The Flames look pretty full up on defence. In addition to the top three of Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton, there are also the expensive contracts of Dennis Wideman, Ladislav Smid, and Deryk Engelland. Throw in Jyrki Jokipakka, and that’s seven guys already.
But that’s not all. There’s interest in bringing back Jakub Nakladal, so the Flames would have to make room for him. They also just qualified RFA Tyler Wotherspoon, who looks about ready to try out for regular NHL duty. That’s nine guys in all, and not all of them can make it.
So exploring UFA defencemen probably isn’t on the Flames’ list of priorities. Then again, who really knows what’s going on behind the scenes? To that end, let’s take a quick look at some defencemen who could be bargain finds come free agency: because maybe, a spot actually will end up opening up.
Shhh. Stop laughing. That’s Stanley Cup Champion Justin Schultz to you.
For as much as Schultz’s name may have become maligned in Edmonton, he put himself back together in Pittsburgh. He likely isn’t a top pairing guy, and he’s probably not going to see a salary close to $4 million for a while yet, if ever again; however, put Schultz in the right circumstances – decent enough minutes played, respectable zone starts – and he might just be able to provide value in the bottom half of a defence group. After all, he should still be able to get you some points, too – just don’t overwhelm him.
The good news is, the Flames have the man power up front to be able to give him an easier go of things than the Oilers ever could have. This only works if he’s willing to take a drastic pay cut, though. And with so few defencemen out there available, he may not be an option.
|25||52-0-5-5||17:20||+1.39||+3.88||3 yr/$2M AAV|
The Flames already picked up one Ottawa castoff; why not another?
Wiercioch may not be a big scorer – although his 13 points the season before, and 23 the season before that, and his 0% shooting percentage this season may disagree. It was a down year for him points-wise, but as far as sheltered bottom pairing defencemen go, Wiercioch can provide value for you. And his down year in offence might just see him come cheaper than he should otherwise.
The Flames definitely have worse depth options than they could find in Wiercioch. And if his point totals rebound to what they were at the start of his contract, they’re laughing.
|24||47-1-4-5||16:54||-0.21||+17.67||3 yr/$900k AAV (ELC)|
Merrill doesn’t have a ton to show in his short career thus far. He hasn’t played big minutes, he hasn’t really put up points, he’s heavily sheltered and his relative corsi isn’t that great in context.
All these things are going to make him a rather cheap pickup, though; and with only three years in the league and sitting at just 24 years old, there may still be potential yet for him. Besides, he’s only one year removed from averaging 20 minutes a game and putting up 14 points, with similar corsi and drastically less sheltered starts. There’s hope there yet.
|26||65-5-12-17||16:44||+0.11||+6.22||3 yr/$683,333 AAV|
Connauton only has three years of NHL experience, and he’s already played for three different teams. And at 26, he’s starting to enter that point where it’s time for him to be something.
His points totals were decent, though he required sheltered zone starts to keep his head above water. He doesn’t need to play huge minutes to contribute offensively, though – and at least, for as sheltered as he may be, he’s still keeping his head above water relative to his teammates. That, and he’s seriously not going to cost that much at all; not at his journeyman rate.
It really sucked when the Flames couldn’t bring back Schlemko after his waiver wire pickup. He was instantly awesome to watch (that shootout move out of nowhere!), and he came cheap enough, but the Flames simply couldn’t guarantee him a spot on the NHL roster.
And they likely still can’t, considering the number of bodies. Still, it’s awesome to look at how far he’s come in the year since. This past season was the most he’s ever played, in terms of both games and average ice time, and it’s the most he’s ever scored. As far as sheltered bottom pairing defencemen go, one could do significantly worse than ol’ Schlemmers.
|25||38-2-5-7||18:33||-0.69||-7.12||2 yrs/$625k AAV|
Trotman is really only just getting started – but his efforts from 2015-16 are pretty good ones. He was buried, but didn’t suffer too much for it; he didn’t put up too many points, but he comes at an extremely cheap rate, and can play decent minutes.
What’s more – considering how little experience Trotman has, he could be more of a competition option than everyone else. Can’t crack it against the other depth options the Flames have? Then go to the minors to work on your game. Except if that’s the deal, would Trotman accept it – or find another team that can guarantee him a spot?
Putting it all together
Via Corsica, here’s how these six compare together:
If I’m the Flames, and I’m actually looking to sign a free agent defenceman – a tough task in and of itself, considering how many bodies are already vying for a spot – then I’m looking at Trotman. He played, by far, the most difficult circumstances of them all, and his relative corsi wasn’t even that bad comparatively. He’s also young and unproven, which means he should come in cheap; it also opens the opportunity to see how well he would fare in more sheltered circumstances.
Wiercioch would be a close second, but since he’s more established, there will probably be more teams lining up for him.
Will the Flames be going after an extra defenceman, with Nakladal still to re-sign and Wotherspoon qualified and pushing for a spot? It’s hard to say – but if they can move somebody out, then there wouldn’t be any harm in creating that extra bit of competition, especially if they can pick someone up for cheap.