Saturday, August 25, 2018

Ranking the Calgary Flames Top 20 Prospects (August 2018 Edition)



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Here we go again with another edition of the Flames top 20 prospects.

Much has happened since the last update during the NHL all-star break. A couple prospects have been traded, a couple new prospects have arrived and there's been a graduation too. David Rittich, you're an adult now. Good luck out there.

This edition was a bit different without the usual complement of incoming high-end draft picks. As everyone knows, the Flames did not select in the first, second or third round in 2018 and that does take a toll on what's in the cupboard.

Nonetheless, the reason general manager Brad Treliving has felt he can be aggressive with trading away picks for immediate help lately is the quality of prospects in the system. Ultimately, it's about how many guys you graduate to the NHL and while Calgary's prospect list may not have the same depth as many other organizations, there are still several potential impact guys at the top.


History

This is the seventh edition of my bi-annual rankings, which made its debut in August 2015. Much has changed over the last three years with only five players from that original top 20 still hanging around as prospects. Five more have graduated to the NHL with three of them playing for Calgary. One thing for certain, if you've been a prospect since the summer of 2015 and haven't yet cracked the big team, safe to say that your prospect-biological clock is ticking.

If you're into nostalgia, here's a look back at past rankings:

As always, this is the part where I point out that there is, by design, a bit of a power rankings-like feel to my list. Prospects tend to rise and fall on my list with more volatility than in real life. But that seems fair. It should reflect how things are going. The 2018-19 season will start up soon enough and with that will be an opportunity once again for them to show what they've got.


My Definition of Prospect

If you look at other hockey publications and websites, there are different definitions for what is a prospect. Some have age restrictions, 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, note also that this is not a chronological list. It's not the order in which 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/role if they do make it.


Grads and Departures

Two players have exited due to trades.

Gone is highly-touted blueline prospect Adam Fox. Returning to Harvard for a third season, his rights were traded to Carolina. The signability of the kid was starting to become a question mark so despite the front office being a big fan, he's gone.

At the other end of the prospect spectrum and someone who had devolved into a fringe prospect at best was Hunter Shinkaruk, who was recently dealt to Montreal for Kerby Rychel.

As mentioned, the one graduate is Rittich.

It's not an age thing with the Czech as he just turned 26 so for a goalie, he's still got one more year of prospect eligibility by my age criteria. However, as I see it, he has established himself as an NHL regular, backing up Mike Smith for most of last season and inheriting the No. 1 job while Smith was out with his injury. Now the latter didn't work out that well, but Rittich's one-way deal for 2018-19 suggests he'll once again be back in the NHL.

So, are you ready? Party on, Wayne!




Flames Top 20 Prospects - August 2018

Included for reference is each player's previous rankings starting from the most recent (January 2018) and working backwards chronologically.


1. D Juuso Valimaki (previously 5th, 5th)
  • Age | 20 in October
  • Size | 6-foot-2, 215 lbs
  • Shoots | Left
  • Acquired | Drafted in 1st round (16th overall) in 2017 
  • Last Season | Tri-City WHL (43 gm, 14-31-45)
  • ETA | 2019-20

Future is bright for the solidly-built Finnish WJC captain, who has the tools at both ends of the ice to jump straight to the NHL. Likely begins in AHL, but will eventually be a fixture in Calgary's top-four. Put quite the exclamation mark on an impressive junior career with 12 points over his final five playoff games.



2. D Rasmus Andersson (previously 1st, 3rd, 2nd, 3rd, 2nd, 6th)
  • Age | 22 in October
  • Size | 6-foot-1, 220 lbs
  • Shoots | Right
  • Acquired | Drafted in 2nd round (53rd overall) in 2015
  • Last Season | Stockton AHL (56 gm, 9-30-39), Calgary NHL (10 gm, 0-0-0)
  • ETA | 2018-19

An AHL all-star last year, he was an important, relied-upon top-pairing guy. Two years in the minors has him on the cusp of full-time NHL employment, last year getting in 10 games with Calgary. Currently blocked on the right side, expect the elite puck mover to push hard for for a spot this training camp.


3. C/LW Dillon Dube (previously 4th, 6th, 7th, 11th)
  • Age | 20 
  • Size 5-foot-11, 185 lbs
  • Shoots | Left
  • Acquired | Drafted in 2nd round (56th overall) in 2016
  • Last Season | Kelowna WHL (53 gm, 38-46-84), Stockton AHL (6 gm, 0-4-4)
  • ETA 2019-20

So much to like with the kid from Cochrane, whose style of game is an ideal fit for today's NHL. Fast, skilled and plays with an edge. Was a standout centre in junior while also shining on LW in captaining Canada to 2018 WJC gold. Has a well-rounded game and his late-season taste of the AHL has him primed to take the next step.


4. G Tyler Parsons (previously 2nd, 1st, 3rd, 9th)
  • Age | 21 in September 
  • Size | 6-foot-1, 185 lbs 
  • Catches | Left 
  • Acquired | Drafted in 2nd round (54th overall) in 2016 
  • Last Season | Kansas City ECHL (28 gm, 12-12-0, 3.16 GAA, .902 SV%), Stockton AHL (7 gm, 1-3-0, 4.39 GAA, .856 SV%) 
  • ETA | 2021-22 

The jump from being on a dominant junior team to the ECHL was always going to be an adjustment and the struggle was real. Used to experiencing success, he never really got settled. He battled nagging injuries in the second half and he also bounced between teams. But the pedigree, athleticism and talent are still there.


5. LW Andrew Mangiapane (previously 6th, 8th, 8th, 9th, 20th)
  • Age | 22
  • Size | 5-foot-10, 185 lbs
  • Shoots | Left
  • Acquired | Drafted in 6th round (166th overall) in 2015
  • Last Season | Stockton AHL (39 gm, 21-25-46), Calgary NHL (10 gm, 0-0-0)
  • ETA | 2019-20

Posted 20-plus goals his first two seasons in Stockton and was on pace for over 30 last year if not for a 10-game NHL call-up and then season-ending shoulder surgery. An AHL all-star, he led the Heat in goals and points despite missing 29 games. He's not far away and could break through offensively next call-up.

