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Sunday, August 20, 2017

FF80F Podcast: Episode 18 - Flames vs. Oilers, Vital Players, Camp Storylines, Alternate Lines



It's always enjoyable spending some time with the big man, TSN's Jermain Franklin. This weekend, he joined me in-studio to talk Calgary Flames. After all, four weeks away is the start of the NHL pre-season.

Hope you enjoy the off-season listen. Hockey talk doesn't stop. Not in August. Not ever.


Episode 18 - August 20, 2017  (1:30:15 running time)

A segment-by-segment breakdown:

0:00 - Introduction
  • Recalling the uh-oh from the last Haynes-Franklin podcast
  • Parts of Las Vegas that thankfully stay in Las Vegas

12:57 - Segment 1 - Battle of Alberta
  • Can Calgary finish ahead of the Oilers?
  • The $21 million 'would-you-rather' question


25:00 - Segment 2 - Three Vital Players
  • Which players could play the biggest role in team's success or failure

43:16 - Segment 3 - Training Camp Lookahead
  • Three storylines that we'll each be watching for 

57:00 - Segment 4 - Plan 'B' Line Combinations
  • What if all four lines had to be different? We get out our line blender.

1:08:41 - Segment 5 - Listener Q&A


    Options to Download/Listen

    You are now able to listen to or download Flames at 80 Decibels from all your favourite podcast locations, as well as through your regular podcast player or app. Here are a few of the more popular spots where you can track down the latest episode:

    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 them 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 take it with you while you go and walk the dogs. I have heard from people who listen to them at work -- a great way to pass the time! There are endless possibilities.


    Did You Miss It?

    Here are the podcasts from earlier this summer. Run them one after another as a great way to pass the time the next time you're driving from Calgary to Regina. You can only play roadkill travel bingo for so long.
    • Episode 17 (August 6, 2017) - Unveiling the top 20 prospects with Aaron Vickers
    • Episode 16 (July 29, 2017) - Looking ahead to training camp with Kristen Odland
    • Episode 15 (July 16, 2017) - Reflections on development camp with Rob Kerr
    • Episode 14 (June 19, 2017) - 2017 NHL draft edition with Aaron Vickers

    Rate the Podcast on iTunes

    Have you enjoyed the podcasts so far? I would be grateful if you take a couple minutes and stop by iTunes and rate the podcast. From what I've learned, the more reviews, the easier it becomes to find for hockey fans browsing for something to listen to. So far, there's been 13 reviews. I'd love to see that number doubled.

    If you have any other comments or questions, let me know directly, I'd love to get an email from you.

    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 stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

    -----------------------------------------------

    Recent Flames Reading:

    Sunday, August 13, 2017

    Diary of a Harvard Kid: Eight Things to Consider Before Fretting Over Fox's Flames Future

    Embed from Getty Images


    "No amount of worrying can change the future."

    Not my words. It's an adage coined long ago. But it's true and they are words to live by if you're an impassioned Flames fan.

    If only it was that easy.

    The person responsible for all the nervous tapping of feet, biting of nails and chewing of pens is hotshot defence prospect Adam Fox.

    Fox was drafted in the third round of the 2016 NHL Draft.

    After a tremendous first year at Harvard, the 19-year-old is headed back to the Massachusetts campus for his sophomore season.

    Harvard's Massachusetts Hall was built in 1720
    Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Established in 1636, the acclaimed Ivy League school, whose alumni includes eight U.S. presidents -- and Neil Sheehy, has been around for 381 years. That's nearly four centuries! Suddenly the Saddledome doesn't seem all that old.

    The reason for all the pent-up anxiety across the fan base is how quickly Fox has established himself as a core piece of Calgary's future. I recently ranked him as the organization's No. 4 prospect and he's climbing fast.

    Honestly, when you see 66th pick beside his name, it feels like a clerical error. You mean 36th? Or was it 26th? Or maybe 16th?


    Building Quite the Resume

    In one's freshman season at college, players are often brought along slowly while older and more experienced players shoulder much of the ice time and responsibilities. This was not the case for Fox, who stepped right into the Crimson line-up and made an instant impact. In a stellar 2016-17, he racked up a whopping 40 points (6 goals, 34 assists) from the back end, that coming in just 35 games.

    Along the way, he travelled to Canada over the Christmas holidays for a successful World Junior Championships. That showcase event culminated with three assists in the gold medal game to boost Team USA to a 5-4 shootout victory over the host team.

    Adam Fox
    But wait, there's more.

    Fox put on another dazzling show last week racking up a tournament-high nine points in five games in the recent World Junior Summer Showcase. That included an awe-inspiring five-point night against Canada.

    The more Fox elevates his stock, the more anxious fans get. The reason for all the worrying is section 8.6 (c) of the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement.

    It states that if a college player does not sign with the team that drafted him (or owns his rights) by August 15 of the year he is scheduled to graduate, he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

    For Fox, that deadline is August 15, 2020.

    However, instead of lying restless in bed for the next 1,098 nights, which is no good for anybody, I thought I'd try to alleviate some of that angst by compiling a list of eight things to consider.

    As you'll see, maybe the doom and gloom isn't really warranted.


    1. Remember Gaudreau

    For everyone whose glass is half-empty, so is their memory, it seems.

    Three years ago, it was Boston College scoring sensation Johnny Gaudreau, who had pessimistic Calgary fans curled up in the fetal position. With the classic Canadian inferiority complex in full effect, why on earth would he sign with Calgary reasoned paranoid fans, when he could wait another year, become a free agent, then sign with a team on the Eastern Seaboard and play close to home.

    Well, much ado about nothing. The New Jersey kid did leave school, he signed with the Flames, and the rest is history. Last summer Gaudreau signed a six-year extension.

