July is more than half over and the dog days of the NHL offseason are very much upon us. Despite how busy the Calgary Flames have been this summer, there is still plenty of work to be done. Knowing how much has already been accomplished over the last couple months, let’s take a look at five Flames stories that still need to be written before the summer is over.
5. The “other” RFAs
We’ve been focused the last number of weeks on three particular restricted free agents, two of whom have now signed in Micheal Ferland and Curtis Lazar. While one of those high profile RFAs still remains unsigned (more on that later), Calgary does have to take care of a number of less notable players due new deals. That list comprises Jon Gillies, David Rittich, Brett Kulak, Tyler Wotherspoon, and Garnet Hathaway.
Getting the players listed under contract shouldn’t be overly complicated, but a couple players do jump off the page. Kulak’s contract will be interesting as it’ll give us an indication as to where the Flames are on him. There are those like me who believe Kulak is ready for full-time NHL work and would advocate for a two-year deal. But my guess is Calgary goes the “show me” route with Kulak and he signs a one-year pact.
Then there’s Rittich and his interesting future with the team. I’m fairly confident he’ll sign a new deal with the Flames, but I remain fascinated as to where he fits next season. Assuming Gillies also signs, which is safe, the Flames are faced with a bit of an AHL logjam based on the likely scenario Tyler Parsons turns pro. A trio of Rittich, Gillies, and Parsons in Stockton doesn’t seem to make sense, and I’m always wary of the ECHL. So, in saying that, is Rittich a possible trade asset? What about Gillies? It’s an interesting story to watch.
4. NHL roster additions
General manager Brad Treliving has repeatedly stated he doesn’t believe the roster as it stands will be the exact group that goes to training camp in two months. For me, that hints at the team’s desire to add at least one more roster player prior to the start of the season. Now that Ferland’s deal is done, the door is a little more open for that to happen, as his contract negotiations were a bit of a hurdle to clear.
Who might that player be? Well, I’m guessing Calgary is pretty set with their backend right now, so I’m not necessarily expecting a defenceman to be priority number one. So, that leaves a forward. The pickings are rather slim with what’s remaining in free agency, but in Drew Stafford, Daniel Winnik, and Jimmy Hayes, there are still potential options available under the age of 32. And what about Alex Chiasson? He’s still unrestricted after not being qualified in June and Treliving has hinted at circling back to him a few times.
3. Juuso Valimaki’s entry-level deal
As pointed out here and explained a little further here, Calgary has the opportunity to guarantee themselves some important flexibility with their 2017 first round pick. Essentially, because Valimaki potentially meets a number of conditions, the Flames have the option of getting an extra year of development out of him through an entry-level slide. However, for them to do that, he has to be signing in the somewhat near future.
For Valimaki to qualify for an entry-level slide, he is subject to these conditions:
- Born after Sept. 15
- Signs ELC before Dec. 31
- Plays fewer then 10 NHL games in the next two seasons
Born on Oct. 6, Valimaki checks the first box and that gets the conversation started. From there, it’s in Calgary’s hands, though. I’ll certainly be watching this summer to see if the Flames sign Valimaki to his first NHL deal, but with the deadline more than five months away, there isn’t a huge time crunch.
For the second condition, it would be a surprise to see Valimaki get to the point where he no longer qualifies. As a 19-year-old, he’s tied to playing for the Tri-City Americans next season unless he cracks the NHL roster as a rookie, which is highly unlikely. For his 20-year-old season, then, Calgary would basically get a free year of development in the AHL if all conditions are met, meaning Valimaki’s ELC wouldn’t kick in until the 2019-20 season when he’s 21.
2. A Mikael Backlund extension
Going back to late February, I took an early look at what a contract extension might look like for Backlund. Well, now it’s July, Backlund is going into the final year of his deal, and he’s eligible for an extension anytime. I understand wanting to get this offseason’s work done first, but I still think it makes a lot of sense for the Flames to get Backlund locked up long term prior to the season starting.
Based on what he’s done the last few seasons, it has become painstakingly clear Backlund is a core player and deserving of a commensurate contract. He was the team’s best centre by a fairly large margin last season and was the driving force on one of the NHL’s top lines. With 22 goals and 53 points in 81 games, Backlund was productive and his underlying outputs drove home the MVP-quality campaign he put together.
Backlund was a top five player in every single metric above while shouldering some of the heaviest defensive responsibilities in the league. For him to generate zone time and produce offence like he did was quite the feat and it allowed him to finally start getting some league-wide recognition.
The most encouraging thing about Backlund is how he’s improved in each and every one of his seven NHL seasons, which leads you to believe there is still more for Backlund to accomplish. Even if he’s close to reaching his plateau, we’re still talking about a player who was fourth in Selke Trophy voting with a solid track record of consistent two-way play. Why wouldn’t the Flames get a deal done as soon as possible?
I’ll take that question a little further. As it stands right now, Backlund can make a pretty solid case for a long-term deal (five or six years) in and around the $6 million range annually, give or take a few hundred thousand. If Calgary pushes this into next season and Backlund is in the midst of another Selke-worthy season, though, it stands to reason he’ll only gain leverage. If I’m the Flames, I get an extension done this summer to get it taken care of and to get some cap/cost certainty for the next number of years.
1. Sam Bennett’s new deal
Ah yes, the one remaining high profile RFA still unsigned by Calgary. Now that Ferland and Lazar’s deals are put to bed, the focus can turn to getting Bennett inked to his second NHL contract. At this stage, we’re presuming this is going to be a bridge deal in the two or three year ballpark, as that seems to make the most sense for both player and team. But with only $7 million and change remaining under the cap, Bennett’s AAV is still important.
Nothing much has changed since Bennett’s RFA profile in April, so I’m still guessing this deal comes in somewhere between $2.5 and $3 million. Now, Radek Faksa’s three-year, $6.6 million pact with Dallas is being used by some as a comparable for Bennett, but it’s not a perfect example. Faksa is 18 months older than Bennett and the latter’s numbers are superior in his first two NHL seasons, so we’re probably looking at something higher than $2.2 million per.
Regardless of where Bennett’s number ends up coming in, though, what happens next is fascinating. Is Bennett a centre or a winger going forward? And can he use his forthcoming bridge deal to push his next contract into a different echelon? Those questions will be answered come the fall, but Bennett needs a deal this summer before we can start to find out.
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