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6. D Oliver Kylington (previously 9th, 9th, 5th, 4th, 6th, 7th)
  • Age | 21
  • Size 6-foot-0, 180 lbs
  • Shoots | Left
  • Acquired Drafted in 2nd round (60th overall) in 2015
  • Last Season | Stockton AHL (62 gm, 7-28-35)
  • ETA | 2020-21

With three AHL seasons in the books (and two pro seasons in Sweden before that), you forget he is only 21. Decision-making and puck management were early criticisms but he was a young man in an older league. It's gotten much better. He's logs top-four minutes now and his play away from the puck is vastly improved. Plus, still has those elite wheels. 


7. RW Spencer Foo (previously 8th, 7th)
  • Age | 24
  • Size | 6-foot-0, 185 lbs
  • Shoots | Right
  • Acquired | Signed as a free agent in July 2017 
  • Last Season | Stockton AHL (62 gm, 20-19-39), Calgary NHL (4 gm, 2-0-2)
  • ETA | 2019-20

Took some time to adjust to pro hockey from college and a depleted Stockton roster was also a factor early on. But his game picked up in January and he produced at nearly a point-per-game (12-11-23 in 26 gm) the rest of the way. Didn't look out place in a brief four-game audition in Calgary to finish the season.


8. RW/C Austin Czarnik (debut)
  • Age | 25 
  • Size | 5-foot-9, 170 lbs 
  • Shoots | Right 
  • Acquired | Signed as FA in July 2018 
  • Last Season | Providence AHL (64 gm, 25-44-69), Boston (10 gm 0-4-4) 
  • ETA | 2018-19 

A prolific AHL scorer, Czarnik is a small, skilled and speedy free agent signing who was pursued this summer by several teams. An older guy having played four NCAA seasons before turning pro, his two-year, one-way deal suggests his career in the show is finally here. Logged 59 games over the past two seasons with the Bruins.


9. G Jon Gillies (previously 10th, 8th, 6th, 2nd, 1st, 5th)
  • Age | 24
  • Size 6-foot-6, 225 lbs
  • Catches | Left
  • Acquired | Drafted in 3rd round (75th overall) in 2012 
  • Last Season | Stockton AHL (39 gm, 17-16-3, 2.53 GAA, .917 SV%), Calgary (11 gm, 3-5-1, 2.88 GAA, .896 SV)
  • ETA | 2019-20

His height makes him look intimidating, but his numbers tell a different story. He was OK in the AHL last year, but his call-up to Calgary where he made nine starts didn't go so well. Come year 2 of his freshly-inked two-year contract, his deal becomes a one-way. Flames hope he'll be ready by then to take over for Smith. I guess we'll wait and see. 


10. C Glenn Gawdin (previously 12th)
  • Age | 21
  • Size | 6-foot-1, 195 lbs
  • Shoots | Right
  • Acquired | Signed as FA in Nov 2017 (originally St. Louis 4th rounder in 2015)
  • Last Season | Swift Current WHL (67 gm, 56-69-125)
  • ETA | 2020-21

Stood out at Flames rookie camp while there on a tryout. The Broncos captain then had a terrific start to his final junior season, prompting Calgary to get in there and sign him before anyone else. Played on a stacked line in the WHL but is described as the motor for that line. A captain and character guy, Flames love his upside.

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11. C Linus Lindstrom (previously 13th, 19th)
  • Age | 20 
  • Size 6-foot-0, 170 lbs
  • Shoots | Left
  • Acquired | Drafted in 4th round (96th overall) in 2016
  • Last Season | Skelleftea Sweden (41 gm, 3-1-4)
  • ETA 2021-22

Coaches trust his defensive game, but he has skill too. Centered Sweden's top line at WJC with Elias Pettersson and Alex Nylander. Example of his high character and compete, he played gold medal game with a separated shoulder. If he can crack his Swedish team's top-six, he would see more offensive situations.


12. C Adam Ruzicka (previously 11th, 20th)
  • Age | 19 
  • Size | 6-foot-4, 210 lbs 
  • Shoots | Left 
  • Acquired | Drafted in 4th round (109th overall) in 2017 
  • Last Season | Sarnia OHL (63 gm, 36-36-72) 
  • ETA | 2022-23 

Tore it up early last season and was among the OHL's scoring leaders, but hit a lull after a tough go with Slovakia at the WJC. After an inconsistent second half, really struggled in the post-season with just 3 assists in 12 games. Has all the attributes you salivate over in a centre, but has to work on his consistency.


13. LW Morgan Klimchuk (previously 15th, 14th, 12th, 14th, 7th, 9th)
  • Age | 23
  • Size | 6-foot-0, 185 lbs 
  • Shoots | Left 
  • Acquired | Drafted in 1st round (28th overall) in 2013 
  • Last Season | Stockton AHL (62 gm, 19-21-40) 
  • ETA | 2019-20 

Has established himself as a reliable AHLer and with back-to-back 19-goal seasons, his scoring touch has returned after a rough rookie year. A solid all-around player, he has lacked that one standout quality to separate himself. Got in one NHL game last year, but can he become more than just a trusty call-up.


14. RW Eetu Tuulola (previously 16th, HM, 18th, 18th)
  • Age | 20
  • Size | 6-foot-2, 230 lbs
  • Shoots | Right
  • Acquired | Drafted in 6th round (156th overall) in 2016
  • Last Season | HPK Finland (51 gm, 16-10-26)
  • ETA | 2021-22

Playing in his hometown in the top Finnish league where his Dad once starred, it took time for him to get established last year. But upon returning from the WJC, he became a key offensive weapon for his club and 16 goals at age 19 is very good in such a low-scoring league. He's strong, skilled and boasts a wicked shot.


