Upcoming Flames restricted free agents

One of the more underrated parts of a team’s off-season is qualifying restricted free agents. It’s not as exciting as the draft or free agency, and doesn’t even carry the shine a new contract has to it. 

Still, come the end of June, teams have to decide who they’re going to keep and who won’t be brought back. With limited spots in both the NHL and AHL, not to mention an overall 50 contract limit, choices have to be made.

There are obvious ones for the Flames. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan will no doubt be back, and regular NHLers like Joe Colborne and Josh Jooris should be qualified. There’s also Joni Ortio, who hasn’t proven himself quite yet, but has at least earned the chance to prove himself.

What about the rest? The Flames currently sit at 46 contracts, with five UFAs expiring, and six new deals slated to kick in next season. Some players may have to be on the way out.

The remaining RFAs the Flames will have to make a decision on are:

  • Kenny Agostino
  • Bill Arnold
  • Bryce Van Brabant
  • Turner Elson
  • Freddie Hamilton
  • Drew Shore
  • Tyler Wotherspoon
  • Kevin Poulin

That’s a collection of six forwards, one defenceman, and one goalie. All should be cheap to qualify, so let’s not worry about dollar figures at this point. None of these players are going to break the bank.

Those who should come back

Kenny Agostino may have only gotten two NHL games this season, but he was also the Stockton Heat’s leading scorer by a fair amount. As a 23-year-old, he scored 23 goals and 57 points over 65 games, an increase of eight goals and 14 points from the previous season, in two fewer games played. He was tied for 12th in overall AHL scoring.

When your farm team’s leading scorer is still relatively young and shows potential to at least be a capable depth forward in the NHL, you bring him back. He’ll be waiver eligible to start next season, but a lot of teams have players like Agostino, so if he fails to make the team out of the gate, that likely won’t be a problem – but he should get more looks to start next season.

Bill Arnold has only played one NHL game since he signed his first professional contract – and if we’re being honest, he probably wouldn’t have gotten even that if he hadn’t been linemates with Johnny Gaudreau in college – and has a relatively unimpressive statline. With just nine goals and 22 points in 52 games this season, he actually fell back quite a bit from his 2014-15 scoring: .62 points per game dropping down to .42. 

Still, Arnold is hardly projected to be an NHL scorer. If anything, he’ll likely be a defensive, bottom six centre. He’s only really had two professional years under his belt, and he’s only 23 (he’ll turn 24 soon), so it’s not worth letting him go just yet. Besides, if the Flames are able to find a suitor for the very much overpriced Matt Stajan, Arnold could be a candidate to fill that spot. At the very least, he should get a chance to audition for it.

Tyler Wotherspoon was the Flames’ go-to call up on defence once Jakub Nakladal made the team. He was a top defenceman in Stockton, and got in 11 NHL games this past season. While he only scored an assist, he did average 14:10 a game in a bottom pairing role. At 5v5, he was a 53.17% CF player – right near the top of the team, even with his limited sample size – and with a 30.43% OZS, wasn’t that sheltered.

Like Agostino and Arnold, Wotherspoon will be waiver-eligible next season; also like Agostino and Arnold, he probably isn’t special enough for a team to claim. After a lacklustre 2014-15 campaign in which he was only able to draw in for the regular season finale (and six playoff games, once the Flames stopped thinking Corey Potter was a better option), Wotherspoon’s play in 2015-16 should have been enough to warrant him a new contract with this team.

The maybes

Turner Elson put together a solid showing for his third professional season. He didn’t improve offensively – he had 30 points over 63 games; the season before, he had 30 points in 59 games – but he did finish fifth in team scoring. The Flames also gave him the chance to make his NHL debut, and he got an assist out of it.

He can’t be a sure bet to be brought back, though. Elson doesn’t have a particularly high ceiling, and the Heat already have a player like Garnet Hathaway who does essentially what he does, plus guys like Micheal Ferland and Lance Bouma in the NHL. There’s nothing particularly special about him: he’s a capable body.

Freddie Hamilton had a career season: 43 points in 62 games. The problem? He posted 43 points in 64 games with the Worcester Sharks just two years ago. That’s not really a lot of improvement for a two-year period, even if F.Ham is only 24 years old.

