Kent Wilson's Calgary Flames mailbag on prospects, the draft and more

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Kent Wilson, Special to Postmedia

The Flames season is over and questions abound about what comes next for the team in this transitional phase. Brad Treliving’s hail mary retool around Huberdeau has careened into the ditch, leaving Craig Conroy’s new regime an opportunity to carve a completely new path.

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So what happens next? I solicited some questions from Flames fans on social media on what is going to happen as the club embarks on their rebuild.

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Q: What do you think the ceiling for Zary is? It seems to me like he can be a #1 C on a good team or a #2 on a contender. Is he someone the Flames can build around?

A: Although Zary’s season was a bright spot, it’s important not to get too carried away with young players, especially with guys who are not obvious superstars. Building high expectations around a kid’s ceiling and slotting can impact development and undermine perceptions of the player if he doesn’t quite measure up. There are a lot of useful NHLers who are not top-6 centres.

Zary is not likely to be a cornerstone-level talent, which is typically what I would define as a core skater to build around. However, his pedigree, skillset, and big step forward this year suggest he could be a quality supplemental player. Contending teams can’t just rely on a handful of stars to challenge for dominance — they also need strong depth. Zary is more likely to be the latter.

Q: The Flames next year, barring a FA signing, have only 2 established top 4 defenceman but numerous potential 5/6 candidates with some potential upside. What’s the best way of handling this?

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A: The issue of blueline depth would be more pressing if the club was looking to compete next year. The priority, instead, will be giving their deep bench of youngsters and AHL defenders a chance to establish themselves.

The club may opt to add one more established body for dressing room and leadership purposes (say, if Chris Tanev decides to return), but the goal should be experimentation and development over building a robust depth chart.

Q: Who on the current roster will still be around when the new arena opens?

A: Let’s assume the new arena opens in 2027. That’s only three years away, but it’s surprising how much can change with an NHL roster. Especially one kicking off a transitional phase.

Of the existing roster, only four guys are currently signed until 2027: Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri, Blake Coleman, and MacKenzie Weegar.

Huberdeau is basically untradeable so that one is a lock. Weegar has emerged as captain material and one of the team’s best players. If he’s willing to stick it out, he’ll remain a Flame as well.

Kadri also took a step toward a leadership role on the team this year, which is notable after the way his 2022-23 season ended (poorly). Unless someone comes along and makes a extremely generous offer that the Flames can’t refuse, Kadri will be here as well.

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As for Coleman, it will depend on how he ages. He remains an above-average two-way player and is coming off an implausible career year in points. If he can continue to play well enough to justify his $4.9M cap hit, he’ll likely play out his deal as well.

Guys like Yegor Sharangovich, Andrei Kuzmenko, Rasmus Andersson, and Oliver Kylington, are much less certain. Any player in the 26+ age group who will hit free agency in the interim is probably not going to be on the team long-term, with the possible exception of Kylington.

Amongst the kids, I’d bet on Matthew Coronato, Connor Zary, and Dustin Wolf will still be around.

Q: Kadri & Coleman are an integral part of the core leadership team & both are coming off great productive seasons. Flames are in need of young level A prospects at centre. Do the Flames try to consummate a deal provided they waive NTC.

A: Conroy and the Flames front office should be open to almost any opportunity to make this team better in the long-term. Which is another way of saying that no one on this roster is untouchable.

That said, I don’t think the team will actively shop either player and is likely happy with their contributions, both on and off the ice. A prospective deal would have to involve a very motivated trade partner.

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Q: Would the Flames be better off trading Dan Vladar, and keeping Marky for tendy stability during a retool, or should they trade Marky and fire off a full rebuild?

A: This depends on the market for Jacob Markstrom. Calgary is in “acquire future assets” mode as they try to dig themselves out of the deficit in which they currently sit. If a trade partner offers Calgary, say, a first-round pick and/or a quality prospect for Markstrom this summer, it would be irresponsible not to take the deal.

I’m also not sure what, if anything, the team could get for Dan Vladar. There may not be a market for a 26-year old backup whose results have declined each of his three seasons in Calgary.

Q: Scenario: the Flames win a draft lottery and take Celebrini first overall. What’s the likelihood management pivots and uses their cap space and recently acquired picks to acquire roster players to try to “be competitive” in the next season or two?

A: I don’t think the club would throw “all-in” immediately since they are more than a single star player away from contending. Especially a star player who is still only 18 years old. But it would at least crystallize their timeline and plans, which remain rather unclear without the existence of an era-defining talent.

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With Celebrini on board, the clock starts ticking on building the team back up to compete during his peak years. Superstar-level talents like Celebrini tend to enter their peak around 22-23, which would give Conroy and company about five years to add to the core and construct a cohort of supporting talent around him.

Q: Should the Flames re-sign Yegor Sharangovich?

A: Short answer: probably not, but with a proviso.

Sharangovich has one year left on his deal at $3.1M. If he can replicate his 31-goal effort from this year (or come close), there will likely be ample demand for him as a trade deadline rental.

In addition, there’s no guarantee the player will want to re-sign in Calgary. At least, not for the kind of contract amount and length that would be ideal for the club. If Sharangovich scores 25+ goals again, he’ll be well-positioned to call his shot as an unrestricted free agent and cash in. Likely the only thing that would keep him in Calgary would be a long-term, “retirement” contract.

Combined, I think that makes it unlikely that Sharangovich is here long-term. If the player is interested in sticking around through the rebuild and doesn’t require a big money contract to convince him, then there will be some common ground to negotiate something.

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Q: You are Conroy at the draft. Tij Iginla is available when Flames are up. You have to take him right? Right?

A: I don’t think Calgary can lock themselves into an “Iginla or nobody” mindset. This is no insult to the player, who seems like a legitimately great prospect, but it will be important for the Flames to take the best player available with their first pick at the upcoming draft, regardless of his last name. Particularly at this draft, which is thick with talent inside of the top-10 selections.

On the other hand, Iginla should not be written off because of his father’s legacy here either. There is an outside chance that he will be the best player on hand at ninth overall, depending on how the first eight picks round out. If so, they should proudly announce his name at the podium.

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