Calgary Flames RFAs – NHL

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.

NHL

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’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

  • I could be overestimating Bouma’s next contract for sure. That said, when Nystrom walked away from the Flames his career highs to that point were 11 goals and 19 points in a season. He was also 27 at the time, so not a good bet to improve at all.

    Bouma, in contrast, broke the 30 point barrier this year. Usually stuff like that kicks you up a tier or two on the pay scale.

    • Parallex

      I’d be more inclined to hold at 1.55M on Bouma but offer him the option of making it a 1 or 2 year deal. If he can replicate this season by all means bump him up some more but if he can’t then you’re not locked into a rate that you’d be uncomfortable qualifying him at. His track record as anything more then a 4th line grinder is a bit short to justify that kind of increase.

      If anyone thinks that 1.55 is too small I’d like to point out that it’s a 100% raise.

  • Purple Hazze

    With Shore being a natural RW I’m surprised the Flames havn’t converted him to that spot already. A big powerful RW with a scoring touch is greatly needed, let him play with Gaudreau and Monahan next year and see what he can do; while Hudler gets to mentor Bennett.

    • Comparing Bouma to Glencross and Nysstrom does make a lot of sense and should put his salary at around 2 to 2.5 mill.

      That kind of contract for Bouma would not restrict the overall salary cap moving forward if management could find a way to rid themselves of the overpaid contract’s they have.

      I’ll bet there are teams that would gladly offer Bouma that kind of money.

  • PrairieStew

    Bouma is way better than Nystrom. In his last year as a Flame at 26 – turning 27 Nystrom had 11 goals and 8 assists in 82 games. He produced 1.22 pts/60 at ES – good for 299th in the league among forwards.

    This year Bouma – at 24 turning 25 is at 13 goals and 15 assists through 70 games. His pts/60 at ES is 1.84 – good for 98th in the league.

    Bouma’s defensive play and intangibles at least as good as Nystrom’s ever were. Backlund may be carrying him – but it is working. You don’t keep the guy for his scoring but to be in the top 100 forwards in ES scoring is outstanding. You don’t let that walk for $2 million.

  • The thing with the 3 year contract at like 3 million aav is that it would most likely be a
    year 1 =2.75
    Year 2 =3
    Year 3 =3.25

    Type deal where Bouma would be making the highest amount if money in his prime (27)

    Having said that, its really hard to gauge his ceiling due to his low(ish) junior numbers.
    I think we can all agree he’s probably not the next Lucic but at this point in his career he looks to have a higher ceiling than Prust did.

    A 3 year deal at around 2.5 aav makes a lot of sense. Doesn’t have to be back loaded either. 2.5 mil is a decent price to pay for a 3/4th line Prust/Nystrom type

    • Parallex

      A three year deal makes little sense to me. All that does is take him to his earliest free agency date. You sign him to a 1 or 2 year deal and retain club control at the conclusion or you go 4+ (a number I would be extremely hesitant to endorse).

      IMO the prudent course of action would be to sign him to a 1 year deal at a fair rate (the 1.55M number I floated earlier). If he replicates/exceeds his performance this year then you have a track record to justify a longterm extension. If he doesn’t you can go year to year at a non-punative club controlled rate or look for a discount on a longterm deal.

      I think that’s fair for all parties concerned.

      • Parallex

        Good point. Hadn’t considered the RFA years. Then yeah 1-2 year deal makes more sense. As for the salary itself I don’t think it means much in terms of the Flames salary cap since I highly doubt we’ll be spending to the cap until everyone (Backlund, Monahan, Gaudreau and Gio) are resign. Id be happy with anything under 2.5.

        An interesting comparison is Cal Clutterbuck in 2013. He signed a four year 2.75 aav contract at the age of 25 with 2 years left until UFA status.

        Pretty similar player in terms of hits with Bouma probably having a higher offensive ceiling

      • MattyFranchise

        Despite never being able to score on a breakaway byron drives the play north every time he’s on the ice. You don’t have to pay him much but he is the kind of role player a championship teams needs.

  • Byron Bader

    There’s no way they don’t sign Backlund and real soon. As Kent states, I think the org really likes him. But even by some slim chance they don’t, they would be very aware of his advanced stats prowess and would realize other teams might highly value him and they would be able to get something sizeable with a trade. But they like him. They’ll sign him. No doubt.