15. RW Matthew Phillips (previously 14th, 15th, 15th)
  • Age | 20 
  • Size | 5-foot-7, 155 lbs 
  • Shoots | Right 
  • Acquired | Drafted in 6th round (166th overall) in 2016 
  • Last Season | Victoria WHL (71 gm, 48-64-112) 
  • ETA | 2022-23 

If only Phillips was blessed with a bit more size as he thinks the game at an elite level and has a knack for getting open for scoring chances. A superstar in junior, he's always had to compete hard given his small frame. Fascinated to see this next jump to pro and how he fares against older and stronger players.

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16. C D'Artagnan Joly (previously 19th)
  • Age | 19 
  • Size | 6-foot-3, 180 lbs 
  • Shoots | Right 
  • Acquired | Drafted in 6th round (171st overall) in 2017 
  • Last Season | Baie-Comeau QMJHL (55 gm, 23-45-68) 
  • ETA | 2022-23 

A bad back hampered him all last summer and kept him sidelined through rookie camp and the start of the QMJHL season. When he returned to the line-up -- without benefit of a training camp -- he put up some huge offensive numbers, teasing to the high potential in yet another intriguing big, tall centre.


17. LW Kerby Rychel (debut)
  • Age | Turns 24 in October 
  • Size 6-foot-1, 214 lbs
  • Shoots | Left
  • Acquired | Acquired in trade with Montreal in Aug 2018 (originally Columbus 1st rounder in 2013)
  • Last Season | Toronto/Laval AHL (71 gm, 18-24-40), Montreal NHL (4 gm, 1-1-2)
  • ETA 2019-20

Acquired in a trade for Hunter Shinkaruk, the once highly-touted prospect joins his fourth organization. A decent scorer in the AHL, what differentiates him from the fellow 2013 first rounder he was dealt for is Rychel is a bigger guy, who plays with more jam. With 41 NHL games, has a shot at a bottom-six role, but time is running out. 


18. C Martin Pospisil (debut)
  • Age | 18
  • Size | 6-foot-2, 173 lbs
  • Shoots | Left
  • Acquired | Drafted in 4th round (105th overall) in 2018 
  • Last Season | Sioux City USHL (49 gm, 8-29-37)  
  • ETA | 2023-24

Calgary's top selection in 2018, the Slovak drafted after the long wait will require a long wait. Playing USHL one more year before heading to college, he is a fiery, aggressive competitor who piled up 253 PIMs last year, far and away the league leader. Yet under that layer is plenty of skill too, which will become more evident if he can stay out of the penalty box.


19. LW Demetrios Koumontzis (debut)
  • Age | 18
  • Size | 5-foot-10, 183 lbs
  • Shoots | Left
  • Acquired Drafted in 4th round (108th overall) in 2018  
  • Last Season | Edina Min-HS (24 gm, 20-21-41)
  • ETA | 2023-24

After starring in the competitive Minnesota high school loop, he heads to Arizona State to begin his NCAA career. As was the theme with Calgary's draft picks this year, the fourth rounder is small, fast and skilled with a high compete level. This was on display at development camp as he's a guy not shy of getting into the tough areas. Plays with some fire reminiscent of Dube.


20. LW Filip Sveningsson (debut)
  • Age | 19
  • Size | 6-foot-0, 181 lbs
  • Shoots | Left
  • Acquired | Drafted in 7th round (202nd overall) in 2017
  • Last Season | HV71 Junior Sweden (37 gm, 15-14-29), HV71 Sweden (11 gm, 0-0-0)
  • ETA | 2023-24

While his countryman Lindstrom projects as a solid two-way player, Sveningsson is an all-offence, skilled guy, who can really skate and shoot. Has opted to play this season in Sweden's second division so he can be used in that role. He's a long-term project who will be in Sweden for a while, but there's no rush.


Honourable Mentions

The best of the rest:

LW Ryan Lomberg (previously 18th, HM) - Age 23, fiery, fearless buzz-saw got into 7 NHL games.
D Josh Healey (prev HM, 18th) - Adjustment from NCAA took time. Age 24, role will grow this year.
LW Brett Pollock (debut) - Strong second half in AHL has 6-foot-3 2014 2nd rounder back on radar.
C Milos Roman (debut) - Playmaking Slovak rookie was 10-22-32 in 39 gm in Vancouver (WHL).
RW Dmitry Zavgorodniy (debut) - At 17, slick 5-foot-9 Russian 7th rounder had 26 g in Rimouski.





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.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

New-Look Calgary Flames Continue Roster Overhaul with Brouwer the Latest to Depart

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The summer of change at the Scotiabank Saddledome continued this week with the buyout of Troy Brouwer.

While headline additions James Neal, Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin will all factor into Calgary's core, an overlooked area that has also been extensively remodeled this off-season is the fourth line.

Longtime centre Matt Stajan, 34, became a free agent after the expiry of his four-year deal. It's not looking like Kris Versteeg, 32, will be back. Now Brouwer, 32, is also gone. All three veterans spent considerable time, if not all of their time last year skating on the fourth line.

While the 10th, 11th and 12th forwards will never adorn the cover of the team program, it's an area that has increased in importance given the speed of the game now and how condensed the schedule is -- the addition of the five-day bye week further compounding that.

I spoke with general manager Brad Treliving about the departure of Brouwer, his philosophy on how the fourth line should ideally be constructed and on the overall state of the roster with training camp just six weeks away.


Gone are the Old Days

"The style that we want to play, which is very up-tempo and is the way the league is now, it's very pressure-related and you need four lines," says Treliving. "You can't rely on one or two lines to play 20-some minutes, a third line to play 11 and then three minutes for your fourth line. Those days are gone. The schedule is too taxing, it's too compressed and every game is too important. You just wear people down."

He says ideally fourth line players need to contribute in multiple areas.

"You need to be very competitive, you need to have tempo and pace, but those guys may need to take a bite out of one of the special teams too. You have to have a guy that kills penalties on there and maybe a guy that plays power play."

The battle to make the team at forward will be one of the more interesting competitions in training camp with as many as 10 guys having a legitimate shot at those final 4-5 roster spots up front.

