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.
WILSON AND KANZIG
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.
NAKLADAL AND WOTHERSPOON
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.