Erik Gustafsson

Flames long-term outlook Gaudreau Monahan Giordano Lindholm
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Long-term outlook for the Calgary Flames

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Calgary Flames. 

Pending free agents

The Core

The Flames played a little over their heads for much of 2018-19, building some belief that the Flames might possess one of the NHL’s best cores. Unfortunately, Nathan MacKinnon and the Avs rained on that parade during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and things got downright soggy at times in 2019-20.

Overall, though? The Flames’ core still looks quite good. Not best-in-class, but quite good.

If nothing else, they boast some serious value.

Thankfully, they didn’t overreact and trade Johnny Gaudreau, who’s almost insultingly underpaid ($6.75M AAV through 2021-22). Maybe 2018-19 inflated expectations for “Johnny Hockey,” but he’s still an excellent player.

It’s actually difficult to tell how much Sean Monahan and/or Elias Lindholm lean on Gaudreau for production, but both are cheap and covered for years, so it doesn’t really matter.

Matthew Tkachuk? He’s worth every bit of that $7M per year through 2021-22. So the forward group is covered pretty nicely.

And, yes, Mark Giordano‘s age (36) is troubling for the future, but we’ll get to that. For now, consider Giordano pretty fantastic (not quite Norris-fantastic, but fantastic nonetheless), and nicely cost-efficient at $6.75M. Giordano’s contract ending after 2021-22 mitigates much of that aging curve concern, too.

Now, not every long-term dollar is well-spent. While Milan Lucic isn’t as bad of a player as the snark suggests, his contract really is a headache. There are other issues, such as Mikael Backlund‘s troubling term.

Ultimately, though … not bad. Not cream of the crop stuff, but you can bump that group up quite a bit thanks to a mix of bargains and relatively limited risks.

Long-term needs for Flames

Consider Cam Talbot’s resurgence triage for the Flames’ goaltending situation. Talbot provided a short-term fix, but considering his pending UFA status and how unpredictable the position can be, will the Band-Aid slip off soon?

There’s quite a bit of uncertainty there, whether Talbot returns or the Flames find the “next” Talbot. Meanwhile, David Rittich presents an unpleasant form of predictability: he’s been consistently mediocre.

Unfortunately, the Flames face questions about how to insulate their goalies. Their defense lacks clarity beyond aging star Giordano, especially if both Hamonic and Brodie played their last games for the Flames. There are worse groups out there, but the Flames may be stuck with “good” while seeking “great.”

In ranking the NHL’s farm systems for The Athletic in January (sub required), Scott Wheeler placed the Flames 26th. Even at such a low ranking, Calgary’s highest rank prospects were forwards (and goalie Dustin Wolf), not defensemen. If the Flames get help on defense, it might have to come via free agency.

Oh yeah … they might need a coach, too, if they aren’t impressed with Geoff Ward.

Long-term strengths of Flames

While the Flames’ forward group ranks a notch or two behind the best of the best, it’s still quite good. The one-two punch of Gaudreau’s playmaking on one line and Tkachuk’s two-way peskiness on another can be very effective.

The Flames also lack a cap hit above Tkachuk’s $7M. That flexibility could come in very handy if other teams need to shed salary thanks to a coronavirus-related cap squeeze.

Even certain weaknesses could be spun as strengths.

Yes, their goalie situation is uncertain, but the Flames also enjoy flexibility. Before you scoff at that point, consider that Sergei Bobrovsky‘s performing at a sub-backup level for $10M per year at age 31.

Who’s to say that the Flames won’t successfully target better goaltending, at better prices, without the risky term other teams hand out?

Such flexibility opens up lanes for free agency, too. Perhaps the Flames could take that next step by landing, say, Alex Pietrangelo or Taylor Hall?

As is, the Flames mostly show the makings of a good team. Last season showed they could flirt with great, while this one reminded that there’s still work to do. They have a decent shot at getting there, even if they aren’t there yet.

(Then again, there’s also the possibility that they already missed their best chance or chances. Hockey’s fickle that way.)

MORE FLAMES BITS:
Looking at the 2019-20 Flames (so far?)
Biggest surprises and disappointments.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

It looks like Blackhawks are sticking with Bowman, Colliton

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Before the 2019-20 NHL season went on pause the Chicago Blackhawks were headed toward their third consecutive non-playoff season and their fifth consecutive season without a playoff series win (with only three playoff game wins during that stretch).

It has been a pretty sudden fall from the top for an organization that was once the gold standard for winning in the salary cap NHL.

They are not only no longer a Stanley Cup contender, they are not even all that close to being a playoff team in what has been a mostly watered down Western Conference the past two years.

Despite the sudden descent into mediocrity, there does not appear to be any significant changes coming to the coaching staff or front office after this season.

In an interview with the Athletic’s Scott Powers, Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz said the trio of team president John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman, and head coach Jeremy Colliton will all be back next season.

From the Athletic:

Wirtz isn’t on the same page as those fans. Asked about his confidence level in the trio, Wirtz replied, “I think they’re all good.”

Does he envision all three returning next season?

“Oh yeah, absolutely,” Wirtz said. “There’s not going to be any changes in the front office.”

