How will the Flames replace their free agent defenders?

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.

Underlying Assumptions

We’re going to operate with a few fundamental underlying assumptions:

  1. The Flames don’t have the resources to internally replace their departing free agents by graduating AHL players.
  2. The Flames aren’t going to retain Dennis Wideman or Deryk Engelland.
  3. 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.

    • Derzie

      If Engelland is reasonable, I think they sign him. He fills a role of bottom pairing with some muscle to deal with post-whistle pushing matches. Vegas may grab him though for just that purpose. Getting Brodie to play on the correct side is essential as is finding a home for 2 young guys in the rotation. In general, D are very overpriced. Building from within should be top priority.

      • Xcameron

        There’s no “Vegas may grab him” here as Engelland isn’t signed past July 1. If they want him they’ll have to compete with everyone else for him as a UFA. I would guess that if Calgary wants him, he’ll know about it well in advance and know to come knocking at his home rink.

        I don’t mind an DE signing if it is reasonable, but it would have to be closer to $1mm than $3mm.

        • PrairieStew

          And probably one year at a time for Engelland.

          I think it’s safe to assume that of Kulak, Wotherspoon and Jokipakka – only one is here next year – one’s gone to Vegas and another is not qualified. This builds case to bring Engelland back so that they are not relying on Andersson and Kylington to start the season.

        • supra steve

          Actually, if Vegas was interested in a pending UFA (like Engelland, Shattenkirk, etc.), they have the right to speak with him prior to the expansion draft and arrange to sign him as a UFA before any other club gets the chance. If they do that, then that counts as their expansion draft pick from that club. Alternately they could select a Flame (eg. Kevin) then wait till free agency, and compete with everyone else for UFAs like Engelland.

      • everton fc

        Agreed.

        I think Kulak is one replacement. He’s ready. Wotherspoon won’t be here next season. Jokipaaka might be, but Kulak should be.

        And I like Stone. He’s a right-handed shot who could rekindle his WHL offencive-side with a team like ours, and the right pairing (Kulak?) And he wouldn’t break the bank, though he won’t come cheap either, being a righty.

    • PrairieStew

      The underlying assumptions are all suspect. I think the Flames would be totally happy to have Engelland back if his contract were roughly the same as entry level players. Rasmus Andersson is putting up half a point per game in Stockton and is plus 18 (Wotherspoon also +18 – only 2 guys on team in double digits) . Kylington was very good at world juniors and is also at ).5 ppg. Should the Flames move Engelland or Wideman or both – putting Brodie back on the right side for a time should definitely be on the table.

      I’d be reluctant to hand out a big contract. Wideman’s $5.25 looked reasonable 4 and half years ago. Shattenkirk in the same situation, and based on inflation and comparables will be looking at $6m for 5+ years. With Gio and Hamilton already being paid, and Brodie at $4.65 – there’s really no room for another $6m d man

    • Scary Gary

      I don’t think Shattenkirk would sign here and I think we need to be careful with term.

      I’d kick the tires on Franson, Daley, and maybe Campbell (if he isn’t chasing cups in Chicago) for two year deals.

    • Azim

      If both Wideman and Engelland leave, we should sign only – at most – one free agent D. I’d be happy with a Stone, or Franson on a reasonable contract (under $4 mill and three yrs or less), and then finally give an opportunity to our D from within (Wotherspoon, Kulak, etc)

      If Engelland is retained, we shouldn’t sign anyone (unless Joki also leaves) and let some of our prospects come up. I agree that prospects need to prove themselves, and not be simply given a position on the big club. But the Flames over the last couple years take it a bit too far – especially with our D – in not providing good opportunities to shine.

