July 18 2014 08:02AM
As we creep closer to the kick-off of the 2014-15 season, it begins to dawn on me that this season is pretty important for the Calgary Flames, and a lot of the organization's players.
Okay, ignore the whole "Play Whack for Jack (Eichel)" or "(Play With) No Honor for Connor" aspect. If you look at Calgary's roster, outside of a few names, it'll be the same team that played well (and finished 27th) last year.
But next summer could see a lot of changes and allow Brad Treliving to put his stamp on the team in a big, big way.
The unrestricted free agent list isn't amazing or massive. Curtis Glencross is likely going to be signed to an extension, as he revealed talks have already been opened with Flames management on a recent appearance on Sportsnet 960 radio. Beyond Glencross, we have Brian McGrattan, Karri Ramo and AHL goalie Brad Thiessen. This season is probably Ramo's audition for a new contract and depending on if he falls off a cliff or not, I foresee him returning at the very least as a back-up as the team waits for Joni Ortio to take a leap forward and/or Jon Gillies to turn pro. McGrattan will be 33 when his current deal runs out, so whether or not he's kept probably depends on the progression of some of the emerging depth players.
Here's where it gets interesting.
Heading into summer 2015 as restricted free agents are...
- Forwards: Mikael Backlund, Paul Byron, Corban Knight, Sven Baertschi, Bill Arnold, Josh Jooris, Bryce Van Brabant, Kenny Agostino, David Wolf, Ben Hanowski, Max Reinhart, Michael Ferland and Turner Elson [and possibly Joe Colborne and Lance Bouma if they sign one-year deals this summer]
- Defensemen: T.J. Brodie, John Ramage and Sena Acolatse
- Goaltenders: Nobody, unless Joni Ortio signs a one-year deal, in which case he'll be an RFA as well.
The Calgary Flames will definitely have 16 restricted free agents to qualify (or not), and the potential for three more, depending on the length of the deals the current RFAs sign before September.
The big names are the big names. Mikael Backlund and T.J. Brodie are two of Calgary's three best players. They will be paid well, especially if they keep progressing at the same rate they have been. And I can't see the team cashing out on Sven Baertschi yet in terms of cutting him loose, although depending on his performance and his perceived market value outside of Calgary, they may get offers on him (with the notion that the Swiss forward might do better in a different organization with a fresh start). Either way, he remains an asset of note.
Then we have the second group, the players trying to get onto the NHL radar full-time: Knight, Agostino, Arnold, Wolf, Hanowski, Ferland and Reinhart - and the guys that could supplant McGrattan in depth roles. I expect to see most of these players in Calgary at some point this season, particularly if the Flames take the expected tumble down the standings and the coaching staff begins holding auditions like they did last season.
Knight had a good first pro season and didn't look out of place in his brief Calgary stint, scoring a goal while playing a depth role with McGrattan and Hanowski. But he played less than 60 minutes at even-strength, so we don't know jack about his NHL game yet. Same with Agostino and Hanowski, whose skating has improved a bit but remains a bit of a dark horse. Arnold played a single game and we won't know what kind of AHLer he'll be until probably Christmas (at the earliest) - the same probably goes for Wolf and Ferland, who at least had a strong 25 games with the Heat before his knee kersploded. I'm high on Wolf and Ferland, if only for their physical attributes, but I expect both to spend the majority (if not the entirety) of the season with the Baby Flames. We probably know the most about Max Reinhart as a pro out of any of these guys, and he's barely played over 200 even-strength minutes. He was excellent in Abbotsford last year, though, and along with Markus Granlund and Tyler Wotherspoon, is probably the leading candidate for a spot with the big club.
Paul Byron exists in a weird zone between the first two groups. He had one good year, and he was hurt (and not great) for about half that year. He's definitely an NHL-caliber hockey player, though. But what is he at the NHL level? A top-six guy? A depth player? Both?
And lastly, the "I hope they play well enough to get another contract somewhere" guys: Josh Jooris, Bryce van Brabant, Turner Elson, John Ramage and Sena Acolatse. These guys are minor league depth right now, and they're hoping a strong AHL season (or heck, a full AHL season for Elson and Ramage) can get them onto the big club's radar at all. Of these guys, Jooris had the best season of these, dressing for 72 of Abby's 76 games, but also averaging a minor penalty every two games (and a point every four). He was a scratch for three of the four Heat playoff games, which probably doesn't bode well.
SUM IT UP
The fact that the careers of roughly sixteen of Calgary's 41 contract players can take a big turn (one way or another) this season is why I'm excited for training camp and the start of the season.
Which player do you feel is the most under-the-gun to perform this year? Let us know in the comments, as we plan on drilling down to look at most of the key players here between now and the start of training camp.