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.
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.