30 IN 30 - CALGARY FLAMES (15th place)
How quickly things in Calgary can turn around and back again. The last few seasons have had their ups and downs, but the crop of young talent in this forward group and the re-emergence of Dougie Hamilton on the back-end has this team setting their sights firmly atop the Pacific Division. Brian Elliott may have been a disappointed after last summer's hype, and management appears to have mishandled the Ben Bishop negotiations...twice, but expansion has provided the Flames yet another opportunity in a buyer's market. Let's hope Treliving and Co. can find a long term solution at the position, a move which may come at the expense of their new division rivals. Do the Golden Knights try to swipe back at the Flames veteran depth with their expansion selection, or minimize spend and get out of harm's way?
PROTECTION LIST STRUCTURE
The Flames are stacked up quite well in the 7-3-1 protection list. Without a recognizable 4th defencman to protect and a general lack of rear guards under contract the alternative 8-1 looks more and more unlikely the closer we get to draft day. Interestingly enough, the single goalie spot also sits empty. Both Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson enter the summer as UFAs and the looming shadow of a blockbuster pre-draft trade hangs over their already small hope of an extension. If one of Marc-Andre Fleury, Antti Raanta or Philipp Grubaurer doesn't end up in a Flames uniform, then management simply wasn't trying hard enough. All three tenders have the all but certain fate of a Vegas selection if their current teams fail to act. The Penguins, Rangers, and Capitals will take what they can get on the open market before losing a valuable asset for nothing to the Golden Knights.
The Flames expansion story will be less dire. Protection structure pushes the conversation to the forward group. Slots 1-5 are locked in up front, but picks 6 and 7 remain far from a guarantee.
CONTRACT PLAY OR LET A YOUNG MAN WALK
The Flames will be tied up with a decision between putting a slightly overpriced veteran contract on the line in order to guarantee the safety of a boom or bust prospect, or following the traditional course of thought and hoping the Golden Knights see value elsewhere.
The obvious culprits of this dilemma are depth forwards: Troy Brouwer, Matt Stajan, Lance Bouma, Alex Chiasson, Michael Ferland, and Curtis Lazar.
A lot people will look at a player of Troy Brouwer's success and experience in this league and automatically include him on their protection list. But slow down. Despite signing a 4 year deal worth $18M last offseason, the Flames could be having buyers' remorse after just one year. He failed to live up to expectations on the scoresheet, putting up a disappointing 13 goals and 12 assists in 74 games this season. A significant drop from his 0.51 Pts/GP average accrued over his three seasons prior. Scoring aside, Brouwer also held one of the teams lowest possession rates (44.65 CF%) and goal differentials (46.23 GF%), all the while playing alongside the Flames' top scoring threats in Gaudreau and Monahan. In comparison to his line mates, his outputs are a concerning collection of statistical measures. Every single teammate who has logged at least 200 minutes of ice time with him has seen a noticeable decrease in their Corsi when playing with him vs playing without him. With 3 years still left on his deal, his overall asset value is much lower than most would expect, allowing the Flames to leave him unprotected but with minimal risk of selection. Protecting a younger player who may still blossom into an every night player would be the more logical move.
In a lot of ways, Stajan, Bouma, and Chiasson can be lumped together as checking line options for the Golden Knights. Chiasson carries RFA status, while the other two head into the final year of their current deals. Notwithstanding his ability as a 4th line checker, Lance Bouma provides little value for the Golden Knights in the expansion draft. The inability to flip him for significant draft pick compensation before he hits free agency next year slots him firmly behind our veteran centreman in the group, Matt Stajan. The former Leaf has failed to match some of his early career success, but provides consistency in a checking line role, along with strong zone-adjusted possession rates, an even goal differential, and stable 50% career face-off percentage. Alex Chiasson, managed to prove his worth to an NHL roster this season after bouncing around between franchises the last couple years. Point production took a promising swing back up alongside improving Corsi numbers, but as a player about to enter his fifth full season in the league, he may have already hit his development ceiling.
Like him or not, a decision to keep Michael Ferland has merit. He has a noticeable impact on the game, and adds character to a group that can use his tenacity to change momentum. Although his advanced stats may not blow you away, they hover around the 50% in all the major categories, placing him neatly within the league average. Where he steps away from the pack is with his on-ice team goal production (GF60), and overall impact per dollar earned. Ferland is clearly in-line for an extension, meaning his cap hit will jump, but for a player of such limited track record in the league, his new contract should come in at a very manageable sub-$3M rate. For this reason, Michael Ferland finds himself firmly within our list of protected forwards.
What this entire discussion really hinges upon is the Flames' decision on Curtis Lazar. A star with the Edmonton Oil Kings during his Junior years, Lazar has failed to find the same scoring success at the professional level. He serves as prime example of how rushing a young prospect into the NHL can impact their growth as a player. A lack of ice-time didn't exactly help him either. But Ottawa's loss is Calgary's gain. The very small sample of Lazar in the team's lineup was a positive one. He contributed on the scoresheet immediately and kept his on-ice goal differential positive, suggesting there is hope for a player who has struggled thus far in his young career. To see Calgary walk away from Lazar so quickly would be a mistake; a mistake Vegas would surely pounce on. Therefore, with the potential to become a better player than Brouwer and the gang of checkers, Lazar rounds out our protection list alongside Michael Ferland.
FLIPPING VEGAS - Hockey Edition
Much like the old house flipping show based in Las Vegas, the Golden Knights should look to select a player who carries potential rental value in a future deadline swap. Brouwer's contract remains a burden that few teams will have the willingness or cap space to take on. Although he may historically be the best player of those available, his return in any trade will be low, due to his cap hit, unless the team trading him is willing to retain salary. The difficulty associated with moving him will take him off our selection radar.
Stajan, on the other hand, presents a more appealing alternative. As mentioned his play was stable this season and his contract is moveable. With the term set to expire, the ability to walk away from him after a year if a willing trade partner cannot be found is a very manageable worst-case scenario. Chiasson's RFA status unfortunately looms over this decision, as Vegas will be unlikely to burn one of their 10 picks for 'players not under contract' on him. However, if the Flames sign him to a new deal worth $2.500M or under per season before the Expansion deadline, he will be destined for the desert. Without such hypotheticals available to us in our decision, Matt Stajan will remain as our Vegas Golden Knights selection.
As an extra-deep dive option, AHL prospect Brett Kulak could be a consideration if the Vegas brass choose the development route over a veteran one with their selection.
For those that didn't notice, last year Michael Backlund had easily the best statistical season of his career. As a two-way centre he provided incredible value to the Flames, posting a 53.1 GF%, 54.7 CF%, 64.6 AdjCF%, and a career best of 53 points in 81 games. Surprisingly this didn't garner him enough support for a Selke trophy nomination. Anyway... the Flames should look to lock up Backlund long term before the possibility of losing him in free agency next summer pushes his potential cap hit up any further.
Oh yeah, and that starting goalie spot. Figure it out while the cost of acquiring one is cheap. Your team ranked 21st in 5v5 scoring last year, you kinda need one.
Next up: Toronto Maple Leafs