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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports

Five important questions heading into free agency

Free agency opens up across the league on Saturday morning, but it’s fair to wonder how busy the Calgary Flames are going to be during the annual signing frenzy. The Flames have addressed two major offseason needs prior to free agency and also scored a surprising bonus with the signing of Spencer Foo on Tuesday. To get a gauge on how busy Calgary might or should be come Saturday, though, I’ve formulated a few questions I think are fairly important.

How does Spencer Foo impact things?

While Foo choosing the Flames was definitely surprising, how much of an impact are we expecting him to make right off the bat? Personally, I’m not expecting a ton from Calgary’s prized free agent signing in the immediacy. He’s never played a professional game before, and while his numbers were eye-catching at Union College last year, it’s still a guessing game as to how they’ll translate at the highest level.

In saying that, though, I’m curious how the team projects him for next season. If the Flames see Foo as someone who can play regular top nine minutes, and they’re correct, then this signing turns into a coup. But because that’s anything but a guarantee, I don’t think Calgary should be banking on Foo making an impact right away.

While I think he’s a very exciting signing, part of me wonders if last season was a slight outlier for Foo. The guy almost tripled his points from his sophomore to junior season: Foo went from 25 points in 36 games to 62 points in 38 games. I honestly don’t know if that’s the case, but I think it’s a fair point to bring up, and that’s why I don’t think penciling Foo into the opening day lineup is realistic. I am really intrigued to watch him play come the preseason, though.

What’s going on with Kris Versteeg?

The expansion draft is done, free agency opens in a couple days, and Kris Versteeg doesn’t have a contract with the Flames for next season. There’s still time for things to get done, and he might still choose to sign with Calgary even if he gets to free agency, but I thought something would be done by now. Complicating things a little more is the news Versteeg has started to talk to other interested teams.

The Flames could really use Versteeg’s services next season, because right now they’re a little thin on scoring depth off the wing. While we probably have a good idea of what Johnny Gaudreau and Michael Frolik will bring, production from Micheal Ferland and Matthew Tkachuk is more uncertain. The same goes for Sam Bennett if Calgary decides to use him on the wing next season.

As we laid out earlier this month in his free agent profile, Versteeg was a very productive, consistent, and affordable player for the Flames last season. While he deserves a raise from the $950,000 he made last year, I don’t think he’s breaking the bank either. An AAV of $2.5 million for Versteeg for a couple more years is reasonable and realistic. With that said, I’m less confident about him returning now than I was even a week ago.

Is Alex Chiasson still part of the plan?

It came as a bit of a surprise when Calgary decided not to qualify Alex Chiasson on Monday. Now, as Ryan laid out earlier this week, there are some contractual reasons the Flames went down that road. Mainly, Chiasson would have been arbitration eligible had he received a qualifying offer and you can understand Calgary wanting to avoid that outcome. If Chiasson is going to be back, he’ll have to negotiate a contract outside of the restricted free agent boundaries.

We’ve seen the Flames do that before. It was during the summer of 2014 when Paul Byron didn’t receive a QO but was signed to a deal the next day. Things like that happen all the time as teams look to avoid the automatic escalator that goes along with qualifying a player, and it’s happened elsewhere already this summer.

I like the idea of the team bringing Chiasson back. He was consistent and effective last season and gave Calgary great bang for their buck with a cap hit of $800,000. With outputs like below, having him back on a similar contract seems like a no-brainer to me.

It’s not like Chiasson would be holding someone back if he were to come back, either. He was more effective than Lance Bouma, Troy Brouwer, or Freddie Hamilton last season, all of whom are under contract right now. At worst, Chiasson would be a good fourth line option and, for less than a million, I think it makes a lot of sense to bring him back.

What’s their third pairing plan?

With the acquisition of Travis Hamonic, the Flames have put together one of the best groups of top four defencemen in the league. Theoretically, that top four should eat somewhere between 44 and 48 minutes of ice time per game, leaving about 12 to 15 minutes per night for the third pairing. How that third pair is comprised, though, is really interesting.

