We’re only a few days into the New Year and my pathetically weak moral fibre is on full display, having already broken most of my New Year’s resolutions. In my own defence, these lofty declarations were made under the influence of too many glasses of champagne on New Year’s Eve. Still, I am now reduced to ignoring my own shortcomings and telling others how they should address theirs in 2022.
Doing that is risky with my wife and my dog simply ignores me. I think it’s safer if I start with the Calgary Flames. So here are the New Year’s resolutions I’d like to see them take to heart.
Calgary Flames: Win the Stanley Cup!
Many Flames fans think this is a resolution their team should be able to make without trepidation given the way their season is going. Sure, it’s only been 31 active seasons since anyone wearing the Flaming C heaved Lord Stanley’s chalice above their heads, but that’s way less than the 53 seasons (and counting) that Toronto Maple Leafs fans have been waiting for the Cup to take up residence in Hogtown. Even so, being mentioned in the same breath as the Leafs when discussing Cup droughts is distressing for Flames Nation.
What makes Flames fans panicky about their prospects for a championship this year is the realization that their team’s time is now. They’ve known that since last March when Darryl Sutter replaced Geoff Ward as head coach and explained that being back behind Calgary’s bench again is, “unfinished business. It’s like I have a debt to pay to (the Flames owners), and we’re going to win a Stanley Cup for them.”
Flames general manager (GM) Brad Treliving must also believe that a Cup can come to the Stampede City now. After all, when the team failed to make the post-season last year, he resisted calls to blow it all up and embark on a rebuild. Instead he stuck with the current core group of players.
Even so, Treliving must know that 2022 is likely his last opportunity to win with the current core. It’s going to be hard with the Flames’ limited remaining cap space to re-sign pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) Johnny Gaudreau and pending restricted free agents (RFA) Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane, Adam Ruzicka and Oliver Kylington. Not only that, but the team’s prospect pipeline is far from full and the Stockton Heat now offers few if any skaters who could step in to replace core skaters.
As the old cliché goes, this year is the Flames last best chance to win a Cup for a long time to come. Keep this resolution Calgary Flames and you get a hall pass on all the others!
Murray Edwards: Get a Deal Done on a New Arena for the Flames
On Dec. 21, 2021 Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek announced by Twitter that Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) chairman Murray Edwards confirmed to her that the Flames were, “pulling the plug” on the Calgary Event Centre project which was to be his team’s new home. Not to be outdone in a game of “he said, she said”, CSEC fired back later that night with a press release explaining the Flames’ side of the story.
As confused as they were about who was to blame for killing the new arena, all that hockey fans in the Stampede City knew for sure was that the two sides had delivered a big lump of coal for Christmas. What added salt to the wound was that the deal fell apart over a disagreement on sharing the costs of sidewalks, road rights-of-ways around the new building and the price tag for solar panels on the roof. All told, the two sides were just $10 million apart on a project that tallied $634 million.
Come on Mr. Edwards, with a net worth of $2.1 billion can’t you scrape together a few million dollars from the coffee fund and give Mayor Gondek a call to get negotiations back on track? As for her Worship, I’m sure she’ll be able to find a few more shillings in the city kitty, mindful as she is of the number of municipal voters among the Flames’ fan base.
As your New Year’s resolution, Flames fans just want you and Mayor Gondek to play nice in the sandbox. After all, what’s a few million bucks between friends?
Flames Management: Appoint a Captain
The Flames are one of only four teams in the league without a captain, and it’s been that way since the Seattle Kraken took Mark Giordano in last year’s NHL Expansion Draft. It’s no secret that his heir apparent has been Tkachuk – one of the team’s four alternate captains since 2018-19.
Arguably among the four, only Tkachuk possesses the blue blood of an NHL captain. Mikael Backlund and Chris Tanev are missing the fire that most captains possess and their followers need. Sean Monahan isn’t likely to be in Calgary beyond the trade deadline.
For the Flames to sew the letter C on Tkachuk’s sweater he’ll need to be signed to a long-term contract. That means this resolution won’t likely be fulfilled until July.
Johnny Gaudreau: Show Up in the Playoffs
We all know the rap on Johnny Hockey – he just doesn’t show up in the post-season. Perhaps unfairly, Gaudreau gets tarnished with his performance in the 2019 playoffs in which the Flames were eliminated by the Colorado Avalanche in five games over which he registered just one assist. That was after a stellar 99-point season in which he scored 36 goals.
Fair or not, a player is what the statistics say he is and in Gaudreau’s case they say he’s good when it doesn’t count. In the last seven seasons, the Flames have made the post-season four times playing a total of 30 games. In them he scored just 8 goals and tallied 19 points.
