reach to suggest next year with no more leverage and unrestricted free agency just a few months away, it would not have gotten done either.

    6. What to Make of a Goalie's Age

    Smith is older, for sure. But he's a goalie, they're always older.

    Smith just turned 35 so he'll be 36 during the final season of his deal. Looking to put his age into context, here are some names you'll know.

    Older than him:
    • Ryan Miller
    • Craig Anderson
    • Henrik Lundqvist

    Younger but within a year:
    • Pekka Rinne

    For local context, Smith will be a little bit younger in his final year than Kiprusoff was in his final season with Calgary.

    I don't think anyone is claiming he's going to be lights-out for the next several years but Calgary only cares about the next two years, or even less should Gillies, Rittich or Parsons ascend to the starter's job sooner.

    7. He's an Established No. 1

    I've seen some referring to Smith as just another Elliott. Well, not really.

    One not insignificant difference is Smith has proven he can shoulder the workload of a No.1 goaltender. This is something Elliott has never proven.

    Did Elliott have an extended stretch of excellent play last year? Absolutely, he won 11 straight at one point. But he started poorly and things didn't finish well. Two good months in the middle doesn't make you a proven starter.

    Elliott has started more than 50 games in a season only once and that was seven years ago with Ottawa when he made 51 starts. That year he had an abysmal .893 save percentage so he didn't prove he could be that guy that season either.

    On the other hand, workload has never been an issue for Smith. Known as an excellent all-round athlete who keeps himself in great condition, he has started 55-plus games in four of the last six seasons.

    Let's not forget about the acquisition price of re-signing Elliott also. That would have cost Calgary a third round pick (sent to St. Louis, a condition in his trade to Calgary). In the end, the net cost for Smith could end up being the same as it would have been for Elliott.

    8. The Great Mystery: Who Rounds out the Tandem?

    It's still too early to truly assess the Flames goaltending situation as we only know half of the equation.While Smith has been the name in the spotlight today and for good reason, we still don't know the identity of who will sit in the other chair.

    Despite being included in the trade to Arizona, it could very well still be Johnson, although you wonder what other irons Treliving might have in the fire.

    Via Vegas, perhaps a Philipp Grubauer is in play. Or Calvin Pickard from the Avs. It's still too early to rule out Antti Raanta as an option too, although it sure looks from afar like the Rangers are positioning themselves to try and not lose him.

    Smith has had some lower body injury issues over the years so whoever they bring in to back up might get more of the workload than initially expected. But this won't come as news to Treliving, who knows Smith well. I'm sure that is a consideration as the search for the No. 2 continues.

    As well, Smith's injury history suggests that Gillies or Rittich might get some periodic NHL looks sooner than later too, which wouldn't be the worst thing for their overall development.

    By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.


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    Protection List Priorities: Hurt Feelings Should be the Least of Treliving's Concerns

    How would you classify hurt feelings, anyway? Upper body injury?

    The Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft is upon us and with that has come numerous theories including some head-scratchers on who Calgary is going to protect and why, when they submit their list of protected players to the NHL on Saturday afternoon.

    Conventional wisdom, which is a fancy way of saying common sense, has the Flames protecting these seven forwards:
    • Sean Monahan
    • Johnny Gaudreau
    • Sam Bennett
    • Mikael Backlund
    • Michael Frolik
    • Micheal Ferland
    • Curtis Lazar

    For me, it's the obvious choices. Like obvious, obvious. Any straying from this list would be akin to severely overthinking it. Like removing the retro reds from your list of favourite Flames sweater designs and substituting in the black horse head.

    Nonetheless, if you read enough mock drafts as everybody not named Brad Treliving takes their own stab at guessing Calgary's protected list, the point of variation up front is with slots No. 6 and 7.

    In these instances, the first thing I wonder is if the author has simply used the wrong definition of mock by mistake. While what we're typically going for with mock draft is "make a replica or imitation of something", an alternate definition of mock as taken verbatim from my trusted Oxford dictionary is "tease or laugh at in a scornful or contemptuous manner".

    It does give one pause for thought, yet I believe these varying authors were being quite serious.

    Who it Should Be

    It's not complicated why the choices for sixth and seventh forward are as indicated.

    Micheal Ferland

    Finally, he put it all together. Finally, the big guy that crushes guys like a cruise missile yet also has great wheels, thinks the game smartly and has remarkably soft hands, demonstrated that long-awaited consistency in his game. Finally all those individual qualities ended up bundled together and put on display nightly.