Still, he was third in team scoring, and had a decent showing over four NHL games, including a goal and an assist. Plus he’s Dougie’s brother, and there’s a chance that might count for something. At absolute worst, he’s clearly able to play in the AHL.

Drew Shore was a late call-up for the Flames, but he didn’t exactly show much over his two games. He did score 38 points over 59 games with the Heat, fourth in team scoring, but the promise he showed when he was in the Florida Panthers’ system hasn’t materialized in Calgary at all.

There doesn’t seem to be a future for him in Calgary. At the same time, there’s a faint possibility something might come from him – but it’s looking less likely as time passes.

Kevin Poulin was acquired for nothing when the Heat were in desperate need of a goaltender. He posted a .909 SV% over 29 games with the Heat, and was basically their top goalie once Jon Gillies went down.

Poulin is only 26 years old, and has 50 NHL games under his belt. The Flames are a mess when it comes to goaltending; all we can really look forward to at this point is Gillies resuming his role as the starter in the AHL, Mason McDonald likely turning pro and either playing backup in the AHL or getting starting time in the ECHL, and Ortio potentially being an NHL backup. So if the Flames want McDonald to get more games in, Poulin could be an option to back up for Gillies next season. Is that worth an NHL deal, though?

Thanks, but no thanks

Bryce van Brabant was signed out of his junior year at Quinnipiac University when he unexpectedly shot up to 15 goals and 22 points. (Spoiler alert: most of those goals came on the power play.) He’s now played two full professional seasons, and offensively at least, there’s been zero improvement: he’s gone from 15 points in 52 AHL games in 2014-15 to 16 points in 62 AHL games this past season.

Van Brabant has size, but size alone can’t be worth an NHL deal. He’s not improving, he’s not likely to ever improve, and he wasn’t even a go-to guy at any point for the Heat this season. There’s no reason for him to take up a contract spot whatsoever.

  • cberg

    I would drop Van Brabant and Elson, and hope that Shore and Arnold can bang the doors down this year or be traded for assets. I like FHamilton, Agostino and Wotherspoon as depth guys making the team if the right trades go down.

    New guys on Stockton come Fall are going to be Jankowski?, Pribyl?, Karnaukov?, Mangiapanne, Kanzig, Andersson and McDonald at the least. Its going to get crowded!

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      I haven’t seen Shore do enough to warrant a new contract. Hamilton, Arnold, Agostino and Spoon are keepers for now. I was always a bit high on Arnold, since he was consistent in scoring on the Boston College team, while Hayes only showed up in his final season playing with Johnny Hockey. He may never be a top 6 center, but he might actually have more to offer than he is being used for.

    • Baalzamon

      Karnaukhov is too young to play in the AHL next season. The only reason Andersson can is because he was born in ’96. The only reason Kylington can (and could last year) is because he was drafted while under contract in Europe (that is, he wasn’t a CHL player, and he wasn’t playing in the CHL on loan like Julius Honka was in 2014).

      Besides, even if Pavel was eligible for the AHL, he’s not too good for the WHL yet.

      As to the rest of the new faces you mentioned, I think it’s safe to say Kanzig and McDonald are bound for the ECHL.

      • cberg

        OK on Karnaukov. I disagree on Kanzig totally and the goalie situation hasn’t been set yet, though McDonald starting in the ECHL has some merit.

        Oh and I forgot, Pollock will also be in Stockton.

        • Baalzamon

          I disagree on Kanzig totally

          Kylington, Andersson, Kulak, Culkin, Stevenson, Morrison, Sieloff.

          That’s a list of seven defensemen who WILL be available to the Heat next year. All seven are better, irrefutably, than Kanzig.

          Kanzig is headed for the ECHL.

  • T&A4Flames

    Tyler Wotherspoon: I disagree that he wouldn’t get claimed if put on waivers. Teams are always looking for Dmen and Wotherspoon has shown that he can play in the NHL , at least as a #7 for some team low on NHL caliber Dmen.

