Flames qualify 4 RFAs, 9 headed to unrestricted free agency

Today is the deadline to qualify restricted free agents. The Flames had 13 going into this date, and therefore, 13 decisions to make.

Those decisions appear to have been made – and at first glance, there seem to be cuts across the board.

Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Tyler Wotherspoon, and Freddie Hamilton have all been qualified.

Joe Colborne, Josh Jooris, Joni Ortio, Kenny Agostino, Bill Arnold, Turner Elson, Drew Shore, Bryce Van Brabant, and Kevin Poulin have not. They are set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1.

The qualified

There isn’t too much to look at here. Naturally, the Flames are going to keep ahold of Monahan and Gaudreau’s rights for as long as they possibly can; with the draft now complete and a goalie acquired, they’re priorities number one and two for the club.

Wotherspoon, meanwhile, was the Flames’ most frequent call-up on defence once Jakub Nakladal officially made the Flames. He wasn’t exceptional over his 11 NHL games this past season, but he did provide a pretty solid presence on the bottom pairing (and was better than some incumbent, expensive veterans). He’ll likely get a shot at making the NHL club this season.

F.Ham, meanwhile, is older brother to Dougie Hamilton. This was his first season in the Flames organization. He was one of the Stockton Heat’s top offensive players, and had a solid four games with the NHL club. It doesn’t hurt to have him stick around at all.

The unqualified

With so many restricted free agents not tendered qualifying offers, there’s a lot to discuss here. They can be grouped into two categories: surprising, and not surprising.

Not surprising

Poulin doesn’t appear to have a role in the organization anymore. The Flames signed David Rittich, a goalie from the Czech league who will likely find a landing spot with the Stockton Heat. They also have Jon Gillies coming back, and Mason McDonald turning pro. Poulin was a stop gap this past season, but that was about it.

Van Brabant had limited upside, and was not progressing. Shore had more upside, but was also appearing to stagnate. Elson falls into a similar category: and with contract spots at a premium, teams have to pick and choose just who they want to carry.


Arnold has been long heralded as an answer to play as a centre in the bottom six. He doesn’t put up great offensive numbers, but his value is on the defensive side of the puck.

Agostino has been one of the Flames’ top scorers in the AHL in his first two professional seasons. He has also only played two NHL games in them, during which he wasn’t given much of a chance. If he isn’t brought back, then it must be because despite some pretty good numbers, the Flames didn’t see a future with him. This would also mean the Flames effectively got only Morgan Klimchuk in exchange for Jarome Iginla.

NHL-level surprising

Colborne, Jooris, and Ortio were all regulars with the Flames this past season. They aren’t gone yet, however; we’ll get into this in the next section.

What’s next?

At some point, Gaudreau, Monahan, Wotherspoon, and F.Ham will be signed for real. The Flames still retain their rights, but no deals have yet been completed.

However, just because a player has not been qualified does not mean he cannot still be re-signed. The Flames didn’t qualify Paul Byron back in 2014, but brought him back as an unrestricted free agent anyway… at a cheaper rate.

Byron’s cap hit for the 2013-14 season was $643,500. The following season, it was a reduced rate of $600,000. So even though the Flames chose to let nine of their RFAs go, they aren’t necessarily gone yet.

Let’s get this out of the way: players who are not RFAs cannot go to arbitration.

At the draft, Brian Burke indicated that the Flames would be comfortable with Ortio playing as a backup next season, but didn’t outright say that their tandem for 2016-17 would be Brian Elliott and Ortio. There could still options to be pursued there. Ortio previously had a cap hit of $600,000.

Jooris, meanwhile, had a $975,000 cap hit this past season; his offensive production dropped, so the Flames may be looking for cheaper value with him as well. He does fill a need as a reliable depth guy on this team.

Colborne is obviously the biggest name here: and not qualifying him was extremely important, because now, he cannot go to arbitration. Lance Bouma took the Flames to arbitration the year before. The team went through the process, but re-signed him before a verdict was announced, giving him $2.2 million for three years: ultimately, a deal that doesn’t look like it’s going to pay off.

Colborne has a greater history of scoring, but this past season was a massive boost for him – one that may not be sustainable. Throw that in with his salary demands (reported earlier to be around $3.6 million) and the Flames’ impending cap crunch, and Colborne going to arbitration is something they simply cannot risk.

  • Scary Gary

    At 3+ million Colborne is replaceable. He’d have had 12 goals (7 fewer) in 2015/2016 with his normal 12-12.5 shooting percentage.

    Bouma enjoyed a 15.5% shooting percentage in 2014/2015 which translated to 10 more goals than he’d normally score at 6%.

    You’ve heard this all before but it’s worth restating. People made the argument that Bouma’s shooting percentage would remain high because he drives the net and picks up garbage goals. I’ve heard the same arguments for Colborne but he isn’t Tomas Holmstrom.

    Compare newly signed Alex Chiasson to Joe Colborne’s 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 seasons and you won’t see much of a difference. Chiasson is a year younger, also big, plays right wing and has signed for $800,000. I think Colborne has been replaced.