Wirtz reiterated that when he was asked about a rumored Bowman contract extension.

“I’ll let John (McDonough) get into all the details,” Wirtz said of Bowman’s contract. “But there’s not going to be any changes, so let’s put that away.”

The level of confidence there is a little surprising given the current state of the Blackhawks’ organization, especially as it relates to the key people in the front office responsible with building the team.

It was just a little over a year ago that the team parted ways with a three-time Stanley Cup winning coach (Joel Quenneville) after a slow start to the season 2018-19 season. It wasn’t a stretch to think that move would have started the timer on Bowman given that the attention would eventually drift toward the team’s roster management. Especially after the Blackhawks seemed to go all in this offseason on trying to fix their flaws with the hope of squeezing another run out of this remaining core. Obviously, that gamble has not paid off.

While the Blackhawks have to deal with salary cap restrictions that come from paying a pair of superstars big money at the top, that alone isn’t enough of a justification for the drop in success, especially while teams like Washington and Pittsburgh have maintained consistent success with a similar cap structure. The issue still comes back to roster management and some questionable decisions over the years. The Blackhawks tried to get ahead of their salary cap issues over the years but simply made things worse in the short-and long-term.

They needed to dump Bryan Bickell’s contract and did so by attaching Teuvo Teravainen to it and trading him to Carolina for next to nothing. Today, Teravainen is one of the Hurricanes’ best players and would easily be a top player in Chicago.

They feared how much Artemi Panarin would cost on his next contract and dealt him to Columbus to bring back Brandon Saad and some cost certainty. Talent-for-talent, the trade was laughably one-sided and saw them deal a superstar for a good player. Maybe they couldn’t have re-signed him for his current contract and lost him anyway, but how much more competitive would they have been the previous two years with him at forward with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Alex DeBrincat?

Then there were smaller, minor deals this offseason like trading Dominik Kahun and Henri Jokiharju for Olli Maatta and Alex Nylander, and then getting an underwhelming return on Robin Lehner and Erik Gustafsson at the trade deadline. There are big mistakes. There are a bunch of small mistakes adding up into big mistakes. It all just keeps building up into what the Blackhawks have now.

That is not to say there have not been some successes.

Acquiring Dominik Kubalik has been one of the Blackhawks’ best steals in recent years. DeBrincat has turned out to be an outstanding second-round pick, while recent top picks Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach look like they can be young building blocks going forward. But even with those successes and the promise they bring there are still more questions than solutions throughout the roster. Without dramatic change somewhere, the mediocrity might only continue to build.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL On NBCSN: What does future hold for Stan Bowman, Blackhawks?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues.  Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

By trading starting goalie Robin Lehner and defenseman Erik Gustafsson on Monday the Chicago Blackhawks officially raised the white flag on the 2019-20 NHL season.

They enter Tuesday’s game against the St. Louis Blues (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in 12th place in the Western Conference and eight points out of a wild card spot with still four teams ahead of them.

Right now the cut-off point for a wild card spot in the West is around 88 points. The Blackhawks at the moment are only on pace for 82 points and would need to collect 27 points in their final 20 games (think 13-6-1 record) to gain enough ground to give themselves a chance. Given the way the season has played out, and the players they are now without, that seems unlikely.

It also means that the Blackhawks are almost certainly headed for their third straight non-playoff season and their fifth straight season without a playoff series win. Their decline from dynasty to mediocrity has been stunning and swift.

What makes it all even more shocking is they still have two superstar forwards (Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews) playing at a high level, while the threshold to make the playoffs in the Western Conference the past two seasons has been as low as we have ever seen it in the era of the three-point game. It only took 90 points to get in a year ago. It may not take that many this season. And the Blackhawks still seem unable to reach even that.

Adding to the frustration is that on Monday the returns for Lehner and Gustafsson just seemed, for lack of a better word, underwhelming. Trading them was the absolute right call. It had to be done. But there is nothing coming back in return that moves the needle in a meaningful way.

So what happens if (or when) this season reaches the conclusion it seems destined for? Is there any short-term hope that next season won’t produce the same result? And how much longer will Bowman get to try and get this team back on track?

As long as Kane and Toews are in the lineup there is at least a foundation in place. Dominik Kubalik has been one of the few home run moves hit by the front office in recent years, while recent first-rounders Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist both look to be loaded with potential.

But that’s not enough, especially as the two superstars get deeper into their 30s. There has to be more, and Bowman has made his share of significant missteps the past few years. Brent Seabrook‘s contract to further complicate their salary cap structure. Trading Artemi Panarin and Teuvo Teravainen in an effort to fix their salary cap problems (there had to be better, more productive ways). Dealing young players like Dominik Kahun and Henri Jokiharju this summer for a pair of players (Olli Maatta and Alex Nylander) that simply have not added much.

Bowman’s roster moves this past summer were him betting on the current roster still being able to compete with a couple of tweaks.

That gamble has not worked, and it remains a roster that still seems to have more questions and problems than actual solutions.