    Same thing for goaltending prospect Jon Gillies. The highly-touted Maine product for Providence College. He also chose to leave school after three seasons to ink a deal with the Flames.

    Might Gaudreau find his way out East eventually? Probably. Could this be the case for Fox too, who was born in Jericho, New York? Sure, but it need not happen right away and assuming it will play out that way is ignoring recent history with two other fellow Americans, who weren't any less hyped.


    2. Remember Jankowski

    Speaking of assumptions, a fourth year of school, should it play out that way for Fox, isn't exactly an automatic death sentence either.

    While they didn't necessarily have the same cachet as Fox has built up at this moment, there are plenty of examples of Flames prospects, who completed their four years of school and then signed with Calgary right afterwards, no problem.

    Two years ago, that was the case for 2012 first rounder Mark Jankowski, who went back to Providence College to complete his degree. This is a first round draft pick we're talking about. Yet a mere four months away from being able to sign with any team, he chose to sign with the team that drafted him.

    While neither is with the organization any longer, also going the full four years yet still signing with the Flames without there being much more than a sliver of doubt was Gaudreau's Boston College linemate Bill Arnold and Kenny Agostino, who at the time were both viewed as solid prospects. Notably, Agostino was also an Ivy Leaguer, graduating from Yale.


    3. Vesey: The Exception, Not the Norm

    The guy I would suggest is most responsible for all the nervous pacing in Calgary is Jimmy Vesey.

    Drafted by Nashville in 2012, Vesey is the one player and when I say one, I mean he's the only example in the history of Harvard hockey where a notable player has chosen to walk away from the NHL club that drafted him. Vesey waited until Aug. 15, 2016 and then signed a contract with the New York Rangers.

    Of course, stoking the fire of this conspiracy theory is Vesey was selected with the exact same pick as Fox -- third round, 66th overall.

    Before slipping into all-out panic mode, here are a couple of points to ponder, which puts the Vesey situation into some better context.


    Early Harvard Exits are Rare

    Going back to 1995, 19 drafted players have attended Harvard and eventually moved on to sign an NHL contract. But of those 19, only two left school early. In staying until he graduated, Vesey was doing what pretty much they all do.

    Craig MacDonald in 1997 (after two years) and Brian Hart in 2015 (after three years) are the only two exceptions. Other than that, history indicates that if you're going to Harvard, you keep going there until you've donned your mortarboard.

    One reason for this is if you're attending such a high-end intellectual school, you're already wired a little differently than your regular hockey player. You're not going there to play hockey, you're legitimately going there to get your education.

    Among the writing and economics courses Fox took in his first year was a class called "Understanding Darwinism". That's a long way from the 'rocks for jocks' geology courses athletes stereotypically take.

    It's not that there weren't an assortment of solid players in that group either. Of the 17 to go the full four years, nearly half were either second (3) or third rounders (5).


    Pursuing Free Agency is Rare

    Harvard has what they call a Statement of Values. Along the lines of a mission and vision, these are attributes they look to foster in their students. As taken from the website, here they are:
    • Respect for the rights, differences, and dignity of others
    • Honesty and integrity in all dealings
    • Conscientious pursuit of excellence in one’s work
    • Accountability for actions and conduct in the workplace

    Thinking of No. 2 in particular, maybe there's something to that in explaining why loyalty to the team that drafted them is so often the case. Again, with Vesey being the only notable exception.

    Of the aforementioned 17 that did not sign until after they graduated, 15 of them including Tampa Bay's Alex Killorn shunned the option to wait a few more months and become a UFA and chose to sign with the team that originally drafted them and they had that relationship with.

    The only other exception, besides Vesey, was Canucks draft pick Patrick McNally. But declared a draft "bust" by some in Vancouver, it sounds like the fourth round pick may not have been signed by the Canucks anyway. Instead, they flipped his rights to San Jose in exchange for a seventh round pick.


    4. Myth of 'Too Many Defencemen'

    The notion that Fox won't sign with the Flames because they have too many defencemen ahead of him is overlooking the fact that this won't be the case in the summer of 2020.

    The contracts for TJ Brodie, Travis Hamonic and Michael Stone -- the latter two being right-hand shots like Fox -- all expire on July 1 of that summer.

    Now it's possible one or two of them may be extended before then but that's not for certain. It's far too early to tell, nor can one speculate with any certainty which players out of that bunch might be extended. That's where Fox's presence and how he continues to develop could wield some influence on that.

    Putting those three to the side for a moment, that leaves right-shooting Dougie Hamilton and Rasmus Andersson as the top candidates to play the right side and at that point, Hamilton would only be one year away from free agency.

    Make no mistake, there is plenty of space for Fox to forge his way into the top-four conversation should his development continue on the upwards trajectory he's currently on.

    The other thing to keep in mind is in his eyes, he may not even view Andersson -- only one year older -- as someone in his way.

    If you're Fox and you're scorekeeping how many bodies are on defence, the only thing that concerns you are how many bodies to you have to beat out to climb up the depth chart. He may very well see himself as ahead of Andersson. By my next prospect update, I may be thinking the same thing. Heck, the team might already be thinking that.


    5. Relished Relationships

    An understated connection a prospect has to an organization is the relationship built up over the years with the scout that originally tracked them. This connection will go back to before the player was drafted and sometimes long before.

    In Fox's situation, Jim Cummins is the Flames scout that has been on Fox and keeping an eye on him from when he first joined the U.S. national team development program in 2014-15 at the young age of 16.

    Much like the attention universities shower you with when they're trying to recruit you, it's been three years now in which Cummins has been watching Fox's games, talking with him and close monitoring his development. When you're age 16, 17, 18, those are impressionable years and that attention can mean a lot. By the time Fox reaches the summer where he could depart as a free agent, he will have known Cummins for six years.