    • Parallex

      I think he’d pass through waivers at the beginning of the season. At this stage of his career he’s a dime a dozen d-man. Maybe teams pick him up mid-season if he makes the team but at the beginning of the season when teams are healthy they’d just go with one of their own guys.

      Really I think he has a ok shot at making the Flames out of camp (depending on whether Calgary buys out Wideman/Smid’s health/Nakladal resigns).

    • piscera.infada

      Agostino will be a solid middle-six, possession driving NHL winger. You have to keep him for that reason.

      Ari’s list of “who should come back” is exactly as it should be.

    • DoubleDIon

      Disagree completely. I think Agostino and Arnold both have a significant chance of playing in the NHL. If we didn’t have Stajan, Raymond and Bollig I think they already would have been. They both are at least as good as Bouma presently and he’s an NHL regular.

  • deantheraven

    Sign Agostino, Arnold, Wotherspoon, Hamilton, Shore and Poulin to two-ways. Then work a deal to make space for at least 2 forwards and 1 defenceman. At least 2 of Stajan, Bouma,Wideman and Engelland are moveable for something (anything!)like 2nd or 3rd round picks and Smid should be ready to retire and/or go to Europe next year. The first 3 would fit on many teams looking to add a combination of salary (cap floor) and experienced place holders (until the expansion draft), and Engelland’s value actually went up this season so he may even be able to net us another mid-round pick. Or sign the aboves from the A team and package one or two of them with one or two of the overpriced placeholders to make room on the roster and against the cap. We need the space for at least 1 top 6 winger. A goalie might factor into the money crunch if BT and co. decide to get a number one on a longer deal and leave Ortio unprotected come Expansion Draft Day.
    Poulin will make a good 1A or back up in Stockton while Gillies rounds into form and Macdonald gets the starter job in Glen Falls.
    With all this, next year’s average age comes down, salaries stay low so we have room for a top 6 RW, and the team hopefully becomes a little more competitive, so we’re not looking forward to the 2017amateur draft so much , just dreading the expansion.

    And Bollig. Gawd, I forgot Bollig. Just send him down and eat the salary. Make space for somebody worth trading.

  • Baalzamon

    The Flames might need to keep Stajan’s contract, though. Don’t forget that the expansion draft has a minimum exposed salary limit.

    Stajan’s cap hit might be the difference between keeping and exposing Frolik.

    • Kevin R

      Why don’t we flip Stajan, one of our 2nd rounders & Shore or Poulin to Pitt for Fleury. Looking like that Murray kid is the future in Pitt effective immediately. Gilles will need at least 1 more year in the AHL & at least 1 year of backup. So the 3 years of Fleury may work OK. We then bring in Mr Arnold or Mr Grant in to centre that 4th line at way cheaper price. Just spit balling. That time of year to put out stupid stuff.

  • everton fc

    My opinions:

    •Kenny Agostino – Sign
    •Bill Arnold – Sign
    •Bryce Van Brabant – Pass
    •Turner Elson – Sign
    •Freddie Hamilton – sign
    •Drew Shore – Pass
    •Tyler Wotherspoon – Sign
    •Kevin Poulin – Sign

    I wouldn’t be shicked if Jooris is signed and moved this summer. Ditto Bouma. Arnold needs to have a good 2016-17 campaign, in my opinion. He slipped a bit, as did Poirier. Elson’s a guy you want on the farm, I think. At least over Shore. But Pollock is in need of a spot, and I think he’ll be a real surprise – a steal, as they say – who can play centre or wing. Nice to have that flexibility. I think Pollock also surprises at camp.

  • Stu Cazz

    Room needs to be made for the new crop of drafts that will play in Stockton. I also think BT will want to be well under 50 contracts to start the season. My keepers are Wotherspoon, Arnold, Agostino and Hamilton.

  • freethe flames

    For those who want to give up on Shore; he is a center, he is a RH, he is a proven AHL player and he has skill; everything an AHL team needs.One of the major reasons our AHL team has missed the playoffs the last two years is a lack of veteran leadership at that level. Both Shore and Grant need to be resigned not because they will be NHLer’s (although they might be) but because for this organization to grow a playoff run in the AHL would help.