    From Feb. 21 when they were put together in Nashville right through the end of the regular season (then through the playoffs too), Ferland played on the Flames No. 1 line with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau.

    It was the fit Calgary had long been looking for. Over that period, Gaudreau was tied for second in the NHL with 22 even-strength points (behind only Patrick Kane with 23). Meanwhile, Monahan's 18 points were tied for 10th.

    Go back a little further to that game against the Senators on Jan. 26 (first game after the Glen Gulutzan post-game eruption in Montreal and subsequent team train ride to Ottawa) and Ferland had 10 goals at five-on-five in 29 games.

    In what ends up being well over one-third of the season, that ranked him 1st on the Flames by far on an ES goals-per-game basis and 23rd in the NHL -- two spots behind Sidney Crosby and one rung ahead of Nikita Kucherov.

    Finishing the year with a career-best 15 goals, Ferland just turned 25. You absolutely hang onto this guy.

    Curtis Lazar

    Last year at the trade deadline, the Flames used a second round pick from this year's draft to acquire Lazar from Ottawa.

    From the outset, the team lauded his upside but said it was a long-term play. This was a move made with the future in mind, not the present. This was not your classic trade deadline rental in any way, shape or form and this was reinforced by how he was utilized through March and April by coach Gulutzan, or not utilized.

    Calgary was ultra conservative with him and he never got into the line-up until a playoff spot was clinched. He wasn't part of the playoff mix either until desperation set in for game 4.

    The Flames careful handling of him was all about getting him acclimated to the team and city, comfortable with Gulutzan's system, all designed to best set him up for success when his fresh start kicks in officially at the start of this year's training camp.

    When the team made that trade, they knew the expansion draft was coming, they also knew the protection limit for forwards and the ramifications of adding in Lazar, yet they made the deal anyway. They made that deal because they have zero intention of losing him to Vegas.

    Who it Should Not Be

    Matt Stajan

    First of all, I love Stajan and would take him on my team any day. Great guy in the room, superb mentor for the team's young centers, plays with emotion, is versatile, can kill penalties and last year was a guy with an uncanny knack for turning other player's seasons around. It became a real and acknowledged thing in that dressing room where guys in slumps would be jettisoned down to the 4th line for 'seasoning' with Stajan. Sure enough, they'd find their way again and his work had been done.

    That said, Matt gets it and he would be the first guy to tell you that he knows where he slots in at this stage in his career. He's a fourth line player and he's making a heck of a lot of money in today's NHL for someone cast in that role. He'll turn 34 in December and has one year remaining on his contract that pays him a cool $3.125 million.

    Vegas GM George McPhee is looking for pieces he can build around for multiple seasons or assets that he can flip in trades to bring in pieces they can build around. No disrespect to Stajan but he's no longer either of those things. There is zero reason for Vegas to take him, which means there is zero reason for Calgary to use up one of the coveted protection spots to protect him.

    Alex Chiasson

    In a bottom six role, Chiasson was an effective player for the Flames. A dozen goals was also nice output from a depth player.

    He's good on the penalty kill, has the size to get after loose pucks in the corner and come away with them. All that and you paid just $800,000 for him last season.

    A better player than Lazar right now, I just don't see a great upside in Chiasson. Watching him on the top line for half the year was painful. So if that's the decision point and it should be, I gamble on Lazar's upside every time. Maybe he won't ever realize it but I'm willing to take that chance. But Calgary could very well lose Chiasson to Vegas as a result.

    Troy Brouwer

    OK, I'm going to need more than three paragraphs for this one.

    The Weak Case for Protecting Brouwer

    The narrative most commonly linked with speculation that Calgary will protect Brouwer is that he might have hurt feelings if you don't.

    Oh please.

    We're talking about a mature adult about to turn 32, not an emotionally-fragile 14-year-old teenager concerned about his or her Snapchat streak.

    Besides, $4.5 million annually can buy you a lot of boxes of tissue. Even if you don't have a Costco membership. Even if you opt for the expensive triple-ply versions.

    As a business, hockey is a two way street and on July 1, 2016, that squeal of rubber was Brouwer gunning it through the intersection in a Lamborghini, music blaring.

    One year later, Brouwer is heading the other direction and metaphorically stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Heck, cynical fans would argue he has barely moved over that period.