    From Cummins to a guy like development coach Ray Edwards, who works closely with Fox now that he is a member of the organization, relationship-building is a priority of the Flames.

    That care and attention, that showing of genuine interest, the consistent promoting of the team's culture and what they're all about, these are factors that can contribute to a player's desire to stay with an organization.

    Case in point, last month at development camp both Spencer Foo and Josh Healey lauded Calgary for how they treated them while they were still free agents in college. Inviting them to development camp in 2016, it's this courting done beforehand and impression the team made that both noted was one of the factors considered when ultimately choosing to sign with the Flames.

    Meanwhile, don't forget Fox's other relationships. His connection with Matthew Tkachuk from their days together with the U.S. national team, and with Tyler Parsons too, his fellow 2016 draftee and teammate on the 2017 U.S. World Junior gold medal-winning team.

    The reason they say breaking up is hard to do is because it's true.


    6. More Cambridge, Less Stockton

    Harvard's 210 acre campus is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a town of around 130,000 people just outside of Boston.

    I've never been there, but it sure sounds like a terrific place to visit, never mind live. Thanks to its top 10 scores in active life options (3rd), live music (6th) and nightlife (6th), it was the runaway choice for No. 1 in this ranking of of America's most exciting suburbs. Cambridge also ranked in the top 10 for lowest percentage of fast food restaurants, which isn't an insignificant detail when you're a hockey player and needing to eat right.

    Now contrast that with Stockton, California, population 300,000, and home to Calgary's American Hockey League affiliate.

    Never the subject of much flattery, Stockton has been a fixture for nearly a decade in Forbes Magazine's annual listing of the most miserable U.S. cities to live in. Ranked No. 1 as recently as 2015, it finally slipped out of the top 10 (falling to 11th) in 2016. But don't crack the champagne just yet, it remains in the top 10 of the FBI's most dangerous cities, ranking 9th in 2017.

    For Fox, the longer he stays in college and the more playing experience he accrues, he's reducing the time (if any) he'll need to spend in the AHL after turning pro. You don't have to be an Ivy Leaguer to figure out that more Cambridge and less Stockton is a pretty alluring formula.


    7. Flames' Financial Advantage

    One of the main reasons an athlete in any sport will choose free agency is to get paid more. The more bidders, the richer the deal that you can sign.

    However, this isn't the case for players like Fox that are new to the NHL as they're all subject to the entry-level system and with that comes a cap on annual average salary, AHL salary and bonuses.

    Offer Fox the maximum salary allowed and there's no reason they wouldn't and Calgary cannot get outbid. It's as simple as that. Further, the Flames are the only team in a position to offer Fox even more in the big picture in the form of burning the first year off his ELC.

    As an example, let's say Fox does choose to turn pro with Calgary. Regardless of when that is, by signing immediately with Calgary upon the completion of his college season and squeezing in at least one NHL game that same year, you do what Gaudreau did and burn that first year off his entry-level contract.

    For Gaudreau, that meant he made a salary of $6.75 million last season instead of still being on his ELC and earning $925,000. That's a pretty hefty difference.

    If Fox was to wait until Aug. 15, 2020, to become a free agent, he'll be on his ELC for one year longer than what the Flames could offer.


    8. Chance to Win

    Another factor that can influence where a player chooses to sign is their desire to play for a winning organization that is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

    Rewinding to March 2016 when Vesey announced that he would not be signing with Nashville, the Predators were not exactly a playoff juggernaut. At that point in time, the last three seasons comprised of a first-round exit and two non-playoff appearances. In fact, in the franchise's 16 years of existence, only twice had they made it out of the first round and they had never made it past round two.

    (If only he knew then what he was going to miss out on just one year later.)

    While it's too soon to know what Calgary's situation will look like when that time comes, the next three years and beyond certainly have the potential to be good ones. We know Gaudreau thinks so from his comments a few weeks back. Should they turn themselves into a legit Stanley Cup threat, perhaps with Parsons -- then age 23 -- primed to be the team's starter, it could make Calgary a pretty attractive situation to remain a part of.


    Historical Flames Footnote

    You may not be aware that Fox is not the first high-profile Harvard defenceman Calgary has had in its system -- and no, I'm not referring to Sheehy, who was not drafted by the team.

    In 1985, general manager Cliff Fletcher selected Chris Biotti 17th overall. Playing high school hockey at the time, Biotti attended Harvard that fall.

    The similarities do not end there. Biotti, a Massachusetts native, was also a big part of the U.S. World Junior team playing three times in the WJC. That included one trip to the podium, a bronze medal finish in 1986.

    In what could be a sign of things to come, although I'm skeptical Fox will leave school that early, Biotti left the Crimson after two seasons to turn pro and sign with the Flames.

    However, in what the club hopes isn't a sign of what's to come, Biotti never made it to the NHL. After three seasons of playing in the minors, he signed in Italy. By age 26, he was retired.


    Final Word

    Looking to the future, there are a couple things to keep in mind.

    If Fox chooses not to sign with Calgary, I'd at least expect him to notify the team well in advance of that as a courtesy. That will give the Flames ample time to trade his rights and at minimum, recoup a draft pick.

    In June 2016, Vesey fetched a third round pick from Buffalo, who took a chance but did not land him. With a player as talented as Fox and 30 other GMs who would love a defenceman of his skill set, general manager Brad Treliving will be able to find a taker willing to trade a decent pick to get themselves an exclusive negotiating window.

