The Cap, Waivers, and the Defenseman Shuffle

The Calgary Flames are in good shape defensively heading into the 2015-16 season.

They have a roster full of established National Hockey League defenders, with seven players on one-way deals – though Ladislav Smid will likely be on the non-roster injured list for the first part of the season.

But looking ahead, the Flames have a few tough decisions to make on their back-end.


The two biggest concerns right now are Ryan Wilson and Keegan Kanzig.

Wilson’s in camp on a try-out. He’s a pretty good puck-moving defender and, as a guy here on a try-out, is basically a free asset. Presuming that Ladislav Smid is out for a month to begin the season, the Flames can sign Wilson and not really about whether he plays or not. (And Wilson as 7th defender is probably better than Jakub Nakladal if you’re worried about getting Nakladal playing time.) He’s a veteran, he doesn’t necessarily need to play. And when Smid is back, Wilson can be thrown on waivers. If he clears? Great. You have another veteran guy on the farm alongside Aaron Johnson and Dustin Stevenson. If not? Boo hoo, he was a free asset that the organization gave up nothing to grab.

Kanzig’s a different egg, though. He’s 20, and his entry-level deal begins running this season no matter what. That’s an issue if you don’t think he’s quite ready for professional hockey, or if you’re worried about the Stockton Heat (or even Adirondack Thunder) having enough spots on their bluelines for Kanzig to get significant ice time.

If you’re counting on your fingers and toes: Ryan Culkin, Brett Kulak, Kenney Morrison, Jakub Nakladal, Patrick Sieloff, Tyler Wotherspoon, Johnson and Stevenson are already penciled in for minors duty. Right now, Oliver Kylington is a coin-toss, though I think he does end up in Stockton. That’s nine players, ten if Wilson gets signed and goes to the AHL in a month. At that point, you’re basically asking if Keegan Kanzig is better off playing another WHL season or going to the ECHL. I have no idea what the “right” answer is.


Awhile back, I wrote about how excited I am about the summer of 2017. Why? By golly, every contract that could be labeled a “bad deal” is coming off the books.

  • Mason Raymond’s $3.15 million? Gone.
  • Brandon Bollig’s $1.25 million? It’s not hurting them that much in the grand scheme, but gone.
  • Dennis Wideman’s $5.25 million? Gone.
  • Ladislav Smid’s $3.5 million? Gone.
  • Deryk Engelland’s $2.917 million? Gone.

All-told, it’s close to $20 million of less-than-great deals disappearing and giving Brad Treliving some room to maneuver. But that doesn’t help him this summer, with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau needing sizable raises, the team needing to shore up its goaltending, and both Kris Russell and Jiri Hudler coming up for new deals (or unrestricted free agency).

And with the Canadian dollar in the proverbial toilet right now, indications are that we shouldn’t expect the salary cap to go up from its present $71.4 million. Like, at all.

In other words, with the Flames nudging up against the cap this season – before new deals for Mark Giordano, Monahan and Gaudreau kick in – something has to give. And with the Wideman, Smid and Engelland contracts difficult to move, it seems logical to presume that the Flames will begrudgingly send Russell elsewhere before too long and use his $2.6 million cap space elsewhere on their roster for 2016-17.


It’s the final year of waiver exemption for both Jakub Nakladal and Tyler Wotherspoon. Both players are also in the final years of their current deals – Nakladal will be an unrestricted free agent, while Wotherspoon with be a restricted free agent.

I’m wondering where Wotherspoon fits in going forward, though.

Nakladal’s a right shot, has high-level pro experience from Europe and some international experience, and was signed by Brad Treliving. Wotherspoon’s a bit younger, but he’s a left shot, and a Jay Feaster draft pick.

The important things to consider here are the left-handed depth chart and waivers. Ryan Culkin and Brett Kulak are both lefties and coming off pretty solid AHL seasons, and both are waiver exempt through next season. Oliver Kylington might be a pro this season, and he’ll be waiver exempt for about five seasons (or 160 NHL games). If Culkin and Kulak continue their strong play, or Kylington turns into what the scouts hope he can be, Wotherspoon may find himself sliding down the depth charts a bit.

In other words: I wouldn’t be shocked if the Flames weren’t exploring external options for Wotherspoon, lest he become their blueliner equivalent of Max Reinhart down the road.

    • JumpJet

      I wouldn’t rate Wotherspoon that high, but I do think he should get a real shot at the NHL this season. That’s the only way Flames management can find out if he can replace Russell when his contract expires.

      If Wotherspoon can do that and Nakladal ends up being an NHL calibre defenseman (even just on the third pairing) then the Flames are laughing come July 2017.