    But does anyone really think this would be the tipping point for Brouwer? That this would be the incident that makes him upset.

    What about that morning he showed up to work at the Saddledome and found out he had been dropped to the fourth line. How about the time he learned he had also been removed from the power play (although he returned to that unit a few games later.)  How about when the playoffs began and he was still on the fourth line. How about in game 4 against Anaheim with the season on the line when his linemates for that crucial tilt were Lazar and Freddie Hamilton.

    Man, if he is that tender emotionally, that ship has been in the water and sailing for a long time now.

    Common Sense Must Prevail

    While the team can beat its chest and proclaim loyalty to a veteran player and key part of the team's leadership group by protecting him, there are a couple other choice words that come to mind if the team was to make a poor choice and list Brouwer amongst its protected players on Saturday.

    Selfish - By protecting Brouwer because you fear he might get upset, the team would be forced to give up a better or younger player as a result. It could be 22-year-old Lazar and his alluring, untapped upside. Heck, as asinine as it sounds, it could be Ferland.

    Making misguided sentimental decisions like that in the business of pro sports is the stuff that can flatline an organization. It's not how you win championships, it's how you move further and further away from even making the playoffs.

    Dumb - Brouwer is a smart guy. While it will require leaving his ego (and note that all professional athletes have a certain level of professional pride and/or cockiness) at the door, he should get that the smart decision for the team is to protect the guys that would be taken otherwise.

    Brouwer's poor season and big contract with three years remaining has basically made him protected without actually having to protect him. Why would Vegas go there? They'll have a myriad of alternate ways to get to the cap floor. The McPhee connection (he traded for Brouwer when he was GM of the Capitals) is a curious one but we're going back a long ways. Not sure I'm buying it.

    Thus, if it's not realistic that you'll lose Brouwer, and if losing him and the $13.5 million remaining on his deal over the next three years is something you can live with should the unexpected happen and he gets plucked, then why waste a protection spot on him. The smart play is use it for guys that would be more tempting for Vegas to acquire -- young guys with upside like Lazar or coming off breakthrough seasons like Ferland.

    Would Handle it Like a Pro

    One thing I must emphasize is Brouwer has not said himself that he would have hurt feelings if he's left unprotected.

    It's a safe assumption he would be irritated to some degree given he was a high profile signing a year ago that wears a latter, who plays in all manpower situations, but it's hard to imagine he'd be all that surprised.

    He's a pro. It's not like he's going to hold a grudge for three seasons. He's not going to mope around like Eeyore for the next several months. If that was his make-up when Treliving was doing all his background checks on him a year ago, he wouldn't be on the team today. He certainly would not be wearing an 'A'.

    For Brouwer, the writing has been on the wall for a long time that this outcome was one that was a very real possibility. He knows he spent the most important part of the season on the fourth line. Generally that won't get you into the top seven come protection time.

    Plus, if he does end up mad and comes out this season with a chip on his shoulder and plays with something to prove, that wouldn't be a bad thing. In fact, that would be an excellent thing.

    More emotion, more snarl, a greater physical presence, playing pissed off would elevate Brouwer's game significantly as those were ingredients noticeably lacking last year and a big part of the player Calgary thought they were getting.

    Final Word

    Assuming Brouwer goes unclaimed and is back with the team next season, I might be in the minority but I expect him to have a better year in 2017-18.

    When you sign in a new city, there's an adjustment that comes with a new team, city, coach and systems. It wasn't exactly the ideal start either with Calgary the worst team in the league those first five or six weeks, which I can imagine compounded the adjustment period for a guy that has always been a part of perennial playoff teams.

    For a while, he might have been the one re-thinking his decision to sign in Calgary, more than the other way around.

    For those looking for positives, I defer you to the roller coaster three seasons that Deryk Engelland had in Calgary.

    You will surely remember when he was everyone's whipping boy in his first season after signing an exorbitant and heavily criticized free agent deal with Calgary. The signing was detested and by association, the player was detested also.

    But as the years passed, Engelland settled in, he played better, there became an appreciation in the fan base for those intangibles that he brought to the team, and the boos faded. By the end, he had become one of the more respected and revered players.

    While most fans have already given up on Brouwer, leaving him unprotected would not be an admission that the hockey team has done the same. It would merely be the smart business decision and a way to keep as much of the core/future parts of this hockey club intact as possible.