    Also, if three years from now, Fox is choosing to  sign with another team to get himself a better opportunity (which would typically be th reason since there can't be a bidding war), that bodes well for what the state of Calgary's blueline will have become by the summer of 2020. That probably means two of Juuso Valimaki, Andersson and Oliver Kylington have panned out.

    Either way, nothing but good can come out of the better Fox plays --  whether it's when he signs with the Flames, which I still believe will be the ultimate outcome, or in terms of how high of a draft pick they can fetch if they are forced to deal his rights.

    Either way, sleep well and don't worry about it. At least not for a couple years.



    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 stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

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    Recent Flames Reading:

















    Wednesday, August 09, 2017

    FF80F Podcast: Episode 17 - Counting Down the Flames Top 20 Prospects, Summer Edition



    One of my favourite exercises that I do twice a year is compiling a list of the Flames top 20 prospects -- with a handful of honourable mentions sprinkled in.

    While the list is available here for you to skim through, I high recommend this podcast as NHL.com's Aaron Vickers joined me and we spent an August afternoon outdoors (prior to the World Junior Summer Showcase, I'll point out), methodically working our way backwards through the list.

    Curious about why players are ranked where they are? There's lot of additional detail to be had here.


    Episode 17 - August 6, 2017  (1:32:02 running time)

    A segment-by-segment breakdown:

    • 0:00 - Introduction - Background, definition of prospects, etc.
    • 10:57 - Segment 1 - The honourable mentions (and the best of the others)
    • 26:09 - Segment 2 - Rankings 15-20
    • 37:41 - Segment 3 - Rankings 11-15
    • 54:31 - Segment 4 - Rankings 6-10
    • 1:09:47 - Segment 5 - Rankings 1-5
    • 1:26:50 - Closing - Playing around with future line combinations


    Options to Download/Listen

    You are now able to listen to or download Flames at 80 Decibels from all your favourite podcast locations, as well as through your regular podcast player or app. Here are a few of the more popular spots where you can track down the latest episode:

    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 them 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 take it with you while you go and walk the dogs. I have heard from people who listen to them at work -- a great way to pass the time! There are endless possibilities.


    Did You Miss It?

    Here are the podcasts from earlier this summer. Run them one after another as a great way to pass the time the next time you're driving from Calgary to Regina. You can only play roadkill travel bingo for so long.
    • Episode 16 (July 29, 2017) - Looking ahead to training camp with Kristen Odland
    • Episode 15 (July 16, 2017) - Reflections on development camp with Rob Kerr
    • Episode 14 (June 19, 2017) - 2017 NHL draft edition with Aaron Vickers

    Rate the Podcast on iTunes

    Have you enjoyed the podcasts so far? I would be grateful if you take a couple minutes and stop by iTunes and rate the podcast. From what I've learned, the more reviews, the easier it becomes to find for hockey fans browsing for something to listen to. So far, there's been 11 reviews. I'd love to see that number doubled.

    If you have any other comments or questions, let me know directly, I'd love to get an email from you.

    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 stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.
    -----------------------------------------------

    Recent Flames Reading:


      Monday, August 07, 2017

      Ranking the Calgary Flames Top 20 Prospects (August 2017 Edition)


      With rookie camp and the Penticton Young Stars tourney a month away, it's time to unveil my latest ranking of the Flames top 20 prospects.

      While 20 may seem like a lot, it's actually not if you consider there are 35 players in the organization that qualify as prospects by my criteria.

      This is one of my favourite things to write because of how difficult it is and knowing that no matter what, there is going to be debate. But that's what makes it a fun exercise and wonderful excuse to talk hockey in August.

      The biggest thing I've learned over the last two years is to do the brainstorming on paper and stick to pencil as there is always a lot of shuffling. During the week of preparation, almost every morning, I re-think something and flip-flop names.

      In the end, I'm happy with the list that for your information, was finalized prior to the start of the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan. For those of you just getting back from vacation, that was the tournament last week in which Adam Fox went out and played like Bobby Orr.


      History

      This the fifth edition of the rankings, which come out in the summer -- after the draft and development camp has taken place -- and then again around the NHL all-star break in late January or early February.

      Here's a look back at past rankings, which has included guys like Sam BennettMicheal Ferland and Matthew Tkachuk, who have gone on to graduate.

      As the years pass, these snapshots in time of the organization's prospect cupboard provide a nice way of tracking players as they rise and fall on the depth chart. By rise and fall, I mean it. I like there to be movement each time as that makes it more interesting and gives the list a power rankings-type of feel. Who's hot? Who's not? Let the rankings reflect that.


      Definition of "Prospect"

      If you look at other hockey publications and websites, there are different definitions for "prospect". Some have age maximums, some exclude players once they're no longer considered an NHL rookie. My criteria is simple and comes down to two things:
      • Age 25 or under for skaters (age 26 or under for goalies)
      • Has not established himself as an NHL regular

      For my rankings, it's also important to point out that this is not the order I expect players to ascend to the NHL. The estimated time of arrival (ETA) is a minimal factor only. A bigger consideration are two things: 1. Likeliness to make the NHL, 2. Projected impact if they do make it.


      Grads and Departures

      Interestingly in a summer that has seen Flames GM Brad Treliving bring in several new players to the organization, the new look has come at the expense of just one prospect that was in the top 20 last February.

      That player was Brandon Hickey, who first declared he was returning to Boston University for a fourth season, then his rights were traded to the Arizona Coyotes. We may never know if he had intentions of signing with Calgary but when a college player returns to school for his fourth season, it's fair to be skeptical. If not signed when he graduates next spring, Hickey can become an unrestricted free agent on August 15.

      Two others -- both defencemen -- who were honourable mentions last time around are also no longer with the organization. Stepan Falkovsky was signed as a free agent by the Los Angeles Kings. Kenney Morrison was not qualified and became a free agent.