    • C Watson

      Here is the interesting thing about the salary cap. Maximum for this year is 73.3M, approximate. It may or may not be higher next year. Do not count on it.
      If a team were to pay an average of 3M per player that would be a total of 69M with a little over 4M left in wiggle room. For any team not making, or just barely squeaking into the playoffs, they need wiggle room. Not only should you limit team salaries to an average of 3M, but also, each position should average 3M. Example goalies – if #1 guy makes 4.5M, then #2 guy should not get more than 1.5M. This should be true for every position. That being said Gio makes 6.75M, Dougie 5.75 and TJ 4.65M Total for the 3 = 17.15M. It should be a maximum of 3M X 7 = 21M for 7 Dmen or 21M – 17.15M = 3.85M for 4 Dmen. That is 3.85M to be divided up one way or another by each of the other 4 Dmen. Not sure, Ryan where you are getting the money to pay for these free agents.

      • PrairieStew

        Or to put it simpler. Flames have about $23m to spend on 11 roster spots – just over $2M each. Considering you need to get 2 goalies under contract and you need long term contracts for Bennett and probably Ferland, that might leave about $12 for 4 D and 3 forwards.

    • ThisBigMouthIsRight

      PLEASE STOP Bringing in Over Priced & Valued players via UFA… You almost always Over pay them both in $$$ + Term, then you get stuck with them for years. Just Start re-building from within the Flames farm system and/or maybe through smart Hockey trades! Please!

    • redwhiteblack

      DE at just under $1M. One of Franson, Stone or Alzner for around $3.5M. Bring in one more decent bottom paring guy. Hope one of our prospects graduates.

      We still have to land a legit top 6 forward.

      E Draft will make the picking slimmer but the extra cap room is a positive thing. Hope BT is smart with it.

      Gio is 33 yrs old. $6,750,000 for next 5 years is crazy. Not many will want that contract. If he can be traded for a decent return I think try. Its just bad business to have that much cap tied up on a 33 year old already in decline. The term is way to long.

    • Greatsave

      Have we had any Flames Nation articles yet on how the Flames might fill the D-man exposure requirements for the expansion draft? Currently only Giordano, Brodie, and D.Hamilton fulfill the exposure requirements, but I’m guessing there’s no way they’ll expose any one of them.

      On the flip side, if they head into the expansion draft without having made anyone else fulfill those requirements (i.e. by extending one of the pending FA’s on the team or bringing someone else in who’s under contract beyond the summer), that can only mean Giordano will be exposed?

      • supra steve

        “One defenseman who is a) under contract in 2017-18 and b) played in 40 or more NHL games the prior season OR played in 70 or more NHL games in the prior two seasons.”

        I believe Kevin exposed, fills the requirement, if signed to an extension for at least next season.

        • Greatsave

          Yes that’s what I mean. Management has to sign some contract extensions first. And those haven’t happened yet.

          On D, they could extend anyone of Wideman, Engelland, or Jokipakka, and expose them, since they already have the required games played. Or they could extend Kulak (25 games to fulfilling requirement) or Wotherspoon (36 games, which means he’d have to play every single Flames game remaining; not happening).

          Or they could do another McCollum-like deal and pick up someone specifically for exposure.

          And *if* none of those things happen? Then that can only mean exposing Giordano…

    • Greg

      $8M in free cap space would be a lot to replace the D, but they also have to sign 2 goalies, Bennet, hopefully another top 6 RW, and keep enough flexibility to deal with future contracts (Backlund in a year, tkachuck the year after, etc). I see zero chance they can afford a shattenkirk. Even another $4M player will be tough to fit in unless they can solve next year’s goaltending cheaply and Vegas takes one of Stajan or Bouma.

    • Rockmorton65

      I think the Flames should make a serious, albeit smart, pitch to Shattenkirk. If he’s looking for, say, 6-7 on the open market, I don’t see it being unreasonable to get him down to Dougie money (5.5-5.75). If he’s looking for 8-10, then I would thank him for his time and proceed with plan B. If, however, he’s looking to be fairly compensated and be part of, what would be a nasty top four, maybe the Flames would be a good fit. Resign Engs to a 1-1.5 mil contract and the D is set.

      Just imagine our D with Shattenkirk in the lineup…

      Brodie-Hamilton
      Gio-Shattenkirk
      Kulak-Engelland

      That move alone would allow them to take a huge step forward in the rebuild. Then, if BT can do some draft day “razzle dazzle” and get a potential top line RW, they would turn the corner from a bubble playoff team to challenging for the division.

