The Calgary Flames will have a handful of unrestricted free agents after this season. Deryk Engelland and Dennis Wideman will likely be gone; at least one of Brian Elliott or Chad Johnson will probably stay.
But it’s Kris Versteeg who’s the most interesting upcoming UFA. Almost out of the NHL this season thanks to insurance complications preventing him from going to Switzerland, he ended up signing a PTO with the Edmonton Oilers.
After which point he said thanks but no thanks, and decided to skip south about three hours and join up with the Flames instead. Now, 16 games in the season – 10 missed thanks to both upper and lower body issues – he has seven points, and is sixth on the team in points per game. He’s a winger that can play either side, and one of the few older guys on this team.
He’s also been rather, well, good. So that begs the question: do you try to bring him back?
The case to let Versteeg go
Letting Versteeg go can happen in one of two ways: either he isn’t re-signed, and walks at the end of the season, or he’s traded at the trade deadline.
The latter is preferable to the former, because losing an asset for nothing sucks, especially when you can avoid it. And Brad Treliving has been pretty good about not losing assets for nothing through the two trade deadlines he’s been the Flames’ GM through so far.
If Versteeg can net you an extra pick – even if it’s only, say, a fourth rounder – you take it. The Flames traded away David Jones to acquire an extra sixth round pick, and that sixth round pick is currently leading the Victoria Royals in scoring and is tied for 22nd in the WHL, so having Matthew Phillips is better than having had Jones for a couple of extra games.
When you’re rebuilding, you don’t get to be that picky, and every little additional asset can count. Versteeg can provide that. Compound that with the fact that he’s 30 years old and has had his fair share of health issues, and keeping him around as opposed to getting that one extra asset may not be the best move.
The case to keep Versteeg
On the other hand, a draft pick is great and all, but an actual NHLer is better. And the Flames can’t field a team of just kids. Assuming the expected departures take place, next season the Flames would be opening up with all of three people 30 or over on the roster: Mark Giordano, Troy Brouwer, and one of the goalies.
There isn’t any particular reason Versteeg can’t be a part of that group. He scored 38 points in 77 games last season; the year before that, 34; the year before that, 36. He’s on pace for 32 this year, injuries and all. This is a guy who can probably at least be counted on for 30+ points while being able to play either wing. He checks a lot of needs for the Flames.
Not only that, but he’s a responsible player who generally doesn’t hurt his team. His underlyings with the Flames haven’t been the best this season – his 47.33% CF at 5v5 is the seventh worst on the Flames, and that’s with an OZS of 33.33% – seventh best on the Flames. But through his three seasons before joining the Flames – on the Panthers, Blackhawks, Hurricanes, and Kings – he’s been a positive Corsi Rel player (typically just by a bit, although last season he was a +5.37 guy).
Granted, he had better offensive zone starts on those teams, too. But still, despite his less-than-stellar underlyings so far this season (on, let’s be honest, a less-than-stellar team), Versteeg doesn’t appear to be someone who has cost the Flames on the ice.
Another virtue to Versteeg? He’ll likely come cheap. If he continues to play this season the way he has, probably not six-figure cheap, but if he comes in at, say, Lance Bouma money – $2.2 million – then that’s worth it for a perennial 30+ point guy who will generally perform well. Not that the Flames are going to undergo a cap crunch in 2017-18 the way they have this season, but cheap, reliable depth is always a good thing to have, and that’s what Versteeg should be able to provide (when healthy).
The expansion draft
There is one other thing to consider in re-signing Versteeg: Vegas could easily pick him up, and then that’s that.
Either you let Vegas take him – which, in the big picture, wouldn’t be a major loss in and of itself – or you protect him. If you protect him, though, then you’re letting someone else go.
The forwards we’re currently projecting the Flames to protect are Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Troy Brouwer, Michael Frolik, Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett, and Micheal Ferland. Considering where the Flames are at right now, where they’re poised to be in the future, and everyone’s contracts, would you leave one of them exposed in order to keep Versteeg?