The Calgary Flames have made a couple of pretty major moves this offseason: moves that will help shape their roster for 2017-18. However, with free agency just around the corner – not to mention qualified restricted free agents needing to be re-signed – what we see probably isn’t going to be what we get come October.
As we wait for those moves still to come, let’s look at what the Flames have right now – and just where they might see it most fitting to add.
Here, I’m only using players under contract (or RFAs, as they are likely to be under contract reasonably soon), and I’m keeping lines mostly intact from the end of the 2016-17 season, as right now there’s no reason to assume they’ll be changed.
|Johnny Gaudreau||Sean Monahan||Micheal Ferland|
|Matthew Tkachuk||Mikael Backlund||Michael Frolik|
|Sam Bennett||Curtis Lazar|
|Lance Bouma||Matt Stajan||Troy Brouwer|
|Mark Giordano||Dougie Hamilton|
|T.J. Brodie||Travis Hamonic|
Holes to fill
Whether it’s by re-signing an impending free agent, graduating a prospect, or making a trade, the Flames have a number of spots on their roster that are as of yet unaccounted for.
Curtis Lazar makes the lineup by default as things currently stand, but it’s not yet clear if that will actually be the case. Alex Chiasson was not qualified so the Flames could avoid arbitration with him; it doesn’t guarantee he won’t be back at all.
The spot to Sam Bennett’s left can be presumed to be Kris Versteeg’s until we know better. Versteeg has expressed a strong desire to return to Calgary, and as he was an asset to the Flames’ lineup, it’s easy to see a scenario in which he is back.
That leaves an extra forward spot open. Presumably, that could go to a prospect – but seeing as how it would be preferable for a prospect who makes the team to actually play, perhaps it could instead see Lance Bouma bumped to the pressbox instead.
As for the defensive side of things, the holes there don’t have as obvious a fill. If I had to guess I’d say Brett Kulak takes the bottom pairing left-hand defenceman spot and pushes Matt Bartkowski to the pressbox, but the right side remains a mystery. Graduate Rasmus Andersson? Pick up a free agent (Michael Stone, Cody Franson)? Or even break tradition and have a lefty play the bottom pairing right spot? What the Flames do in free agency should give us a hint as to what they’re thinking, if not outright address the problem then and there.
As for the backup goaltending spot, maybe the Flames sign Chad Johnson, maybe they try out Jon Gillies or David Rittich – but either way, it should be a relatively low-cost position to fill.
Upgrades to be made
The Flames’ fourth line is a bane on the lineup. Not only is it not particularly good, but it’s also horribly expensive, preventing the team from being able to make real upgrades.
The number one question is the first line right wing. Micheal Ferland is, at worst, passable in the position, but he’s probably not the ideal fit. (That said, maybe we’re changing our tune within a year, which would be awesome.) Bennett had a downer of a season, and while he bears responsibility for that, there’s also the fact that he barely had a chance to work with quality linemates, and that appears to continue to be a concern at the start of this offseason.
Upgrading the top line right wing position probably pushes Ferland down to play with Bennett, which helps him; on the other hand, that move would likely be more expensive than finding even a halfway decent scorer who can drive play north (and it doesn’t have to be a big name – we identified Jonathan Marchessault and Sam Gagner as potential options last year, and they both ended up being 50-point players).
Really, unless there’s a good deal to be made for a surefire top line right wing candidate, getting Bennett some real linemates remains the only major area of need for the Flames (breaking up that fourth line, too, but let’s try to stay realistic here). The addition of Travis Hamonic has basically meant all the Flames have left to do with their defence is avoid any landmines; it’s not like the bottom pairing is going to be taking on big minutes with that top four. And Mike Smith is that proven starter the Flames wanted, so he’ll probably take on the bulk of the workload, especially as they’ve determined his age isn’t that much of a factor.