  • BurningSensation

    We have enough young assets who are blocked in the system to make trades.

    Wotherspoon, Granlund and others can now be dealt for picks/prospects/pro assets without upsetting the develoment applecart.

    I also would jump for joy if BT packaged one or more of the bad contracts (Engelland!) to free up cap space to sign the kids who are already going atomic.

  • if Ryan Wilson impresses and can stay healthy, he’s good enough to be Top 4 on this team. Big if, of course, as he only played 3 games last season, but prior to that he’s had great possession numbers and he’s put up good offensive numbers as well. I feel he’d be a better option than Engelland or Smid anyway. Put them on waivers.

    Kanzig is bad. Let’s just accept that and move on.

  • RedMan

    i would keep wilson if he looks good in preseason, take a chance on injury prone, and for the #6/7 guy, Engelland rotating with nakladal and/or wotherspoon,

    Gio & Brodie

    Hamilton & Wilson/Russell

    Wideman & Nakladal/Culkin/Wotherspoon/Smid/Engelland

    Wideman is a great PP guy Smid has a niche on the PK clearing the net

    Nakladal and Wotherspoon make sense for development as future players

    Engelland does NOT look good on the PK – the forwards literally skate him in circles on the cycle.

  • everton fc

    My ideal, in terms of defence.

    Gio/Brodie/Hamilton/Russell/Wideman for one more season. Not necessarily all together – I thought Gio and Nakladal looked good last night. But the goal should be to make a deeper run this season. All the parts are there.

    6/7 – Nakladal/Wotherspoon/Wilson (one has to go either to the AHL or waivers) One big “if” is Wilson’s long-term health. Another is Wotherspoon’s actual ability at the NHL level. Slightly same concern for Nakladal.

    Smid is LTIR, perhaps. We shall see.

    Engelland is moved to the AHL and given a chance to maybe stick with the organization as a coach down the road, or he’s packaged with a prospect to a team trying to maintain the cap floor.

    All other d-men either to juniors or AHL/ECHL.

    ECHL – Seiloff. Kanzig, too, unless they send him back to the “W” to learn how to skate, control himself so he doesn’t take stupid penalties, and develop a better all-around game. At this point, he looks to be a bit of a bust. Ditto Seiloff. Both seem expendable.

    And I don’t see Russell moving. He’ll sign on the cheap and be here as a 5/6 d-man. This is my hope. He’s a winner.

  • Trevy

    Wotherspoon is an ok player. He doesn’t do anything that gets him noticed or be associated with when his name is mentioned. He’s not aggressive, he’s not a big point producer, he’s not a shot blocker, he just does everything on an average level. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, but it’s not what exemplifies a Flames defenseman. I really believe Hartley and BT are going to give him every opportunity to showcase himself and unless he somehow changes his game to impress the brass, his days are numbered. We have far too many dman that are catching him and will surely pass him on the depth chart. I think what you see is what you get with Wotherspoon and that may not be good enough…for the Flames anyways.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Based on the very small sample size of a single pre-season game, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s our love able Czech defenceman that’s providing leadership in Stockton if/when he’s healthy.

    Wilson was really good last night.

  • wot96

    Barring injury to one of the starting five, or in Smid’s case a regression to his ability of three years ago, neither Smid nor Engelland should see the inside of the Saddledome again as a Flames player. Their cost is irrelevant (always earned, never given and see also sunk cost fallacy). The fact is they are not good at hockey.

    Nakladal and/or Wotherspoon [edit – or Wilson – ]can take their role except, maybe, for the whole throwing/catching knuckles part. But hey, that’s what Bollig is there for.

    As for toughness on D, is everyone not forgetting that Gio can play as tough as you need. I don’t think Hamilton will be a cream puff in that regard either, though maybe he won’t exactly own a Dustin Brown like Gio did.

    • wot96

      To be fair, Brown kind of has a glass jaw. He plays rough until someone hits back, then he disappears. Giordano was the first player in the league to figure it out, but he wasn’t the last (as Brown’s disappearance from relevance attests).

    • Reidja

      Let me get this straight. You don’t want Smid or Englland because they are bad at hockey but you do want Bollig around?

      I for one am willing to see Smid play a game or two before declaring his career over, but that’s just me being sentimental I suppose.

      Shipping out Russell at some point makes a lot of sense. It also explains the motivation to build the depth veteran depth that we’ve seen the Flames squire this offseason. Wilson and Nakladal will make the rookies earn a spot. Something Hartley obviously didn’t think Wotherspoon did last season while he did bag skates and ate pop corn.

