With the NHL draft over and done with and the free agent period now upon us, it is a time of the year where teams are actively trying to improve their teams. Whether that be by trade or by signing that one free agent that could put them over the top.
Grading The Flames Off-Season Moves
For the first time in a long time the Calgary Flames entered free agency with very little work to do. There was no need come July 1st for Calgary general manager Brad Treliving to go out and spend copious amounts of money. He did all the heavy lifting in the two weeks prior.
He identified the needs of his team and executed a game plan to fill those needs. But did it come at too high of a price? It’s time to grade Calgary’s off-season moves.
Building from the net out
If you look at how the last seven Stanley Cup champions have won, you’ll notice a similar pattern. They all had stellar goaltending. In 2011 it was Tim Thomas that carried the Bruins. 2012 & 2014 Jonathan Quick was on another level for the Kings, and let’s not forget the outstanding lay of Corey Crawford in 2013 & 2015 for the Blackhawks.
The Flames thought they had solved their crease problems last year when the brought in Brian Elliott from the St. Louis Blues. Well what they got was a below average goalie from the onset of the season to the middle of January when he, and the team started to turn around. In his first 23 starts Elliott went 8-12-2 with a .891 save percentage. His last 26 games were a different story. He posted a record of 18-6-1 and his SV% skyrocketed to .925.
In four starts in Calgary’s four game sweep at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks, Elliott was 0-3 giving up 12 goals and posting a dismal .880 SV%. And with that Elliott was pretty much shown the door. In to replace him is 35 year old Mike Smith.
Smith’s career numbers aren’t anything spectacular (474 GP, 195-198-60 33 SO, 2.70 GAA .913 SV%) but he does have starters experience. Excluding his injury shortened 2015-16 season and the lockout year (2012-13) Smith has started 50+ games four times. He has 60+ games in three of those seasons.
Say what you want about his numbers last year (2.92 GAA .914 SV%) but the fact can’t be argued that he’s played for some atrocious Coyotes teams in his career. But when you put an actual defence corps in front of him, look no further than the 2015 IIHF World Hockey Championship, Smith has shown that he can provide quality goaltending.
The Flames also added former Vancouver Canucks and Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack to be Smith’s backup. Lack doesn’t have the pedigree or talent to be a starting goalie in the NHL, but when he is on he is still a very good goalie.
What the Flames are hoping for is that the duo of Smith/Lack gives them above average goaltending for the upcoming season. What’s clear here is the Calgary has identified its starter and backup unlike the 1A/1B scenario that the Elliott/Johnson combo was last year.
Defence wins championships
Heading into the 2017 NHL Draft the Flames already had a solid top three on the backend. Led by captain Mark Giordano who is the heart & soul of Calgary’s blueline. Despite being 33, Giordano has been steady and has stayed relevant in a league that emphasizes speed.
Dougie Hamilton is 24 and entering his prime as an NHL defender, despite slow and frustrating starts in the last two seasons. T.J. Brodie is an excellent skater, with a good first pass, but his biggest skill is that he can run a power play.
Looking at those three names on your roster and any other general manager in the league would start looking for depth players to fill out the rest of the blue line. But like his goaltending, Treliving wanted to improve. And improve he did.
Firstly, on the second day of the draft Treliving completed a massive trade for New York Islanders defenceman Travis Hamonic. Since entering the NHL in 2010-11 (seven seasons) Hamonic has become one of the better two way defenders. He won’t score a ton of goals (26 in his career) but he can play on the power play if need be, where he can provide some offence. His bread and butter is his defensive play which Calgary lacked at times last year.
Treliving’s next move was to lock up free agent Michael Stone to a new contract. Stone signed a three-year $10.5 million deal that will pay him $3.5 million per season. While that seems expensive for a player that as of right now slots in as your fifth defender it actually isn’t that big of a deal. Stone has shown through his career that he can play up and down the lineup when needed. He will also get plenty of ice time as part of Calgary’s penalty kill unit.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
With the exception of three restricted free agents, the Flames are bringing back the majority of their forward group from last season. And why not. For the most part Calgary’s offence was pretty good and kept them in most games for the early months last season.
The group is led by Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Both are tremendously talented with the puck, capable of taking over games on their own or together as a duo. Troy Brouwer struggled during his first season in cowtown. At $4.5 million for three more years the Flames have two options for the veteran winger:
- Keep him and hope he rebounds from a poor season OR
- Cut your losses and trade him now
Of the two, I’m inclined to think that Calgary will elect to keep Brouwer for the time being. Michael Frolik and Mikael Backlund are solid second line options that can play anywhere in the top six. Speaking of veterans, 31-year-old Kris Versteeg enjoyed a solid season last year. He registered 15 goals and 22 assists for 37 points. Those numbers earned him a one year extension.
Restricted Free Agents
As of right now Calgary has yet to sign RFA’s Sam Bennett, Curtis Lazar,and Michael Ferland. Signing Bennett is a top priority for Calgary. He’s still very young, is strong on his skates, possess excellent vision and has lots of upside. The Lazar situation is an interesting one. The Flames sent a 2nd round pick to the Ottawa Senators at the Trade Deadline to acquire Lazar. He played sparingly for Calgary but is still young enough that he could just be a slow developing prospect. If signed he adds more depth to the roster. It’s still unclear if Ferland re-signs or goes to arbitration.
For the most part, Calgary didn’t have to do much up front. They have their big pieces locked into contracts. All they are searching for is some depth. Whether that comes via free agency or trades is yet to be seen.
The Flames entered the off-season with an obvious plan to address some glaring holes in the crease; shore up the blue line; and add depth up front. With the moves they have made look for Calgary to make some noise next season. I expect this team to compete for the division, but come up just short. Ultimately i think they finish in the second or third spot within the division.
Main Photo: CALGARY, CANADA – FEBRUARY 27: General manager Brad Treliving of the Calgary Flames addresses the media before the trade deadline prior to the team’s NHL game against the Ottawa Senators at the Scotiabank Saddledome on February 27, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)