For fans in the Stampede City, there’s only one resolution Johnny needs to make and keep – do in the playoffs what he’s done in his first 31 games this season – namely, put himself among the league’s top ten points-getters.
Johnny Gaudreau: Score 100 Points in 2021-22
Of the two resolutions I proposed – him showing up in the playoffs or scoring 100 points this season, I would be willing to wager Flames fans would prefer the former. Even so, for Flames aficionados it would be nice if he could do both.
As of writing, Gaudreau sits at eighth spot on the NHL’s points board with 37 points notched over his 31 games so far this season. At that rate, 100 points is within reach, but just barely. Several factors will come into play in determining whether he reaches the threshold including the ice-time he gets under Sutter’s style of hockey and the performance of the top line he now plays on.
If he racks up 100 points he will be the first Flame to do that since Theoren Fleury.
Darryl Sutter: Win the Jack Adams Award
OK Darryl, if you can’t win the 2022 Mr. Congeniality Award, then please resolve to win the Jack Adams as coach of the year.
There’s no question that Sutter’s appointment as the head coach in the Stampede City was the biggest story of the year in 2021. While the Flames’ sizzling start to the 2021-22 season has been the talk of Cowtown so far this year, it’s hard to separate that story from Sutter becoming bench boss. What fans see in the Flames now is the result of what Sutter brought to the organization.
Under him, the Flames are playing like a team. Not only that, but he has slotted individual players into roles where they shine. The team plays at a fast pace with a relentless forecheck and punishing defensive zone play. They simply play through opponents and suffocate them.
Sutter faces a lot of competition for the award and there’s still plenty that can happen over the course of his team’s 51 remaining games. At this point he is mentioned among the Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe, New York Rangers bench boss Gerard Gallant and the Minnesota Wild’s head coach Dean Evason as a strong candidate for the honour. Nevertheless, Bruce Boudreau could snatch the award if he can build on his 8-0-1 record since he took up the reins as the Vancouver Canucks’ new head coach on Dec. 6.
Resolve to win the Jack Adams this year Darryl and you can work on your geniality rating later. Still, could it hurt if you were just a little nicer to sports writers in your post-game pressers?
Brad Treliving: Re-Sign Gaudreau, Tkachuk, Mangiapane and Kylington
As resolutions go, winning the Cup may be easier for Treliving than re-signing the fab four of Mangiapane, Gaudreau, Kylington and Tkachuk. They’ve all taken their play up several notches and that means the butcher’s bill their agents will present to Treliving at contract renewal time this summer will be fearsome. Therein lies the seeds of a major salary cap problem that could force Treliving into some hard decisions.
I wrote a piece recently (see link below) outlining the dismal math he faces in re-signing the four so I won’t bore you with the details here. Suffice it to say that leaving aside the fab four’s current contracts and barring personnel changes, the Flames can expect to be spending in the range of $63.6 million on salaries at the end of the season.
Assuming the salary cap increases to $82.5 million that leaves $18.6 million to secure new contracts with the four. With the Flames paying each of them in the range most hockey pundits expect Treliving must, the team would be well over the projected salary cap limit for 2022-23.
There are more than a few ways the Flames could deal with this including select salary dumps (think an underperforming Sean Monahan at $6.4 million per year) and for depth, bringing up low-cost players from Stockton instead of hiring more costly journeymen such as the underwhelming Nikita Zadorov, Erik Gudbranson and Tyler Pitlick.
Still, it will be difficult for Treliving to tuck all four under the cap next year. Adding additional high-end talent will be well-nigh impossible.
Brad Treliving: Add Some Secondary Scoring to the Flames at the Trade Deadline
OK, I just hinted that adding more talent of any kind given Calgary’s salary cap constraints could be harder than walking on water for Treliving. It’s probably one of the reasons he didn’t add much to the roster in the off-season last year.
As he explained it in a presser one week before training camp opened, “I can’t click my heels and make things happen. You have to have a trade partner. Nobody is ever done in this business — you’re always looking for ways to improve. But it has got to make sense. It doesn’t make any sense for us to give a player away for 50 cents on the dollar. It’s great to say, ‘go get this guy.’ Problem is, this isn’t fantasy hockey. The idea that you can go pick ‘this player’ off the player tree … it doesn’t happen that way.”
He can protest all he wants but it won’t change the fact that the Flames don’t have much secondary scoring. Sutter himself said exactly that after his team’s loss to the Boston Bruins on Dec. 11 last year explaining that, “if you’re a team that doesn’t have secondary scoring and you get average goaltending, then you’re up against it. So that’s adversity we’re facing.”
The statistics back Sutter up. I wrote a piece (see link below) making the case that his Cowtown Boys depend too much on their top line of Elias Lindholm, Gaudreau and Tkachuk for goals and overall points. Add in Mangiapane’s goals and it’s just four players who score six of every 10 the team notches.
