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A Four-Point Plan to Make the Calgary Flames Enjoyable to Watch Again

May 27, 2023, 10:58 PM ET [2 Comments]
Trevor Neufeld
Calgary Flames Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
With newly promoted General Manager Craig Conroy currently busy with amateur scouting meetings going into next week, we have a bit of time for fun between news releases — or at least time until Monday when possibly another domino will drop.

In a few days or a few weeks, we’ll get to see Conroy’s plans for the team begin to unfold. Few are envying his position given the team is currently on pace to be right up against the cap come October, most of the ugly contracts on the team are unsellable, and the hockey world will be putting his first season under a microscope trying to evaluate his quality as a general manager.

One confirmed exception to this lack of envy is this guy. I absolutely envy his position. I even have a four-point plan in the odd chance that I wake up as Craig Conroy tomorrow.

1.) Sign a Forward-Thinking but Tough Coach
While there are several candidates on the market, Mitch Love has to be around the top of the list.

With a 96-33-11 record in his first two seasons as an AHL coach — the guy won’t be available much longer. Going three rounds deep into the playoffs in each of his first two postseasons isn’t bad either.

What’s more exciting is that he may have more to give if he’s given the green light to coach the system that he prefers.

An app created by former Flames college signee, Josh Healey, is making waves in the hockey community. It’s called Sports Aux and it takes careful measures to verify pro hockey players and staff before allowing them to submit anonymous reviews of each other.

Before you ask, Darryl Sutter has one review and it’s since been reasonably concluded that it was Dan Carcillo. His opinion isn’t worth enough to include here. What stood out upon a cursory glance through a list of available Head Coaches is one of the three shining reviews for Mitch Love. Mind you, Carcillo signing up and dropping a bunch of reviews in one day aside, the review process is considered reasonably anonymous.

“Great coach. Tough and fair, holds players accountable in a way that all players respect. Detailed and organized, players always know what he expects. On a personal level, he cares about every player and wants what’s best for that person. He’s the new style of head coach.”

Not bad. Sounds like the kind of coach that would fit this iteration of the Calgary Flames.

Maybe the new GM goes in a different direction, maybe they go with Mitch. If it were me, Mitch is the guy.

He might even aid in the next point of action.

2.) Re-Sign Matthew Phillips With Assurances
Watching Phillips in the AHL taking hits and bouncing back up immediately seemed to rub Darryl the wrong way. Having played with some former Calgary Royals players that knew him from a younger age: He’s always played like that. Getting decked has never bothered him.

Matthew tied an AHL record for game-winning goals this season (16). It’s just painful to see when the team you’re covering has lost an astounding 30 one-goal games including 17 after regulation. The organization hasn’t given him a fair shake. Limited minutes in two road games. Presumably, that was all Sutter’s doing.

This is an opportunity to make that right. Give the hometown kid a shot at a semi-regular spot and see where it goes.

3.) Address the Salary Cap
It’s no secret that the Calgary Flames are in a cap crunch heading into next season. With Micheal Stone, Milan Lucic, Troy Stetcher, Nick Ritchie, and Trevor Lewis coming off the books, the Flames have less than a league-minimum amount of cap space to fill one or two remaining forward spots.

Signed Roster at a Glance
Eleven forwards
Seven defencemen
Two goalies

Cap Hit: $83,263,333

That $83,263,333 is dangerously close to the $83,500,000 cap ceiling. Tough decisions will have to be made by the recently promoted Craig Conroy.

3.1) Find Daniel Vladar a Team for Next Season
With the meteoric rise of Dustin Wolf out of the AHL, shipping Daniel Vladar, 25, and his 2.2 million dollar cap hit for the next two seasons is an unfortunate possibility as a method of cap relief.

Culling 2.2 million and replacing it with Wolf’s $813,333 cap hit wouldn’t be enough. Room would have to be made on defence given the team has seven signed defenders capable of handling NHL minutes.

