Knowing where the Calgary Flames are with their salary cap situation and their current roster situation, free agency starting on July 1st may not be as lucrative as it could be for other teams. However, that doesn’t mean the Flames should be completely idle, and there are some potential good value picks for teams willing to be smart and patient with their money. I’ve identified a few players I’d like to see Calgary target come Friday and beyond.
Radim Vrbata, RW
After two seasons with Phoenix, Vrbata hits the free agent pool after flirting with 20 goals in both campaigns; he finished with 19 last year after posting 24 the year before. I see Vrbata as a nice transition player, filling a role further on down the depth chart for a team, but he’s proven himself to be a capable player. He had decent possession stats with the Coyotes last year despite a zone start south of 50%, and proved himself to be one of Phoenix’s more consistent forwards along with Martin Hanzal and Shane Doan. I wouldn’t give him anymore than two years, preferably one, as I don’t think he fits the future for the Flames. But as the team starts to move in a new direction, having him around to help stem the tide isn’t a terrible idea.
Scottie Upshall, RW
Splitting last season with Phoenix and Columbus, Upshall showed his worth as a capable depth player with some offence to go along with it. He finished 22 goals overall, passing the 20 plateau for the first time in his career, and he did it without being overly protected or sheltered. I see Upshall in a similar role as Curtis Glencross or David Moss: capable forwards who can give you quality possession from the second or third line. Obviously there’s a value to this type of player, however my fear from a Calgary standpoint comes from the asking price. He counted $2.25 million against the cap last year, and might be a guy with a number of different suitors after him. While I think Upshall would be a nice fit on the Flames, it has to be if the price is right…as in, right around what he made last year.
Jan Hejda, D
Hejda might be a sought after guy if a team ends up missing out on James Wisniewski or Christian Ehrhoff, and I think he’d fit perfectly on a short term contract with the Flames. With the loss of Robyn Regehr, the Flames may be looking to fill a spot with a capable, veteran defender; shoes which I believe Hejda fits. He plays a very straight forward game and isn’t going to add a ton of offence from the blueline, but I think fans would feel more comfortable with him in the top four than guys like Carson, Butler and Sarich. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Flames stay away from UFA defencemen and go with what they’ve got right now; it might mean feeding guys like Butler or Brodie to the wolves, but I think it’ll be good for them and good for the team longterm. However, I believe Calgary WILL be looking for a blueliner, so I wouldn’t mind Hejda on a value contract; he counted $2 million against the cap last season.
Jussi Jokinen, LW
First off, I realize it would be far too confusing to have two Jokinen’s on one team, so I add Jussi’s name to the list with that realization in mind. On a Carolina team last season with very few forwards in black possession numbers, Jokinen turned in a nice season, and from what I’ve seen, he’s actually a decent forward. Again, he’d fit more into a depth role with the Flames, a guy who the coaching staff could count on to keep things on the north side of the ice when called upon. He had 52 points with the Hurricanes last year and turned 28 in April, so there are productive years still ahead of him. I’m not sure how much of a raise he’ll be looking for on his $1.7 million cap hit last year, but overall, I think he’d be a nice fit with Calgary, and that’s before his shootout prowess is added to the equation. Again, the mind blowing potential for two Jokinen’s on the ice at the same time does make this paragraph a little trippy.
Joel Ward, RW
"Good luck Steinberg" is what I’m sure a lot of people are saying after reading this addition, but I can’t tell you how thrilled I’d be if Ward were to join the Flames. His stellar postseason with the Predators may put him in line for a larger raise than he was already going to get, but who knows, the asking price may not be as steep as some believe it will be. Ward is a very capable player with strong defensive sense that I think would be a great fit playing on a line with Daymond Langkow, giving Calgary a shutdown option similar to Ward flanking David Legwand regularly with the Preds. He counted $1.5 million against the cap last year and was good value for that, even if you take his 29 points out of the equation. Having a Corsi number in the plus after being buried by Head Coach Barry Trotz all season is a feat in itself; his offensive zone start finished at 39.8%. If Calgary got this guy, even though he turns 31 in December, I’d be a happy camper.
Kent wanted me to include Mike Commodore, who is expected to be bought out by the Blue Jackets prior to Friday; if that happens, he will enter the free agency pool. I’m not a fan myself, as I see him being an average hockey player at best, and not as serviceable as Hejda. I think Chris Butler or Brett Carson could do as a good a job, or better, than Commodore, even if they don’t have red hair and didn’t play on the 2004 team. Again, I’d rather see Calgary stay away from free agent defencemen myself, unless Wisniewski suddenly becomes affordable, which isn’t going to happen. Let’s be honest, he’s not going to be in Calgary’s ballpark, neither is Christian Ehrhoff and the story is true when it comes to some of the more sought after forwards. For the Flames this Canada Day, good value signings, like Tim Jackman one year ago, should be the story of the day.