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:
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.