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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Five things to watch in the next week

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.

  • T&A4Flames

    Wouldn’t qualifying Vey make sense? I believe he’s already said he was going to play in Europe so by qualifying him, wouldn’t we retain his rights without losing a spot on the 50 contract limit?

  • everton fc

    I’d qualify all the obvious listed above, as well as Hathaway, Wotherspoon and Rittich. Rittich is better than both Gillies and Parsons at the moment. Let him backup Smith, though I think we bring back Johnson as Smith’s backup and either let Rittich go (big mistake) or use him as part of a deal to get that much needed 3/4 defender to play alongside Brodie.

    As for Wotherspoon, I don’t think his fate is directly linked to Kulak. I think if Kulak is picked, Stone gets signed and Wotherspoon’s the #7 d-man. If Kulak isn’t picked, perhaps we move on from Stone (Vegas could also pick Stone). I like Stone as a 5/6 defender. I like the Kulak/Andersson as next seasons 5/6 much better.

    As for the draft – if we can get one of Dumba/Manson/Schmidt for #16, I’d do it. The first two are RHD’s, but both most likely won’t be picked by Vegas, due to already agreed upon side deals. (Would Gudas be worth our #16 pick? He’s an RDH…)

      • supra steve

        It’s not about Vegas helping the Flames, it’s about Vegas helping themselves. They seem to have completed a trade with Anaheim, also a divisional foe.

      • Purple Hazze

        I don’t think Vegas is really thinking in terms of division rivals just yet. Their main focus is setting themselves up for the future, they’ve already said they’re open to selecting a player and flipping him, pretty sure there wasn’t a “for non-division rivals only” disclaimer on that offer. If we’re offering our 2017 1st + another prospect to grab a d-man from the ducks or wild it could work as neither team has a 2017 1st rounder to match that.

    • Skylardog

      If I am Vegas, I am taking and keeping Dumba. He is young, and could anchor that team for a decade. May only be a 3rd or 4th D but everyone needs 2 of those. Not sure how Minny would avoid one of their good unprotected DMen going to Vegas.

  • Puckhead

    The intriguing thing for Flames fans this week is not having any clue who will be scooped in the expansion draft or selected in the NHL draft. Everything is up in the air and there is no consensus on anything.

  • Burnward

    All I want over the next couple weeks is some creative stuff that makes this team better.
    I’m cool with trading picks/prospects etc. to get better now. Five of six top six spots, seven of the top nine are spoken for up front. Three of the top four on the backend are as well.
    Swing for the fences.
    Just make it interesting and intelligent.

  • BendingCorners

    Garnet – no. We have enough replacement-level wingers without him.
    Troy won’t be moving I don’t think, so I hope he has a bounce-back year and increases his trade value for next summer.
    Mike Stone – only if he accepts a cheap enough deal. He might actually be better next year and fit with TJ, but I would expect that BT will go after Cody Franson for that. I agree with another poster, I would prefer Brett and Ras as our 5/6 so if Alex goes to Vegas then so much the better. Or maybe Vegas takes a chance on Emile Poirier if he is ready to come back; he can stay in the AHL for another year without being waived and really does (did?) have a lot of talent.
    Tyler – I like him a our #7 D ahead of Matt Bartkowksi so I hope BT qualifies him.
    Looking forward to seeing what actually happens over the next few days.

  • JMK

    Great to see Matthew Phillips make the Canadian world junior development camp. Dube and Fox representing their respective countries too but they weren’t in much doubt.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the big, skilled right winger Flames fans have been coveting for a couple of seasons turns out to be Shane Doan. Tre and the old school ties again. This could be ugly.

  • deantheraven

    I’ve been singing the same song since February. Vegas does a deal with Deryk Engelland to take him to retirement and a front office spot. BT gets off scott free.

  • You know, I wonder what would happen if Vegas picked all the best players but couldn’t possibly keep them all in the NHL (some need to be in the minors to start) and the GMs play hardball with McPhee to take some players from them like he is doing right now with all the GMs. Just a thought. Seems like this expansion draft is heavily skewed in Vegas’ favor and some teams are losing really good players.

    • supra steve

      Tough for the other 30 clubs. Vegas paid how many millions for their expansion franchise? They deserve a week or two of holding an advantage over the other clubs. End of the day, Flames will lose a player they will hardly miss, a few clubs will lose quality players that they can live without.

      • I hear you. It’s not the Flames I am thinking about. It just sounds like he is loading up on first round picks to “avoid” taking some really good players. I didn’t say that Vegas shouldn’t be given some advantage but even from a Flames fan whose team stands to lose nothing of too much value, I see it as a bit much.

    • flames2015

      Theres probably quite a few of 3 way deals happening. I don’t see Vegas just stock piling players for the sake of just doing so knowing the cap limits. They have the players they want in mind, know what other gms are wanting and gaining assets off it.

  • Just.Visiting

    Miscellaneous musings….I only bring Chiasson back if I lose Brouwer to LV. Otherwise, Alex is taking a roster spot that we should be trying to have Lazar or someone from Stockton earn. The Flames have never shown a lot of faith in Wotherspoon at the NHL level, so I don’t think they see him as a 7th, but more of an emergency AHL recall. If I’m him and I have other choices, I would need to think hard about resigning based on indifference to date from the coaches in the last few years on BT’s watch. OK with trading down if we still have a shot at Rasmussen and a possible shot with an acquired pick in mid second round at RW Jonah Gadjovich from the OHL. If I’m LV, I don’t talk to the Flames UFAs until after July 1st. With the depth of D available, I don’t think LV goes after Kulak.

  • Franko J

    Wotherspoon will not be qualified. He will be traded at the draft. Hathaway will be qualified. Only for the reason of depth in Stockton.

    LV will select either Chiasson or Shinkaruk.

    I see the Flames trying to move down a few picks if Suzuki is off the board by the 16th selection. Then they will either select Lind from Kelowna or Thomas from the London Knights.
    Ideally I would like to see if the Flames can somehow manage trade for a couple of prospects who may not been on everyone’s radar in Madison Bowey and Nick Baptiste.

    Free agency: Versteeg would be my only choice. As for potential targets again going off the board here with Chris Summers, Stanislav Galiev.

  • RedMan

    I’m guessing the flames get A young #3/4 defender via trade with the Vegas knights for the first round pick plus a Defensive prospect like Kylington, and Vegas takes Brouwer (for which Flames retain salary)
    Heard it hear first

  • Rexx

    It’s hard for me to see the ducks offering up Vegas enough to protect Manson and Vatanen. Even though he would be a cornerstone to LV, I would love if Tree could pull off the ol’ mid round dougie again and pry Vatanen from LV for the 16th + (hey Vegas who were you originally selecting? Well pick another prospect as well and we will send them both over). If a deal like that could get done I’d love to see a Gio-Dougie, Brodie-Vatanen… but judging by the prices out there, it may be a tough one to net.

    Do your work Tree!

  • freethe flames

    The rumored prices teams have paid to protect players has driven up the price for trades. The Drouin trade and contract have driven up the price for signings. How many first rounders will LV have prior to the draft. The rumor is they want to move them to get NJ first overall.

    Unlike some other teams the Flames are not loaded with assets. 1 pick in the first round, 3 maybe 4 guys pushing for NHL jobs from the farm, and a bunch of guys who seem a long way away from being NHler’s; I’m not sure what BT has to bargain with. But by later this evening we will know what Vegas has as a team and what the price has been to protect extra players.