"I look at our fourth line right now, I think there's going to be lots of competition for it. It's going to be very competitive in the style of game, there's going to be tempo and pace, and you need goals and production from throughout your line-up," says Treliving.

"A big part of what we've tried to accomplish with our forward group this year is giving ourselves more depth offensively. We've relied on too few to do too much and carry too much offensively."

Case in point: Outside of the top six forwards in goals last season -- Sean Monahan (31), Matthew Tkachuk (24), Johnny Gaudreau (24), Micheal Ferland (21), Mark Jankowski (17) and Mikael Backlund (14) -- all other forwards combined for just 45 goals in 531 games.


Salary Commensurate with Responsibility

In today's NHL, the top players are going to get paid so teams need to be pragmatic with how they approach the salaries of the supporting cast.

"Although the cap keeps growing, the top end gets the lion's share of that. That's a function of the system," says Treliving. "So if your top-end guys are making the higher-end money, somebody has to make lower-end money. There's only x amount to go around."

The club's hardline stance on some of its arbitration-eligible restricted free agents this summer is an example of this. Of the five players that filed for arbitration, three are depth players you wouldn’t consider part of the team's core:
  • Garnet Hathaway - Fourth line winger ($850,000)
  • Brett Kulak - Third pairing defenceman ($900,000)
  • David Rittich - Back-up goalie ($800,000)
     
While each of the deals ended up being for less than $1 million, they each took a long time to get done. Kulak's case ended up going all the way to a hearing and ultimately an arbitrator's decision, while the other two nearly reached the arbitration room.

"Not criticizing the player, but if your role is on the fourth line, the compensation has to fit that role," says the GM.

Treliving predicts that in the future you will continue see more and more RFAs with arbitration rights not qualified if you feel they're ultimately going to warrant a salary that doesn't align with their projected usage.

"People will wonder why Joe Smith didn't get qualified as he's a pretty good player. That doesn't mean the team doesn't think he's a pretty good player, but you know going in, prior to qualification, that once you qualify him, he's got arbitration rights, you don't necessarily have to go through the hearing to know pretty close what the decision is going to be," says Treliving.

"It sounds like geez, they're fighting over small money, but if you think a guy fits into a box that needs to be a minimum box, it's hard to go and pay that guy $1.5 or $2 million dollars. It doesn't seem like a lot, but all of a sudden your salary structure is out of whack."

Treliving's decision two years ago to not qualify Joe Colborne, despite a 19-goal season, is an example of this. He would have been in line for a salary of well over $2 million had it gone to an arbitrator. After signing a two-year deal with Colorado for an AAV of $2.5 million, he scored only four goals his first year and he spent last season in the minors.


Development Opportunity

The fourth line can also be a place where young guys cut their teeth in the NHL, although Treliving says to get that opportunity, young players must first establish that they have certain attributes.

"No. 1, physically. Can they physically withstand it? You never want to put in a young player where they might get injured. Are they physically fit and strong enough to compete against men?

"No. 2, can they think it? Can they think the game at the NHL level. You take every other quality and those qualities can be enhanced if you're smart enough. Guys that aren't maybe the fastest players look fast or can play smart because of their hockey sense.

"No. 3, the speed element of the game. You've got to be able to play at an NHL pace and do things at an NHL pace.

"If you can check those three boxes then yeah, you can put a young guy where OK, we can manage him a little bit here. They can be introduced to the league in a lower-line role, but they've got a building base to their game."


On the Brouwer Departure

It became official on Friday. The Flames bought out the final two seasons of Brouwer's four-year deal in which he was owed an AAV of $4.5 million. The result is Calgary will be charged $1.5 million against the salary cap over the next four seasons.

"This is not a reflection on the person. For whatever reason, it just didn't work," says Treliving. "Troy is a pro, he would be the first person to tell you that he's disappointed that it didn't work here. It wasn't for a lack of wanting it or try or anything like that."

Brouwer was a free agent who Treliving pursued hard two years. With that he was forthright in falling on the sword.

"I'm a big believer in accountability of everybody and it starts with myself. I take responsibility for this," emphasizes Treliving. "This is a guy that was signed to the contract he was signed to and I'm the one that signed it."

It wasn't supposed to end this way.

"We pride ourselves on doing all the work (beforehand) that we have to do to get the information that you need to get. When we signed Troy, we looked at the positional need, we looked at Troy's background, we felt there was going to be a really good fit here for us."

But it never worked out in the end. In fact, it didn't work out in the beginning or middle either.

"Did he produce to the level that we had hoped and expected? No. But it wasn't just production that we were bringing him in for. Shooting it in the net is part of it, but there were other parts of why we thought Troy would be a really good fit here," says Treliving. "I don't want to say he didn't fulfill a lot of those areas, it's just that now, when you look at the make-up of your team, and Troy and I talked about this at the end of the year. The role and there's responsibility on us and there's responsibility on him to do more and have a bigger bite of the apple here."

When the NHL's first buyout window came and went shortly after the Stanley Cup final ended, Treliving was not yet sure how much of his desired off-season changes he was going to be able to actually deliver on. But based on the work he has been able to get done, in particular the influx of new faces on right wing, it became apparent that having a "bigger bite" wasn't going to be on this season's menu. Thus, when the filing of salary arbitration cases opened up a second buyout window for Calgary, the team took advantage.

"We said if you're going to be in a situation where you're playing in a reduced role or a reduced situation for other reasons, well that's not what he wants and it's certainly not what we want, and it doesn't really fit in our salary structure to have someone make what he's making, playing in a reduced role," explains Treliving. "In today's cap world, your boxes have to line up. Those that are making more, have to take on greater roles. That's just a fact of life here.

"Both from a team-building and make-up standpoint and then to manage your financial picture and your cap moving forward, we felt this was a decision based upon where we sat right now that made the most sense for us. We've got certain contracts that you project into the future and having that flexibility the next couple years we think is important."


Dissecting What Went Wrong

The one obvious area where things didn't pan out is offensively. When Brouwer signed two years ago, he had scored 140 goals in previous seven seasons, an average of exactly 20. Over his two seasons in Calgary, he scored only 19 times.

