The Calgary Flames’ roster appears to be mostly set. If anything, they now have to cut down players, rather than add more; particularly in the forward department.
Defence, on the other hand? The Flames may have fixed their top four woes by adding Dougie Hamilton, but there’s more that can be done, and some high profile, quality defencemen still left on the open market for the taking.
But here’s a pretty big problem to adding another high profile defenceman (i.e., not David Schlemko, although he’d be great, too): the salary cap.
It’s not July 1 anymore, though. Mike Green and especially Andrej Sekera generated huge deals. Can the same happen for remaining free agents on the market, or does history say they’ll have to sign for less?
It all comes down to performance
Mind, not all of the following free agents are high profile players. Some of them had really poor seasons, some were already on the decline, some were just never worth as much as they first got. But there’s a fair group of players who waited until the doldrums of summer to sign their contracts, and in most cases, they simply didn’t cost that much.
For example: following the lockout, Eric Fehr was still a free agent. He was coming off of a three point, 35 games played season, so he wasn’t exactly in high demand. His previous cap hit was $2.2 million; on Jan. 13, 2013, the Washington Capitals brought him back for just $600K. It was a steep pay cut he’d earned, and his contract came only days before the new season got underway.
Coming off of a .44 point per game season this past year, though, Fehr was actually able to raise his salary, going from a $1.5 million cap hit over the past two years (signed after his $600K season) to $2 million over three, even though he didn’t sign until July 28, 2015. He showed an improved performance, and received a raise for it, even though that raise didn’t come until late July.
Free agents in 2013
In between the 2013 and 2013-14 seasons, a number of decent (or at least previously well-paid) players waited until later in the off-season to sign with a team. Almost all of them took pay cuts in their next contracts.
|Player||Position||2013 Cap Hit||Points Per Game||2013-14 Cap Hit||Date Signed (2013)|
|Jaromir Jagr||F||$4.5 million||.78||$2 million||July 23|
|Douglas Murray||D||$2.5 million||.13||$1.5 million||Aug. 22|
|Mikhail Grabovski||F||$5.5 million||.33||$3 million||Aug. 23|
|Ron Hainsey||D||$4.5 million||.28||$2 million||Sept. 12|
|Brenden Morrow||F||$4.1 million||.57||$1.5 million||Sept. 23|
|Mason Raymond||F||$2.275 million||.48||$1 million||Sept. 23|
|Damien Brunner||F||$925,000||.59||$2.5 million||Sept. 24|
|Ryan Whitney||D||$4 million||.38||$900,000||Sept. 25|
- Brunner, whose salary was the only one to increase, was coming off of an entry-level contract. He left the NHL before his new two-year deal was complete.
- Also now out of the NHL: Murray and Whitney.
- Morrow is now 36, and has yet to sign with a new team; however, over 2013-14 he scored .35 points per game – a year older and a drop in production – and yet was signed to a $1.55 million deal, giving him a small raise, on July 11, 2014.
- Jagr actually scored less over the 2013-14 season than he did in 2013, but he took a raise to $3.5 million when he was re-signed by the Devils on April 30, 2014: much, much earlier than his previous summer deal.
- The Leafs bought out Grabovski. Grabovski responded with .60 points per game over 2013-14. He was signed to a $5 million cap hit over four years on July 2, 2014.
- Hainsey scored less over 2013-14, but was good defensively; he received a raise to a $2.833 million cap hit, re-signed before he ever hit free agency.
- Raymond increased his offensive output to .55 points per game over 2013-14 and received a three-year, $3.15 million cap hit on July 1, 2014.
Free agents in 2014
As in 2013, there were a couple of stragglers when it came to new contracts in 2014, albeit not as high profile.
|Player||Position||2013-14 Cap Hit||Points Per Game||2014-15 Cap Hit||Date Signed (2014)|
|David Booth||F||$4.25 million||.29||$1.1 million||July 22|
|Daniel Winnik||F||$1.8 million||.39||$1.3 million||July 28|
|Devin Setoguchi||F||$3 million||.36||$750,000||Aug. 23|
|Ryan Malone||F||$4.5 million||.26||$700,000||Sept. 11|
|Raphael Diaz||D||$1.225 million||.24||$700,000||Oct. 6|
- None of Booth, Setoguchi, and Malone currently have NHL contracts. Setoguchi and Malone failed to score a single point in the NHL before being sent to the AHL, while Booth’s production dropped to .22 points per game.
- Winnik’s production improved to .43 points per game; he received a two-year, $2.25 million AAV as a result, signed on July 1, 2015.
- Diaz was scooped up on July 1, 2015, to another $700K cap hit, even though his production (and general playing time) suffered a massive drop over his time with Calgary.
What does this mean for the Flames?
The general trend here is: the longer you wait, the less your next contract is going to be for. There are a handful of players over the past few seasons who went from late summer bargain bin finds to early signings that ultimately netted the player more money (Jagr, Grabovski, Hainsey, Morrow, Raymond, and Winnik, while Diaz received the same amount of money even though he showed less over this past season).
As you may have guessed from the picture, though, I’m primarily talking about Cody Franson: a relatively young top four defenceman who is still on the open market, and would bolster any team’s blueline, including the Flames’.
As of right now, the Flames have just a little over $2 million in cap space, with only Micheal Ferland left to re-sign. This makes them a cap team once again, even if Ladislav Smid’s $3.5 million hit probably ends up on LTIR, and the forward situation loses a few bodies.
There’s a slim chance Franson may be able to fit under the Flames’ cap should that happen. He’s a higher profile free agent – who, after three straight years of one-year deals, wants something longer term – and you’d have to think he goes for more than Calgary can currently afford, even though late summer deals tend to not be nearly as kind to players as July 1 contracts do.
As the clock keeps ticking, the possibility remains open, maybe even without a single move by Calgary. There’s almost certainly no chance if a trade doesn’t happen, though, and there’s a reason Dennis Wideman is the name most commonly thrown about: he’s unlikely to repeat his past season, he’s costly, and he’s 32 years old.
But this has been a summer of sensibility, so it’s unclear if other general managers would even take the Wideman bait. And why would they, with Franson available on the open market?
Franson would be a nice addition – a top four of him, Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton would be stellar – and the longer his free agency goes on, the cheaper he’ll probably end up being. But as of right now, there’s next to no room for him in Calgary.
Something will give. Eventually.