Outside of the top four goal-scorers, the rest of the forward corps combined accounts for just a third of the Flames’ total goal production and not quite 40% of the team’s total points production. Take out Milan Lucic’s points production and it’s plain to see the Flames’ depth scoring is a wasteland.
Taking into account games played to this point in the season, the Flames are just an average NHL team at 91 goals to their credit. That number on a per-game basis puts the boys from the Stampede City at just 3.16 goals per game – trending down sharply from the almost four they were scoring in early November. Alongside other teams in the Western Conference, their goal production is middling at best.
Every pundit in Calgary has a long list of players that Treliving should try to get his hands on including pending free agents Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks, Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators, Richard Rakell of the Anaheim Ducks, Phil Kessel of the Arizona Coyotes and Jake DeBrusk of the Bruins.
As I wrote in a piece last November, the Flames should concentrate on shoring up their right wing, but that will be tough and can only be done through free agency this spring (think Kessel and Forsberg, as well as Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers and David Perron of the St. Louis Blues). A trade could also work with the Vancouver Canucks’ Brock Boeser, the Bruin’s David Pastrnak and the Montreal Canadiens’ Tyler Tofoli as possibilities. However, acquire any of these players would require some significant salary dumps raising questions as to whether the team would really be left better off.
Slumps are inevitable, and so too are injuries. If one or more of the Flames’ top points-producers falters, the team could soon be in a world of trouble. Not only that, as the season wears on and the stakes get higher, other teams will figure out how to counter the Flames premier players, including their top line.
The Flame’s 6-2 battering at the hands of the Florida Panthers last on Jan. 4 may foreshadow all of this.
Brad Treliving: Do Not Reacquire Mark Giordano
I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard somebody say the Flames should bring Giordano back to Calgary when he becomes a free agent at the end of the season. The City loves him and I have no doubt he will return in some capacity in the Flames organization when he retires.
However, his time has passed in the Stampede City. It’s hard to see where there would be a place for the aging captain on the Flames roster. At best, he’d be on a third or fourth pairing.
Sure, perhaps he still could play another year or two and he would add stability to the Flames’ rearguard, but Treliving needs to look to the future and Giordano isn’t part of that.
Jacob Markstrom: Win the Vezina Trophy
If not now, Marky, then when? Your time for the Vezina is now.
As the Flames’ top puck-stopper, there is no doubt that Markstrom is the real McCoy between the pipes. With a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.15 per game and a save percentage (SV%) of .926, the big Swede is arguably one of the finest crease-keepers in hockey. Even so, these numbers have started to slip when compared to what they were in November.
In his last five games Markstrom allowed 17 goals on the 151 shots he faced registering a SV% of .887 and a GAA of 3.4. Stats like that won’t backstop many wins when he’s playing in front of a team that at best manages just three goals a game. Nor will it put him in contention for the league’s best goaltender award.
Still, despite falling back to earth in his last seven games, at time of writing Markstrom’s GAA ranks fifth overall in the league and his SV% sixth. The Hockey Writers’ Flames Faceoff panel pegs Markstrom’s odds of winning the Vezina at between 50 and 60 percent and still feel he’s the equal other twine minders vying for the trophy including the Leafs’ Jack Campbell, the Carolina Hurricanes’ Frederik Andersen, Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers and 2019 Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning now climbing has way back into contention.
Markstrom faces plenty of obstacles to win the Vezina including tough opponents (see the Florida Panthers) and the likes of Campbell. Even so, his own team shouldn’t be one of them. As Tkachuk said in the wake of Calgary’s pummeling by the Panthers, “We left Marky out to dry on pretty much all of them, whether it’s turnovers, or not picking up guys or not getting pucks out, or not having your guy. We lost each period.”
Calgary Flames’ New Years Resolutions Are Tough
Nobody ever said keeping resolutions for a new year is easy. And they shouldn’t be, otherwise what’s the point of making them? Yet if the Flames could manage to pull off even a few of the resolutions I suggested then this year will be fun for their fans and gratifying for the team.
Paul covers the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators and the OHL’s Ottawa 67s for The Hockey Writers (THW). He also hosts the Flames Faceoff show for THW’s Podcast Network.
Paul has been sought for media interviews for the thoughtful pieces he has written on hockey’s response to the major social and political issues of the day including the place of gay players in the game. Paul is also known for his interesting perspectives on the key issues and challenges facing the teams he follows.
Of his work with THW, Paul says, “I love to tell stories about the game of hockey and the personalities – both past and present, who have made it the greatest game on the planet!”
Follow him on Twitter at @pquinney