      These are all nice problems to have for management but some of the older kids better start putting in 7’s or risk getting passed by.

      • MattyFranchise

        Bollig gets to spend a lot of time in the press box and only makes 1.25 mil.

        He’s also durable (Smid isn’t) and he’s better at forward than Engelland is at defense, which isn’t saying much but still, every little bit helps.

      • wot96

        I don’t like Bollig much either for exactly the same reason that I don’t like Smid and Engelland, he’s bad at hockey. But you have 12 forwards in your line up and only 6 defencemen and if you are going to keep a goon, or someone that is bad at hockey, it better be a forward.

        Do I like it? No. Do I think Hartley will ice a team without one guy that can throw them? No. Things will change when Kent is elected Head Coach. Until then, we all better get used to at least one tough guy being on the Flames bench waiting for his turn.

        Now, back to the point, do you really think that any of Wilson, Nakladal or Wotherspoon are really worse than Smid or Engelland? I don’t. I really, really, don’t.

        @ Baalzamon, I will give you Brown and his glass jaw. Exactly the same thing happened to Phaneuf. Once teams saw they could intimidate him by hammering him, his effectiveness in his own zone deteriorated significantly. The point remains though, Gio can be extremely physical when required.

        • everton fc

          Yes, let’s fire the coach. Quit dressing tough guys. Or gritty guys. They have bad fancy stats. That’s why we suck so bad! Hartley is terrible. Let’s bring in Eakins.

          • everton fc

            Who said anything about getting rid of gritty guys? Do you think I want Ferland gotten rid of? No. Who else do the Flames have up front that’s gritty? Frolik, sure, Byron, sure. Pugnacious, no. Gritty, yes.

  • everton fc

    Engelland, Bollig, Smid- send ’em down or eat salary and dump ’em for umpteenth round picks.
    Trade Wideman now while he still has value, maybe even a 3rd rounder. HamDano, Brussels makes your top 4. Wilson & Nakladal (no nickname yet) make up the third pairing and Spooner & Shiller go to Cali and wait for a call up. Mix & match as required by Hartley’s LD/RD pairing fancy. That’s a pretty solid 6D set anywhere, plus good ice time on the farm for the prospective next gen.
    Then that just leaves all those damn fine young forwards to sort out…

  • hulkingloooooob

    i repeat. don’t trade russell (unless you have to) we won’t get what he’s worth in return. no way in hell.

    I’d rather shoot to make some sort of trades like the following:

    granlund and raymond for a 3rd? hell a 6th.
    (yes i actually like granlund quite a bit, but if we can get rid of raymond it’s worth it)

    same idea here:

    trade engelland and wotherspoon for something similar to above. again, i like wotherspoon but with the depth of young guys we have on D i would let him go if it meant we could:

    a) be rid of the big E and
    b) sign russell!

    you want our young guys? gotta take an old guy.
    ha! i’m sure this is not easy to pull off, but big Tree hasn’t let us down yet…

  • everton fc

    You keep Russell, for now. He’ll be valuable down the road as the young kids make their way into the lineup. And he’s only 28.

    Wideman will be the first one moved. You can bet Gio/Brodie/Hamilton will be here for years. Which leaves Russell, Nakladal, Rasmussen, Kylington, Kulak, Culkin, Morrison and Wotherspoon to work on taking the other spots in the next 2-3 years. I think Rasmussen will play in this league. Probable Nakladal, as well, but who knows at what level, and in what capacity. Never forget Babchuk!

    Of the rest, Kylington seems the natural, but I like Culkin’s game. Wotherspoon should be given a chance, and if he does well, great. If he does okay, average, “serviceable”, move him.

    2-3 years from now Gio will be mid-30’s. He may not have the wheels or durability to be our #1 d-man. Something to consider.

    Why does everyone insist on moving Granlund? I’d take him over Shore anyway. Stajan will be gone soon enough and probably end up in the organization at some level. Granlund as a 4th line centre behind Monahan/Bennett/Backlund isn’t a bad thing.

    • MattyFranchise

      Re: Granlund – I see Arnold as offering more in the way of a big, heavy, centre that you probably need in the West to win. I like Granlund but he looks like a secondary scoring kind of guy on a second or third line, probably on the wing. Also, Shore is a righty, which the Flames are short of.

      Plus there are other choices, maybe, at centre that are available, or might be, including Jankowski.

      You make a very good point about the bottom four. There appear to be a bunch of prospects that look like they can play. Great position to be in but that may mean that Smid, Engelland, Russell and Wideman, not necessarily in that order, will be moved or not re-signed.