With Micheal Ferland’s new contract inked, the Calgary Flames have just over $8.11 million remaining in cap space. They still have to sign four forwards and a defenceman in order to fill out their lineup for 2017-18, including a couple of restricted free agents who did not file for arbitration and are still waiting for a deal.
Let’s go through them and see if we can determine how much cap space the Flames may have once their current loose ends are tied up.
This post makes a couple of assumptions, chiefly that Sam Bennett, Curtis Lazar, and Brett Kulak will all be starting their seasons on the Flames in October.
There are a handful of other restricted free agents that will need to be re-signed, but they’re less likely to push for a spot than those three are. With Mike Smith and Eddie Lack signed, it’s unlikely Jon Gillies or David Rittich will be starting their seasons in the NHL. Tyler Wotherspoon is, quite simply, less impressive than Kulak at this point. Linden Vey is likely off to Europe, while Garnet Hathaway is an option, but probably more as a 13th or 14th forward kind of guy, if even that.
This post is also assuming that Matt Bartkowski and Freddie Hamilton will retain their spots in the NHL, albeit most likely as consistent healthy scratches. At cap hits of $612,500 each, they’re the cheapest players the Flames have on contract.
This still leaves two forward spots up for grabs – one of which would likely be a healthy scratch spot – so I’ll make one other assumption a bit bolder than the rest: Mark Jankowski will be starting the season on the Flames. He carries a $925,000 cap hit, so the Flames will have roughly $7.185 million in cap space before signing Bennett, Lazar, Kulak, and one more forward.
Just over $7 million for four players, at least two of whom should come in rather cheap. Lazar and Kulak don’t have a lot to stand on negotiations-wise, as neither has shown a lot in the NHL. Kulak has played all of 30 games, and can easily be swapped out by Bartkowski or potentially Wotherspoon. He’s probably ready for the big time – in our limited viewings of him he seems to be, and the underlying numbers agree – but we won’t know until he truly establishes himself.
Kulak’s entry deal, carrying a cap hit of $656,667, just wrapped up. He’ll likely get a raise from it, but not a particularly big one. Let’s ballpark him at $750,000. The Flames are already spending a lot on defence in an attempt to boast one of the most impressive groups in the NHL, so their sixth defenceman likely won’t be too costly, and Kulak still gets a sizeable raise. We’re now down to $6.435 million for three forwards.
Lazar can argue he had a down season in part due to mono and in part due to his general ousting from the Ottawa Senators organization – and he’d be right to – but that doesn’t change the fact that over his first two seasons, he scored 35 points over 143 games (.24 points per game). That’s not impressive. He carried a cap hit of $894,167 over his entry-level deal, and it’s hard to see that going up, if it even does (for example, when Wotherspoon’s ELC expired, he took a pay cut of $300,000). I don’t think Lazar establishes a cap hit higher than Matthew Tkachuk’s $925,000, even if Tkachuk’s is still an ELC. Let’s knock him in at $800,000, at least until he proves he’s worth more than that, which we’ll have to wait at least a season for. We’re now down to $5.635 million for two players: Bennett and a mystery forward.
And oh. Considering Bennett’s overall unimpressive results to date – he hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t put up the numbers you’d expect of a fourth overall pick, either – suddenly, we’re looking at a lot of room. We can afford to even bump up Kulak and Lazar’s deals to over $1 million each and still have over $5 million remaining in cap space. Because Bennett is almost certainly going to sign a bridge deal, anywhere from one to three years in length (let’s just say two), and its highest ceiling is probably about $3 million.
Let’s talk Nail Yakupov for a second: another high pick who ended up signing a bridge deal for his second contract. Over the course of his three-year ELC, Yakupov had a points per game of .46. Bennett currently stands at .40, so not far off. Yakupov re-signed with the Oilers for a two-year deal worth an annual average value of $2.5 million, which is probably about where we can expect Bennett to re-sign. Considering Ferland’s deal, we should perhaps be expecting to clock Bennett in at a lower rate than anticipated.
If we lowball Bennett (and Kulak and Lazar), the Flames are looking at roughly $3.135 million in cap space. If we high ball all three, then perhaps, instead, the Flames are looking at $2.185 million in cap space.
With one forward to add to the lineup. Which is all to say – maybe two of Jankowski, Spencer Foo, Garnet Hathaway, and Marek Hrivik make the team, leaving the Flames with a couple million to spare. Or maybe, in the midst of building this team into a contender, they calculate how much cap space they have, and decide to go for it with one more free agent signing.