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Four biggest off-season questions facing the Flames

CALGARY – There are some holes to fill on the blue line, one hotshot youngster to re-sign up front and a backup goaltending situation that needs to be addressed.

If the NHL season is indeed over, what are the biggest questions facing the Calgary Flames?

Is this a summer to spur significant change for the team, or is the signing of a defenceman or two the extent of general manager Brad Treliving’s heavy lifting?

Signing Andrew Mangiapane won’t be a significant hurdle, as the 23-year-old winger is an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent on the verge of cracking the $2 million barrier on a one-year deal after scoring 17 goals on the team’s second line.

The Flames could also opt to try signing the sixth-round revelation to a longer deal, which would make for interesting debate around town.

Either way, it’s the kind of business that should take care of itself.

As should the decision to take the interim tag off of Geoff Ward due to the solid job he did in relief of Bill Peters.

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Here’s a quick look at the four biggest questions facing the Flames if, in fact, we’ve seen our last game:

Who will play defence?

Five of the Flames’ nine rostered defencemen are pending unrestricted free agents this summer, including mainstays Travis Hamonic and TJ Brodie, as well as Michael Stone and deadline deal acquisitions Erik Gustafsson and Derek Forbort.

The team will undoubtedly be looking to re-sign one or two of them, depending on cost.

You can bet the chief goal is to keep Hamonic in the fold, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Brodie is the one who stays long term.

On the left side, the team still has Mark Giordano, Noah Hanifin and Juuso Valimaki under contract. Lefty Oliver Kylington is a restricted free agent who will also be re-upped.

Rasmus Andersson is the only righty signed for next year, making it clear the Flames will push hard to ensure Hamonic or Brodie return.

Stone is a Calgary resident who could once again be added for the league minimum as a solid insurance policy on the right side.

The signings of highly-touted U.S. collegians Connor Mackey and Colton Poolman on Friday give the team significant depth, as at least one of them is expected to push for a regular roster spot as early as next season.

Is this the summer to shake up the core?

When we say core, we mean Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.

This was supposed to be the season in which the duo would have a chance to atone for last spring’s disappearance and prove they can step up their game when it matters most.

Had they failed to get the team into the playoffs, or lost again in the first round, it might have been clear management would need to trade one or both.

Assuming we won’t get to see how they’ll finish this season, it’s now likely they’ll get another shot at it here next year on a roster which has nine of the team’s 12 forwards inked next season.

Gaudreau has two more seasons left on his six-year contract at $6.75 AAV, which includes a $3.5 million signing bonus this summer.

Monahan is here an additional season after that.

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As first-line staples, both absorb the lion’s share of criticism when the team is losing, as it did far too often this year. They’ve come to understand that as their reality in Calgary.

Gaudreau had been playing his best hockey of the season over the last month, and Monahan still managed to score 22 goals, eclipsing the 20-goal mark for the seventh time in his seven-year career.

Both were far from posting the numbers they had a year earlier, but were likely good enough to warrant a longer stay, allowing Treliving to avoid the horrors of swapping out the faces of the franchise.

Then again, if the right deal came along…

Do they re-sign Cam Talbot?

Following a horrific pair of campaigns that had many questioning his NHL future, Cam Talbot’s career is certainly back on track.

The 32-year-old’s progression got to the point where he deserved to take over as the Flames starter the second half of the season. While David Rittich’s third-straight second-half stumble had plenty to do with that, Talbot did exactly what Treliving hoped he would when the GM took a chance by signing him last summer for $2.75 million — the exact sum Rittich makes.

Popular with teammates and fans, Talbot sure seems to have found the perfect landing spot in Calgary.

Rittich has one year left on his deal. If he falters again next season, then Talbot — if he re-signs in Calgary — could be in prime position to solidify a starting gig.

However, Talbot’s stock is on the rise, which could make him an attractive option for a team looking for someone to hold the fort while a young hotshot gets more seasoning in the minors or as a backup.

Talbot would certainly cherish the chance to play somewhere that offers more playing time than he received in Calgary, where he made just 26 appearances this season, posting a .919 save percentage and 2.63 goals against average.

Do they get compensation from the Oilers?

The oh-so-intriguing James Neal-for-Milan Lucic swap last summer included a provision that the Flames would also get a 2020 third-round pick from the Oilers if:

Neal scores at least 21 goals in 2019-20 and Lucic scores at least ten fewer goals than Neal.

After a torrid start to the season, Neal came back down to earth and then suffered an injury that has him stalled out at 19 goals. Lucic has eight.

The Flames have 12 games remaining and the Oilers have 11.

Although Neal clearly didn’t reach the 21 needed to kickstart possible compensation, an incomplete season will have the Flames urging the league to rule on this.

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If the league simply pro-rated their stats over the full season, the Flames would get the pick.

These are uncharted waters, however, which means both teams will likely have strong opinions on how – or if – the league should intervene.

There’s a chance the league won’t intervene at all, meaning the Flames’ string of bad luck surrounding everything James Neal continues.

Trade conditions like these have been brought up with the league, which has informed clubs they will have answers in due time.

Arbitration hearings have long included a focus on stats based on a per-game basis, adjusting for games lost to injury. If so, the Flames would land that pick.

At the rate each player scored at this season, Lucic would have scored nine goals over an 82 game season and Neal, who only played 55 games, was on a pace to score 28.

The change of scenery served both players and their new teams well, but the Flames still hope to gain even more.

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