    It's a decision that will make the team better and if Brouwer handles it the right way, that will also make the team better.

    By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.


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    Wednesday, June 14, 2017

    Swap Meet: Will Flames Leverage a Potential Goalie of the Future to get a Goalie for Today

    So far this off-season, all eyes across Flames nation have been affixed on the entrance.

    For two months, nervous anticipation has been building as fans anxiously await the identity of the two goalies that are going to walk through that door and form Calgary's goalie tandem for 2017-18.

    With last year's duo of Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson both pending unrestricted free agents, whether one, both or neither are back is anyone's guess.

    But what about the exit?

    Might a goaltender be leaving the organization at the same time?

    With 19-year-old hotshot prospect Tyler Parsons expected to turn pro this fall, there are not enough nets for the Flames stable of goaltending prospects that are not yet NHL-ready and need a place to play in the minors.

    Naturally, that makes one wonder if there isn't a goalie-for-goalie exchange that might unfold that will remedy both of these situations.

    If that's the case, the one guy you wonder about is Jon Gillies.

    Falling on the Depth Chart

    Expecting to get the lion's share of the starting assignments in the American Hockey League last season, that's not really how it panned out for Gillies and from what I've heard, that was much to his disappointment.

    David Rittich
    At 38 regular season starts, Gillies still got the most taps on the shoulder, but Czech free agent signing David Rittich made 29 starts for Stockton and as the season wore on, he was very much the 1b to Gillies' 1a.

    In fact, the workload was almost 50/50 from Christmas Day on with Gillies making 22 starts compared to 21 for Rittich.

    In his first year in North America, Rittich also put up the better numbers over the course of the regular season:
    • David Rittich: 15-11-4, 5 shutouts, 2.27 GAA, .924 SV%
    • Jon Gillies: 18-14-4, 1 shutout, 2.93 GAA, .910 SV%

    Usage in the playoffs was a similar story.

    Gillies started the first two games as Stockton returned home from San Jose with a 1-1 split in the best-of-five series. But he was pulled by coach Ryan Huska halfway through game 2 and it was Rittich's crease the rest of the way, up until he was forced to exit game 5 after one period due to illness. Playing with the flu, he still stopped all 15 shots he faced.

    Gillies came on in relief and despite stopping 37 of 39 shots over the final two-plus periods, the Heat lost 2-1 in overtime and were eliminated.

    Choosing Rittich over Gillies in games 3, 4 and 5 -- the club's three most important games of the season -- speaks volumes about how much Rittich's stock has risen. At the same time, it's hard not to view that as an indicator that Gillies is losing his grip on the label of next-in-line.

    Gillies Still Has Cachet

    While the undrafted Rittich, 24, may have got those key starts at the end of the season, it's still going to be Gillies, 23, who has the better brand recognition on the market. For a long time, Gillies has been viewed as one of the organization's top prospects.

    While he had tumbled to No. 6 in my last Top 20 Flames prospect rankings unveiled last February, he was No. 2 (behind Matthew Tkachuk) a year ago and the time before that in the biannual rankings, Gillies was No. 1.

    Jon Gillies
    The Flames third round pick from 2012 also has the notoriety of having won a national championship with Providence College in 2015. Additionally, twice he represented the United States at the IIHF World Junior Championships.

    With Parsons, a second round pick in 2016, ready to graduate to a higher level of competition after three stirling seasons with London (OHL), Calgary needs to create a spot for him and trading away a goaltender would accomplish that.

    Might Gillies turn out to be a solid NHL goalie? Absolutely it could happen and it's that you-never-know allure, combined with his pedigree, that elevates his trade value.

    However, for an organization that has drafted and developed only two starting NHL goalies since 1980 and none in the last 25 years -- Mike Vernon (1981, 3rd round) and Trevor Kidd (1990, 1st round) make up the entire list -- it would be foolish and irresponsible to operate under the assumption that Gillies will eventually ascend to being Calgary's starter.

    Now would the Flames much rather move Mason McDonald instead? Presumably. But remember the adage that you have to give up something to get something. McDonald, who has seen his stock fall since being a second round pick in 2014, is simply not fetching you the same return as Gillies.

    If general manager Brad Treliving has an opportunity to use Gillies as a trade chip to bring in a goaltender with an NHL resume and a bright future, it has to be considered.