An environmental factor to take into consideration is the evolution of the game. The NHL continues to get faster and faster and Vegas' success last year with their high-octane style of play is sure to be an additional accelerant.

"That's probably fair," said Treliving when asked if that played a role. "We're trying to not look at what's happening today, but what's happening today, tomorrow and where the league is going. Did it play a little part in terms of where the game is going and how quick the game has become and maybe that's not a strong suit of Troy's? To a certain extent."

I also asked the GM about the ability to be a leader on a team when you're playing in a reduced role and whether one affected the other.

"I don't want to speak for Troy, but if you ask any leader on any team, it's hard to demand more of everybody else, if maybe your game is not where it needs to be," says Treliving. "These are proud guys. They want to make sure they're taking care of their sandbox. It's hard to look to the next guy and kick him in the rear-end when maybe it's not going as good as it can or should be going for you."

Then there was the inability to develop any chemistry. Paired up with Bennett in his first training camp, the two looked great in the preseason but that was as good as it got. The Bennett-Brouwer partnership fizzled in the regular season and bouncing around the line-up after that, he never really found traction with anyone else.

"You do all your homework, but sometimes fit and chemistry and mix, people don't talk about it, but it's so, so important. For whatever reason, we just couldn't find a consistent fit," said Treliving.


Living, Learning, and Moving On

As a GM, every move isn't going to work out. The most parity in hockey is at the front office level where you've got 31 experienced and competitive hockey men, each determined to win every trade they make and go unbeaten on every free-agent signing.

While this is one transaction that will go in the loss column for Treliving, he says you can't dwell on it.

"You have to deal with it and you have to learn from it, but you can't hide from it," says the GM. "You don't want to, but you're going to make mistakes along the way. I'm not calling this a mistake, but you don't want to be in a situation where you're buying guys out so you have to figure out and learn from it and certainly be better the next time."

Treliving underscores that you can't let it paralyze you.

"This job is walking on a high-wire act. You've got to be diligent in your information. You've got to source and dig-in and outwork people but at the end of the day, you still have to make decisions. The time that something hasn't gone your way, you have to deal with it, up front, as quickly as you can. But you can't become gun-shy.

"It's the analogy that if you step into the batter's box and it's that one pitch that comes at your ear. If now you're backing out of the box, you're not going to hit the next one. So you've got to be determined to get back in, dig into the box, and be ready to take your next cut."

The GM already has in the signing of Neal, 30, to a significant five-year deal at an AAV of $5.75 million. Neal is the same age as Brouwer was two years ago when he signed in Calgary.


Final Word

The Flames are going to be a vastly different-looking team in 2018-19. From the roster that concluded the season, nine players are gone as well as the head coach and two assistants.

In particular, there's been an infusion of new bodies up front and while there is much intrigue around how the top-nine will shape up -- will Neal and Tkachuk have a chance to wreak havoc together, or will Neal slot in with Gaudreau and Monahan? Does Lindholm have a chance to ignite his offensive game on the top line, or does new coach Bill Peters try him alongside Backlund, a fellow Swede.

Does newcomer Derek Ryan push Mark Jankowski to the fourth line, or does Jankowski muscle his way back into the top-nine and shove Ryan to a wing. Does the 3M line end up split up? And of course, there's the annual question of where does Bennett fit into all of this.

But there's just as much intrigue about the Flames fourth line. Looking back over the last six or seven seasons, you see names like Lance Bouma, Brandon Bollig, Josh Jooris, Steve Begin, Alex Chiasson, Tim Jackman, Tom Kostopulos.

There haven't been many goals from that bunch. It feels like this year could be the start of something completely different.

Imagine if Bennett or Jankowski are pushed to the fourth line -- two young guys with untapped potential still. Newcomer Austin Czarnik, a prolific scorer in the AHL, enters the season on a one-way deal. Prospects Andrew Mangiapane and Spencer Foo are both skilled guys who saw NHL time last year.

While Garnet Hathaway and Curtis Lazar remain, the personnel is going to look different with the potential to look very different -- and all while taking up a far smaller percentage of the team's salary cap.

If Calgary can get more for less from the fourth line, that's a good start as the Flames are going to need improvement in multiple areas in order to get back into the playoffs in the competitive Western Conference.

"You don't try to be hasty, you don't change things just for the sake of changing it. You hope that you go in with a level head, that you're making decisions that are backed by fact and backed by substance, but until the rubber meets the road, you never know," says Treliving. "But we've made changes based upon where it makes us better but also with the knowledge that we weren't good enough last year and we needed to make changes."

The Flames are a vastly different team now. That part we know. We'll have to wait a few months before we know if they're 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 stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to chime in on the news of the day.

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

Recent Flames Reading:

  • Best Flame Ever: Appreciating Iggy in 12 Words - I covered his first game with Calgary at age 18. I covered his last game with Calgary 16 years later. I would be remiss if I didn't chime in with my thoughts on the wonderful career for Jarome Iginla. (July 31, 2018)
  • State of the 2018-19 Roster: Flames Tracking to Squeeze in Under the $79.5M Cap - With two players still unsigned, most notably Noah Hanifin, I take a comprehensive look at what the club's season-opening roster could look like to see if they can fit everybody in. (July 28, 2018)
  • Jankowski Agrees to Two-Year Deal That Works Great for Both Sides - Mark Jankowski has been a good soldier ever since Calgary drafted him in 2012 and the two-year deal he recently signed is yet another example. (July 26, 2018)
  • Enough: Treliving Finally Repairs Hole in Line-up that has Existed for Seven Years - Not since Craig Conroy have the Flames had a right-shot centre in their top nine and the lack of that cost them last season. Well, that won't be an issue any longer. (July 13, 2018)

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Best Flame Ever: Appreciating Iggy in 12 Words

Embed from Getty Images


J - Jocose

While fans are most familiar with that steely intensity Jarome Iginla displayed on the ice, he was easy-going off the ice and always a willing participant in dressing room banter. Evidence of this playful side was on display on Monday — self-deprecating humour, trading chirps with longtime pal Craig Conroy, having a little fun at the expense of his three kids — one of whom was caught yawning during his speech. Asked what retirement looked like, Iginla said he looked forward to playing a few games of Fortnite with his kids, but “in moderation” he interjected with deadpan seriousness.