I’m a huge Brett Kulak fan and he’s shown enough to convince me he’s ready for a full-time gig next season. In fact, Kulak had the third best possession rate (50.6%) among defenceman on the team last year, behind only Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton. He did that while starting just 45.7% of his shifts in the offensive zone, so he definitely wasn’t sheltered. I know Kulak’s is a small sample size, but he made a solid argument to suggest he was the fourth-best defenceman on the team last year.

As a qualified RFA, Kulak still has to sign a contract, but that’ll happen eventually. Factoring in Matt Bartkowski, who is already under contract for next season, Calgary has the makings of a top six that would look something like this:

Giordano-Hamilton
Brodie-Hamonic
Kulak-Bartkowski

Kulak and Bartkowski are both left shots, though, so finding a right side option would be ideal. That’s where free agency potentially comes in, because the Flames should be able to find an affordable option to plug in. However, if Calgary believes Rasmus Andersson is ready, perhaps they don’t need to go searching for an external right shot option. It’s something to watch for come Saturday.

What are they doing at backup goaltender?

Even with Mike Smith in the fold, the Flames still have a hole to fill at the backup spot in net. Chad Johnson seemed like an ideal fit, even though he’s technically a member of the Arizona Coyotes, but with reports suggesting he’s closing in on a deal with Buffalo, that seems less of a likely scenario. Free agency might be the best bet for Calgary to round things out in net.

I say that because I just don’t think the Flames are in a position to count on one of either Jon Gillies or David Rittich next season. Here’s the thing: Smith has battled injuries the last two seasons, starting 32 and 55 games, respectively. While he says injury worries are behind him, Smith is 35 years old and there’s no guarantee staying healthy is in the cards. As such, I think Calgary needs someone a little more proven if the need arises.

  • Atomic Clown

    Please no more Bartkowski. It was a reminder of Cory Sarich in his later years, Chris Butler in all of his years, and Deryk Engelland in his first year everytime he was on the ice. I’d rather we overpay Stone than have Bartkowski on the ice. Just no. Please and thank you.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I know it is not ideal to have 2 rookies as your 5/6 but Ras and Kulak were partners last year so they have that chemistry… Which should help both of them adjust. I think the team has to expect that these players are going to come back from an intense summer of training to win a spot. If the team keeps putting obstacles in the way, they may not be as motivated.

  • JoelOttosJock

    I really hope you are right about Versteeg signing elsewhere Pat. As good as he is and was last season he is taking up ice from say Lazar and Hamilton on the power play. I hope Chaisson is brought back, he is a great depth guy whom can slide up and down this line up as needed. Kulak should be given a chance but Bartowski is not a compatible partner..nor capable. I would lime to see the Flames target a solid veteran#5/6 d man to play there..say Oduya..or Daley. As for goaltending..i am still bothered by the Mike Smith trade..in my opinion the Flames have regressed from this time last year in goaltending. I am not sure what is feasible.

      • HOCKEY83

        Versteeg was the only player on the team last season in the playoffs that showed any heart at all while Chiasson was a dog. Calgary has resigned Versteeg at 1 year 1.75. Chiasson is gone. Have you never watched Smith play. he has stolen so many games for a very bad Arizona team over the last 6 seasons. he faces more shots than most. He will do every bit as well as Elliott would have done in Calgary for less money and term While the Flames are waiting for Parsons to develop. The flames are a considerably better team by adding Hamonic and Smith.
        Oduya is old and slow. The flames will have to put cheap contracts in those last 2 spots as they have barely enough money left to sign Ferland, Lazar, Bennett and a Back up. Andersson and Kylington will be given an opportunity as well as 6’7″ Falkovsky who was a star in Adirondack in his first professional season. Let’s not forget Fox who won every college Defensive rookie award you can this season and was a huge factor in beating Canada at the U20 tourney this past year

  • Puckhead

    We don’t need any depth guys like Chiasson. Give a prospect a chance.

    I like Versteeg but think we have the talent in-house to manage without him.

    I’m good trying Kulak and Ras to start the year but given the teams investment in Smith and Hamonic I think they bring in a veteran RHD as a safety net.