    I bet he signs within a week or two of the Flames being eliminated from the playoff conversation or the playoffs altogether.

  • KiLLKiND

    I think they should keep Byron if anything trade Colborne I’m sure we could get a 3rd or 4th for him and then our LW looks like Gaudreau, Byron, Bouma, Raymond, and we could try Granlund, Ferland, Klimchuck maybe even Reinhart as a call up

      • ChinookArchYYC

        The first for everything, I agree with trading Reinhart away.

        I’ve liked his 2-way play when he played for the big club last year, but there are too many centres ahead of him that are younger and better. Bill Arnold and Drew Shore look to be similar 2-way centres and are currently waiting to make the leap. The Flames have also opted to bring up Grandlund ahead of him as well. How does Reinhart hope to make the leap?

        Time to trade Reinhart.

  • Colin.S

    Bouma is 100% getting re-signed, just a matter of how much and for how long. I’d go for a two year deal just over 2 million. It’s a bit of a reward for his play but also a stepping stone to a possible bigger/longer deal down the road.

    Jooris and Shore are easy re-signs. Neither has any real leverage.

    Byron is as good as gone. Byron has decent underlying numbers but has never pushed the issue for a top 6 spot and the current Flames regime seems to like a bigger bottom 6. As well it’s not the Flames missed him a ton while he was out, other guys stepped up in his absence, which hurts his value as well.

    Backlund should be a 100% instant re-sign and for a decent term as well. But I wonder if the Flames feel the same way. They played around with moving him off his usual line with Bouma/Jones and replacing him with Granlund at times during the Avalanche game. Though Backlund did still end up with 5 more minutes of ice time than Granlund. I don’t know if Hartely thought putting Backlund with Raymond/Colbourne would get those two going, or they are experimenting with Granlund to see what they have and if what they have potentially makes Backlund expendable. That and they have made Monohan the #1 center for now and they probably feel Bennett could challenge for #1 or be a very very good #2 guy. So where does that leave Backlund? Do the Flames want to commit long term/big money to a guy they think is only going to be playing in their bottom 6?

    • Colin.S

      Having a lot of depth at centre is never a bad thing. The kings have had a murderer’s row of centre icemen since they made the trades for Carter and Richards. St.Louis has Stasny centering their third line. You can never have too many centres. Cup contenders are built from the middle out, centre, dmen and goalies.
      As a fan it sure feels good knowing that if backlund goes down again monahan and stajan can handle the tough minutes and the younger centres can have the easy match ups.
      Will Sam Bennett push Backlund down the depth chart? My magic 8 ball says in time. The Flames have made nice progress in the rebuild so far. Let’s not Oiler it by only going to war at the start of next season with two proven centremen. Unless a team is willing to give up a dman with too two potential, I would keep backlund.

      • Colin.S

        It’s never a bad thing to have center depth. But say Monohan and Bennett do form the core of the Flames Centers. Say each of them gets 6 million per season (maybe more) after ELCs are done, that’s over 12 million(currently 17% of a teams cap space). Now say the Flames give Backlund the high end of Kents prediction 5x5M, with those three centers the Flames would have 1/4 of their cap tied up in 3 players. And if Backlund was the #3 center, they’d be paying their #3 guy 5 million a year, maybe the Flames don’t see that as the best use of their cap.

        I think if the Flames resign him this year they are going to go for as short of a contract as they can, 2 years, maybe 3. I think that a 5 year deal is great, get him for all his prime years. But I think the Flames don’t want to make a long term big money deal on a guy they might feel won’t be in there top 6 very long. As well, I and lots of people that visit this site think very highly of his underlying numbers and the value that it brings to the team, but even on this site there are people dismissing the underlying numbers, same with many members of the MSM on twitter or working for Sportsnet. Where do the Flames fall? Do they see the same value lots on this site do or do they see a guy who has never cracked 40 points in a season or has less career goals then their newly appointed #1 center?