    • Burns14

      Shattenkirk has said that he does not want to go to Canada, and wants to be in the Eastern conference. Last time I checked, Calgary is located in the Western part of Canada.

    • FlamesRule

      I like the Franson idea and definitely re-up Engelland. Shattenkirk plays too soft and we have enough of those guys already. 6 & 7 D spots to the young guns Kulak and T-spoon (hopefully Jokkipaki is headed to Vegas).

      Let the D in Stockton fill out the back end and get a scoring winger.

    • T&A4Flames

      What do people think about using Brodie and our 1st as a basis to acquire Trouba and Wheeler from the Jets if they keep sliding? We’ll only have Hamilton in the right D side next season and Wheeler is a big legit top 6 RW that can skate with Johnny and Mony.

      • Newbietwo

        A Trouba deal isn’t happening at this time unfortunately.. it might happen in say another three seasons but not now with Gio as the captain..

        I would love for us to do a trouble for Gio swap but it just won’t happen..

        What is missing in this article is Russel who the flames are extremely high on and only reason they did not sign him this season was due to cap issues. Russel is a question mark in all of this honestly!

        As for our farm/prospect d players let’s be honest Anderson and Kylington are 2018/2019 NHL ers. In the meantime we have to fill spots that are possibly trade able and give us flexibility while they can actually play their role on this team..

        That being said I believe the flames re sign Engelland at $1.5 short term and if they are unable and this will be only due to higher bidders then the flames will walk.. This I believe is what will sway the flames direction either way

        1. Engs re signs: then the flames will go after Franson I believe making Franson Brodie’s line mate

      • Baalzamon

        I highly doubt Winnipeg does that deal. Trouba is arguably as good as Brodie already, not to mention four years younger, and Wheeler is certainly worth a lot more than Calgary’s first.

        It doesn’t seem feasible.

    • Ogie Oglethorp

      I suggest this discussion should happen after Saturday. We play 3 basically must win games this week. If we lost 3 or even 2 it may start to look fairly bleak. All the teams with games in hand play, many against each other. A few losses and a few 3pt games for others and our 47.5% playoff shot will drop to less than 20%

      We need 3 wins in regulation and no 3 pt games in other divisional games

    • freethe flames

      I read about people discussing Vegas and the expansion draft and I wonder what peoples plans would be if they were the GM of an expansion team. You have 1 pick from each of the 30 teams in the NHL and they are all going to be middle at best players.

      Here’s mine: I select 3 goalies. 1 that has a record as an NHL starter, 1 that has 1b/back up NHL career and then a younger guy. Any other goalies for the system come from FA.

      I select 8-10 defenders mostly younger guys but as as close too 4/5 as I can get and I try my darnest to go with a 50/50 split L/R shot. Mobile young defenders the future of the NHL.

      8 centers or at least guys who can play center and again as many younger guys as possible and again as close to 50/50 split. Then split the rest between RW and LW. I would only take a handful of guys over 28; maybe 1 goalie, 2 defenders and 2 forwards in that age range.

      Now go to each team and see who is likely to be left unprotected.

      • PrairieStew

        Potentially a good exercise, but so much is going to happen before teams have to finalize their lists. How guys perform down the stretch and in to the playoffs will affect each team’s decisions on what to do. Trade deadline deals and then even some post season deals before this draft.

        I know there has been talk here about trying to hide Kulak, which I don’t disagree with. I think he is the highest value guy that the Flames might have to expose given his contract status and age. His value to Vegas might not be as high since they probably won’t be having upper limit cap issues. Given the choice between Kulak and a veteran who is more of a proven commodity with a 2 or 3 million dollar contract, they may choose the veteran – knowing that they may need to reach the salary floor.

        With that in mind Stajan and Bouma become realistic targets as well – especially Matty with a cap hit higher than his salary next year. He’s the kind of guy that could be a first year captain as well.