It’s been a long time since the Flames were a real threat to make the post-season. It’s been an even longer time since anyone could say the club had an above average collection of young players and prospects. Both are true of Calgary currently, which is encouraging at this point in the rebuild.
But it also means the club will have to make some tough decisions on some of the kids this coming off-season. Not only will they be adding to the professional depth when guys like Sam Bennett, Jon Gillies, Keegan Kanzig and Morgan Klimchuk likely turn pro, the organization also has 15 pending RFA’s in the NHL and AHL level to sign, trade or walk away from.
Here’s a look at the Flames soon to be free agents, with an eye to who they should keep, how much it will cost and who the team may cut bait with. We’ll start with the main guys on the parent squad.
Mikael Backlund – 26, C
When TJ Brodie was re-signed long-term near the start of the season, MIkael Backlund became the club’s most prominent pending RFA. Although his injury history and mediocre offensive stats may give some pause, the truth is Backlund has become a backbone player on this club and one of the better two-way forwards in the NHL over the last couple of years.
— Caleb (@CLIB542) March 19, 2015
Caleb’s chart shows the performance of elite players against Backlund, TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano at even strength. It’s not a lot of ice time, but the trend is clear – not one of them is above the 50% mark possession wise. This is noteworthy because every name on that list is a proven play driver for his team.
Backlund is a legitimate shut-down centerman and when paired with Calgary’s legit top pairing he can play against just about anyone else in the league.
While the Flames seemed guardedly optimistic about Backlund previously, his usage under Hartlety strongly suggests he’s highly rated by his coach (and, I assume, his GM). At some point soon I expect he’ll be re-signed long-term.
Prediction: Signed for 5 years, between $4-5M per year
Lance Bouma – 25, LW
The Provost, AB native picked a good year to have a career season. Although his 13 goals and 28 points won’t win him any individual awards, his output this season at least suggests he has a higher ceiling than the “4th line grinder” role he previously seemed destined to fill.
That said, the team has to be careful with Bouma. His numbers with and without Backlund suggest he is highly dependent on playing with a capable pivot at even strength. His personal SH% is also 15.1% this year, which is not only a pro career high by a wide margin for Bouma, it’s also an elite number relative to other NHL shooters. For example, Jarome Iginla is about a 12.5% over his career. Notable snipers like Rick Nash and Vladamir Tarasenko have lower SH% numbers than Bouma this season.
Which means we shouldn’t expect this outburst of goal scoring to continue indefinitely.
Of course, Bouma is valued by the team for other qualities outside of points. He’s a classic “glue guy” teams and coaches love and any offense he provides is likely considered gravy.
Prediction: Signed for 3 years between $2-3M per year
Paul Byron – 26, C/LW
One guy who is danger of being moved along is mighty mite Paul Byron. His lingering injury and inability to bury break-aways this season may have moved him into the “expendable” category in the eyes of the decision makers, but the truth is he is the sort of cheap, depth support player the club should be keeping around.
As Ryan noted recently, everyone who plays with Byron at even strength sees their possession improve. He’s probably the fastest player on the team, a capable PKer and can play just about anywhere in the line-up. On top of all that, he’s entering his prime years and won’t cost much to retain.
Prediction: Released to free agency.
Recommendation: Re-sign for 2 years at $975k per year.
Josh Jooris – 24, C/RW
Perhaps the biggest surprise in a season of big surprises is Josh Jooris. The undrafted college player who wasn’t even a noteworthy AHL player last year bowled his way onto the Flames NHL roster and has proven he’s a useful NHLer.
Like Bouma, we should probably take Jooris’ 11 goals on 77 shots (14.1 SH%) with a pinch of salt. However, Jooris has had a good rookie season outside of his offensive output, with one of the best relative possession rates on the club. Like Byron, Jooris is speedy, can play multiple positions and is a threat while penalty killing.
We don’t have a large body of work to judge him by, but it’s definitely worth keeping Jooris around to see if this late bloomer will take mother step or two forward.
Prediction: Re-signed for 2 years between 1-1.5M
Drew Shore – 24, C
Although he has spent most of this season in the minor, the erstwhile Panther is now waiver eligible and therefore likely to stick in the NHL lest the team lose him on waivers for nothing.
We know next to nothing about Shore at this point, other than he’s a pretty good AHL player and the team really likes him. We can’t really grade his work in the show yet because his role has been too limited (7 games, 2 points, 4th line C).
We’re only 5 RFA’s in and already the decisions are getting difficult. With Backlund, Monahan, Stajan and probably Bennett slated to be the club’s de facto pivots next year, it gets harder to see where Shore lands on the roster. The team will have to make room by moving someone (Stajan?), move someone to wing or Shore will start out as the Flames 13th forward.
Prediction: Re-signed for 1 year at $975k