For many people that follow the Calgary Flames, July 1, 2017 has long been circled on the calendar. In addition to being Jarome Iginla’s 40th birthday, it’s also the date that several hefty contracts signed by the Flames expire. That means that as of the end of this playing season, players like Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland have their deals expire and hit the unrestricted free agent market.
That’s the good news. The bad news is the Flames have to replace them, and try to do so without breaking the bank. We’ve taken a look at a few ways they might be able to do just that.
We’re going to operate with a few fundamental underlying assumptions:
- The Flames don’t have the resources to internally replace their departing free agents by graduating AHL players.
- The Flames aren’t going to retain Dennis Wideman or Deryk Engelland.
- To at least some extent, Glen Gulutzan is going to rely on shot-balanced defensive pairings, meaning for the most part he’ll stick to one right shot and one left shot on each pair.
The third assumption is probably the most controversial, but probably the most important for what’s going to follow. A look at the usage of the Flames’ vaunted big three defenders (Dougie Hamilton, Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie) reveals they’ve been used almost exclusively with guys that shoot the other way:
- Hamilton (right) has primarily played with Giordano (left), Jokipakka (left) and Brodie (left)
- Giordano (left) has primarily played with Hamilton (right), Brodie (left) and Wideman (right)
- Brodie (left) has primarily played with Wideman (right), Giordano (left) and Engelland (right)
Brodie can play both sides so he’s a bit of a wild card, but so far the preference shown by Gulutzan is leftie/rightie pairings. Presumably this preference will guide the signings this summer, but won’t likely be used as a reason to sign somebody crappy with a right shot over somebody good with a left shot.
Top Four Fits
If Brad Treliving goes hunting for right shot defenders, there are a bunch available on the free agent market. The crown jewel of the market, and the absolute best-case scenario for Calgary, would be Kevin Shattenkirk. He’s 27, a right shot, and his style of play would be a nice complement to Brodie, Giordano and Hamilton. He’s currently making $4.25 million with the Blues and the challenge for the Flames would be signing him to a deal similar to what Hamilton’s making, as Shattenkirk is likely to get a lot of offers over the summer.
Beyond Shattenkirk, Cody Franson is a player that we’ve written about here quite a bit in recent years. The reason? He’s pretty damn good. He turns 30 this summer and doesn’t have incredible offensive numbers, so he’d be relatively inexpensive compared to Shattenkirk, but Franson’s value is that he’s pretty decent at everything. Considering the Flames’ primary need is a right shot blueliner that won’t drag whoever he’s playing with down, Franson could be an ideal fit. He’s making $3.325 million right now and probably won’t get a massive raise.
Another potential second pairing option could be Michael Stone, a former longtime member of the Calgary Hitmen. He’s a right shot and has been an absolute minute-eater for the Arizona Coyotes over the past few years. He’s making $4 million this season and if he decides to leave Arizona, Calgary could be a kind of homecoming for him. (And I’m sure he’d be stoked to get to play in Calgary’s top four after his time in Arizona.) He’ll be 27 this summer, so he’s still fairly young.
If the Flames aren’t too married to shot balance (e.g., they’re fine with Brodie playing the right side), there are a couple interesting options available. Chief among them are Dmitry Kulikov ($4.333 million cap hit, 27) and Karl Alzner ($2.8 million, 27); neither has a history of being a consistent point producer but both are above-average puck movers who could complement Calgary’s core well. Michael del Zotto ($4 million, 27) could also work, though his offense has been really sporadic.
Bottom Pairing Options
Beyond the shinier options, there are a lot of different bottom pairing players available on the free agent market. Which right shot defenders are available to replace Engelland, ideally at a lower cost? There are a lot.
Matt Tennyson ($675,000, 27) has bounced between the NHL and AHL over the past few seasons, but he’s been a solid if unspectacular bottom pairing defender. Philip Larsen ($1.025m, 27) has bounced through organizations (and leagues) over the past few seasons, but when he’s been able to find stability he’s been pretty effective in a lesser role. Paul Postma ($887,500, 27) has been a steady hand on the Jets’ bottom pairing, though his offense hasn’t really consistently materialized. Yannick Weber ($575,000, 28) is probably the player in this mix that has played the most consistently in the NHL. He’s been good for Nashville and his style of play probably fits the puck-moving model the Flames are trying to embrace under their new regime.
These are just the biggest “names” on the market. There are going to be a lot of other, lesser known options available that also probably won’t break the bank. Third pairing defensemen literally do grow on trees. [ed. – That’s not what the word “literally” means, damn it.]
Sum It Up
When Wideman and Engelland have their contracts expire on July 1, the Flames will have over $8 million of cap space freed up… but they’ll also need to replace those departing players. The good news is that there are a lot of decent, fairly cost effective options that are likely to be available on the free agent market. They should be able to replace Wideman and Engelland without hurting their ability to address other deficiencies in their roster.