There’s a scene in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman where Jack Nicholson’s Joker has just come out of the acid bath, after having bullets ricochet of Batman’s gauntlets, cutting his cheeks open. He’s sitting in an “after hours” “plastic surgeon’s” “office” where he screams “MIRROR!,” demanding to see what his new face looks like. He holds up the mirror, looks at himself, smashes said mirror and begins to laugh hysterically. The surgeon, fearing for his life replies “but you see what I had to work with” as the camera shows the crude tools of his trade. THAT statement, right there, pretty much sums up what fans and the Flames alike should be saying this season: But you see what I had to work with?
Calgary’s offseason was, how shall we say, underwhelming? I, for one, did not expect the Flames to land Jack Eichel. The idea of wanting to leave one bad hockey team and go to another bad hockey team seemed like one of the most ridiculous scenarios ever. Sure, would Eichel have been a nice addition (you know, if his neck isn’t mangled and he plays) to the Flames, sure. Was it likely? No. So that move aside, the Flames offseason was less than exciting and it seems the Flames are “happy” to go into the 2021-22 season with pretty much the same team that underperformed and failed to make the playoffs last season. Who’s excited!? <insert collective groan here>
Now look, I’m not a “Chicken Little the sky is falling!” type person. I get that this isn’t PlayStation or XBOX and you can’t build an All Star Team that is filled with the best players. There’s a salary cap. There’s NTC’s in contracts. There’s cities where star players don’t EVER want to play. Those are facts and we deal with them. But did the Flames really better themselves this offseason? Are they any better than when the final horn sounded on the end of that horrid 2021 campaign? I say they are not. I don’t know if they are worse, but I don’t feel they are any better.
Now, maybe a full offseason and training camp with Darryl Sutter will be what ails this team. I don’t know. It was probably jarring for the Flames to be playing only within the Canadian border last season and then dealing with the Tkachuk nonsense and then dealing with having their coach fired during the season and a completely different coaching style show up for the rest of the season. It does sound like a hot mess or business as usual for the Flames. MAYBE, just maybe, an offseason with Sutter bringing in “Sutter Guys” and a full training camp with him will be what rights the ship. Again, I don’t know, but we’re all about to find out sooner than later.
Before we make a definitive decision on whether the Flames really are better or worse, let’s look at what’s happened this offseason. Below are the comings and goings for the Flames (not counting the draft because those players are NEVER going to sniff the ice under Sutter).
Gone: Mark Giordano (Expansion Draft), Nikta Nesterov (CSKA Moskva), Derek Ryan (Edmonton Oilers), Joakim Nordstrom (CSKA Moskva), Louis Domingue (Pittsburgh Penguins), Zac Rinaldo (Columbus Blue Jackets), Buddy Robinson (Anaheim)
Added: Blake Coleman, Tyler Pitlick, Trevor Lewis, Brad Richardson, Nikita Zadarov, Erik Gudbranson, Michael Stone, Daniel Vladar
When you look at both of those columns, it’s kind of a wash if we’re being honest. Did it hurt to lose Mark Giordano? Sure, as a nostalgia piece, but his game steeply declined and it was inevitable that his 2021 season with the Flames was his last. Derek Ryan, yeah, it’s going to be brutal watching him play for the Oilers after playing so well with Calgary. Ryan was a leader on and off the ice and his play will surely be missed. With that said, the Flames didn’t lose a 30 point per season player in Ryan. As for the rest? Well, it’s a who’s who of $750,000 contracts, bottom six fodder and bottom defence pairing spare parts....oh and a backup goalie with some good cinnamon roll recipes. Not exactly the missing parts to a Stanley Cup run. Hell, not even the missing parts to a “let’s try and make the playoffs” run. So I guess no real big loss with any of those parts moving on from Calgary. Well, you know, until Derek Ryan scores 6 goals against the Flames with Edmonton this season. You know something like that is bound to happen, then it’s full on Chicken Little season.
As for what’s added, meh. Blake Coleman was a nice addition for the Flames. Coleman signed a 6 year deal worth a total of just over $29 million. He’s also 29. And has a NTC. And he’s never had more than a 36 point season, which came in 2018-19 with the NJ Devils. In 55 games last season he had 14 goals and 27 assists with the Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. So, there’s some sort of hope for a player like Coleman, but pardon me if I’m having Troy Brouwer and James Neal flashbacks.
Tyler Pitlick comes in a $1.75 million, just for the 2021-22 season and had his best season back in 2017-18 with the Dallas Stars. He had 27 points in 80 games, but of those are career high’s for the 29 year old center. Stat wise, basically a replacement for Derek Ryan.
Erik Gudbranson is another “big name” the Flames added this offseason at the tune of $1.95 million. The 29 year old has played in 10 NHL seasons for six different teams, never collecting more than 13 points. His longest stay with a team was his five seasons with the Panthers, after that he’s been on multiple teams every season after. He’s a journeyman defenceman who likes to block shots and throw his body around. Perfect Sutter guy. Basically a replacement-ish type player for Nikita Nesterov.
As for the rest? Vlader played in five games for the Boston Bruins last year. All he has to do is sit there, look pretty, watch Jacob Markstrom be amazing and not be total mess when he plays every 15 days. Brad Richardson? He’s 36 years old and not sure why he’s even on the roster with Calgary having young talent that can play defence. He’s clearly a Sutter Special, so whatever with him. Trevor Lewis and Nikita Zadarov have 1,141 career games played between them and are 34 and 26 years old respectively. Neither is a major point producer, but both like to hit, block some shots. Are we sensing a pattern here?
As for Michael Stone....ugh. Stone and the Flames reaching a contract is like the sun rising or water being wet. I have NO IDEA what Stone has on Flames management, but he somehow always ends up back in Calgary. He’s nothing special and is just another player taking minutes away from younger guys in the minors that should be getting some opportunities or chances to shine <cough> Oliver Kylington <cough>. Stone’s signing didn't surprise me and when it happened, I actually belly laughed because it was so predictable.
After looking at those coming an goings, are you any more confident in the Flames as the 2021-22 season approaches? Brad Treliving has to be on the hottest seat in the NHL right now and this is the roster he’s betting his future on? He still hasn’t extended Johnny Gaudreau. He probably should have traded Sean Monahan. There’s the Matthew Tkachuk situation. The team currently has no Captain. And this group seems adverse to giving their young talent a real shot at NHL experience. How many Michael Stone’s have to come through Calgary before Oliver Kylington gets a REAL and sustained shot to man the blue line for years to come? What do any (besides experience, which someone had to give them) of these new signings do better than say Glenn Gawdin or Matthew Phillips? We’ll never know because they won’t get the chance. Tre and Sutter seemed married to this style of hockey, which is slow, defensive minded and low scoring. Seems like a GREAT strategy when you have Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane on your active roster.
In closing, I don’t think the Flames are a better team on paper than they were last year. A lot of those moves seem lateral or maybe even worse and it doesn’t seem like a group that I would bet my future employment on, but then again what do I know? Prove me wrong on the ice and I’ll write an apology column. But fail? You bet I’ll be screaming “I told you so!” from the rooftops.
Just imagine looking at that roster in March as you’re on the chopping block and saying “But you see what I have to work with?” You made this bed Calgary, you will have to lie in it as well.
What are your thoughts on the Flames offseason moves? Vote in our poll below and or comment with your thoughts!
Are the Flames a better team now than last year?
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I have a headache and the season hasn’t started yet.