Although the Flames currently have 13 NHL forwards under contract, one of them is Ales Kotalik who is the most likely candidate to be cast into purgatory should the club fail to shed salary in some other fashion come October 1. So assuming Kotalik makes his Abbotsford/KHL/SEL debut this season, the Flames will have one open roster spot up for grabs.
The ideal candidate would obviously have to be cheap. Using CapGeek’s cap calculator, if we delete Staffan Kronwall and Ales Kotalik, the Flames will have 1.15M in cap space to work with. Which means, the new guy will have to be a league minimum player. That’s a proviso that eliminates most of the Flames farm players, although the truth is none of them outside of Backlund and (maybe) Brett Sutter are ready for prime time. Backlund will likely start the year on the big team with Langkow on LTIR. Sutter has the magical $500k league minimum figure, so he’s certainy a possibility.
Of course, with the UFA market so stagnant, there are currently a number of established NHLers currently looking for work. If the club is indeed looking for someone to round out the bottom end of the rotation, it would make sense to kick some tires with guys who have already proven they can hack it at this level. Here are some of the interesting names that stood out to me:
Sean Bergenheim – LW
The 26 year old was paid $925k for his 23 points in 63 games last season. The veteran of 246 NHL games averaged over 14 minutes at ES last year and more than 1 minute short handed. According to behind the net, he faced middling competition, had middling possession stats and started more often in his own zone. Bergenheim is solidly built at 202 pounds and is right near peak age for an NHL forward.
Richard Park – C
Another ex-Islander, Park’s getting up there in years, but remains a relatively effective bottom-6 forward. New York fed him to the Wolves last year, deploying him almost exclusively in a defensive role. Park led the whole team in SH minutes per night (2:26) and had one of the difficult zone starts on the team (if not the league) at 34.7%. That he managed still managed to put up 31 in 81 games is a minor miracle.
Park isn’t a tough guy, but he’s a got speed to burn and can play on either special team.
Arron Asham – RW
If Sutter wants to carry on with the tough guy motif for the bottom line, he could certainly do worse than signing Arron Asham, who beyond chucking the knuckles can actually play a bit of hockey. A 10 goal, 24 point getter last year with the Flyers, Asham was occassionally spotted higher up in the roster whenever one of the kids seemed to be struggling. Not exactly fleet of foot or capable of special teams play, Asham would at least be capable of taking on other 4th liners.
Nigel Dawes – LW
A 14 goal scorer and effective power play snip…err…nevermind.
Criag Conroy – C
The doors remains open for the Flames to retain the ever likable Craig Conroy for one more season. While his hands have mostly abandoned him, Conroy can still skate and take care of his own end of the ice. When Daymond Langkow was hurt last year, Brent Sutter decided to play Conroy against the tough match-ups for several games before the end of the year, which is indactive of the repsect and trust he’s earned from his various coaches over the years. With the Flames current stable of centers including Jokinen, Stajan and Backlund, it might make sense for the club to sign Conroy as "defensive specialist" since none of the other current pivots have "really good in his own zone" on their resume.
Other names that come ot mind: Andy Hilbert, Stephane Veilleux, Adam Mair, Steve Begin and Tim Kennedy.
Sutter’s other option would be to just carry 12 forwards on the roster in order to save some cap room. That would mean a nightly shift for Raitis Ivanans, however, and some dicey moments should a player go down unexpectedly on a road trip (depending on where the Abbotsford crew is at the time). It would also mean the Flames will have to dip into their kids should anyone go down for any length of time. So while it’s a possible solution, it doesn’t strike me as an ideal one.
If you think I’ve missed anyone, please let me know.