The Calgary Flames have a number of decisions to make this offseason with their pending restricted free agents. All in all, Calgary has 13 potential RFA’s on their hands, but there’s no guarantee all of those players will end up qualifying for restricted status. The first four players we’ll profile are short on NHL experience but all pose interesting questions when it comes to their future with the Flames organization.
The deadline for teams to qualify their pending restricted free agents is June 30th. If you’re unfamiliar with the process, it is pretty simple. If the Flames extend a qualifying offer to a pending RFA, that player will keep his restricted status and the team will retain his rights while contract negotiations continue. If Calgary decides not to tender a qualifying offer, though, that player would become unrestricted and would be free to sign anywhere they want come July 1st.
Here’s what we’re looking at for our profiles over the next few weeks:
- Today – Bill Arnold, Kenny Agostino, Turner Elson, Bryce Van Brabant
- May 24 – Drew Shore, Freddie Hamilton, Tyler Wotherspoon
- May 27 – Joni Ortio, Kevin Poulin
- May 31 – Josh Jooris
- June 3 – Joe Colborne
You’ll notice two big name absentees to that rundown in Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, but there’s really no point in putting together a profile on either. As interesting as a column with insight like “yes, definitely sign him” would be, I’ll give FlamesNation a little more effort. Let’s get to it, shall we?
It’s been almost six full years in Calgary’s system for Arnold; we have to go back to June of 2010 when he was taken in the fourth round of that year’s draft. As such, we’re probably at the stage where Arnold has gone from being a prospect to being considered organizational depth. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it definitely changes the way the team has to think about him going forward.
If the Flames decide to qualify Arnold and sign him to another deal, it’ll be his third contract with the team. Arnold signed a two year entry level deal right out of college in April of 2014 and promptly burnt a year by playing against the Vancouver Canucks in game 82 of that season. As such, Arnold was due for an extension last summer and signed a one year deal, getting us to where things are today.
I like Arnold and I still think there are valid reasons to keep in the fold. As a centre, he plays an important position and we all know how vital depth down the middle is. While his offensive numbers (52 GP, 9 G, 13 A, 22 PTS) weren’t outstanding this past season, it’s Arnold’s work in the two-way game that makes him valuable.
The biggest challenge for the Flames with Arnold is figuring out what he is. At the age of 24, is he a player with NHL upside? Or is he cemented as a depth guy who might get a recall here and there? There’s a big difference between Paul Byron and Ben Street, after all, and Calgary needs to figure out what path Arnold is likely going to take.
Verdict: I still think there’s something there with Arnold, so I’d qualify him and bring him back on another short term deal. I still think there’s a chance he could be a late bloomer like Byron, and that’s enough for me.
The similarities between Agostino and Arnold are rather striking. For instance, they were taken 32 picks apart in the 2010 Draft; Arnold went 108th overall to Calgary while Pittsburgh took Agostino 140th. Both players won NCAA national championships and completed their full four years of school, and both players jumped to the NHL immediately after their senior seasons concluded. Their situations within the Flames organization are rather similar as well.
Much like Arnold, Agostino has likely crossed the threshold from prospect to depth player. The same questions being asked by the Flames in our first profile are likely being asked about Agostino, too. What is his NHL upside? Does he have a shot of playing in the show full time?
The good news for Agostino is what he was able to accomplish during the 2015-16 campaign. With 23 goals and 57 points in 65 games, Agostino led the Stockton Heat in scoring and was one of their most consistent players all year long. As a reward, he was recalled by Calgary late in the season and played a pair of NHL games.
The Flames were very happy about Agostino’s season so it would stand to reason he’ll get qualified and signed to another deal. I’m not sure if we’re talking about a guy who can crack an NHL roster full time, but I do know he works his tail off and was very appreciated in Stockton this past season. That should be a positive sign when it comes to his immediate future with the team.
Verdict: For me, Agostino has earned another deal. He performed admirably at the AHL level and has taken noticeable steps in his progression. He should get another year to see if that progression can continue.
Elson has never failed to record a point in an NHL game, so this one seems like a no-brainer to me. While I say that tongue-in-cheek, my facts are not inaccurate! Remember, Elson was recalled by the Flames for their regular season finale in Minnesota and recorded an assist in his first ever NHL game. With three full years of professional hockey under his belt, what’s next for the former captain of the Red Deer Rebels?
Unlike the first two guys we profiled, I don’t think there are as many questions about Elson. He is what he is, and that’s not a bad thing. All Elson does is work, work, and more work and he sets a tone as a result. All the guy knows how to do is bust his ass and that’s going to keep him employed in pro hockey for a long time.
Because of those traits, and because he’s been a pretty effective AHLer, I don’t think his NHL upside matters quite as much. I actually don’t think it’s out of the question we could see Elson spend some decent time in the show as a fourth liner at some point, but if he doesn’t, oh well. At the very least, he’s a nice guy to have on the farm for a variety of reasons.
Verdict: There’s no reason to say no to Elson returning next year. If he was an unrestricted free agent, the conversation is different, but he’s not. While he’s still under your control, Elson is a good player to have in your back pocket.
Bryce Van Brabant
Of this foursome, Van Brabant is the player most in danger of being cut loose, at least in my opinion. I say that not because the former college free agent signing has been horrible or anything of the sort, because that’s not true. But with a cap of 50 contracts, pragmatic thinking wins the day more often than not, and that might be the case here.
What it comes down to is whether or not Van Brabant has a future in the organization. When you’re dating someone, there’s always that question of the future and that applies here. Does Van Brabant have a long term future with the team? Personally, it’s tough for me to see.
Van Brabant has been a good soldier in the American League and played 62 games with Stockton this past season. His numbers (7 G, 9 A, 16 PTS) were just okay but I think he’s proven he can be a serviceable minor leaguer. Unfortunately, that isn’t always enough when the cold hard facts of business enter the equation.
Calgary has made some difficult choices like this in recent years. Whether it be Joey Leach (unsigned after being drafted), Max Reinhart (traded), or Ben Hanowski (not qualified), it’s not like divesting from Van Brabant would be unprecedented.
Verdict: As I said off the top, I don’t think the Flames need to “get rid of” Van Brabant. There is truly no harm in qualifying him and signing him for another year. But if the team needs to be wary of their contract situation, I think Van Brabant would be a candidate to be cut loose.