There are more than enough teams looking for an affordable potential starting goalie. Buffalo may be looking to upgrade from Ukko-Pekka Luukonen. Pittsburgh may need a replacement for Tristan Jarry, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Surely, Toronto will want a healthy, affordable goaltender after running a carousel this postseason. There will be no shortage of demand if Vladar were to be made available.

Unfortunately, shipping out the 6’5” Chechen’s cap hit won’t be enough to get the Flames out of cap hell. Another giant Slav might be in the crosshairs.

3.2) Sell High on Nikita Zadorov
Nikita has been a lot of fun to watch in his two seasons as a Calgary Flame. His 14 goals, none of which were scored on the powerplay, were a big surprise at season’s end. Especially the game 82 hat trick.

Likewise, the big hits Zadorov throws once in a while certainly contribute to justifying the price of an $11.75 dome beer.

It’s painful to say, but it’s time to sell high on hulking Russian defenceman. His 3.75 million dollar cap hit is desperately needed for flexibility going into the season. With Kylington returning and Gilbert proving he can provide a physical presence; there are simply more effective ways to use the $3,750,000. This leads us to the final suggested process:

4.) Build an Absolutely Miserable Fourth Line to Play Against
While it sounds fun to roll out the youngest, cutest, most talented bottom six possible — there’s a bit of a fallacy there.

The primary issue being that both teams playing on any given night are still comprised of humans that react to emotions and can feel intimidated or frustrated by being physically assaulted.

Last season included a seemingly endless list of turning points. Most of them were gut-punch losses that sent the team further and further down the rabbit hole of negativity.

The game against the New York Rangers on February 6, 2023, may deserve credit as the worst of said gut punches.

Chaos first began to broil when Rangers defenceman Jacob Trouba took out Dillon Dube with a huge open ice hit in the first period. Chris Tanev goes to bat and fights Trouba. A mild scrap, but a response. Chris’ shoulder had clearly been bugging him still. Tanev takes the extra roughing minor served by Milan Lucic.

Minutes later, New York winger Sammy Blais destroys Lucic with another big hit. Nikita Zadorov steps in to avenge Milan, who must have been too injured to respond aggressively. Zadorov didn’t get much out of it. McKenzie Weegar also fought in what was a pretty nice victory over Will Cuylle. Weegar is a lefty and caught the rookie Cuylle unprepared for a southpaw.

The final sequence of note was the Jacob Trouba hit on Nazem Kadri. Nazem was clearly hurt on the play. Instead of Milan Lucic charging off the bench to tune up the towering New York defenceman, Dillon Dube took an instigator, misconduct, and fighting major to stand up for Nazem.

The entire chain of events was:

1.) Proof that you need a working nuclear deterrent. Rolling out an injured vet isn’t scaring anyone.

2.) Underlining the concept that you can’t just expect pure skill transition hockey to work out in a vacuum. Being human will always play a part in the game.

We saw a different Nazem Kadri after that hit. His production dropped and his two-way play went out the window. You have to wonder what the season would have been if someone had just gone out and broken Trouba’s nose after the initial hit on Dillon Dube.

Nazem Kadri Before & After Trouba Hit

Before — Oct 13-Feb 6
Games: 51
Goals: 19
Assists: 19
Points per Game: 0.75
+/-: -10

After — Feb 7-April 30
Games: 31
Goals: 5
Assists: 13
Points per Game: 0.58
+/-: -9

Ideally, the Flames would have a plan for situations such as the game on February 6. Darryl Sutter heavily emphasized in 21-22 that you need to match size when required. Mind you, if appropriate, a young, skilled fourth line may be more effective.

Let’s get to it.

Building an Anxiety Line™

4.1) Step one: Find a Policeman
It may be fair to say that the fear around Lucic is dwindling. If his body recovers, great, but he’s still become more of a rite of passage for young bruisers as opposed to an enraged ogre crushing everything in front of him.

That said, the Flames will need to find a peacekeeper if “Looch” signs elsewhere. They probably should find one even if he re-signs.

Option number one would be UFA Ryan Reaves, who may be priced out of Minnesota.

Reaves serves not only as an enforcer but also as an underrated hype man on the teams he plays for. His presence goes a long way.