      Listen to the New Top 20 Podcast

      For additional insight into the list including other names that didn't make the honourable mentions but nearly did, a 90-minute podcast dedicated entirely to the Top 20 was recorded this week. I think you'll enjoy the listen. Many thanks to Flames' NHL.com correspondent Aaron Vickers for joining me.

      We count down the list and share some thoughts on each player. It will give you some further context into why they are ranked where they are.

      You can listen to the podcast now (or download for later) via all your usual podcasting platforms:

      Hope you enjoy it and do you agree, disagree? I look forward to your feedback.


      Flames Top 20 Prospects - August 2017

      Included for reference is each player's previous rankings starting from the most recent (e.g. February 2017) and working backwards.

      1. G Tyler Parsons (previously 3rd, 9th)
      • Age | 20 in September
      • Size | 6-foot-1, 185 lbs
      • Catches | Left
      • Acquired | Drafted in 2nd round (54th overall) in 2016
      • Last Season | London OHL (34 gm, 23-6-3, 2.37 GAA, .926 SV%)
      • ETA | 2019-20
      Not the 6-foot-6 skyscraper-type so prevalent now, Parsons relies instead on his reflexes, athleticism, quickness and high compete level -- he never gives up on a puck. Has a history of delivering big performances on the biggest of stages (WJC gold, Memorial Cup). Flames brass absolutely rave about him.


      2. C Mark Jankowski (previously 1st, 5th, 8th, 15th)
      • Age | 23 in September
      • Size | 6-foot-4, 200 lbs
      • Shoots | Left
      • Acquired | Drafted in 1st round (21st overall) in 2012 
      • Last Season | Stockton AHL (64 gm, 27-29-56), Calgary (1 gm, 0-0-0)
      • ETA | 2017-18
      It's been a marathon, not a sprint, but five years after being drafted, the finish line finally nears for the first rounder, who as a rookie led Stockton in scoring and was a critical go-to guy for coach Ryan Huska, who deployed him in all manpower situations. His well-rounded game is nearly NHL-ready.


      3. D Rasmus Andersson (previously 2nd, 3rd, 2nd, 6th)
      • Age | 20
      • Size | 6-foot-1, 220 lbs
      • Shoots | Right
      • Acquired | Drafted in 2nd round (53rd overall) in 2015
      • Last Season | Stockton AHL (54 gm, 3-19-22), Calgary (1 gm, 0-0-0)
      • ETA | 2018-19
      It took a little time in his rookie season to elevate his game to the tempo required, but after that, he was a relied-upon top-four fixture. Elite with the puck and with a defensive game that's coming along nicely, he had an excellent season. A month in the NHL will have whet his appetite for more.


      4. D Adam Fox (previously 10th, 15th)
      • Age | 19
      • Size 5-foot-10, 180 lbs
      • Shoots | Right
      • Acquired | Drafted in 3rd round (66th overall) in 2016
      • Last Season | Harvard NCAA (35 gm, 6-34-40)
      • ETA 2020-21
      Seems hard to believe he was a third round pick just 15 months ago as he's looking more and more like a first-round talent. Coming off a tremendous showing at the WJ Summer Showcase, he's smart, offensively gifted and he'll be a central figure for both Harvard and Team USA at the 2018 WJC.


      5. D Juuso Valimaki 
      • Age | 18
      • Size | 6-foot-2, 215 lbs
      • Shoots | Left
      • Acquired | Drafted in 1st round (16th overall) in 2017 
      • Last Season | Tri-City WHL (60 gm, 19-42-61)
      • ETA | 2019-20
      Trading for top-four defencemen is expensive -- see Dougie Hamilton, Travis Hamonic. Flames hope the big Finn will develop into that role and be a mainstay on the blueline for several years. Previously captained Finland's U16 and U18 teams, he'll captain the U20 team at the WJC.


      6. C/LW Dillon Dube (previously 7th, 11th)
      • Age | 19 
      • Size 5-foot-11, 185 lbs
      • Shoots | Left
      • Acquired | Drafted in 2nd round (56th overall) in 2016
      • Last Season | Kelowna WHL (40 gm, 20-35-55)
      • ETA 2019-20
      After making last year's WJC team to the surprise of many, he embraced and thrived in his shutdown role and was one of Canada's top forwards. It was a chance for the speedy and dangerous scorer to showcase his stingy defensive game. Faces one more year in WHL as he's not old enough to play in AHL.


      7. RW Spencer Foo
      • Age | 23
      • Size | 6-foot-0, 185 lbs
      • Shoots | Right
      • Acquired | Signed as a free agent in July 2017 
      • Last Season | Union NCAA (38 gm, 26-36-62)
      • ETA | 2017-18
      After a huge year offensively in his third year of NCAA that earned him a Hobey Baker nomination, he left school and after methodically weighing his options, he chose the Flames. Some AHL time could be in the offing but his ascent into Calgary's could happen very quickly.



      8. G Jon Gillies (previously 6th, 2nd, 1st, 5th)
      • Age | 23
      • Size 6-foot-6, 225 lbs
      • Catches | Left
      • Acquired | Drafted in 3rd round (75th overall) in 2012 
      • Last Season | Stockton AHL (39 gm, 18-14-1, 2.93 GAA, .910 SV%), Calgary (1 gm, 1-0-0, 1.00 GAA, .964 SV%)
      • ETA | 2019-20
      It was an up and down second pro season for Gillies, but most importantly, he got through it healthy. Hip surgery cost him most of his rookie season. Spectacular on some nights but not-so-good on others, he was pushed for playing time by David Rittich. Better consistency needed to make jump to NHL.


