Mason Raymond: an appropriate cautionary tale for the free agent frenzy.
Photo Creidt: Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports
The Calgary Flames made an earth shattering offseason addition last weekend when they traded for blue chip young defenseman Dougie Hamilton prior to the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Now that Hamilton has been locked up for six years with an eminently reasonable contract carrying an annual average value of $5.75 million, the Flames can turn their attention to free agency. Will Flames general manager Brad Treliving put the memory of last season’s slew of misguided contracts behind him, and continue his hot streak this July 1?
Let’s preview the Flames’ particular needs and posture ahead of the opening of the unrestricted free agent market.
Current players signed to one-way contracts: 16 (plus Monahan, Granlund, Bennett, Gaudreau)
Unsigned RFAs: Michael Ferland, Josh Jooris, Drew Shore, Lance Bouma, Paul Byron, Bill Arnold, Max Reinhart
Outgoing UFAs: Karri Ramo, Raphael Diaz, David Schlemko, Corey Potter
Salary cap space: $16.1 million under the upper limit, according to NHLNumbers.com.
Team Needs: Preserve long-term salary cap flexibility, two-way talent up front.
The Flames head into free agency with plenty of short-term salary cap space and plenty of needs, but few legitimate spaces on the roster and a foundational need to be cautious in committing term and money to unrestricted players.
In goal the Flames seem set with Joni Ortio set to graduate – to both a full-time NHL job and a one-way contract. It’s expected that he’ll backup Jonas Hiller, although it sometimes seems as if the Flames would prefer to keep Karri Ramo (over Hiller, even).
On defense the Flames have seven players signed to one-way contracts, although one of those players is Ladislav Smid and who knows if he’ll play next season, or if the Flames can go ahead and use that salary cap space since he’ll spend the year on long-term injured reserve.
It’s the same story up front, where the Flames have only seven player signed to one-way contracts, but have a smattering of additional pieces on entry-level contracts that are all but assured to be on the team next season – player like Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett and Markus Granlund.
The Flames also still have a smattering of quality restricted forwards to sign, including Ferland and Bouma, who we know will make the team; Jooris and Byron, who probably will; and Arnold and Shore, who should probably receive every possible opportunity to force Bob Hartley’s hand at training camp.
Related: Is Calgary’s Roster All but Set?
While the Flames have a variety of intriguing young pieces, there are a variety of players who are difficult to evaluate as a result of the charmed season they enjoyed in 2014-15. Is Bouma a player you can count on scoring at a top-six rate long-term, or is he a quality penalty killer who can throw the body and pitch in a bit on the fourth-line? Is Joe Colborne really a middle six forward? Can a third-pairing of Deryk Engelland and Dennis Wideman hold up at 5-on-5?
Even as Treliving has assembled an astounding arsenal of potentially elite young talent, there is work to be done, and the Flames’ general manager appears to be doing it. The club has been tied to players like Michael Frolik, Matt Beleskey and Cody Franson during the free agent courting period, and has even reportedly kicked the tires on Phil Kessel(!) in trade talks with Flames president Brian Burke’s former team.
All of those players would help, and Frolik and Franson would seem to particularly excel in the areas of the game where the Flames struggled last season. With star players like Giordano, Gaudreau and Monahan all requiring extensions next summer though, the club will need to tread softly. You can’t go wasting money on a middle-six winger like Frolik (even if he’s a perfect fit), especially when Giordano is asking for $9 million per, and is worth every penny.
With the parallel concerns facing Treliving – namely to improve the club, but avoid gratuitous long-term salary commitments – free agency promises to be a tough balancing act. Hopefully he can do a bit better than he did his first time around.
Based on all of his work since, there’s little doubt that he can.
Nation Network’s Top 10 UFAs
How do you want to see the Flames spend their cap space on the free agent market? And who would you target if you were in the general manager’s seat? Let us know in the comments, and stay tuned to FlamesNation.ca all day for wall-to-wall coverage!