Welcome to the Five-Year Plan. In this summer exercise, we forecast the rosters for all 31 current NHL teams for the 2023-24 season. Are we bound for folly? Sure, but the point of the exercise is to give some sense of where an organization is heading based on current long-term contracts and the prospects they have in the system.
Some ground rules: No trades will be made and no future draft picks will be included – so you won’t see the likes of Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield on any roster, even though they will certainly be NHL stars in 2023-24. All current contracts are honored and most restricted free agents are projected to stay with their teams, unless it is determined the player will lose his spot or move on in the future. Some future unrestricted free agents will be kept on if the players are deemed integral and likely to re-sign. The Seattle expansion draft is not considered. With all that established, let’s take a look at Calgary.
The good news? The Flames are going to get a lot of mileage out of their top line, and that's exciting. The bad? Calgary is going to need help to patch up the right side. Lindholm had a breakout 78-point campaign with the Flames and will be their top guy for years to come. But after that, Calgary is betting on their youth making their mark. Bennett has seen very little improvement in his game over the past four seasons but he's a Michael Frolik injury away from a spot in the top six. Ruzicka and Phillips are total wild cards, but the Flames like what they saw out of them this past season.
On the left side, Gaudreau and Tkachuk are no-brainers. Pelletier, Calgary's first-round pick in 2019, is a skilled winger with a great shot, but it's too early to see what type of role he plays. Still, it's hard to say he isn't intriguing, despite his 5-foot-9 frame. Mangiapane has been a fit in the bottom six and the Flames should be able to keep the winger on cheap deals for years to come.
The depth down the middle is where things start to get impressive. Monahan is going to be Calgary's go-to middleman for the next decade, while Dube isn't far off from being an everyday NHLer. That's a top-two the Flames will build around, while Mikael Backlund and Mark Jankowski fill out the bottom-six as strong, two-way defensive forwards. Faceoffs shouldn't be an issue with this group.
If you think Calgary's defense corps is good now, wait until the young guys develop. Valimaki will miss a significant portion of this coming season due to a torn ACL, but in this specific timeline, he'll bounce back to become a top defender for the Flames. Andersson's rookie season was impressive, and he too will be patrolling the top pairing in the near future – perhaps as early as this season. Fellow youngsters Kylington and Yelesin will have been regular fixtures on the blueline for a few years come the 2023-24 season, while Hanifin keeps things glued together with his veteran presence.
The real wild card is Giordano. The 2019 Norris Trophy winner is playing his best hockey, but he'll be 40 in five years' time. If he can still keep up with the pace, he'll be a valuable defender in a lesser role, and who is to say he doesn't have another five or six more good years of hockey left in him?
Rittich, who recently signed a two-year bridge deal, is set for a breakout season in 2019-20 after securing the No. 1 spot in Calgary. He had some fantastic stretches last season but consistency became an issue. Still, he's got potential to take the team into the future and will be a good mentor for Wolf when it's all said and done. Wolf will be ready to push for starts by 2023 after a couple of years in the minors, giving Calgary a very serviceable duo.
Even with Tkachuk unsigned right now, the Flames are in a good spot. Three players are currently signed until 2023-24 – Backlund, Lindholm and Hanifin – and Milan Lucic, TJ Brodie and Travis Hamonic's expensive deals will be off the books by then. It's rare to see a contending team have the prospect pool the Flames possess, but that might be what helps keep their championship window open for a few extra years.
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