        • RKD

          I know what you are saying, I wish they had given Backlund 1 extra year, because that would be just about perfect so Bennett could be sheltered in. Granlund/Shore & Arnold may be able to develop & replace what Backlund gives this team. If Backs + can get us a #2 or #3 Dman, it would hurt but it is badly needed on the blue line. It’s just next year we still need Backlund & I think BT knows that & we are going to have to give him his 4 year deal. The trick is to getting him to sign that 4 year/14 mill deal. If Bennett is the real deal, it will take 2 years before we can even consider trading Backs. If Bennett is a Calder candidate then Backs may get moved earlier if we can’t move Stajan first.

        • JumpJet

          I don’t see Backlund commanding that kind of salary. I think he gets a contract similar to what St.Louis gave Berglund last season say 3.75 mil aav for 4 seasons, which I think is fair. It is a big raise for backs and gives him some contract security for the first time in his career. And also at that point in the Flames progress I would like to think that the Flames prospect pipeline is set up so that the 5-7 dmen 10-13 forwards are making between league min and a million per season, that way you have just under 1/3 of your 23 man roster representing 10% or less of your cap space(at current salary cap level).

          • Colin.S

            I used that salary figure as something Kent put out in the article (the high end of what Kent suggested). I personally don’t think he gets close to that. He’s never topped 40 points or 20 goals, has an inability to stay healthy (he’s fragile or bad luck or whatever reason it is) and I don’t think upper management see’s him as a top 6 forward (I do, I don’t think BB/BT see his a their #2 guy going forward). I see the Flames maybe giving him a 3 year deal at less than 3 million per (Can’t give him Engellend money).

            I think he’s exactly the kind of Center the Flames need to help shelter a couple of kids into becoming the Flames top two centers. He’s shown in his underlying numbers he can tangle with some of the best centers in the NHL. How much stock does BB/BT place in those numbers? The recent practice invite to Douglas Murray may give some insight into the answer to that question.

          • Parallex

            Even if they don’t put stock into those numbers (and I think Phoenix and probably by extension BT seemingly has in the past) he’s being deployed against the other teams best guys and Burke has paid out more $$ (in a lower cap environment) to similer guys in the past.

            I think he’ll be resigned for something in the 3-4M range on a longterm deal. Stajan money basically.

  • RKD

    Bennett is very young, I think he and Backlund will probably swap between 2C and 3C next season. I would keep Backs, he’s a valuable player to this team. Bouma has hands and while he may not put up the same numbers in the future, he can chip in offensively from time to time. Bryon has been one of the most consistent Flames and law of averages would dictate he will start scoring on those breakaways. I would move Stajan, but I don’t think other teams want his contract. A lot depends on Brian Burke, if he doesn’t like certain players, then they may not be here.

  • Greg

    I’m hoping all those players sign at the bottom end of those ranges. The flames actually need to be pretty careful because all of Gio, Russel, Hudler, Gaudreau, and Monohan come due after next year. The gap between the floor and cap ceiling is only $16M so if these players eat up more than $5M in raises, the flames will be very hard pressed to retain what they currently have, let alone make much needed improvements.

    Unfortunately the bad contracts they have (Wideman, smid, engelland) doesn’t come due until the year after. I know we all said “at least that engelland contract is short and small enough it won’t have a negative impact long term… Given the surprise performances this year, it may well bite us in the butt after all.

    • Greg

      Of those three bad contracts you mention I would suggest the following; based upon Wideman’s play lately the contract is not as bad as we once thought, Smid will likely retire from his injury leaving only 1 bad contract and that was the one signed by BT and signed off on by BB.

      Sign Backlund for around $4 million a year for 4 years if he wants more years, less money, Bouma 3 years between $1.5-$2 m, Jooris 2 years at $1 m, Shore 2 years @$900,000. Byron who I quiet like has been in may ways ousted by Jooris who is a bigger version of Byron.

      Also no NMC included in these contracts.

  • JumpJet

    Assuming the Flames sign everyone on the list except Byron, how many contracts does that give them towards the 50 contract limit? If you add Kenny Morrison’s contract activating, maybe sign Gareth Hathaway and another UFA or two is there still space to sign Byron? Having a bit of wiggle room in contract number can be nice, but retaining Byron would be nice too.

      • Parallex

        I count 27 with Morrison’s kicking in. + 15 RFA’s (although we can’t assume all of them will be tendered) we also effectively have forced decisions on Eric Roy and Austin Carroll.