      9. D Oliver Kylington (previously 5th, 4th, 6th, 7th)
      • Age | 20
      • Size 6-foot-0, 180 lbs
      • Shoots | Left
      • Acquired Drafted in 2nd round (60th overall) in 2015
      • Last Season | Stockton AHL (60 gm, 6-21-27)
      • ETA | 2019-20
      Only 20 yet has played four years of pro -- two in Sweden and two in the AHL. An elite skater and PP quarterback, who loves to push up ice and get involved in the rush, playing a more simpler game will help eradicate the poor decisions and turnovers that riddle his game and are holding him back.


      10. LW Andrew Mangiapane (previously 8th, 8th, 9th, 20th)
      • Age | 21
      • Size | 5-foot-10, 185 lbs
      • Shoots | Left
      • Acquired | Drafted in 6th round (166th overall) in 2015
      • Last Season | Stockton AHL (66 gm, 20-21-41)
      • ETA | 2018-19
      Realizing his future is as an offensive player, he was used that way and got off to a hot start alongside AHL vets Matt Frattin and Linden Vey. Smaller but not small and highly-skilled, consistency is the next step as he suffered long dry spells as a rookie. He's trending up as if he was a second rounder.



      11. RW Emile Poirier (previously 20th, 10th, 4th, 2nd)
      • Age | 22 
      • Size 6-foot-2, 200 lbs
      • Shoots | Left
      • Acquired | Drafted in 1st round (22nd overall) in 2013
      • Last Season | Stockton AHL (43 gm, 6-11-17)
      • ETA 2018-19
      Was the talk of dev camp, first, when he spoke about his battle for sobriety. Secondly, when he wowed everyone with his on-ice play, which conjured up memories of how good he was two years ago when he was the No. 2 prospect behind Sam Bennett. Will make an impact if he can return to that same form.


      12. G David Rittich (previously 16th)
      • Age | 25 in August
      • Size | 6-foot-3, 200 lbs
      • Catches | Left
      • Acquired | Signed as a free agent in June 2016
      • Last Season | Stockton AHL (31 gm, 15-11-1, 2.27 GAA, .924 SV%), Calgary (1 gm, 0-0-0, 3.00, .900 SV%)
      • ETA | 2018-19
      Entering his second season in North America, goalie coach Jordan Sigalet describes the Czech as "very close" to NHL-ready. Expected to be the back-up, he pushed Gillies for starts, and eventually took over the crease in the playoffs. Had the better numbers of the two and could be an NHL back-up soon.


      13. D Brett Kulak (previously 9th, 17th, 11th, honourable mention)
      • Age 23
      • Size | 6-foot-2, 187 lbs
      • Shoots | Left
      • Acquired Drafted in 4th round (105th overall) in 2012 
      • Last Season | Stockton AHL (22 gm, 2-8-10), Calgary (21 gm, 0-3-3)  
      • ETA | 2017-18
      Has decent size, is a great skater, and is serviceable defensively. A job on the Flames' third pairing should be his if he can be a consistently reliable option for coach Glen Gulutzan. While he may not have the same ceiling as some of the others higher on the list, he's closest to the NHL and this is a huge year.



      14. LW Morgan Klimchuk (previously 12th, 14th, 7th, 9th)
      • Age | 22 
      • Size | 6-foot-0, 185 lbs 
      • Shoots | Left 
      • Acquired | Drafted in 1st round (28th overall) in 2013 
      • Last Season | Stockton AHL (66 gm, 19-24-43) 
      • ETA | 2018-19 
      After a disappointing rookie season, it was more of the Klimchuk of old last year as he piled up 19 goals and 43 points, eclipsing the previous year's point total in the first month. Add in his solid defensive game that developed nicely in 2015-16 and he has third line NHLer potential, if only he can stay healthy.


      15. LW Matthew Phillips (previously 15th)
      • Age | 19 
      • Size | 5-foot-7, 155 lbs 
      • Shoots | Right 
      • Acquired | Drafted in 6th round (166th overall) in 2016 
      • Last Season | Victoria WHL (70 gm, 50-40-90) 
      • ETA | 2020-21 
      At least in the WHL, size has not been an issue. Despite being a guy that opposing teams try to shut down, they couldn't as he racked up 50 goals with Victoria. Look beyond his dimensions and you see a guy, who is smart, can read the play and has a knack for escaping coverage and getting open.


      16. LW Hunter Shinkaruk (previously 11th, 6th)
      • Age | 22
      • Size | 5-foot-11, 180 lbs
      • Shoots | Left
      • Acquired Trade with Vancouver in February 2016  
      • Last Season | Stockton AHL (52 gm, 15-20-35), Calgary (7 gm, 0-1-1)
      • ETA | 2018-19
      His speed, shot, ability to dangle, the skills are there yet 15 goals was his lowest output yet in three AHL seasons. Nearly half of them (7) came in a five-game span late in the year, which followed a stretch of one goal in 30 games. Risks the label of a career minor league if he can't put it together soon.


      17. C/RW Daniel Pribyl (previously 14th, 13th)
      • Age | 24 
      • Size 6-foot-4, 210 lbs
      • Shoots | Right
      • Acquired | Signed as a free agent in April 2016
      • Last Season | Stockton AHL (33 gm, 5-10-15)
      • ETA 2018-19
      Coming off a lost year. Missed training camp after off-season knee surgery and then was injured twice more. Pack offensive skill into a power forward's frame and there's lots of allure around the guy Treliving said reminded him of ex-NHLer Robert Lang. Starting the season healthy could be huge.