    No to Bart. Send him down. Give the #7 spot to Wotherspoon who is defensively responsible.

  • BendingCorners

    Spencer Foo – it’s good to have prospects but he had a good year against kids in a weak league. If he makes the Flames it’s likely 2-3 years from now.
    Kris and Alex – Solid players but if they don’t return we have more cap for a top 6 UFA which anyway pushes a top 6 player onto the third line. Curtis and Troy can fight over 34RW, Mark and Matt can alternate on 4C, Hunter and Lance and Freddie can fight over 34LW and the popcorn box. If BT can’t sign a top 6 UFA then there will be room for Kris or Alex or somebody similar.
    567D – between Brett Tyler MattB and Ras it’s covered.
    2G – almost any backup will do. Jon will be called up and I believe will play well. He might be ready now to be our 2G but having an alternative would be a safe option.
    Overall the team is in pretty good shape.

    • HOCKEY83

      I think you need to do a little more research on the league Spencer Foo plays in. It’s a tough league that men play in and for Union College he had one of the best seasons in their history. He was at the Flames training camp last season and they loved him. Whether or not he makes the team this season depends on his play. Treliving sealed the deal with talk regarding LW spots open on the team right now and him earning those spots starting this season. He chose Calgary over the other 4 teams wooing him specifically due to the fact that the best chance to play this season was in Calgary.

      Who comments regarding NHL player’s using their first name…it’s a little creepy.

  • redwhiteblack

    Versteeg signing would be good. Not going to get any better on market. He can probably get more or more term (much like Stone) on the market. If other teams are now talking to him that is not promising for the Flames.

  • Puckhead

    Use Tkachuk or Ferland on the top line. Radulov is asking $7M per and got 18 goals and 36 assists last year. Pretty sure MT or Ferland can do that on our top line.

  • StarIV

    I think we need to sign one forward (hopefully Versteeg), a veteran #5/#6 defensemen and a back up goalie. We can let Kulak or Wotherspoon play on the bottom pairing and Lazar can step in for Chaisson, hopefully filling a 3rd line role.

    I’d love to let the prospects play, but not having adequate depth creates a huge risk if we were to get hit by the injury bug. Calgary was one of the healthiest teams in the league last year, which is why we didn’t see many prospects called up over the past season. If the starting line up includes four rookies (#5D,#6D, F, Backup G), two or three injuries to veteran players would expose our lack of depth. Seeing how we just traded our first and second round picks in the 2018 draft, not making the playoffs next year would really, really hurt.

    • Puckhead

      If you role out 1 or 2 rookie forwards (e.g., Janko and Klimchuk), your backups are Freddie, Bouma, and Hathaway – all serviceable stop gaps. If the #6 and #7 D spots go to Kulak and Tspoon, call up Bart or Ras.

      Obviously, most risky going with Rittich or Gillies in goal.

  • Puckhead

    Rule of thumb – try to get players who you do not have to shelter with OZS’s (e.g., Versteeg and Chiasson). Build the team around versatile players with a solid 200′ game and good +/-

  • Baalzamon

    Honestly if the Flames are moving on from Versteeg they should really take a look at Jagr. He seems to be in the habit of signing relatively team-friendly 1 year deals, he still scores and provides monster possession impact.
    He has to slow down some time (he’s 45!) but it doesn’t look like he’s done yet.

  • Cheeky

    Each year we moan about the vets signed that never live up to their overpaid roles. Each year we hope Tre listens to us and stays away on July 1. We ask that our prospects be given the chance instead yet here we are filling out our shopping list for Sat for each position. Our team is very good as is – #freetheprospects

    • Al Rain

      Backup goalie and maybe three each defensemen and forwards. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing there aren’t many teams that would hand that kind of responsibility over to a bunch of rookies. And fewer competitive teams. And that’s not factoring in the ideal progression arch of our prospects (“seasoning” it’s been called).

      Seems to me it wasn’t long ago that we were ripping mgmt for rushing Sven to the bigs. How about #teachtheprospects?