A - Accomplished

The list of achievements is ridiculously long: 20 NHL seasons, 1,554 games (13th all-time), 625 goals (15th all-time), 1,300 points (34th all-time), 101 game-winning goals (9th all-time), three-time Olympian while winning gold twice, two-time winner of the Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard Trophy, winner of the Art Ross, 12-time 30-goal scorer, four times notching 40, twice reaching 50. One of only eight players to score 30-or-more goals in 11 consecutive seasons. Six all-star game appearances. I could go on all day.

R - Robbed

Despite all the awards Iginla did win, you can’t help but agonize over the hardware he got oh-so-tantalizingly close to, only to be denied. Most notably, especially in these circles, would be the Stanley Cup in 2004. One could (and many do) argue Calgary was a coach's challenge away from defeating Tampa Bay in game 6. Going hand in hand with that might well have been the Conn Smythe for Iginla. But arguably the most egregious of all the injustices is Jose Theodore edging him out for the Hart Trophy in 2001-02, a year Iginla — a literal one-man show — led the league in scoring with 52 goals and 96 points, won the Lester B. Pearson Award as the players’ MVP, only to lose out on the big prize in a tie-breaker with the Montreal Canadiens' goaltender somehow garnering more first place votes.

O - Obliging

You hear the stories all the time and it’s because they’re true. Generous with his time, especially given the demands on him as one of the league’s true superstars, Iginla would frequently hang back to sign autographs for kids — regularly being the last player to get on the team bus. As captain, that role comes with expectations when it comes to dealing with the pesky media and he always fulfilled those duties with grace and without a hint of attitude, regardless if the team just suffered a heartbreaking and/or gut-wrenching loss.

M - Modest

You heard it on Monday. Iginla would have been content to just write out a couple paragraphs of thanks in a press release and step away from the game. The pomp and circumstance of what was an excellent retirement press conference — both necessary and deserved — was certainly not at his insistence. Meanwhile, in reflecting on his career, you heard about big moments in which he led you to believe he was merely along for the ride. Recounting the memorable 2004 Stanley Cup run, he talked more about the big goals scored by Martin Gelinas and there was zero mention of ‘The Shift’ and his epic involvement in Oleg Saprykin’s OT winner against the Lightning in game 5 that put Calgary ahead 3-2. He referenced the 2010 gold medal game, but talked more about the atmosphere in Vancouver and only in passing mentioned Sidney Crosby’s golden goal, not noting at all the fact that it doesn’t happen if not for his perfect pass.

E - Extraordinary

Making everything Iginla accomplished that much more improbable and remarkable is the reality that in 16 years in Calgary, he never had a true No. 1 centre alongside him. Conroy stumbled upon that gig, first getting elevated into that role (from merely being “another checker”) when Marc Savard got injured. While those two quickly became fast friends and enjoyed the most success of any of the C-RW combos, that No. 1 centre job was always a missing piece. Iginla did what he could playing with the likes of Daymond Langkow, Olli Jokinen, German Titov, Mike Cammalleri, Andrew Cassels... heck, even Jeff Shantz was his centre one season, but it does leave you wondering what might have been.



I - Intense

What a fiery competitor. Year after year, he put the team on his back and did all he could to will them to success. As we heard on Monday, game nights began with that towel draped over his head in the dressing room, the captain getting into game mode. When the puck dropped, the more pissed off he got, the better he played. Don’t poke the bear was the best advice for the opposition. Iginla finished with an astounding 76 NHL fights, 59 of them with Calgary. Derian Hatcher, Vincent LeCavalier, Jamie Benn, Denny Lambert (think 2001 Flames-Ducks brawl) and Francois Beauchemin were among the more memorable tussles. While a good fighter, Iginla didn’t always win, but he was always willing -- nobody had to fight his battles. And that trademark smile he’d flash afterwards, sometimes accompanied by blood running down his cheek, it was obvious he loved that aspect of the game.

G - Generous

Lost among the higher-profile hardware Iginla won, or nearly won, was the fact he was named the recipient of the NHL Foundation Award in 2004, awarded to the player who applies the core values of hockey — commitment, perseverance and teamwork — to enrich the lives of people in his community. Mark Giordano won that same award in 2016 and Travis Hamonic won it in 2017. We’re very familiar with both of their well-documented efforts in the community, but you forget how generous with his time Iginla was back in his heyday when there was less coverage of these things. Iginla also won the King Clancy Memorial Award for exemplifying leadership qualities on and off the ice. The Ted Lindsay Award for leadership is also on his mantel. Is there a better story than what unfolded at the Winter Olympics in 2002. At a restaurant with his family, Iginla was introduced to four young fans from Calgary, who had driven to Salt Lake City to cheer on Canada. When he learned they were staying in their car as they didn’t have a hotel room, he put them up at the Marriott where his own family was staying, and on his own dime, of course. Sensational.

I - Intimidating

Iginla was the consummate power forward. He could drop the gloves, he could lay a body check, he could make plays and he could shoot. Man, could he ever shoot. It’s why he lit the lamp 662 times including playoffs and will go down as one of the most prolific scorers in NHL history. That whole package made him as formidable of an opponent as you could find and he would cause other teams fits. How often did we see this play in his prime where like a paving truck, he would get the puck along the sideboards and curl out, bowling his way to the front of the net and through anyone standing in his way. An absolute force. There was no stopping him.

