1. Should they stay or should they go?
The Flames are in a position that I’m pretty sure few NHL teams have encountered in recent years: The number of meaningful contributors that need to be signed this summer is extremely small. In all, among guys who played for the big club this season, only about a dozen are free agents with expiring contracts, and the vast majority of those guys are going to shuttle back and forth between the AHL and NHL next season.
The full list of unrestricted free agents is as follows: Mike Cammalleri, Kevin Westgarth, Chris Butler, Chris Breen, and Joey MacDonald.
There are, as you might expect with a team so young, more restricted free agents to consider: TJ Galiardi, Paul Byron, Joe Colborne, Lance Bouma, Ben Hanowski, Chad Billins, Mark Cundari, and Joni Ortio.
This obviously doesn’t include other prospects, like Olivier Roy who are probably also going to get new contracts, but those are the guys with at least a few games at the NHL level this year.
It’ll be interesting to see how the team approaches each.
2. Who’s staying?
I said it last week but you have to imagine that most of the RFAs are staying, if not all of them. There’s no way any of the above-listed guys don’t get new contracts, but of that group I’m not sure you’d like to give too many all that much in the way of either term or money. Galiardi probably deserves a little bit of a raise and I’d hope he gets it for a few years. He was more or less an even possession player (49.5 percent) and has shown he can be useful without needing to be especially sheltered, which on this team is a pretty good thing to have in your back pocket.
The idea of re-signing Colborne is one I’m not entirely sure is a good one, but we can all agree it’s going to happen. He didn’t produce much of anything against some pretty soft competition, but he’s Big and he Competes and he’s a Burke guy, so he’s staying.
Joni Ortio will get another contract, one more season in the AHL, and then a chance to do something if Kari Ramo blows up. That would be the sensible management of that asset.
3. Who’s going?
I think we can all agree Mike Cammalleri is almost certainly gone the second the free agency period opens. He’s openly stated he wants to test the market, and maybe Calgary wants to overpay him, but one has to imagine this is the last chance Cammalleri has to get both decent money and a shot at the Stanley Cup. So to waste those last few years of his career in Calgary, for a team that’s not going to come close to competing for a title, seems a path which he will likely not travel down.
On the other hand, there’s Chris Butler, who shouldn’t under any circumstance be offered any sort of contract. He is, we can all agree, terrible. He plays soft competition and gets dominated by them, and provides none of the offense of a Dennis Wideman or Kris Russell which would otherwise give the Flames a reason to keep him around.
Joey MacDonald, likewise, will and should be put out to pasture. This team has a lot of problems, but goaltending depth isn’t one of them. Replace him with just about anyone you can pick up off the scrap heap this summer and that’ll be just fine for this team.
4. Who will wait and see?
There are a few guys who I think the team will probably not be in any particular hurry to sign or retain, but who would be useful overall.
Paul Byron might be the most interesting case; he put up 21 points in 47 games, which isn’t nothing one supposes, and he drove possession a little bit, which on this team is saying something. But he’s not big, and he’s not flashy, and he doesn’t overwhelm anyone, so I really do wonder what the team’s plan is. They’re not going to let him walk, but if Burke is looking to improve this roster notably by taking on a big contract (I’m not betting against this), it might be possible to see Byron tacked on as a cheap throw-in to even out money or something like that.
Lance Bouma, too, got buried in possession, but he’s only 23, and he played in 78 games, so it’s not like the team doesn’t see him as an NHLer. But how much of one, really, remains to be seen. He’s a left wing, and that’s too his benefit, but if the team wants to give his spot to, say, Sven Baertschi or Kenny Agostino instead, would you really be all that surprised? Baertschi almost certainly fits better into the club’s long-term plans, and maybe they think Agostino, a roughly equivalent player, is worthy of consideration. Wouldn’t be surprised to see options explored for Bouma either, is the point.
There are also the lower-level D to consider: Billins and Cundari and Breen. Not all of them are going to get a chance on the big club next season, not with Wideman coming back from injury (and maybe Tyler Wotherspoon on the opening-day roster to see what there is to see?) . Again, they’ll shuttle back and forth between Glens Falls — or wherever — and the big club when there’s an injury, but I don’t think there’d be a ton of weeping if they were to leave the organization.
5. Where free agent priorities should really go
Of course, a lot of this is just tidying up. Who’s staying and going is obvious, and there aren’t going to be many guys fighting for roster spots or anything like that. So what the team’s management should really be doing, I think, is concentrating on locking up some guys who are up for free agency next year (as they are likewise eligible to sign extensions starting this summer).
Mikael Backlund, lots of years and money. TJ Brodie, more of both. Probably try it with Curtis Glencross and Kari Ramo too. Not that they’ll all end up like this, but any kind of a protracted issue a la PK Subban with the team trying to save a few bucks in the short-term would be foolhardy. Spend big on the right guys. You gotta make the floor anyway.