Before we start profilining the larger name pending free agents on the Calgary Flames, it’s important to go through the rest of the organization to look at players that will be in search of new contracts come July 1st. Seven potential unrestricted free agents still remain on the main roster along with one restricted free agent, but here we’ll profile the ten pending free agent players further down the depth chart.
The team will have to be somewhat judicious about who they decide to bring back, as they flirted with the limit of 50 contracts far too often this past season.
Restricted Free Agents
Leland Irving, Goaltender
This one seems like a no brainer for the organization after Irving took a large step in his professional career, appearing in 61 games with the Abbotsford Heat. Irving’s 2009-10 season was a trying one, where he struggled for consistency with the Heat and had to spend time in the ECHL as well, as neither he nor Matt Keetley stepped up as a true number one. This season was a much different story, as Irving spent his entire season in Abbotsford and was among the league leaders in wins, finishing second. The challenge for both Irving and Keetley was clear heading into this season: give the organization a reason to make you a part of their future in a big way. Irving did that in a very impressive way, and in my eyes, deserves a real shot to compete for an NHL backup spot in the coming year.
Matt Pelech, Defence
The 2005 first round pick continues to be a very intriguing case study. Pelech played in 59 games this past season after playing just 47 combined the past two seasons with different injury issues, putting up five points during that span. The debate surrounding Pelech surrounds when to cut bait with a guy who has disappointed in his development. He played tough minutes with Abbotsford this year, finishing -9 overall, but he’s also been in the organization since 2005. Watching him at training camp last year, Pelech showed nothing to say he was ready to take the next step; we’ll see if the team gives him another opportunity to do that for training camp this year.
Gord Baldwin, Defence
I’d be very surprised if the Flames don’t tender a qualifying offer to Baldwin, who has shown a lot of progression in his three AHL seasons. Playing 75 games with the Heat this past season, the hulking defenceman has at the very least earned himself another training camp with the team, and another season in Abbotsford. Outgoing Heat coach Jim Playfair identified him as one guy who has an NHL future, and even if it’s not in an impact role, there’s a lot of potential with Baldwin. He stands 6’5 and goes 205 pounds, and Playfair’s utilization of Baldwin changed this season, utilizing him in much more important roles.
Josh Meyers, Defence
Playing 49 games with the Heat this season, Meyers finished with 11 points and was relatively solid in his role. The problem for Meyers surrounds what was said at the very top; the team needs to trim their pro contracts, and there might not be a natural spot for him. Meyers isn’t a Flames pick, taken in the seventh round by the Kings in 2005 and he’ll be turning 26 in December. At this point, he’s getting to the "is what he is" stage of his career, and what he is may very well be a serviceable AHL defenceman.
Hugo Carpentier, Forward
Carpentier falls into the same category as Meyers, where it’s tough to justify another contract for him. Spending most of his time this past season with the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies, Carpentier has yet to play a full season in the AHL, and got into only nine games with the Heat this year. It’s tough to see how a guy who hasn’t been able to crack the top level of minor league hockey on a regular basis after three seasons playing professionally can justify another contract.
John Armstrong, Forward
The Flames still have hopes for the 2006 third round pick, and at the very least, Armstrong was able to get in a full season this year, appearing in 78 games with the Heat. He finished with 17 points, but goals and assists aren’t really what the Flames are after when talking about this player. Calgary likes Armstrong’s two way play and skating ability, and because I know the organization still likes him quite a bit, I’d be surprised if he wasn’t offered another contract.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Matt Keetley, Goaltender
After six years with the organization, I can’t see how Keetley’s affiliation with the Flames will continue any longer. He was a somewhat promising prospect for a time, finishing a very successful Western Hockey League career with the Medicine Hat Tigers in 2007. Keetley has never won more than ten games in an American Hockey League season, with 33 being his season high for appearance during the 2008-09 season. With Leland Irving and Joni Ortio clearly ahead of him on the organizational chart, Keetley’s pro career will probably have to continue elsewhere.
Kris Chucko, Forward
Another former first round pick for the Calgary Flames, another guy I’d be surprised if we saw affilliated with the team going forward. Chucko went 24th overall in 2004 and has played six pro seasons since with only two NHL regular season games to show. His last season was unfortunate, getting only two games under his belt before a severe concussion sidelined him for the season. It’s too bad, because it’s basically a season lost for Chucko, and he doesn’t deserve that. However, he also hasn’t panned out the way a first round pick should, and the Flames have probably poured enough resources into the 25 year old.
Ryan Stone, Forward
The Flames brought Stone in last summer and there was hope he might be able to compete for a bottom three forward role on the big club. Unfortunately, a pretty serious knee injury sidelined him for a good chunk of the season. When Stone was able to return to action, he got into 51 AHL games and performed fairly well, with 11 goals and 25 points. I still think Ryan could find a spot on an NHL team, but the guy has had such a difficult time staying healthy over his career, he’s a risky proposition at best. I think there’s a possibility the team offers him another contract, but it seems 50/50 at best.
Cam Cunning, Forward
Here’s another guy with parts of six pro seasons under his belt, and while Chucko has two NHL games to his credit, Cunning is still looking to make his NHL debut. The thing about Cam is that he might not be a terrible candidate for a two way contract, with the organization realizing he’ll probably never be anything better than a replacement level player. That’s fine, and you need guys like that in the organization; he’ll give you solid contributions at the AHL level and in a pinch can play three or four minutes on the big club. I like Cunning as that player, but expecations shouldn’t be much higher than that. I wouldn’t hate to see him get another contract, but then again, you couldn’t really blame the Flames for cutting ties with a guy yet to play an NHL game after eight years in the organization.
Of this group of ten, only three of them are guys the Flames are expected to bring back with only a few more sitting on the bubble. With players like Ryan Howse and Mitch Wahl expected to take up roles on the Heat next season, the AHL club will need to make a little space for players coming up through the system. Cutting loose certain guys is something the team needs to do, even if two of them could be former first round picks.