The Stanley Cup has been won and the draft is over, but the summer is only just beginning. Unrestricted free agents will hit the open market this week and the bidding war will begin.
Normally there’s at least a few big names inciting considerable interest across the league, but the truth is the UFA crop for this off-season is entirely underwhelming. The most interesting guys are probably going to be whoever gets bought out (Vincent Lecavalier, Ilya Brygalov, etc.).
Ironically. for perhaps the first time since the inception of the salary cap, the Flames have ample budget room heading into free agency ($24M+ if Kipper retires), but little need or indeed opportunity to spend it thanks to the state of the team and the unappealing UFA market.
Which isn’t to say the Flames don’t have needs and won’t be making inquiries. Here’s how the depth chart settle out currently:
Cammalleri – Backlund (RFA) – Hudler
Glencross – Stajan – Stempniak
Baertschi – Knight – David Jones
Jackman – Horak – Bouma (RFA)
UFA – McGrattan, Begin
Street – Reinhart – Hanowski
Bancks (RFA) – Eddy – Nemisz (RFA)
Byron (RFA) – Patterson (RFA) – Aliu (RFA)
Howse – ? – Ferland
UFA – Walter, Kolanos, Testwuide
Gaudreau – Monahan – Agostino
Granlund – Arnold – Harrison
Poirier – Jankowski – ?
Klimchuk – Deblouw – ?
Clearly the bulk of Feaster’s work rests on the RFA side of things. The only forward RFA of high level importance is Mikael Backlund, but the Flames farm team also has significant needs. It’s possible Greg Nemisz will get another contract from the team since they need some bodies to fill out Abbotsford, but I doubt he’s considered a prospect of note anymore. Ditto Paul Byron.
On the NHL side, the depth chart is obviously underwhelming. Calgary would be shopping for talent a bit harder if they had managed to move Cammalleri at the draft, but I’m guessing he’s going to have to stick it out for now and hope he lands with a contender at the deadline. The center depth chart after Matt Stajan is also a big question mark, with guys like Knight, Reinhart, Horak, Bouma and probably even Monahan all potentially duking it out at training camp.
In addition, this look shows you how weak the Flames are organizationally on the right side. Not only did the team fail to pick and develop a new star while Jarome was in town, they also mostly failed to back fill the RW position in general. After the Stempniak/Hudler/Jones trio at the NHL level, things fall of a cliff. Agostino is listed at RW out of convenience under college players, but he’s naturally a LW. Feaster filled a bit of a gap when he traded for David Jones, but that side of the ice is going to look awfully thin very soon unless Calgary starts signing or acquiring some starboard talent. Stempniak has one year left on his deal and my guess is Hudler doesn’t play out his entire contract in Calgary.
Brodie (RFA) – Wideman
Giordano – Butler (RFA)
Smith – O’Brien
UFA – Babchuk, Carson
Cundari (RFA) – Breen (RFA)
Wotherspoon – Lamb (RFA)
Ramage – Martin
Kulak – Sieloff
Culkin – Roy
Rafikov – Kanzig
Again, the Flames have a lot of RFA’s to get to. For whatever reason Feaster and company haven’t bothered to take care of this bit of business, so they’ll be busy inking a lot of qualifying offers at the very least over the next week or so. Brodie, Cundari and Breen are all good bets to be done reletively quickly, while Butler will likely get another deal simply because Calgary needs NHL-ready guys on the parent club. Brady Lamb was a free agent signing out of collge who didn’t do much in Abbotsford last year, so it’s an open question whether the club will retain him or not.
John Gilmour was Calgary’s last pick in the recent draft. He’s already 20-years old so maybe he’ll turn pro, although I suspect he’ll stay in school long enough to finish his college degree since the NHL aspirations of most 7th rounders tend to go unfullfilled.
UFA – Taylor, Brust, Irving
There is obviously huge question marks at the top of the pile with Ramo, MacDonald and Berra all looking to somehow fill the Kiprusoff void. Junior stand-out Laurent Brossoit is old enough to turn pro this year, so watch for him, Ortio and Berra/MacDonald to duke it out for starting duties in Abbotsford. Whoever doesn’t stick in the AHL will likely find themselves in the ECHL, although Ortio always has the option of going back to Finland.
As for Leland Irving, I doubt he is retained by the org. They have enough bodies competing at both the AHL and NHL levels and he’s not a clear step up from any of them. The Irving experiment is over in Calgary.
Jon Gillies may be the goaltender with the highest ceiling in the organization currently, but he’s just 19 years old and only has a single, outstanding season consisting of just 35 college games under his belt. We’re a long ways away from knowing if he’s truly an NHL starter or not.
If the Flames were trying to be competitive this season, I’d say they have a lot of work to do this summer. They’re not, so that’s not a concern.
The primary issue is getting all of the notable RFA’s signed to decent deals and then looking for opprotunity and value where ever they may pop up. The top 4 lines of the NHL club are more or less complete, though my guess is Cammalleri and probably even Hudler would like to be playing elsewhere at some point in the near future – I can’t imagine either guy having the interest in sticking it out through what is probably going to be a painful rebuild.
If a few contenders strike out in free agency, they may come calling about some of Calgary’s vets like the two mentioned above in August, but then the Flames will have a lot of issues simply icing a team (unless they get NHL filler + futures in return). What seems more likely is deals to happen mid-way through the season or at the deadline.
There is some promise in Backlund, Brodie, Baertschi and it will be interesting to see how the goaltending settles out and perhaps what Corban Knight can do, but clearly this is a roster hunting for a good draft position and not the cup.
It’s going to be long summer Flames fans, and likely an even longer 2013-14 season.