The next few months are bound to be an interesting time for Calgary Flames observers and a very challenging time for general manager Brad Treliving. With the club in the third season of its rebuilding project, the team is faced with the challenge of furthering the development of their organization’s young players while having an NHL roster that’s chock full of established NHL bodies without a bunch of upside – and that are clogging up spots that could be used to evaluate emerging AHL bodies.
Take, for example, Jakub Nakladal. The Flames have seven NHL defenders on one-way deals (and who are all making $2.6 million and above), which makes it basically impossible – logistically and cap-wise – to give Nakladal a shot at the NHL despite him being strong in the AHL and worthy of a promotion. When your top AHL performers can’t get a shot at a big-league call-up, it could have an impact on the performance of the whole team – if Morgan Klimchuk sees Derek Grant stuck in the AHL quicksand despite killing it, he might not grow to the same extent as he would in an environment with upward mobility.
The Flames might not make the playoffs this season. They’re definitely not winning a Stanley Cup. Treliving is a smart guy. He’s likely aware of this, and has his eye on the team’s long-term development. Here’s a position-by-position look at what the Flames need to do to fuel their future growth.
The Flames have two goaltenders in the organization under pro contracts for 2016-17: Jon Gillies, who will be coming off a major surgery, and Mason McDonald, who will be 20 and eligible to return to the QMJHL. That’s it. Neither is an option for an NHL job, so expect the Flames to be included in talks for every damn goalie that might become available as they’ll need two NHL bodies (one of them might be Karri Ramo) and probably a veteran AHL goalie to mentor Gillies and McDonald.
The challenge here is that the Flames have Ramo (UFA), Jonas Hiller (UFA), Joni Ortio (RFA) and Kevin Poulin (RFA) becoming free agents on July 1. The club might want to retain Ramo for next season, but I can’t imagine many teams are calling about the other three, which makes it a challenge to explore bringing in players with existing contracts prior to the trade deadline – where the heck do you put them?
Likelihood of any moves: Low
This is the messy one.
The Flames have six players on one-way deals for next season (Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton, Deryk Engelland, Dennis Wideman and Ladislav Smid), along with Brett Kulak, Kenney Morrison, Oliver Kylington, Patrick Sieloff, Keegan Kanzig and Ryan Culkin all signed to deals for next year. Rasmus Andersson is also under contract, but like McDonald he could go back to junior for one last season. And beyond the players that have contracts, there’s a possibility that Providence College senior John Gilmour and Boston University sophomore Brandon Hickey could sign deals this spring and go pro full-time next season, which would require places to put them.
Expiring contracts include Kris Russell (UFA), Jakub Nakladal (UFA) and Tyler Wotherspoon (RFA). All could be retained, or all could be jettisoned, as the Flames have (a) depth at this position and (b) very little cap flexibility at this position. If the Flames can somehow, someway move one of Wideman, Smid or Engelland before Feb. 29 to open some cap and roster space up, suddenly they could do interesting things (like go to free agency or trade to find a strong second pairing body). That said, they’ve likely been trying to trade Wideman’s contract since forever with no success, so I wouldn’t count on that.
So do the Flames sell off Russell for picks and prospects? Do they cash out on Wotherspoon given the young depth they have at the AHL level (many of whom have progressed faster than Wotherspoon)? Do they try to flip Nakladal for an asset now if they feel like he won’t re-sign for next season? Or do they make a move at the NHL level to get Nakladal an audition there? There are a lot of different things the Flames can do on the back end.
Likelihood of any moves: High
This is the expensive one.
The Flames have eight players signed for next year at the NHL level: Michael Frolik, Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett, Mason Raymond, Matt Stajan, Lance Bouma, Brandon Bollig and Micheal Ferland. On the farm, they have Garnet Hathaway, Hunter Smith, Austin Carroll, Morgan Klimchuk and Emile Poirier signed for next season. It seems probable that OHL star Andrew Mangiapane goes pro next season (he’ll need to be signed), while Mark Jankowski is also likely to be in the AHL next season (providing he signs).
And thus, the big issue for the Flames this summer is their massive amount of forward free agents organizationally: UFAs Jiri Hudler and David Jones, and RFAs Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Joe Colborne, Josh Jooris, Markus Granlund, Derek Grant, Kenny Agostino, Bill Arnold, Drew Shore, Bryce van Brabant, Turner Elson and Freddie Hamilton. I would expect Treliving to move Heaven and Earth to get Gaudreau and Monahan signed long-term, but I have no read on whether or not the Flames wish to move or retain the rest of these guys. Considering that Mangiapane and Jankowski are on their way in, likely some bodies have to be headed elsewhere in order to open up pro spots for them.
I fully expect the Flames to trade Hudler prior to the trade deadline. Beyond that, the team could be extremely busy flipping other expiring contracts for future assets, or they could stand pat and attempt to retain the majority of them. Neither approach would surprise me. Do the Flames keep Colborne? Do they think Jooris has value? Do they think Granlund is an NHL player? Do they think Agostino is an NHL player given his AHL success? Do they hold onto van Brabant and Elson as AHL role guys (or do they feel like either has more upside than that)?
Likelihood of any moves: High
OH, AND THE DRAFT, TOO
Treliving really values drafting and development and after shipping out his team’s top three picks last summer to acquire Dougie Hamilton, does he want to make it up to his scouting team by acquiring additional draft picks? This summer’s free agency class thins out quickly after the tippity-top guys, making it seem like adding picks heading into the summer could be a huge bargaining chip going forward considering how cash (and cap)-strapped a lot of teams project to be.
(I mean, look at how well it worked for them last summer.)
For what it’s worth, the Flames have 47 active contracts on the books, so they could easily add or subtract from their group.
IT SHOULD BE BUSY
At this point, the Flames are still in a state of flux. They have an identified core group of young studs (and Mark Giordano), but their secondary group is still very much murky and undefined. Based on this fact alone, and considering that the Flames probably won’t become a legitimate threat until they define their secondary group, I very much expect Treliving to be busy in the next several weeks leading up to the trade deadline.