    Dealing From Depth

    Despite the carousel of goalies that have been tried at the NHL level since Miikka Kiprusoff retired and the rocky last four years it's been between the pipes, one could argue that relatively speaking in regards to quantity/quality of prospects, goaltending is the position of greatest depth for the organization.

    With the likes of Rasmus Andersson, Brandon Hickey, Oliver Kylington and Adam Fox all in the pipeline, defence is also in the conversation but proportionally as you play six defencemen every night but only one goalie, I'd give the edge to the goalies. With Parsons, Gillies and Rittich in particular, Treliving has done a nice job building up a stable of prospects.

    Parsons has done nothing been impress since he was selected as the second goaltender off the board last June. Having already supplanted Gillies in the eyes of many as Calgary's goaltender of the future, he is coming off another terrific season in major junior in which he led the OHL with a .925 save percentage and also backstopped Team U.S.A. to a gold medal at the WJC.

    Tyler Parsons
    Then there's Gillies, who is entering his third pro season, although his first year came to an abrupt end just one month into it when he had season-ending hip surgery.

    Arriving on the scene last year after being signed out of the Czech league as a free agent. Rittich was advertised when he came over as very raw but with great potential and we've seen plenty of that upside. The next step for him is more playing time to build on his rookie season.

    Meanwhile, there's also McDonald, who spent last year in the ECHL, AHL veteran Tom McCollum, who was signed mostly to meet expansion draft exposure requirements but is someone who still has another year remaining on his deal, and Nick Schneider, who was recently traded from the Medicine Hat Tigers to the Calgary Hitmen.

    While Schneider will play another season in the WHL, where will the playing time come from for the other five? Calgary only has two minor league affiliates -- Stockton in the AHL and its new ECHL team is the Kansas City Mavericks. Five goalies for four nets doesn't work.

    One solution would be to loan McCollum to another organization like they did near the end of this season. However, that still leaves too many guys that should be getting No. 1 minutes to expedite their development. You sense that something bigger needs to happen.

    Using Gillies to Fetch What?

    With the news earlier this week that Marc-Andre Fleury has waived his no-movement clause in order to be exposed in the expansion draft and be eligible to be selected by Vegas, it's looking more and more like Fleury can be removed from the list of potential Flames goaltending candidates.

    A deal could still happen, via Vegas, but you get the sense that to the relief of some fans and the chagrin of others, Fleury will be the new smiling face of the Golden Knights franchise. So let's move on from him.

    Among the other names that have been floating around this off-season has been Antti Raanta.

    In a story that appeared in the New York Post last weekend, Rangers beat writer and longtime John Tortorella adversary, Larry Brooks, speculated that the Flames were one of the teams that have inquired about Raanta, who has backed up Henrik Lundqvist the last two seasons.

    Now this isn't exactly earth-shattering news. When you are in need of two goalies like the Flames, you're going to be looking into all possible options so the 28-year-old Raanta is certainly a guy that Treliving is going to inquire about.

    As Lundqvist's caddy, Raanta has posted solid numbers in The Big Apple. In 55 games (of which 44 were starts), the Finn went 27-14-4 with a 2.25 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage.

    Among the 52 goalies with at least 40 starts over that period, that ranks him 7th in GAA and 9th in SV%. Those are very respectable numbers, especially considering he's on a very economical contract. Raanta has one year remaining on a 2-year/$2-million deal.

    Why Raanta Might be Available

    There's two scenarios in which the Flames could acquire Raanta:

    1. From the NY Rangers

    Why a pre-expansion draft trade works for Calgary is they are in the very rare situation of having a vacant slot on their protected list at goaltender. If you look across the league, finding an open protection spot at any position is like finding an available camping spot in the Kananaskis on a summer long weekend.

    All of the Flames aforementioned young goaltenders are exempt from being taken. Meanwhile, last year's duo of Elliott and Johnson are pending UFAs so there's no need to protect them.

    If the Rangers are OK with then losing somebody else off their roster in the expansion draft, GM Jeff Gorton could deal Raanta to the Flames beforehand and that way, could get a return for him -- potentially Gillies.

    With four years remaining on his deal, Lundqvist isn't going anywhere anytime soon, but they will need a successor eventually and Gillies, who grew up a six-hour drive away in South Portland, Maine, would give them a future option.

    2. From Vegas

    Last week I wrote about how Vegas, needing to build out their farm system, will likely be a clearing house for bringing in NHL-ready players that are then sent back out again in exchange for younger prospects.