When you add all of that up it’s put the Blackhawks in the worst possible position a team can be in — the middle ground. A team that is not good enough to compete, but still has enough reasons to think it should.

Gord Miller and Pierre McGuire will call the action at Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Mo. Tonight’s studio coverage will be hosted by Liam McHugh with Scott Hartnell and Mike Johnson.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Flames get Gustafsson from Blackhawks, Forbort from Kings

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While one team in Alberta spent Monday bolstering its forward depth, Calgary spent the day trying to strengthen its defense.

First, the Flames acquired defenseman Derek Forbort from the Los Angeles Kings for a fourth-round draft pick.

The bigger move, though, is the one that saw them get Erik Gustafsson from the Chicago Blackhawks for a third-round pick.

Gustaffson is purely an offensive-defenseman and should bring some added scoring punch to Calgary’s blue line.

He may never going to repeat the 16-goal, 60-point season he had for the Blackhawks a year ago, but he is still on track for close to 10 goals and 40 points this season. He is not going to be the player you want playing 25 minutes against other team’s top players every night, but if you put him in the right spot and put him into situations where he can excel offensively he can be a really useful player.

He is an unrestricted free agent after this season and signed for just $1.2 million against the salary cap.

For the Blackhawks, trading Gustafsson (and Robin Lehner to Vegas) is a pretty clear sign that management has given up on the playoffs this season. And rightfully so. The team has completely stalled out with its current roster and is headed for its third consecutive non-playoff season. The time has come to look toward the future.

What’s surprising here — and probably a little disappointing if you are a Blackhawks fan — is that they were only able to get a third-round pick for him. That seems like an incredibly low return, especially when San Jose was able to get a first-round pick for Barclay Goodrow and Montreal was able to get two draft picks for Marco Scandella, including a second-rounder. Even Forbort went for a fourth-round pick and he has only played in 13 games this season.

Given Gustaffson’s production and low salary cap hit you would have thought he would have more value around the league.

The big takeaway from that has to be that teams did not feel the defensive shortcomings were worth the offensive upside.

In the end, the Blackhawks received a backup goalie, a prospect, and second-and third-round draft picks for Gustafsson and Robin Lehner. Even with the fact they are both rentals, that does not seem like enough.

 

MORE: PHT’s Trade deadline live blog

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Trade Deadline primer: Erik Gustafsson, Chicago Blackhawks

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With the NHL trade deadline getting close (February 24, 3 p.m. ET) the Pro Hockey Talk crew will be taking a closer look at some individual players that could be on the move. Today we focus on Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Erik Gustafsson.

Player: Erik Gustafsson
Current Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Position: Defense
Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent this season with a $1.2 million salary cap number.

Why the Blackhawks might trade him. Because the season is a mess, the dynasty is over, and sustained mediocrity has set in to become the new normal in Chicago. Barring some kind of insane miracle over the next 22 games, the Blackhawks are well on their way to a third consecutive non-playoff season. Time to start trading people and looking toward the future.

Gustafsson is an unrestricted free agent this summer and because of his offensive production should be in line for a significant raise over the $1.2 million per season his current contract has paid him. Is he worth what he will command to the Blackhawks?  As is the case with starting goalie Robin Lehner, if the Blackhawks think there is even a 50-50 chance he leaves in free agency, they are doing themselves a disservice if they do not trade him. Even if they think they can re-sign him it still might be for the best to move him before Monday. He is one of the players on the team that does not have a no-trade clause, would not require them to retain salary to move, and could bring back a good return.

Teams that could/should be interested. Vegas Golden Knights, Carolina Hurricanes, Colorado Avalanche, Vancouver Canucks

What he provides. You are not going to get a traditional top-pairing defenseman that will give you a shutdown role or the type of player you want playing 25 minutes a night against the other team’s best forwards. He will, however, give you a lot of offense from the blue line, especially if you put him into situations where he can focus on the offensive side of the puck. He will probably never duplicate the 17-goal, 60-point performance from the 2018-19 season, but he is still a productive player that should be good for around 10 goals and 30-35 points over an 82-game season with good possession numbers from the blue line. Not a superstar by any means, but a darn good second-pairing option for a playoff team.

The Hurricanes could use some more offense from their blue line with the injury to Dougie Hamilton, while the Golden Knights are apparently still in the market for more help on the blue line even after trading for Alec Martinez from the Los Angeles Kings.

They also cleared some salary cap space on Friday by sending Cody Eakin to the Winnipeg Jets.

Predicted destination. Only winning two out of their past 10 games to all but fall out of the Western Conference playoff race might finally convince Stan Bowman he has to sell, and I think someone is going to offer the first-round pick he will almost certainly want for Gustafsson, and I think that team is Vegas to add more offense to its blue line and try to make a run through a watered down Pacific Division in the playoffs.

More NHL Trade Deadline:

• Trade Deadline primer: Chris Kreider
• Trade Deadline Primer: Ilya Kovalchuk
• Trade Deadline Primer: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
• Trade Deadline Primer: Joe Thornton
• Trade Deadline Primer: Robin Lehner
Trade Deadline Primer: Tomas Tatar
• Teams that need to be active at trade deadline
• PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.