N - Natural

He may not have looked like a natural that first hockey tryout, when as he told the story on Monday, his grandpa brought him to the rink in St. Albert and he went out on the ice with all the other experienced kids — without a jersey and without socks. He did not realize he had to bring both. But the natural talent within him came out quickly. Dominant in the WHL in a prestigious career with the Kamloops Blazers. Had an impactful World Juniors in 1996 (5 goals and 12 points in 6 games) in leading Canada to a gold medal. He was a high first round pick that cost Calgary an all-star named Joe Nieuwendyk in order to pry him away from Dallas. Had an assist in his first NHL game after just flying into town after his WHL season ended. Then he scored his first goal in the next game. The rest is history.

L - Legend

There’s no better way to describe him. Known simply as ”Iggy”, what more can you say about his hall-of-fame career. He was the face of the Flames franchise for a decade and a half and is easily Calgary’s greatest player of all time. And his impact reached well beyond southern Alberta. One of the most iconic moments in Canadian hockey history involved Iginla in 2010 when he got the puck along the sideboards and to Crosby's plea heard around the world of “Iggy”, Iginla fed him the puck and Crosby fired a quick shot through Ryan Miller’s pads for the overtime winner that gave Canada Olympic gold over Team U.S.A. Next, it will be time for the No. 12 jersey to be raised to the rafters of the Saddledome, slotted between Lanny McDonald’s No. 9 and Mike Vernon’s No. 30. That's how you pay tribute to a legend.

A - Ageless

He played in the NHL until he was 40. In a league that keeps getting younger and younger, that is one heck of a run and if not for being slowed by a bad hip, he could still be going as he looks in great shape. Most impressively is his consistency. He scored an impressive 301 goals after his 30th birthday. That is insane. Strip out the 21 goals he scored at age 19 and that nearly matches the 303 goals Iginla scored in his 20s. Heck, if you only counted his goals scored in his 30s, Iginla would still rank in the top 200 NHL goal scorers of all-time.

Thanks for the memories.






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 chime in on the news of the day.

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

Recent Flames Reading:

  • State of the 2018-19 Roster: Flames Tracking to Squeeze in Under the $79.5M Cap - With two players still unsigned, most notably Noah Hanifin, I take a comprehensive look at what the club's season-opening roster could look like to see if they can fit everybody in. (July 28, 2018)
  • Jankowski Agrees to Two-Year Deal That Works Great for Both Sides - Mark Jankowski has been a good soldier ever since Calgary drafted him in 2012 and the two-year deal he recently signed is yet another example. (July 26, 2018)
  • Enough: Treliving Finally Repairs Hole in Line-up that has Existed for Seven Years - Not since Craig Conroy have the Flames had a right-shot centre in their top nine and the lack of that cost them last season. Well, that won't be an issue any longer. (July 13, 2018)
  • Trying to Crack the A Team: Don't Pity the Foo - Since Spencer Foo signed with the Flames just a over a year ago, right wing has suddenly become a crowd scene. However, he remains unfazed, confident that he can make the team and be a difference maker. (July 10, 2018) 
  • Flames Get Younger and Different in Blockbuster Trade with Carolina - In a blockbuster deal at the draft, Calgary traded fan favourites Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox. While the return were names that are less familiar , they're both solid. (June 24, 2018)

Saturday, July 28, 2018

State of the 2018-19 Roster: Flames Tracking to Squeeze in Under the $79.5M Salary Cap

Embed from Getty Images


As Flames GM Brad Treliving methodically works through his summer 'to do' list, signing players in need of new deals, a lot of questions have been swirling among fans.

In particular, there is angst around the roster and Calgary's proximity to the NHL salary cap of $79.5 million.

Do they have enough cap space to sign restricted free agent Noah Hanafin? The 21-year-old defenceman is coming off his entry level contract and it remains to be seen if the team opts to do a bridge deal with the player or do they commit long-term.

Will they need to buy somebody out? The name Troy Brouwer always comes up in these debates given the bottom-six forward has two years remaining on his deal that pays him an annual average value of $4.5 million.

Do they have to trade Michael Stone to clear space? The third pairing blueliner also has two years remaining on his deal that pays him an AAV of $3.5 million.

With only three unsigned players remaining -- Hanifin, Garnet Hathaway and Hunter Shinkaruk -- the state of the NHL roster is coming into focus, allowing us to get a much better grasp on where the club is at in respect to the salary cap and what do they still need to do.

I set out to construct what I think the Flames' NHL roster could look like when they open the regular season in Vancouver on Oct. 3. What I learned is despite all the consternation, the answer to the question of what do they still need to do could be nothing. Boring, I know, but it looks like they'll be just fine.


Background

The website Cap Friendly is a phenomenal tool and I use it all the time. That said, because of the presence of RFAs and players on that site listed in the minors when they could or should be listed on the NHL roster (and perhaps vice versa), I prefer to maintain my own ledger.

So here we go.

These are my projections, as of today, as to who will be on the team and who will not. For planning purposes, I've roughed in some tentative lines also, but please don't let that distract you (I repeat, do not let that distract you -- e.g. Sam Bennett at center, I'm just tinkering with different ideas should Bill Peters want both Mark Jankowski and Derek Ryan in his top nine). The theme with all the changes made this off-season is versatility in positions/roles so there could be and likely will be a myriad of different iterations of who slots where.

For now, I'm more concerned with the salary math as that's the key takeaway from this roster-building exercise.

Determined to attach a dollar figure to every player, highlighted in yellow are guys that are still unsigned and my guess at what their AAV may come in at for the 2018-19 season. I will adjust this as contracts are signed so check back later.

At the bottom, I've included some further position-by-position commentary to explain what I've done.

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NHL Salary Cap in 2018-19
$79.5 million

My Projected Flames Payroll 
$78.867 million
(23 players - 14 forwards, 7 defencemen, 2 goaltenders)

Available Cap Space
$0.633 million 

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Breakdown by Position

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

Forwards
$48.455 million
(14 players)


Starting 12

Gaudreau (L) $6.75M - Monahan (L) $6.375M - Lindholm (R) $4.85M
Tkachuk (L) $925K - Backlund (L) $5.35M - Neal (L) $5.75M
Frolik (L) $4.3M - Jankowski (L) $1.675M - Ryan (R) $3.125M
Mangiapane (L) $705K - Bennett (L) $1.95M - Czarnik (R) $1.25M

Extras

C/RW Lazar (R) $950K
RW Brouwer (R) $4.5M 


Other Candidates
 (not factored into the payroll)

RW Hathaway (R) $800K?
C/LW Dube (L) $778K
RW Foo (R) $925K
C Quine (L) $700K
LW Klimchuk (L) $700K
RW Robinson (R) $700K
LW Shinkaruk (L) $650K?


