It’s been a wild week. The draft, big trades, buy-outs, terminations, threats of offer sheets. All possible scenarios have seemingly played outside since the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
One of the reasons GMs have been so busy is due to the relatively shallow UFA pool this year. Quality options are in short supply, so teams have been scrambling in advance of free agency in an effort to improve their teams. Further pressure is also being applied by the stagnate salary cap – many clubs are struggling to retain their own noteworthy free agents, let alone anything else. The two issues are why the threat of offer sheets has been so prevalent recently, thus leading to the Dougie Hamilton, Brandon Saad and Martin Jones deals prior to the July 1 deadline.
The Flames were a big part of the drama by acquiring Hamilton from the Boston Bruins. The move bolstered the club’s greatest weakness – blueline depth – and potentially put the organizations rebuild into overdrive. all of a sudden, Calgary could be a team who may contend sooner rather than later. They’re also one of the few clubs with ample cap room and fresh new impetus to use it this summer.
Given who is available and what the Flames still need to improve, here’s who they may target.
The best of a bad lot. Here are the guys who could legitimately improve the Flames.
The Jets RW/C is a slightly better scoring version of Mikael Backlund. He drives shots for and against while he’s on the ice, is a capable penalty killer and can score at a 2nd liner’s rate. Frolik is also only 27 years old, so one of the youngest free agents around, a key consideration for the Flames who are still trying to transition into contenders.
Frolik would give Calgary another legit top-6 option on the right side behind Jiri Hudler, not to mention the ideal line mate for Mikael Backlund at even strength. He could also fill in on a shut down role if the team needed to shelter guys like Bennett or Gaudreau and his presence would push Joe Colborne down the depth chart, where he would be far more comfortable.
Of course, a lot of clubs will have their eyes on Frolik, so it’s probable he’ll be priced out of a reasonable range. However, if he comes in under $5M/year, he could be a decent bet for the Flames depending on term.
Another scoring defender seems like a luxury after the addition of Hamilton, but the addition of Franson to the Flames back-end would not only make Calgary’s d-corps one of the best in the league, it would also give them the option of moving Dennis Wideman at their leisure.
Franson wasn’t well liked by Peter Laviolette in Nashville after the trade deadline, but the former Leaf has been an above average possession defender and scorer at even strength his entire career. In a support role behind Giordano, Brodie and Hamilton he’s almost guaranteed to drive results.
Franson is likely to command between $5-6M, which is a pricey luxury for a club with so many good blue liners already. That said, if he could be subbed in for Wideman, his price might not be a big problem.
Perhaps the best possession player on the market (and certainly the most decorated) Williams is a concern because of his age likely stuttering offensive abilities. He’s definitely more of a risk on any sort of long-term deal and may be running out of runway just as the Flames are getting set to take off.
That said, adding Williams on the right side for a couple of years will help the Flames improve in the short term and allow them to fill a hole while they look for (or develop) a better alternative. It also couldn’t hurt to have him around to mentor the kids.
A surprising entrant on this list for some I’m sure. Schelmko was a depth/injury option the Flames scooped off of waivers, but all of his results point to an underrated, under appreciated player. To whit:
Schlemko has always been a third pairing kind of guy, but he’s consistently suppressed and generated shots at an excellent rate in that role. For next to nothing, the Flames could lock in a very good third pairing option in Schlemko for the next year or two.
Scratch and Dent Bin
With so few good options, chances are the Flames won’t get to sign the best guys available. If they are still hungry to add players, they may want to look at some of these slightly less ideal guys
The aging ex-Pen is a mobile defender and a good shot suppressor, though his previous decent offense seems to be flagging as he ages. He’s also 34 years old, so entering that danger zone for most defenders when their game starts to fall off a cliff.
Similar to Martin, although less offensively capable, Michalek has been a very good shut down defender in the league for years. Unfortunately, he turns 33 in December so, like Martin, is probably outside of the Flames win window.
Coming off a season scuttled by injuries, Ehrhoff was once one of the better overall defenders in the league. He’s also 32 years old and needing to sign a “prove it” contract after a blown season in Pittsburgh. For short and cheap, he could be a decent bet. He could also be a guy who finally succumbs to age and injures and falls off a cliff.
Bought out by the Canadiens after being shuttled off by the Avs, Parenteau’s stock has steadily sunk since leaving the NY Islanders.
The funny thing is, all of his numbers are good. Over his career, he has better than average possession rates and has scored like a 2nd liner. Parenteau didn’t see eye to eye with Therrien last year, thus his unceremonious ouster from Montreal, but could be a useful player in the right circumstances. He should come super cheap too.
I struggled on whether to put Semin in this category or not. The former 40-goal scorer is a sublime offensive talent and has had periods of elite play, both from a counting stat and underlying number perspective.
However, he’s also known for becoming completely uninterested for long periods of time, which has resulted in the second buy-out of his career recently. In addition, Semin’s underlying numbers cratered last season, including his shot rate which is a vital part of being a goal scorer. If that’s indicative of something chronic (like disinterest or injury), then Semin doesn’t bring much else to the party.
On the other hand, Semin is only a couple of seasons removed from a point-per-game pace. If his issues last season prove transient, he’d be a super cheap, but potentially deadly, addition to the top-6 for a season or two.
Stay Away From
Every summer more than a few instantly regrettable contracts are signed. Here are the guys most likely to show up on the “boat anchor contracts we need to get rid of” lists down the road
Discussed at length in the space previously, but to reiterate: Stewart is one of the worst defensive forwards in the league and he doesn’t score enough to compensate. Though he has the tools to be a power forward, he is way too often completely absent from the proceedings. This is nothing new in his career – aside from a season or two in Colorado, Stewart has struggled to be useful and bounced around from team to team for a reason.
Don’t let his size and the promise of a big, mean, scoring winger fool you. Chances are whoever signs Stewart this season will regret it.
This season’s Bryan Bickell, I profiled Beleskey in detail previously here. Coles notes: he has been an average third liner for most of his career aside from last season, when better quality line mates and sudden spike in personal shooting percentage suddenly put him on a lot of radars.
Beleskey is probably a useful middle tier forward if you could get him for south of $2m. The problem is, he already rejected a $4M/year for 4 year offer from the Ducks, meaning he expects to make more than that on the open market. Back away slowly.
There will be some interest in this player given his draft pedigree and the fact that he scored 20-goals at some point in recent memory, but there’s a lot of evidence now that Hodgson is just broken. He couldn’t generate offense or even shots on goal for the Sabres last year at all and he has perhaps the worst shot suppression rates of any regular NHLer I’ve looked at.
There’s a chance Hodgson isn’t as terrible as his results last year suggest, but Im not sure there’s enough upside to justify the gamble anyways.
There’s a whole bunch of other players not listed here who are neither terrible nor good bets, most of whom probably aren’t on the Flames radar. It should also go without saying that the Flames don’t need any more pure grit chart acquisitions in the Deryk Engelland or Brand Bollig mold this offseason as well.
What the team really needs is a veteran, play driving right wing who can fill out the club’s forward rotation. After that, one more defender who can fill out the third pairing (or make Dennis Wideman redundant so the team can consider dealing him) is need #2.
That’s why Frolik, Franson and Williams are likely top of the list. If the Flames don’t land any of them, there are a few other options, though it may be just as advisable for the club to keep their powder dry and try to improve incrementally over the season or next summer instead.