On paper, the Flames made big decisions during this offseason. Yet, it’s with a smaller decision (handing Andrew Mangiapane a two-year contract, avoiding salary arbitration), that we’re reminded of bigger choices ahead for the future of the Calgary Flames.
Before we get to that, note that the Flames’ two-year deal with Mangiapane carries a $2.425 million cap hit.
After signing Mangiapane, the Flames now have about $4 million in cap space:
Calgary #Flames cap update:
After signing Mangiapane to a 2 year / $2.425M contract, we now show the Flames with $3,985,834 in projected cap space.
Roster of 17 (10F-5D-2G)
D Oliver Kylingtonhttps://t.co/30CH6J2bm4 pic.twitter.com/sySvlpREVz
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) October 16, 2020
Looking at the Flames’ offseason after signing Mangiapane
Again, the Mangiapane signing is minor in the scheme of the Flames’ larger offseason.
To start, the Flames made a huge decision in net. Whether Jacob Markstrom carries over his Vezina-caliber work from the 2019-20 season or not, the Flames are betting big. Following years of uncertainty at the position, Calgary made a six-year investment that carries a $6 million cap hit through 2025-26.
When you consider that Markstrom is already 30 and took a long time to marinate before truly breaking through in the NHL, this is a swing for the fences.
Your mileage will vary on that decision, and also likely on the quality of the defense in front of Markstrom.
After T.J. Brodie left for Toronto and Travis Hamonic lingers on the UFA market, the Flames took another big swing by signing Christopher Tanev. Once again, the Flames gave significant term to a 30-year-old player they saw a lot of during his time with the Canucks. Where the Flames hope Markstrom can repeat 2019-20, they’re crossing their fingers that they’re getting the Tanev from previous seasons.
He had an extremely long run as one of the league's best defensive defenders but suddenly last year the magic is not there. Maybe it is just one down year. Maybe it is the inevitable first talon of age. pic.twitter.com/KpLD94gw9u
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) October 10, 2020
The Flames are making big investments in net and on defense to get better. Will those investments end up worthwhile?
Well, we’ve seen some hit-or-miss dips into free agency from the Flames. If Tanev parallels the James Neal signing and Markstrom merely serves as an expensive extension of Calgary’s long headaches in net, then this was a bruising offseason.
Will keeping Geoff Ward around as head coach end up being wise, too?
A pivotal season, or couple of years, looms for the Flames
Again, the Mangiapane signing spotlights a two and three-year window of potentially franchise-altering decisions for the Flames.
Consider the Flames contracts set to expire after 2021-22:
Matthew Tkachuk, 22, $7 million cap hit (RFA, arbitration eligible)
Johnny Gaudreau, 27, $6.75M
Mark Giordano, 37, $6.75M
Meanwhile, the good news is that Milan Lucic’s $5.25M cap hit expires after 2022-23. That could open up space to re-sign Sean Monahan, 26, whose $6.375M cap hit runs out after three seasons.
But between another potential raise for Tkachuk, and more seasons from the key trio of Gaudreau, Giordano, and Monahan, what will the Flames outlook be like by then?
Following another frustrating postseason, Gaudreau’s name came up in Flames trade rumors. Thankfully for Flames fans, Calgary resisted the knee-jerk reaction of selling low on their diminutive star.
Even so, it’s fair to wonder about the future. For one thing, Gaudreau is slated for a raise from that team-friendly $6.75M cap hit. For another, it’s fair to wonder if it just isn’t working, at least to the point that the Flames might jump from a good team to a great, truly contending one.
Now, as with most situations with star players, it’s not fair to scapegoat Gaudreau. Still, if the Flames continue to underwhelm at crunch time, they might at least consider alternate paths.
What if, say, there was a reasonably equitable player-for-player trade on the table? Might there be a better style fit?
Again, it would be better if the Flames simply … found Gaudreau, Tkachuk, and others more help. For all of the attention about that team falling short in big games, GM Brad Treliving hasn’t had much success finding quality supporting cast members.
Rather than investing in secondary scoring, the Flames focused on goaltending and defense this offseason. That may end up being the wiser decision, but the scoring burden looks likely to remain on the same small group of players.
Could this be the winning formula: a Tkachuk line, a Gaudreau line, a revamped defense, and a (hopefully) elite goalie? If it isn’t, the Flames could see some big, drastic changes.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.