Flames Looking For Answers From Struggling Players

Although the Calgary Flames are second in the Pacific Division, with a respectable 25-18-5 record, there are a few key players who have yet to get their gears moving. The club has a plethora of prospects in their farm system who are knocking on the door, and if these Flames players don’t pick up their game, they could become expendable at the trade deadline. Statistics aside, these three players have yet to show any sign of progression and if they want to remain part of this playoff team, they will need to do so and fast.

Mark Jankowski

Through 37 games this season, Mark Jankowski has but one point, 10 penalty minutes (PIM), and is an atrocious minus-13. He is averaging 10:54 of ice time per game (TOI), and has a 49.4% Corsi For percentage (CF%). The 25-year old centre has primarily played on the team’s fourth line, alongside Sam Bennett, Zac Rinaldo, and Michael Frolik, until he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres. Jankowski has been in and out of the lineup this season, splitting time with free-agent signing Tobias Rieder. He has struggled to produce offensively and has been a defensive liability at times.

Mark Jankowski Calgary Flames
Mark Jankowski, Calgary Flames. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 6-foot-4, 212-pound centre coming out of college was considered a pivotal prospect within the Flames’ system. He was selected 21st overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, and has yet to live up to his first-round selection. He is flat-footed, slow, and does not take advantage of offensive zone face-off opportunities. He struggles to use his size to his advantage and instead loses foot races that create odd-man rushes against. At this point in the season, Calgary can’t afford to allow that to happen.

On the upside, Jankowski spends a good amount of time on the Flames’ first penalty-kill unit where uses his skillset effectively. If his game doesn’t turn around and he starts to produce on a more consistent level, the Flames could try to trade him for a fresh start elsewhere. General manager Brad Treliving could acquire a late draft pick or a similar player also looking for a new start. Until that day comes, we can only hope that he settles down, works on his game, and becomes the player that the Flames hoped he would be.

T.J. Brodie

The 29-year-old veteran defenceman has spent the majority of his Flames career playing on the top defensive pairing alongside 2018-19 Norris Trophy winner and team captain, Mark Giordano. Although he has seen solid minutes (19:39 TOI this season), Brodie has been one of, if not the worst, blue liner on the team for the past couple of seasons. Though he struggles defensively, he still manages to score and his 14 points this season puts him 85th among the league’s defencemen.

Earlier this season, Brodie collapsed and began convulsing during one of the teams practices, which could be affecting his performance. Regardless, he has not been good and will need improvement if he wants to remain a member of the Flames.

T.J. Brodie (Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

Defensively, Brodie is a liability at times, which is unacceptable from your top pairing. He tends to pinch when he shouldn’t, turns over the puck more frequently than a top-pairing defenceman should, and takes irresponsible penalties while trying to back check and alleviate odd man rushes. He needs to be held accountable for these mistakes, and work on them. If he doesn’t and his game doesn’t move in right direction, Treliving will pull the trigger on sending Brodie elsewhere.

The idea of trading him isn’t breaking news, as his up and down career has made fans anxious, and had many wondering what the return for him could be. The pending unrestricted free agent could haul in a decent bounty for a playoff-bound team looking to load up on their backend. If that’s the case, he would have to submit an eight team no trade list to the Flames’ front office given his modified no trade clause. Given the right scenario, and maybe fewer minutes per night, Brodie could find himself a nice landing spot to call home outside of Calgary.

Sam Bennett

Though many have put a lot of stock in him, Sam Bennett has not been the player the team hoped he would be. He was selected fourth overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, which had fans excited and optimistic about his future with the organization. He had an excellent junior hockey career with the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs, and many were expecting that same level of production to carry over into his NHL playing career. However, Bennett has yet to live up to the hype and if things don’t change, he could play his way out of Calgary.

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Many analysts had Bennett slotted to become an offensive powerhouse and an NHL first-liner. However, since his rookie season in 2015-16, he has struggled to accumulate more than 27 points per season, and has bounced between Calgary’s third and fourth lines. His role is becoming more and more of a gritty, grinding space-maker, as he uses his 6-foot-1 frame to his advantage to win board and puck battles. From a coaching standpoint, Bennett has been asked to play to his strengths, which should mean more heavy hitting and making room. But is this the role the Flames wanted him to play? Is it the one that they need right now?

As it stands, the Flames already have that role in recently acquired forward Milan Lucic. If that void is filled, then moving Bennett seems likely. Similar to Brodie, perhaps Bennett could find his offensive touch on a team where he will see more than fourth-line minutes in a role that would enable him to use the physical side of his game to generate more scoring opportunities.

With 34 games remaining in the regular season, and the trade deadline approaching, it would be wise for the Flames to get answers from these players. If a deal can be made, make it happen. If things turn around, then it will bolster the team’s run at the playoffs. Either way, we are due for some excitement as the team propels itself forward the rest of the season.