      Oh, and our prospects are looking good but as a group, and compared to what every other team has going on in their system, they’re probably not as world-beating as we all like to think…

    • Cheeky

      If kids arent ready then put them back in the cupboard and go shopping after training camp. We will never know unless they are given a chance just like every other NHLer was at start of their careers.

  • SoCalFlamesFan

    A problem with banking on Rasmus Andersson is that the last two years he has showed up out of shape. Maybe he can grow into the #6 spot but doesn’t have the track record of earning it early on.

  • buts

    I’m thinking that BT has his sights set on some free agent forward. By the fact Versteeg and Chiasson haven’t been signed points to this. Loubardius this morning on the radio thinks that BT is going after a center stating that Bennett could be moved to the wing. We have the cap space to make a splash and we do need scoring up front.

    • HOCKEY83

      With the signing of Versteeg…The Flames have 13 Mil worth of cap space. They have to sign Lazar, Ferland, Bennett, Gillies, Rittich, Kulak, Wotherspoon, Hathaway and Vey. Lazar, Ferland and Bennett will be at the very least getting a combined 9 Mil of that. Gillies and Rittich at least combined 3 Mil and that leaves 1 mil for 4 other prospects listed above not to mention wanting to sign backlund before he goes to free agency next season and the 5 other top prospects who go RFA. Ya Lots and Lots of cap space…Where?

      • Bean-counting cowboy

        Ummm… You know how cap space works right? Gillies, Rittich, Wotherspoon and Hathaway only count against the cap if their on the NHL roster. Vey is heading to Europe. Lazar, Ferland and Bennett will not cost 9 mil. Think more like 6, 7 tops.

        • HOCKEY83

          Lack isn’t a lock yet. They need to consider rittich and gillies as well. Bennett will get at least as much as Brouwer. Ferland and lazer are splitting 4 mil for sure. That doesn’t leave much for the 6th d spot. Those other 4 prospects contracts don’t matter unless they make the team…I get it. But you all are talking like Jankowski kulak andersson Murphy these guys are all making the line up some how who all make a mil each not counting toward the cap yet. All I’m saying is there’s not a lot of cap space left and a bunch yet to sign. Key pieces. There is no one left in free agency that the Flames could afford that would make an impact on the team unless they start trading players away for picks or lesser players.

  • TriPPiNvdUb

    How does everyone feel about the Patty Marleau rumor? Hes a little long in the tooth but the guy still potted 27 goals last season and another 3 against the Oil in the playoffs…

    On an off note, R.I.P. to Dave Semenko, the toughest S.O.B. to every play in the BOA… at the end of the day its just a game. Nothing but respect!

  • everton fc

    Random thoughts…

    What about one of Keith Kincaid, Darcy Kuemper, Anders Nilsson as Smith’s backup? I don’t see the Devils moving Kincaid, but he’d be a good fit. So would Kuemper, I think – but I can’t see the Wild moving him, either. We need someone who can play at least 25 games, as I can’t see Smith going past 50 – nor do I think that’s a good idea for Smith to go past 50, at this age… (there’s also our old friend Curtis McElhinney, who may come cheap for one year! 😉

    As for Versteeg and Chiasson… losing both means opportunities for Jankowski, Lazar, maybe Hathaway, maybe more ice time to Freddie H… Maybe a spot for Shinkaruk… or Klimchuk… I can see Lazar as centering Bennett and Jankowski on the wings, this training camp. So I approve? Not certain. A 4th line of Freddie/Bouma-Stajan-Brouwer… Could be worse. I’d like to see Versteeg and Chiasson back, and Bouma/Brouwer gone. There’s no room for Chiasson, though, w/Brouwer and now Lazar on RW, and Jankowski ready to play here, as well.

    I wonder if they’ll be able to move Brouwer? And I could see them waiving Bouma.

    As for defence… I bet they sign Stone. It may mean we don’t sign Versteeg, though. Which would be a shame. (How about Christian Folin on a cheap 1-2 year deal? Big, 5/6 RHD, can probably get him for $1.2mill/[one way contract though]…??)