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

Defence
$24.458 million
(7 players)


Starting Six

Giordano (L) $6.75M - Brodie (L) $4.65M
Hanifin (L) $4M? - Hamonic (R) $3.858M
Kulak (L) $900K - Stone (R) $3.5M

Extra

Prout (R) $800K


Other Candidates
 (not factored into the payroll)

Andersson (R) $756K
Valimaki (L) $895K
Kylington (L) $731K
Hogstrom (L) $700K


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

Goaltenders
$5.05 million
(2 players)


Tandem

Smith $4.25M
Rittich $800K


Other Candidates
 (not factored into the payroll)

Gillies $750K

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

Other Expenses
$905K

Buyout Costs
$905K
(Bouma $767K, Murphy $138K)


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


About the Forwards

One of the common misunderstandings is that the Flames have to fit in all the forwards on one-way deals into the team salary cap. This is inaccurate. You only need to fit in all the salaries of the players that end up on the NHL roster, with one exception that I will explain.
  
For example, on my ghost roster above, I have Hathaway as not on the team. 
              
When Hathaway signs — be it on his own or through an arbitration decision — his AAV is assured of being below the 2018-19 threshold documented in the CBA of $1.025 million (his ask in salary arbitration is $975,000 while the team has countered with $650,000). Because of that, even if he gets a one-way deal, he can still be sent to the minors with his entire salary coming off the books. While Flames ownership would still need to pay him the full amount, it won’t count from a salary cap perspective. He would have to be placed on waivers before being sent to the minors, but if that was the roster decision Calgary made, I don't think there would be any hesitation.

   
When burying players in the minors this season, it's only the AAV above $1.025 million that counts towards a team's payroll. So as I see it, Hathaway and Shinkaruk remaining unsigned has very little bearing on the team's overall payroll situation.

I say "very little" because if Hathaway makes the team instead and the team opts to send down Andrew Mangiapane instead (who does not need to clear waivers), the only impact on the team's total payroll would be the difference between Mangiapane's $705,000 AAV and whatever Hathaway signs for, so a difference of around $100,000.

Same thing applies if Spencer Foo or Alan Quine make the team instead of Curtis Lazar or whoever. You're adding in one AAV, but then you're also subtracting one, so they essentially cancel each other out.
   
Because the team isn't in absolute dire need of creating cap space for this season, I don't see them buying out Brouwer. While that would create cap space for this season and next, it also means they would have to carry a Brouwer buyout penalty of $1.5 million for the next four seasons and that is far from ideal.


About the Defence

The Hanifin situation is the one worth monitoring as it could be a game-changer in terms of forcing an additional significant roster move. 

As it stands, I'm anticipating a bridge deal. A two or three-year deal with a significant pay hike to around $4 million would give the Flames a chance to really see what they have in the American selected fifth overall in the 2015 NHL Draft. Yet, that would keep him an RFA at the end of that deal as he won't become an unrestricted free agent to the summer of 2022.

I'm just not sure Treliving is ready to commit quite yet to the type of number Hanifin would want over a long-term deal, nor do I think the player -- betting on his own upside -- would be willing to accept a reduced figure over the long term that would be palatable by the team.

That said, if Hanifin does end up inking a long-term deal, the AAV he'd command would likely be large enough to push Calgary over the salary cap. In that instance, you do need to seriously look at a couple options:

One is the aforementioned Brouwer buyout. A second buyout window opens for Calgary in the first week of August as a result of the Flames having salary arbitration cases. So this remains a path Calgary could go down.

The other option and one that arguably makes more sense is trading Stone given you have a natural replacement on that third pairing in right-shooting Rasmus AnderssonTurning 22 in October, the Swede looks ready to take his development to the NHL level after two seasons in the AHL. He got into 10 games with the Flames last year.

Stone does have a limited no-trade clause, which means the player submits a 15-team list of teams he can't be traded to without his permission. Is Ottawa on that list? Hard to imagine they would be given that's where his younger brother Mark Stone plays. With the Senators expected to move on from right-shooting defenceman Erik Karlsson, perhaps there could be a fit there with the right-shooting Stone, even if Calgary needs to retain some salary.


About the Goaltenders

There is no real drama here. While I've penciled in David Rittich in the back-up role given he's on a one-way deal and with the success he enjoyed early last season as Smith's caddy, should Jon Gillies win the back-up job instead, the salary difference between the two is minimal.

But because Gillies is on a two-way and is also waivers exempt while Rittich is now waiver-eligible, it does feel like it will be a Smith-Rittich tandem, at least to start the season.




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 chime in on the news of the day.

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

Recent Flames Reading:

  • Jankowski Agrees to Two-Year Deal That Works Great for Both Sides - Mark Jankowski has been a good soldier for the Flames and his two-year deal is yet another example. (July 26, 2018)
  • Enough: Treliving Finally Repairs Hole in Line-up that has Existed for Seven Years - Not since Craig Conroy have the Flames had a right-shot centre in their top nine and the lack of that cost them last season. Well, that won't be an issue any longer. (July 13, 2018)
  • Trying to Crack the A Team: Don't Pity the Foo - Since Spencer Foo signed with the Flames just a over a year ago, right wing has suddenly become a crowd scene. However, he remains unfazed, confident that he can make the team and be a difference maker. (July 10, 2018) 
  • Flames Get Younger and Different in Blockbuster Trade with Carolina - In a blockbuster deal at the draft, Calgary traded fan favourites Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox. While the return were names that are less familiar , they're both solid. (June 24, 2018)