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Defining the Narrative — Addressing Roster Issues — Being Honest

May 30, 2024, 1:50 AM ET [115 Comments]
Trevor Neufeld
Calgary Flames Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
To quote the late 90’s metal band STAIND: it’s been a while.

Apologies. Let’s catch up on where the Calgary Flames stand as the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs carries on and management watches and waits for offseason opportunities to present themselves.

As of May 29, 2024, General Manager Craig Conroy has much of his work done already.

Twelve roster forwards are signed through next season. Jakob Pelletier and Matthew Coronato not included. Fourteen forwards are all ready to go. Adam Klapka and Cole Schwindt are both likely to make a strong push at a spot in September/October. If they do desire, the team can sign the pending UFA if they want to throw another log into that pile.

On defence?

Also pretty set. Frank Seravalli reports that the team is preparing an offer for Oliver Kylington. RFA Nikita Okhotiuk has left for CSKA Moscow of the KHL. The Flames have five contracts going into next year without those two signed.

It’s worth noting that Calgary maintains Okhotiuk’s rights and can reevaluate after Nikita develops his game. CSKA Moscow has a younger roster with an average age of 25.33 years old and finished 13th out of 23 last season. Fellow Flames rights retainee Pavel Karnaukhov also plays for the club.

In terms of goalies, the Flames may have too many netminders ready to suit up in 2024-2025. Jacob Markstrom awkwardly remains with the organization, Daniel Vladar will be back after getting hip surgery, and Dustin Wolf somehow might find himself the odd man out after going 4-1-0 in April and vastly outplaying the (likely) injured Markstrom.

OK. The work is done. The roster is mostly set. Where is the drama that we so desire?

Settling for Less

To start, the current roster isn’t very good.

Post Hanifin and Tanev, the Flames went 8-13-0. The only positives during that time were Dustin Wolf (6-4-0) and Andrei Kuzmenko putting the power play on his back. From March 20, when Kuzmenko appeared to finally recover from illness, the Flames led the NHL in powerplay percentage with a 35% conversion rate. No offence to former Offensive Coach Marc Savard, but reverting to a wide umbrella and letting the hot hand do his thing doesn’t seem to be the product of a divine genius.

To take the pessimistic side, the power play running below 35% will make that .357 points percentage even worse next season.

Defining the Narrative

The Hockey Guy did an interesting piece recently on defining the narrative of all 32 NHL teams heading into the draft/free agency/offseason. What he settled on for Calgary was:

Are the players still leaving?

Do you agree with that? Is that the narrative that you think the Flames fans and the organization are running with?

Respect to Shannon, who is simply a machine at pumping out thoughtful content — but no way.

The narrative right now is simply:

This is awkward.

It’s awkward that the message from ownership/management is that they want to remain competitive while clearly selling off assets and rolling out janky lineups.

Editor’s note: Former Stars #7 defenceman Joel Hanley was a compelling experiment on the first pairing, but come on.

It’s awkward that the team’s best player for most of the season in Jacob Markstrom was asked to (and agreed) to sign off on being traded — only to have ownership step in and nix a deal that included multiple seasons of retention.

It’s awkward that ownership threw a fit when Evander Kane bullied the Flames at the Heritage Classic in late October and management responded by acquiring absolutely no one to address that issue. The Flames were pushovers in scrums all season. The Rangers, despite only playing them twice last season, injured younger forwards Adam Ruzicka and Jakob Pelletier. The Flames lost both games.

It’s awkward that one of the bright spots in the season, Martin Pospisil, may be just one bad hit away from retirement.

And circling back, it’s awkward that the team has 19 players on contract through next season, maybe two open roster spots to play with, and about 15 million in cap space to make a splash.

It is truly awkward to follow, cover, and, (surely) manage the Calgary Flames.

You can sense it in the media. Here and competing work. Aside from a few subjects like Ruzicka and Okhotiuk heading to the KHL, writers don’t know what the hell to do with this mess.

Is the respect for the veterans so high that we’re just going to see Connor Zary, Martin Pospisil, and maybe Matthew Coronato take a few steps forward in their development next season and the team simply forgets that they said they wanted to compete for a playoff spot? The three are fantastic storylines, but not carrying a team to +95 points.

Going that route would be fine for fans. The consensus seems to be that the majority wants to finish low for a few seasons — but why the façade? There are some serious deadbeat dad Christmas vibes happening between the organization and the people that pay to tune in, pay for tickets, pay for merch.

How are you supposed to wear your jersey proudly when you don’t know where this team will be in five years, the team is soft and has no foreseeable assets coming in to help, and the roster is actively selling off talent?

You would think that the aforementioned awkwardness would be enough, but there is more.

The team runs a speed-based offensive system and has all of one top-six forward that consistently posts above average speed-based metrics. Martin Pospisil and Kevin Rooney are very fast and that is it.

The blue line is a wasteland beyond the first pairing of Mackenzie Weegar and Rasmus Andersson.

There will need to be trades. Some of the players that either like it in Calgary or like the minutes they are getting will have to go if the team wants to succeed in head coach Ryan Huska’s offence.

It’s awkward that Huska has poured his blood and sweat into both earning and succeeding in his role and has this conflated message to convey. His record will not look good in a year from today if the organization continues doesn’t make substantial roster moves.

You have to hope for Ryan Huska, for Craig Conroy, for Blake Coleman, Nazem Kadri, and Jacob Markstrom to name a few — that the team will just pick a lane.

Like any organization, management is more or less doing what the Board, or the owners, or the stakeholders are telling them to do. The people that own the Flames are more than familiar with dropping heavy capital to profit over the long term. Show me a well, pipeline or energy project that earned back it’s initial investment in two years and I’ll show you a bridge I would like to sell.

God damn is it ever awkward.

Stats via nhl.com and naturalstattrick.com.
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