On July 1, 2015, the Flames made a notable splash in the free agent market. In desperate need of not only right wingers, but positive possession players in general, they killed two birds with one stone and single-mindedly went after Michael Frolik.
It worked, as Frolik became the Flames’ highest-paid forward of the past season. A couple of injuries here and there aside, he delivered exactly what was expected – though it could have been a better year had he actually been utilized more often.
As long as he wasn’t comically buried in defensive zone starts as he had been in Chicago, Frolik has offered a steady promise throughout the years: he will be at least a half a point per game player. With 32 points (15 goals, 17 assists) through 64 games in his first season in Calgary, he delivered, and was ninth in Flames scoring. He also had 155 total shots on net, which was tied with Mikael Backlund for fifth on the Flames.
Frolik averaged 15:48 a game, which was fifth out of forward ice time. He was a force defensively, playing 109:48 on the penalty kill: one of just five Flames to play over 100 minutes shorthanded, and behind only Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Backlund, and Matt Stajan in penalty kill ice time (and all four players played more games than he did). He was also one of the most productive players shorthanded: his two goals and four points not only led the Flames, but were tied for eighth in the league.
So despite all of this – the responsibility with which he was entrusted, consistent scoring abilities, and talent at scoring shorthanded – Frolik only received 28:20 total minutes on the powerplay throughout the year. That put him 15th on the Flames, behind players like Joe Colborne, Micheal Ferland, and somehow even Mason Raymond, who only played 29 games all season.
Frolik was brought to the Flames to help shore up the right side of their lineup while adding a strong defensive presence and being able to score roughly 40 points, presuming a healthy year. He fulfilled his end of the bargain – at least, as much as the coaching staff would let him.
Impact on team
Froik wasn’t buried in defensive zone starts, but he wasn’t spoonfed, either. He faced moderate-to-tough competition while still starting the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone, and that’s just at 5v5. And it should be noted that he played these relatively tough circumstances and came out of them with a 5v5 51.44% CF – third behind all Flames regulars, behind only Jakub Nakladal and Backlund, and he had tougher zone starts than both of them.
Right-winger who can thrives in defensive circumstances and has a positive impact on corsi? That’s exactly as Frolik was advertised, and that’s exactly what he did in his first season.
Let’s amend that above statement to include the phrase “improves his teammates’ performances”, because out of the top 10 players he played with this past season, that was true in every single case but one: for whatever reason, it doesn’t appear he and Johnny Gaudreau were particularly compatible in their (admittedly limited) shared ice time.
And to that note, there was only one player better away from Frolik than Frolik was without him: Backlund. Backlund elevates virtually everybody’s game, though, so it’s no slight on Frolik; the fact he can do the same for just about anybody else in the lineup is an incredibly powerful tool that makes the pair effective linemates.
Frolik is also a good measuring stick of just who, on the Flames, was a useful player to have. Dougie Hamilton, Joe Colborne, Mark Giordano, Sam Bennett, and T.J. Brodie all improved from his presence – especially Colborne and Bennett.
On the flipside, guys like Dennis Wideman, Deryk Engelland, and Kris Russell appeared to be beyond all hope. They dragged Frolik down into the depths with them.
Frolik is a great player who will boost other good players’ performances – but even he can’t work miracles.
What comes next?
Well, Frolik is still signed for another four seasons at a $4.3 million cap hit, so the Flames better get used to having him around. His presence clearly isn’t a problem, though, and it’s entirely possible he puts together even better seasons under a new coach – one who will hopefully be willing to use him a little more, especially if sparse powerplay options continue.
Frolik is only 28 years old, so he’s young enough yet, but still a veteran on this team. It remains to be seen if he’ll still be paired with Backlund throughout his tenure in Calgary, just as it remains to be seen how big a role Backlund will end up playing as Bennett continues to develop.
But there’s no doubting that no matter what, Frolik is a very strong presence on the top nine this team is hoping to build. He checks all the right boxes – and comes exactly as advertised.