      18. D Josh Healey 
      • Age | 23
      • Size | 6-foot-0, 195 lbs
      • Shoots | Left
      • Acquired | Signed as a free agent in March 2017
      • Last Season | Ohio State NCAA (35 gm, 4-21-25), Stockton AHL (2 gm, 0-0-0)
      • ETA | 2019-20
      With 25 points in 35 games in his last season at Ohio State, there is some offence with Healey, who quarterbacked the power play, yet his ticket to the NHL and he knows it is his physicality. He loves to play the body and is really good at it and that edge to his game makes him a guy to watch.


      19. C Linus Lindstrom (previously honourable mention)
      • Age | 19 
      • Size 6-foot-0, 170 lbs
      • Shoots | Left
      • Acquired | Drafted in 4th round (96th overall) in 2016
      • Last Season | Skelleftea Sweden (50 gm, 2-4-6)
      • ETA 2021-22
      A long way away as he's got two years to go on his contract with his club in Sweden, but he also came a long way last year in staying up with the pro team when playing junior was expected. That should pay off with a bounce-back year offensively. Also, watch for him with Sweden at the WJC. 


      20. C Adam Ruzicka
      • Age | 18
      • Size | 6-foot-4, 210 lbs
      • Catches | Left
      • Acquired | Drafted in 4th round (109th overall) in 2017 
      • Last Season | Sarnia OHL (61 gm, 25-21-46)
      • ETA | 2021-22
      Big, tall, strapping centre, who can score. Ranked by some draft pundits as high as a late second rounder, Flames got Ruzicka in the fourth round, giving the organization some size down the middle for later down the road. About to play his second year in North America, he's someone to watch. 


      Honourable Mentions:

      The best of the rest, in no particular order.

      RW Garnet Hathaway (previously 17th, 19th, 17th, 19th) - Brings jam, but tops out as a 4th liner.
      LW Ryan Lomberg (previously NR) - Can do a little of everything and is willing to do anything.
      G Mason McDonald (previously 19th, 16th, 9th, 3rd) - Second-year pro tumbling down depth chart.
      RW Eetu Tuulola (previously 18th, 18th) - After WHL stint, intriguing talent to play pro in Finland.
      D Tyler Wotherspoon (previously 13th, 12th, 13th, 11th) - Just can't seem to find traction in NHL.




      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 stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

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      Wednesday, August 02, 2017

      From Nice-to-Have to Need-to-Have: My Take on Why Extending Backlund is Imperative

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      In the off-season three years ago, I raised a lot of eyebrows when I suggested Mikael Backlund was in line to be a $5 million hockey player come his next contract.

      At the time, he had one year remaining on his 2-year/$3 million deal and coming off an excellent season in which he really made an impact, my viewpoint was the Flames were better off extending him right then and there and locking him up at a lower annual average value than what they would otherwise risk having to pay if they waited for him to put up another similar season.

      As it turns out, they didn't get that extension done that summer, but as luck (or bad luck from Backlund's perspective) would have it, injuries took a 30-game bite out of the Swede's 2014-15 season and also inflicted a financial toll on what he could command. On June 20, 2015, general manager Brad Treliving re-signed the centre to a thrifty three-year deal at an annual average value of $3.575 million.

      Well, Backlund's going to get his $5 million now -- and then some.

      This summer, the team is in an identical spot as three years ago with Backlund again under contract for one more year. With July 1 having passed, Calgary is again in a position where they have the ability to sign him to an extension at any point, should they choose to pursue that.

      But there's one major difference and I mean major difference.

      Three years ago, the pressure point Treliving was up against was the risk of a more expensive deal had the team waited to re-sign him as they did.

      This time, the threat looming just 11 months away is unrestricted free agency.

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      Decade of Development

      To his credit, Backlund has done an excellent job of evolving from a nice-to-have player a few years ago to a need-to-have player. Drafted 24th overall in 2007, he has become the player the Flames always hoped they were getting.

      Considering the high level of hockey he has played the last few seasons -- his offensive game blossoming to complement his already-stellar defensive game -- it's imperative Calgary gets an extension done and keeps this critical piece in the fold for many years to come.

      With the top five on defence locked up for the next three years and Calgary's young forward group gaining valuable experience every season, the Flames are entering their so-called 'window to win'. The guy up front that props that window open and allows the cool breeze to catch this team's sails is Backlund.

      Not an old guy at age 28, he is a necessary, sage presence who has had and will continue to provide immeasurable value. Just think about the youth that makes up two-thirds of the forward group this club could be deploying in the upcoming seasons:
      • Michael Ferland, 25
      • Johnny Gaudreau, 23
      • Spencer Foo, 23
      • Sean Monahan, 22
      • Curtis Lazar, 22
      • Mark Jankowski, 22
      • Sam Bennett, 21
      • Matthew Tkachuk, 19

      Next, think about what centre will look like for the Flames next summer after Matt Stajan's contract expires and he presumably either moves on or retires.

      Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett perhaps, Mark Jankowski, maybe Curtis Lazar. Whatever the configuration, the startling reality is the senior member of that foursome would be Jankowski. Try and wrap your head around that.

      Whether or not fans put any stock in the benefit of veteran guys in a line-up to mentor young men finding their way in the league -- especially at centre with the responsibilities and pressures that come with that position -- I can tell you that players themselves certainly do. I've had that conversation with the team's younger players numerous times. Backlund's time with the organization, his knowledge of the league, his own career experiences, his character, these are all invaluable attributes.


      Depth Down the Middle

      A legitimate No. 2 centre playing the best hockey of his life, Backlund is a key ingredient for this team. Heck, last year in authoring a career-best 22 goals and 53 points, he was more like a No. 1 centre dressed up as a No. 2.