    Depending on the asking price by New York, Calgary might be better served to wait and make an arrangement with Vegas in which the Golden Knights select Raanta and then flip him to the Flames.

    The Golden Knights have the ability to put together a pretty good goaltending tandem for their first NHL season. While Raanta would be a nice option, it looks like they've already settled on Fleury to be their No. 1 and there are many other solid back-up options to pair with him like Washington's Philipp Grubauer and Colorado's Calvin Pickard. Also, Vegas GM George McPhee may well have already agreed to a side deal to take on either Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi from Dallas, who now boast Ben Bishop as their starter.

    So Raanta, despite his upside, could easily be excess goods if Vegas selects him as the best player (or trade chip) available from New York.

    With an opportunity to bring in a younger player and potential goalie of the future for when Fleury's deal is over after the 2018-19 season, one can envision a trade scenario in which Vegas moves Raanta to Calgary in exchange for Gillies, who becomes a goaltender the Golden Knights can stash in the minors and keep developing for a year or two down the road.

    What You're Getting with Raanta

    In his four seasons in the NHL -- Raanta also backed up Corey Crawford for two seasons in Chicago -- he's started 22, 12, 18 and 26 games. That's not the workload of a No. 1. He has also never started a playoff game.

    That's not to say he can't start 50-plus games next year. Consider the evolution of Cam Talbot, his predecessor in that Ranger back-up role. Talbot started 53 games over his two seasons as the understudy to Lundqvist. Then he was traded to Edmonton where he ramped up to 53 starts in 2015-16 alone. Last year, giving the Oilers the type of stability in net that you know Treliving would love to bring in, Talbot made an NHL-high 73 starts.

    Antti Raanta
    The issue with Raanta is because he has never been leaned on as the No. 1 before, you're left wondering if he is capable of putting up similar numbers if he ends up playing 2-3 times as much hockey as he has in the past.

    It also raises the question of if Raanta, then with who?

    Is there enough confidence that Raanta could sharply increase his workload without issue that Calgary could bring back Johnson as the back-up?

    While that scenario would give the team a very economical pairing in net, there is definitely some rolling of the dice with that approach and I'm not sure Treliving would be comfortable going that route. Signing two career back-up goalies to address the most important position on the team -- one that was exposed in the playoffs last season -- might be a move that carries too much risk.

    As I noted here a few weeks ago in looking at potential pairings, Elliott would be the more logical goalie partner with Raanta. While Elliott hasn't proven to be No. 1 goalie capable of starting 50-plus games, I slot him ahead of Johnson as somebody certainly capable of playing 40-plus if that's how the playing time ends up being divided.

    Re-signing Elliott would cost them a third round pick in next year's draft (a condition that was part of the trade when he was acquired from St. Louis) so that's a consideration, although a small price to pay to have the stability that Elliott provides. While last year's playoff bellyflop was a lasting impression for many, this is also a veteran who won 11 straight games at one point.

    Final Word

    There are many other goalies that presumably are available. Mike Smith in Arizona is another. Potentially Petr Mrazek in Detroit depending on which way the Red Wings go. They also have Jimmy Howard, who outplayed Mrazek last year but is older. One wonders if the rebuilding Devils would move Cory Schneider if the right deal came along. There are many other names also.

    Making a deal involving Gillies will certainly leave many fans nervous and experiencing traumatic flashbacks to Jean-Sebastien Giguere. While not a Flames draft pick, Calgary got the 1995 first rounder from Hartford when he was 20 years old. Traded to Anaheim three years later after winning just seven games with Calgary and spending most of his time with Saint John (AHL), he is a prime example of the goalie that got away. When Giguere retired at age 37, he had 262 NHL wins and a Stanley Cup ring.

    But that's not a reason to not make a deal because for every Giguere, there are several guys like Leland Irving, Jason Muzzatti, Brent Krahn, Evan Lindsay and Andrei Medvedev -- all of them high draft picks who never panned out.

    If in exchange for Gillies, you can bring back an equally good asset in the form of a goaltender with NHL experience, who could be in Calgary for at least the next few seasons, it's an opportunity you have to jump at. Meanwhile, you hope Parsons and Rittich continue their upwards trajectory in the minors.

    Otherwise, heading out that exit instead will be the Flames playoff hopes.

    By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.


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