With the Stockton Heat’s first round loss – and when it comes in overtime of the final game of the first round, it’s hard to be upset with how the season went as a whole – the Flames organization is effectively done on the ice for the season. The Flames are out, the Heat are out, the Thunder are out. The Kelowna Rockets were eliminated; Dillon Dube had the chance to play in one quick game for the Heat before his season officially ended, too.
So that’s that. Without a clue as to who the Flames may draft or acquire in time for next season’s puck drop, every single Flame we are aware of has had his season ended.
And for some, that may be it for them in this organization.
Earlier, Pat took a look at which upcoming RFAs the Flames may bring back, and who they may not. Last season, the Flames effectively purged many of their restricted free agents, and we may see something similar this season.
The Flames have four RFAs in the NHL – Sam Bennett, Alex Chiasson, Micheal Ferland, and Curtis Lazar – and assuming no expansion draft shenanigans see one of them being claimed (though three are a fairly good bet to be protected, Chiasson being the odd man out), there’s no reason for any of them to not be brought back. Three have proven themselves capable NHLers, while Lazar was brought in for his potential; there’s no reason to let any of them walk.
The AHL is different: these are players who haven’t made it yet, and may not make it at all. There are eight players here: Ryan Culkin, Jon Gillies, Garnet Hathaway, Brett Kulak, Kenney Morrison, David Rittich, Linden Vey, and Tyler Wotherspoon. Of them, probably only the safe bets to be brought back are Gillies, Hathaway, Kulak, and Rittich, with greater emphasis on the first three, as they’ve been in the organization longer.
But those are just the RFAs.
At the NHL level, the Flames have seven UFAs to deal with: Brian Elliott, Deryk Engelland, Chad Johnson, Ladislav Smid, Michael Stone, Kris Versteeg, and Dennis Wideman. Of this group, Versteeg is probably a safe bet to be brought back, while Elliott, Engelland, Johnson, and Stone are all up in the air. Smid and Wideman are almost certain to not be returning.
In the AHL, the Flames have just two UFAs: Brandon Bollig and Mike Kostka. It’s kind of difficult to see Bollig returning; he may want to get back in the NHL, and the Flames have probably made it clear he won’t be playing for Calgary again, otherwise he would have actually been on their roster this past season.
Kostka, however, is a different story; he’s an older AHL guy who put up 12 points over 15 games for the Heat (plus three points in five playoff games). Yes, the Heat’s season did end on his turnover; that said, it would be silly to judge his body of work on that one play, as disastrous as that one play ended up being. The Flames have a lot of defensive prospects to sort through, but it’s hard to see them devoting an entire blueline to just kids, so I feel there’s a possibility Kostka could be brought back, if only for that veteran presence.
Those with one year left
Some players’ contract years are over, and as we look to turn the page to 2017-18, others will be entering the final year of their current contracts.
At the NHL level, that includes four upcoming UFAs – Mikael Backlund, Matt Bartkowski, Lance Bouma, and Matt Stajan – and one RFA, Freddie Hamilton. Of this group, Backlund is the only guy who should be a priority to re-sign. The rest can walk – though if Stajan wanted to come back for say, league minimum or so, there could be something there; similarly, even without the thing where Freddie is Dougie’s older brother, Hamilton may have some untapped potential yet, albeit probably not a higher ceiling than that of a fourth liner at best. If the price is right, sure. But Backlund is the only really meaningful player with a year left on his contract.
In the AHL, the Flames have eight upcoming RFAs to keep their eyes on: Austin Carroll, Mark Jankowski, Keegan Kanzig, Morgan Klimchuk, Emile Poirier, Daniel Pribyl, Hunter Shinkaruk, and Hunter Smith. This could be a make or break season for a number of these guys. Carroll, Kanzig, and Smith probably won’t be worth bringing back. Pribyl had an injury-plagued season, so it’s difficult to tell with him. With Poirier, you hope his personal leave is helping him and, if he’s ready, that he’ll be able to return to the team next season and prove he’s worth an extension.
That leaves three players in this group who should be poised for big years: Jankowski, Klimchuk, and Shinkaruk. Jankowski and Shinkaruk seem to be a bit closer to making the NHL full time, and if they can do that, you know they’ve more than earned an extension; Klimchuk is younger than they are and has played less (Shinkaruk has an extra year professionally; Jankowski did four years at college) so there’s a bit less rush with him, but after the season he had, he’d probably have to put together a horrible performance in 2017-18 to not be brought back on a new deal after his entry-level contract is up.
The upcoming season will be a big one for a handful of the Flames’ prospects. Hopefully they’ll prove they should stay a part of this organization – and push to move up the ranks while they’re at it.