Minnesota Wild Before & After Acquiring Ryan Reaves

Record: 9-9-2
Points Percentage: .500

Record: 37-16-9
Points Percentage: .669

Correlation does not entirely mean causation in this instance. Minnesota had just finished a miserable stretch of travel prior to the acquisition of the 6’2” 225lb right winger. Still, the guy hasn’t missed the playoffs since his rookie season in 2010-2011. A season where he only played 28 games.

Reaves is likely asking for something similar to the last contract he signed. A one year deal worth $1,750,000.

Other options on the UFA market include former Flame Garnett Hathaway, Viking native Carson Soucy, the venerable Luke Schenn, or just bringing back big Brett Ritchie.

Another addition to the toughness department would be:

4.2) Make a Push for Josh Archibald
An undisclosed injury suffered on December 18 of this season took the 5’10” 176lb all positions forward out of the Penguins lineup. His effectiveness was largely hindered after that.

In his first 30 games, he led Pittsburgh in hits (109) and penalties drawn (14). The number of hits was impressive, 5th in the NHL at that point, but the intensity of those impacts cannot be understated. The guy hurts people and can kill penalties — a role that will be needed if Trevor Lewis moves on.

Jump back to the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite a 50lb deficit, Archibald threw a hit so hard that it effectively took Milan Lucic out of the series. If the Flames can lure Archibald in with an extra 50k over a team offering league minimum, it’s worth pursuing.

4.3) Sign Mitch McLain to a Two-Way Deal
The last instance we saw McLain in a Flames jersey was — eventful. The tail end of a Battle of Alberta home-and-home preseason sequence featured the then 28 year old in his wheelhouse.

8:49 of ice time was enough for Mitch to fight Darnell Nurse twice and draw five penalties. The Baxter, Minnesota native accumulated 14 penalty minutes of his own on the night.

Earlier that preseason, he had a goal and an assist against Vancouver. He was originally credited with two goals. He has an urgency around the opposing net that looks like it would translate at the NHL level.

Most concerning of his preseason is that he outshone the semi-injured Milan Lucic by a country mile. The 6’0” 196lb bruiser had 16 goals and 12 assists in 56 games with the Wranglers this season, and he’s been completely miserable to go into the corners with.

McLain is now 29 years old. He’s not as fast as Ryan Lomberg, but he certainly fills a similar niche. Hanging the option to run McLain-Archibald-Reaves on a line on any given night would be both entertaining for fans and as well as nightmare-inducing for opposing coaching groups.

Currently, Mitch is signed to an AHL deal and would need a new agreement that allows him to play in the NHL.

A final note on bringing in an Anxiety Line™ would be that McLain’s role could be rotated with various members of the Calgary Wranglers. Adam Klapka and Martin Pospisil both could pinch hit if McLain’s style of play had him sidelined for a few days.

The idea of slotting in a player who is physically unable to fulfil their role is a trend that refuses to die at the NHL level. A progressive stance towards player health and career longevity is well overdue in Calgary.

In Summary
Assuming McLain signs at $750,000, Phillips signs at $900,000, Archibald signs at $975,000, Reaves signs at $1,750,000 and Micheal Stone was willing to wait for LTIR space to open before he signs a one year deal at $750,000, here is how the 23 man roster would look on opening night.

The cap hit for this group would be $80,526,666. With the cap projected at $83,500,000, the organization would have $2,973,334 to be used on call-ups, a trade, or an extra unrestricted free agent. That cap flexibility can make a huge difference as the season progresses. Two million in space could net a “big fish” if Conroy were to go “all in” at the NHL Trade Deadline.

A final look at the suggested roster.

Head Coach: Mitch Love


Extras: McLain-Archibald-Reaves



What would you do this offseason if you were Craig Conroy?

Trevor Neufeld


Stats via capfriendly.com, eliteprospects.com, nhl.com, and moneypuck.com. A big thank you goes out to Jean Francois C on Twitter @Mtlfansakic of CapFriendly for clarifying Calgary’s cap situation heading into next season. There is a reason capfriendly.com is the go-to for all things cap related.
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