      Paired with Sean Monahan, he helps form a vital 1-2 punch up the middle that allows the Flames to keep up with the other Pacific Division heavyweights where Anaheim boasts Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, the Sharks deploy Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, the Kings come at you with Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter and the Oilers pummel you with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

      The road to the Stanley Cup final runs through California, Northern Alberta, or both. There's no getting around it. Re-calculate? Sorry. To navigate through that gauntlet, Calgary is going to need Backlund's line with Matthew Tkachuk and Michael Frolik to be mmm, mmm, good.

      Want proof of Backlund's influence on the play of others? Just look at the impact he had on Lance Bouma, Joe Colborne and Sam Bennett. For all three, the best hockey of their career has come while playing alongside Backlund. It's no coincidence and considering the nice bump in pay the first two received right afterwards, I sure hope Backlund gets paid a commission.

      Being able to make other players better. That's what he does and it's the ultimate praise for an athlete.

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      All Hail the Anti-Russell

      Perhaps most impressively though is this is one player where instead of bickering back and forth ad nauseum, both the new-school analytics enthusiasts and the old-school eye-test traditionalists seem to agree on.

      For real.

      He's the polar opposite of Kris Russell. With Backlund, both sides are constantly singing his praises as if they're at a Karaoke Bar, arms locked, belting out I Got You Babe.

      Of course, this hasn't always been the case. The latter took a while to come around on No. 11, but these days you'd have a better chance of finding a Brennan Evans game-worn jersey than a fan that doesn't appreciate what Backlund brings to the line-up every night.

      As for how good his advanced stats are, let's take a quick look. But first, a disclaimer. Know that there are much deeper dives out there on Backlund and I'm only skimming the surface of this new realm that the NHL refers to as 'enhanced stats' and are now maintained on the league website.

      There are two numbers that I'm going to reference:

      1. Zone Starts (ZS%)

      Zone starts refers to the percentage of time at even-strength that a player is on the ice for a face-off in the offensive zone. e.g. If every time you're on the ice for a face-off, you're in the offensive zone, your zone start percentage would be 100 percent. This is a non-subjective metric and I think it's informative as I view as a great way to measure a coach's trust in a particular player, or line, or D pairing.
       
      As you probably have observed, a coach will often put out his better defensive players for own-zone face-offs, unless he can't because of an icing. The lower a player's ZS%, that's an indicator that you are one of those relied upon guys frequently sent over the boards to be on the ice and/or take the draw in those sometimes crucial defensive zone face-off situations.

      2. Shot Attempts Percentage (SAT%)

      Rather than relying solely on goals, which are not that common, the next metric one level down is measuring shot attempts, as that is what leads to goals. Since shot attempts are far more frequent, it allows you to paint a better picture of a player or line's effectiveness in terms of carrying the play.

      Identified by the NHL as SAT%, but also known as Corsi, this number will reflect the ratio of shot attempts for versus shot attempts against while that player is on the ice at even-strength. This is also referred to as possession with the premise being the more times you're shooting the puck, it reflects how much more often you are in possession of the puck.

      The additional qualifier to SAT that I like to use is 'Close'. Given there is a natural tendency for teams to play a different style of game if they are behind by a couple goals (more aggressive offensively) versus ahead (sit back and protect the lead), SAT% Close only counts shot attempts in game situations where the game is a one-goal lead or tied in the first two periods, or tied in the third period.


      So What Does It Mean?

      With those two metrics in mind (and apologies to those that know this stuff inside out or those that don't care!) only three players last year registered a SAT% Close of  > 52% while also having a zone start percentage of < 36%.
      • LW Matthew Tkachuk CGY, 53.62 SAT% Close, 35.02 ZS%
      • C Mikael Backlund CGY, 53.24 SAT% Close, 35.50 ZS%
      • C Ryan Kesler ANA, 53.17 SAT% Close, 33.69 ZS%

      What that's saying is Backlund gets on the ice in own end a lot, like twice as often as he gets the benefit of starting in the offensive zone. Yet it doesn't matter. Despite that 150-foot disadvantage, his line pushes the puck up the ice regularly and territorially will take the play to the opposing line.

      And when I say that you can take a far deeper dive into this stuff. That's when you start looking closely at things like at the calibre of players Backlund's line is out against and as you know, it's often the No. 1 line on the other team. That makes these numbers pop even more.

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      Final Word

      I realize I'm not breaking any news here in declaring that Backlund is a player the Flames need to be re-signing.

      On the ice, he was third in team scoring, not that far behind $6-million-plus first liners Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Meanwhile, he also finished fourth in voting for the 2016-17 Selke trophy and on my ballot, I had him No. 2 behind Ryan Kesler. He's the epitome of the 200-foot player.

      Off the ice, he was the PHWA Calgary Chapter's nominee for the Masterton trophy for best exemplifying the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. He tirelessly gives back to the community with three charities in particular he supports being Special Olympics, Kids Cancer Care and the ALS Society. This isn't just a quality player, he's a quality person.

      There is a lot to like and it's why it was no surprise to hear Treliving mention a few times this summer that he's been in touch with Backlund's agent and that they will be discussing an extension.

      What would an extension look like? I'll save that for my own deeper dive to be done on another day, but I'd expect it would come in between $5 and $6 million with it closer to the latter. For term, five years is my guess. Monahan has six years remaining so I'd expect a new Backlund deal to have a staggered expiry date and five years is more likely than seven.

      Could he still end up leaving as a UFA next July 1? Possibly, but for the player, it's hard to imagine a better situation than the organization he's grown up in. For the team, it's equally difficult to envision anyone else shouldering all the heavy lifting Backlund takes on nightly as the team's shutdown centre.

      And when you have in your possession one of those rare guys that while throwing blanks at the opposition's star players, can still put up 20-plus goals and 50-plus points, you don't part with them. These are the types of players you lock up and throw away the key.



      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 stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

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