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Questions at 2C and Questions Among the Defence Linger as Offseason Lingers

July 28, 2022, 6:42 PM ET [81 Comments]
Trevor Neufeld
Calgary Flames Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
There are numerous questions surrounding the Flames roster heading into the 22-23 season. Enough so that we can break them up into multiple discussions. Lucky us— not so lucky for the people in charge of making these decisions and ultimately dictating the course of several individual’s careers.

The Flames were very lucky to have the best record in terms of man games lost last season.

CDBD76-AB-1-A80-4088-90-C1-76-EEC3-FED66-C

Whether that remains the same this season is certainly one unanswered question. Currently the Calgary Flames have a 12 forward, 6 man defence ready to go once the likes of Andrew Magiapane and Oliver Kylington are signed to RFA contracts. Beyond that lineup are individuals that have earned opportunity at the NHL level. Let’s take a look.


Projected Lineup

With Mangiapane re-signed (9.3 million in cap space) the Flames will have eleven forwards on the current roster. Ruzicka is the most likely candidate to take the twelfth spot having dressed for 28 games last season. The conundrum with the 6’4” Slovak is head coach Darryl Sutter’s insistence that the 23 year old should be playing in an offensive role if he is to draw into the lineup. More on that below. For brevity’s sake, here is a projected roster.

Huberdeau-Lindholm-Toffoli
Mangiapane-Backlund-Coleman
Lucic-Monahan-Dube
Ruzicka-Rooney-Lewis


Hanifin-Andersson
Weegar-Tanev
Zadorov-Meloche
Kylington

Markstrom
Vladar

The 2C Question
It deserves to be pointed out that Mikael Backlund was arguably the best Calgary Flame during their five game series loss to the Edmonton Oilers. Amidst a forward group nearly flush with minus 5v5 goal differentials, Backlund’s unit of Mangiapane-Backlund-Coleman finished a collective +9 over five games— obviously much better than the collective -11 of Gaudreau, Lindholm and Tkachuk.

While his play excelled as the playoffs went on, the growing consensus with Mikael Backlund is that he has been slowing down. But is there merit to that notion? The now 33 year old Swede led the team in the following categories:

Takeaways: 55, tied with Elias Lindholm despite playing 232 less minutes
Rebounds Created Above Expected (Moneypuck’s model): 5.9
Defensive Zone Starts (Among Forwards): 193

You don’t necessarily need to be the best on your team at any given measurement to validate the second line center role, but perhaps it’s the moderate offensive point droughts that are the driver of the narrative. Backlund had ten different streaks of three or more games where he didn’t record a point. The first chapter of the 21-22 season may be the reason such a narrative. That and the tendency to value offensive production as a barometer of a player’s value over all the other important aspects to a two-way center’s game.

Offensive Production Oct 16-Dec 30: Mikael Backlund
GP: 29 G: 4 A: 5 Pts: 9

Without further metrics, it’s hard to definitely say whether Mikael’s footspeed has lost a step. Using the casual eye test, it’s fair to say that his lateral movement has taken a step backwards (no pun intended), but his top speed seems around where it always has been.

All of that said, where does Sean Monahan fit on this team next season? Questions linger as to the recovery from his hip surgery— this time fixing his other hip. If Monahan’s hips are back in form; the preseason just got a whole lot more interesting.

A dark horse for that second line center position is 23 year old Adam Ruzicka. Ten points in 28 games from very reserved deployment spots such as the third and fourth line showed the 220lb, 6’4” pivot has some offensive potential. His +8 marker at even strength was nothing to balk at either.

Given Sutter is known to favour veterans over young players, count on the storyline dynamic of interest being Backlund vs Monahan and Monahan vs hip, but it sure would be fun to see Adam Ruzicka make it hard on Coaching staff and management— in a good way.


The Blue Line
With the acquisition of MacKenzie Weegar, the Flames have a bit of a controversy on the blue line. Particularly on the left side.

Hanifin-Andersson
Weegar-Tanev
Zadorov-Meloche
Kylington
Mackey
Valimaki

Even Connor Mackey deserves a spot at this point. Mackey has not only been putting up solid two-way numbers on top of showing well in three games with the Flames this season paired with Chris Tanev; Mackey has also been paying the iron price down in the AHL.

The American Hockey League is a league that has impeded the pressure from the public to reduce the violence in games much better than the NHL has. Fourth wall breaking down here: if the mainstream internet followed the AHL, they’d be upset. Instigators, multi-fight games, a far longer penalty list on the box score; the AHL cultivates a fun product and it’s going to be great to have games in Calgary next year.

Mackey was no slouch. Just following box scores, Mackey fought and bled to make the Flames since signing as a free agent out of Minnesota State two years ago. He deserves time this year.

You look at that list and it’s hard to argue that none of those guys deserve time. Yet by the end of the preseason, only six will remain.

We’ll get further into the individual storylines here. Andrew Mangiapane has a meeting with an arbitrator and the team in August 5. Oliver Kylington has an arbitration date of August 11. It’s likely we’ll have a clearer concept of how the team will look following the conclusion of these two events. A trade of one or more blueliners seems likely before the season begins.

If not from an asset management position— then from a human perspective. It doesn’t seem fair to have a UFA signing like Nicolas Meloche, who has waited patiently within the Sharks organization, eating popcorn next year when he has put his time in. Likewise with Connor Mackey and Oliver Kylington.

Flames GM Brad Treliving has found landing spots for players in the past when the lineup had too much glut. Brett Kulak found his way into the top four in Montreal after the Flames traded him based on that concept. The general manager found a team willing to give Mikael Frolik minutes (Buffalo) after he lost a step. Max Reinhart got minutes with the Predators in a similar fashion after being moved for a fourth round pick.

Given his history of doing the right thing for players within the organization, it’s likely Treliving moves a defenceman in the coming weeks. “To where” and “for what” remain unanswered.


Trevor Neufeld


@Trevor_Neufeld


Stats via naturalstattrick.com, moneypuck.com, and nhl.com. Graphic courtesy of @mangameslost on Twitter.
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