There was no getting around it: the Flames really, really needed help on the right wing. Jiri Hudler aside, the right side has basically been a desolate wasteland. There may be some hope in a prospect such as Emile Poirier, but not only is he an uncertainty; he’s not enough.
Fortunately for the Flames, in the offseason there were a handful of positive possession right wingers available: guys who were good players, but wouldn’t break the bank.
The very best of the bunch? Michael Frolik. The Flames identified him as such, targeted him, got him, and had a very successful opening to free agency.
Now all that’s left is to see if that pays off.
Pretty much everything about Frolik was perfect for the Flames. He’s 27 years old: not another babyface in the ever-growing collection the Flames have, but not so old that he’d wear out his welcome before his five-year deal expired. He simultaneously provides veteran leadership while also being young enough that he should be able to contribute for the duration of his contract.
That and, well, everything about him on the ice is what you want. He puts up points. He controls the puck. You can deploy him in less-than-desirable circumstances and he’ll still be able to function just fine.
Florida and Winnipeg used him in a more offensive role; Chicago used him in a purely defensive matter. Just how his career pans out in Calgary will likely come down to how the Flames want to use him – and it’s likely his role changes over time.
For 2015-16, though? A new contract, a new team, in the prime of his career? You’re hoping for a lot.
Here’s the big question: where does he start?
The top six seems likely, considering how he’s easily one of the best forwards on the Flames at this point in time. While he does well in defensive roles, it’s not as though that’s the only option for him. He was a consistent top-six scorer with both the Panthers and Jets, and there he wasn’t buried or sheltered – he was deployed in an even manner.
Because he’s one of the Flames’ greatest offensive weapons, it’s likely he starts with a high-scoring centre. He and Mikael Backlund are probably the perfect linemates, but as it stands right now, if Backlund is the third line centre, there aren’t enough wingers on the Flames good enough to push Frolik down that far.
Frolik almost certainly is going to have at least one of the Flames’ young, offensively-skilled budding stars on his line. Whether he helps mentor Sam Bennett or makes his way on to the top line with Johnny Gaudreau, Frolik is going to be playing with some talent.
In 2014-15, Frolik’s most common linemates were Andrew Ladd and Mark Scheifele. Ladd scored 62 points last season; Scheifele, 49. Frolik’s 42 wasn’t as high as theirs were, but consistent with his career to date.
What happens if he ends up with linemates better than they were? Gaudreau and Monahan were 64 and 62-point scorers, so if Frolik finds himself on the top line, he could very well have a career year. The same could happen if he finds himself with Bennett as well, presuming Bennett has a Gaudreau-like rookie season (and it’s certainly not out of the question that he does).
Considering how Frolik has never been this expensive in his career – his top cap hit prior to this season was $3.3 million – perhaps it’s worth looking at what other forwards who have cap hits similar to Frolik’s current $4.3 million. After all, whether warranted or not, there are higher expectations placed on those who draw a higher salary.
Players in that cap range are all at various stages of their careers, from kids on bridge deals to veterans playing out the final years of their big pay days. The 22 forwards who carried cap hits of around $4.3 million in 2014-15 scored an average of 45 points: a number that just so happens to be Frolik’s career high.
Considering how that’s a total he’s reached before, he’s developed since then, and will likely be put in position to score with the Flames, a minimum of 45 points is a perfectly reasonable expectation for his first season with the Flames. Of course, more would be better, and it’s entirely possible this is the first season he cracks 50.
Points aside, you’re definitely expecting Frolik to be a positive possession player: someone who controls the puck and creates offence with it. His job is to be an all around awesome veteran who helps shore up the lineup while helping the younger players, whether by taking tougher zone starts or giving them a quality guy to play with. And at absolute minimum, he can do that much.