The Calgary Flames kicked off their offseason with a bang Saturday when they acquired Mike Smith from the Arizona Coyotes. In addressing their goaltending situation, the Flames checked one box on their to-do list, but it was really just the beginning.
Buckle up, because the next week is going to get busy, both in Calgary and around the league. Let’s take a look at the biggest Flames stories to watch over the next week or so.
5. Who do they qualify?
Calgary goes to the NHL Draft in Chicago this weekend and, almost immediately after returning, they’ll have some decisions to finalize. Monday, June 26 serves as this year’s deadline for teams to submit qualifying offers to pending restricted free agents. Much like last year, the Flames have some really interesting decisions on their hands.
One year ago, Calgary took a pragmatic turn when they opted to qualify just four of their 13 pending RFAs. One year later, they have 12 of those decisions to make and I’m curious if the Flames are just as practical. There are perhaps a few more players to say “yes” to this summer, but Calgary is at a spot with a lot of guys where cutting bait makes sense. Remember, if a team decides not to qualify a player, that player automatically becomes an unrestricted free agent.
I break this year’s crop of RFAs into three classes: yes, probably, and no. For me, Sam Bennett, Alex Chiasson, Curtis Lazar, Micheal Ferland, Brett Kulak, and Jon Gillies are all automatic. Conversely, I’m not expecting QO’s for Lindey Vey, Ryan Culkin, or Kenney Morrison. That leaves the team with three players to hum and haw over.
Defenceman Tyler Wotherspoon is in an interesting spot. Personally, I think he can still turn into something at the NHL level, but he’s likely been surpassed organizationally by guys like Kulak, Rasmus Andersson, and even Oliver Kylington. I think Wotherspoon is better than both Culkin and Morrison, but the team’s relative organizational depth at the position makes his future status a question mark. I’m hoping he gets qualified, but I’m really not sure which way the team will go.
Garnet Hathaway isn’t as difficult a decision. I think Hathaway is an affordable fourth line option who can be shuttled to and from the American League, so it makes sense to keep in the fold. He’s not a big time impact maker, and I certainly don’t buy into the team’s positive record with Hathaway in the lineup, but qualifying him before Monday’s deadline seems like the way to go.
Finally, goaltender David Rittich poses a dilemma. On merit, he deserves another year or two in the organization, but will there be enough room for all of Calgary’s goalies? With Smith in the fold, a question mark at NHL backup, and a trio of Gillies, Parsons and Rittich needing ice time, the decision on the latter might become more difficult.
4. Who do they lose in expansion?
The Flames could very well have their number of pending RFAs reduced by one before Monday’s deadline, though. With the Las Vegas expansion draft now upon us, two of the players mentioned above are good bets to be taken by the league’s 31st franchise. If I were a betting man, I’d lay odds on the Golden Knights selecting either Chiasson or Kulak on Wednesday.
Both Chiasson and Kulak were effective depth players last season, especially when you consider their usage and price tag. Underlying numbers below are ranked among their respective positions on the team.
From a Vegas standpoint, both Chiasson and Kulak check three boxes: relatively young, effective, and (most importantly) affordable. It’s a pretty safe assumption the Knights could get either guy for less than a million annually on a short term deal, and there’s nothing wrong with flexibility like that.
Of course, Las Vegas could go a different direction, because no one really knows what general manager George McPhee is thinking. Maybe they negotiate a deal with pending UFA Deryk Engelland, or perhaps they feel Matt Stajan would be a good fit in their locker room with just one year left on his contract. Regardless, we know Calgary is losing one player on Wednesday; maybe they’ll get lucky and be able to have both Chiasson and Kulak back next year.
3. Trades with Vegas
Who knows, Calgary’s dealings with the Golden Knights may go beyond the expansion draft. NHL insiders believe Vegas has completed at least five deals so far, so perhaps the Flames are part of that group. I think most fans would are hoping Calgary finds a way to offload Troy Brouwer’s contract, as difficult as that may be.
Getting Vegas to pick up the remaining three years of Brouwer’s contract is really the only side deal that makes sense. I guess getting the final year of Stajan’s or Lance Bouma’s deal off the books could have its benefits, but I’m not sure giving up an asset to get rid of an expiring deal is the smartest idea. Brouwer, though, well…
How much would Vegas demand to do the Flames a favour like that? By numerous metrics, Brouwer was one of, if not the, least effective forward on the team last year. Sure, Brouwer has a brief history with McPhee, but there’s still $13.5 million left on his contract. If the Knights are getting Trevor van Riemsdyk from Chicago to take Marcus Kruger’s contract, the price to do something similar with Brouwer might end up being too rich for Calgary’s blood.
2. Decisions on pending UFAs
Deryk Engelland, Michael Stone, and Kris Versteeg are all set to hit unrestricted free agency on July 1, but there’s a solid chance at least one will be back next year. There certainly seems to be a desire to see Versteeg back, at least from the outside, and I think a two-year deal at $2.5 million per will be enough to get that done.
As we laid out last week in the link above, Versteeg was one of Calgary’s most productive players last season, and gave the team a nice boost on the powerplay. If they can get similar results from him the next two years, he’ll give them solid value even if his cap hit goes way up from $950,000.
As for the two defencemen, I believe there’s only room for one of Engelland or Stone to come back. On top of that, I still think the Flames need to upgrade their number four spot as T.J. Brodie’s partner. If I had to choose between the two, I’d lean towards Stone. He’s younger, adds more offensively, and did a decent job as the number four guy upon being acquired from Arizona.
1. What do they do in the first round?
The Flames currently hold the 16th overall selection for this weekend’s draft and they have a bevy of different things they could do with it. Depending on who you talk to, players like Kristian Vesalainen, Timothy Liljegren, Klim Kostin, or Michael Rasmussen could be around if Calgary elects to select at 16. With such a compacted group in that range, you could likely add 10 other names to that list. However, there’s no guarantee the Flames come to the podium at their original spot.
With no additional picks until the fourth round, the 2017 Draft might be a good year to move back a few spots to pick up an additional pick between, say, 31 and 70. Many scouts believe this draft, even more so than others, is one where a desired player will still be available in a “trade down” scenario. If that’s the case, a similar situation to 2012 could very well be in the cards.
And then there’s the possibility of using the 16th overall pick as hard currency. The Flames certainly could stand to address needs when it comes to a number four defenceman and/or a scoring winger. Draft weekend is a perfect time to makes moves aimed at upgrading, and with the class of 2017 a little less impressive than years past, this might be a good year to move out a first rounder. Calgary last did that as part of a 2014 draft weekend package to acquire Dougie Hamilton, and I think most would agree that worked out well.