I am not a scientist, nor am I Kreskin, but I do not foresee a summer conclusion to the NHL season. Nor do I believe fans will be in the stands in October.
Thanks for asking.
Those were just a few of the questions thrown my way on Twitter and on Sportsnet FAN 960 as part of a request to fill the ol’ Flames mailbag.
You responded, now it’s my turn to reciprocate, as we delve into Flames returnees, contract extensions, trade possibilities and even a buyout contemplation.
Q: Will Geoff Ward be back as Flames coach?
No doubt in my mind.
The Flames turned their season around under his stewardship, going from 26th overall to a 25-15-3 record that got them back into a playoff spot.
I could throw all sorts of stats at you in terms of the various ways the team responded once he took over from Bill Peters, but the bottom line is that the players responded favourably, and he has the respect of the team and management.
The Flames ownership group has never had a penchant for spending big money on marquee coaches who have been available over the years. Given the cost of the new building, and the horrific economic challenges in Calgary due to oil prices (as well as the COVID-19 fallout) ownership won’t suddenly change that approach.
Ward has one year left on his contract and comes at an affordable price.
While he would like to have seen how the team did in the playoffs, Treliving said last week he’s seen enough to make his decision. Instead of searching for his fifth coach the last six years, Treliving will take the interim tag off.
Q: Will the Flames shake up the core of the team in the off-season?
This was supposed to be the year in which Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan (aka The Core) and company either stepped up when the games mattered most, or the band would be broken up.
Treliving never got the chance to see them in the playoffs, leaving him with unanswered questions.
While the team’s first-line duo also happens to be two of the fans’ biggest whipping boys, they have combined for more goals than any other pair in the NHL over the last six years.
Despite people’s theories on their inability to elevate in the playoffs, you don’t shop them until they get another chance at redemption.
Neither had a great season, but Gaudreau was certainly showing signs of finding the previous year’s form over the last month. Gaudreau has two more years left on his contract and few believe the Jersey native will re-sign here afterwards, meaning at some point Treliving will likely have to ensure the club gets a better return for him than it did for Jarome Iginla.
The season ending early likely ensured Gaudreau will start here again next year.
Q: Will the Flames take a swing at signing Taylor Hall in free agency this summer?
They’ll kick tires, as they did before Hall was traded to Arizona.
The Flames will have more cap space than several other frontrunners this summer, but the focus will likely be spent on plugging significant holes on the blue line, as opposed to overpaying for Hall.
As nice as it would be to add a player of his ilk, his contract would put the Flames in a situation like the Leafs’, where too much is being spent up front.
Q: Which UFA defencemen are coming back?
The big question is whether T.J. Brodie or Travis Hamonic are back.
I can’t see both returning.
Before the season started I would have assumed Hamonic was a shoe-in to re-sign, while Brodie would venture elsewhere. Based on several things I’ve seen and heard this year, I now believe Hamonic will leave Calgary and Brodie will stay.
Derek Forbort and Erik Gustafsson will likely chase more money on the open market, while Michael Stone would likely be game to play the same insurance role he did this year for league minimum.
Oliver Kylington will sign as a restricted free agent but will be in tough once again to crack a roster that would include Mark Giordano, Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin, Juuso Valilmaki (and potentially Brodie) on the starting roster.
Don’t be surprised if Treliving makes a significant free-agent signing if Hamonic departs.
Q: What do the Flames do in net next year?
Rittich is signed for one more year and the Flames would love to simplify things by re-signing UFA Cam Talbot.
After two off seasons, Talbot returned to starting form this year with steady play that will warrant a raise from the $2.75 million the Flames took a calculated gamble on this year.
They’ll have some competition from other teams interested in Talbot, but no one is going to pay him huge dollars to be the opening night starter.
I could see the Flames trying to sign Talbot for a couple years.
I could also see a scenario in which the Flames would take a stab at big UFA fish like Robin Lehner or Jacob Markstrom. The Flames will have some cap space to play with and could try to use it to solidify a position they have no depth in organizationally.
Q: Is Dustin Wolf for real and, if so, when might he be ready to challenge for an NHL job?
He certainly silenced some doubters this season when he was, without question, the best goalie in Canadian junior hockey. His numbers are staggering, but the ones that still stand out are his height and weight.
The six-foot, 165-pound Everett superstar still needs to grow, which he has time to do, as he turned 19 last week.
He’ll spend one more year in the WHL before jumping to the minors where the hope will be he’d progress faster than Jon Gillies and Tyler Parsons.
Those two come to mind as it wasn’t long ago they were both tabbed as the future of Flames goaltending. Gillies won an NCAA championship and Parsons won the Memorial Cup and a World Junior gold, but have both struggled at the pro level.
Even if Wolf continues his quest to prove people he deserved to be better than a seventh-round pick, the best-case scenario would see him challenge to be a Flames callup/backup in three years.
Q: Would the Flames consider buying out Milan Lucic’s contract this summer?
Sure he’s overpaid, given the role he plays. But the Flames knew that coming in as part of the project that saw him and James Neal swap towns to get back on track.
Lucic is a fan favourite, who is hugely popular in the dressing room as well. He played his role as a much-needed banger effectively, oftentimes being part of the team’s top trio on many nights down the stretch.
The start was slow and the upside isn’t very high, but the role he plays was exactly what the Flames needed filled when they acquired him.
He has three years left on a deal with a $5.25-million cap hit (the Oilers are paying $750,000 of his $6-million salary). Part of why the Oilers are paying that is because the structure of the deal doesn’t make a buyout favourable.
A buyout this year would only save the Flames $500,000 in cap space, as it would in his final year.
It’s fair to ask me the same question next summer when a buyout would save the Flames $2 million in 2021-22.
Q: Who won the Lucic/Neal trade?
Based on what we saw this season it’d be foolish to suggest either team won. There were no losers in this one, which is exactly what it was designed to do.
The Oilers got someone who could play in their top six and score some goals, something Lucic wasn’t capable of in Edmonton and Neal wasn’t capable of in Calgary.
The Flames added character, toughness and leadership, which Neal couldn’t provide in Calgary.
The hockey world will continue to weigh in on the trade’s outcome over time, but at this point it’s win-win as both players responded well to the change.
Q: What will Andrew Mangiapane’s next contract look like this summer?
This one will be interesting as the 24-year-old scoring revelation and fan favourite has arbitration rights he didn’t have last summer when the Flames stuck him with a one-year, take-it-or-leave-it offer at the league minimum.
He responded as most of us knew he would, by solidifying himself in the top six where his feistiness and finish put him on pace to score 20 goals before the season was paused.
That alone ought to be worth over $2 million a year, which is why both sides will contemplate everything from another one-year deal, to a short bridge, to a lengthy deal like his old roomie Rasmus Andersson signed (six years, $27.3 million).
Either way, he’s now a fixture in the Flames’ future plans, making a long-term deal most likely.
Q: What sort of playoff format do you see the league going with if it returns this summer?
I liken this to playing the “How would you spend the money if you won the lottery” game.
Crappy part about both, in my opinion, is they end the same way — with it being a moot point.
I don’t believe COVID-19 will allow the NHL to finish this season.
Nor will I win the lottery.
If I’m wrong about the first part, I believe they’d let the top 12 teams in each conference into the playoffs. There’d be a one-game play-in… wait a second, I’m not playing this game.