Photo Credit: Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports

Gillies, Rittich join group of Flames prospects with one year to prove themselves

In re-signing Jon Gillies and David Rittich to one-year deals, Brad Treliving has further increased his pool of players under contract who will need to show big stuff in 2017-18.

As things stand right now, with three restricted free agents left to re-sign – Sam Bennett, Brett Kulak, and Tyler Wotherspoon – the Flames have 18 players whose contracts are set to expire by July 1, 2018. Six are unrestricted free agents, while 12 are restricted. Some may not return at all, but others – most notably, prospects – will have another year to put together a resume that shows they still deserve to be kept a member of this organization.

The UFAs

The upcoming UFAs the Flames will have to tend to are Mikael Backlund, Matt Stajan, Kris Versteeg, Matt Bartkowski, Eddie Lack, and Luke Gazdic. Of these, Backlund is obviously the priority – he’s the only one who’s a sure lock to get a raise, and deservedly so.

What of the rest? Stajan could return as a centre insurance policy if desired, but undoubtedly at a drastically reduced rate; this should be the final season the Flames’ fourth line centre has a cap hit north of $3 million. Depending on Versteeg’s year, he could be a candidate to come back, as well – if he puts together a similar campaign to his 2016-17 and shows no signs of slowing down, then he’d be a no-brainer.

Bartkowski was signed for expansion draft purposes, and his ceiling is about that of a sixth defenceman if he’s not back in the AHL entirely, so his could be his final season with the Flames. Gazdic is in a similar boat. The AHL needs bodies, and tough guys are likely more relevant to that league than the NHL so for that, Gazdic is a fit.

Lack is the real wild card here. If he can regain the form that saw him post a .921 save percentage over 41 games back in 2014-15, then he has to be in consideration to be brought back. On the other hand, if either of Gillies or Rittich really make a strong push, then he’s expendable, perhaps as soon as the trade deadline. Over the course of the season, he could end up proving himself as sure a bet as Backlund to re-sign – or turn into AHL fodder.

The RFAs

As of writing, the Flames have 12 RFAs whose deals are set to expire after this upcoming season. This number could go up, depending on what contracts Bennett, Kulak, and Wotherspoon sign. The two defenceman are probably more likely to sign shorter term deals as they continue to work to establish themselves as NHLers, though.

Players establishing themselves as NHLers – or at least with the potential to become one, and soon – will be the ultimate goal over the course of the next season for these 12:

  • Freddie Hamilton
  • Garnet Hathaway
  • Marek Hrivik
  • Mark Jankowski
  • Emile Poirier
  • Hunter Shinkaruk
  • Austin Carroll
  • Morgan Klimchuk
  • Daniel Pribyl
  • Hunter Smith
  • Jon Gillies
  • David Rittich

The group consists of 10 forwards and two goalies. We’ve already talked about the goalies in their own signing post – and like Lack, they’re kind of wild cards in their own right – so let’s focus on the forwards, six of whom have already played at least one NHL game.

Not all RFAs are created equal. Hamilton and Hathaway, for example, have proven themselves to be capable AHL players, but when it comes to the NHL, they’ll likely never be much more than fourth liners. That’s not a bad thing, though – teams need adequate depth, and someone who can actually play a regular shift will always be a better option than a dancing bear who would be lucky to get even 10 minutes in a single game. Hamilton is a capable, if unimpressive, forward who fits in the former category, while Hathaway is more of the mucking and grinding type.

Hrivik is an interesting wild card in this group. He’s put up decent numbers at the AHL level – better than Hathaway’s – but it appears he simply cannot score at the NHL level. However, in his limited NHL samples, he’s an advanced stats darling. Look at the far right of this Rangers graph put together by @ShutdownLine:

Keep in mind, though, that these guys probably don’t have much higher to climb, if at all. We’re talking about players with playing samples of 20-60 games already. Hrivik is the only brand new addition to the Flames who could prove to have hidden value as a fourth liner.

After them, you have players the organization has spent a couple of years investing in, and are legitimate prospects who have that one more year to really try to push for a spot, because this is when they should be starting to. Jankowski, Poirier, Shinkaruk, and Klimchuk are the higher end of this group. They have yet to boom or bust, but the clock is really ticking, starting now. Jankowski, the oldest of the group, should really be pushing Stajan for that fourth line centre spot.

Meanwhile, the Flames still have a spot on the wing open, which could be up for grabs. Shinkaruk has the most professional experience, Klimchuk the least, and Poirier falls in between; all three were first round picks from the 2013 draft, and Shinkaruk and Poirier will require waivers next season (Klimchuk’s later birthday buys him a season before he reaches that point, so even though his contract will be up in a year, there’s less pressure on him – unless his 2017-18 flops like his rookie pro season did). Poirier can probably be granted a bit more leeway, as we know he was battling alcoholism – but now there’s renewed hope for him to return to the form he exhibited during his rookie pro season. And as for Shinkaruk, he suffered from some inconsistency and injuries over the past season, but for him the clock is likely ticking the loudest.

Pribyl is on the fringe of this group: a newcomer to the Flames organization who posted just under half a point per game in 2016-17, all the while trying to adapt to North American ice and battling injury after injury after injury. Things don’t look great right now, but he’ll have an entire season to try to reverse the misfortunes from the previous year.

To round things out there’s Carroll and Smith, who don’t really have much potential to speak of. What they do have going for them is they’re right shots, so they could be in contention for an AHL deal after this upcoming season – but an NHL one probably shouldn’t be in their cards.

  • freethe flames

    When you look at that group of forwards surely one of them can make this team; it’s not like we are flush with high end forwards. I suspect that one of Rittich or Gilles will earn the back up position going forward and the other will be traded near the deadline(don’t be surprised if Lack is moved near the deadline as well if one of the two youngsters shines this year)

    Both Hathaway and F Hamilton should be pushed by the kids. The one advantage they have is both of them are RHS on a team with very few RHS. I suspect that Janko/Lazar will both be given a chance to earn a starting role to begin the season; then it is up to them to prove they belong. Shinkaruk, Klimchuk, Poireir all need to have a good camp and need to push for a job. With the departure of Bouma, Chaisson, and the fact that Hamilton is tweener and the poor season that Brouwer had there could be as many as /34 spots out of 14 open for the kids including guys like Foo and Mangiapane. I wonder how many of the kids will play and get a head start in the Young Stars tourney in Penticton?

    The best thing is that these young men all have a chance to push the pile and hopefully fulfill their dreams.

    • Puckhead

      If the Flames and Stockton have good seasons and are both playoff bound I can’t see any goalies being promoted or traded.

      Flames management has shown themselves to be cautious when it comes to giving rookies a shot. I will be shocked if more than 2 rookies start in the lineup.

      • freethe flames

        It depends if one of them really stands out ahead of the other; lot depends on the play of Lack if he struggles and one of the kids shine then I could also see the change. Also my bad for saying Parsons will be in the AHL to start; I meant the ECHL as the starter in KC. If he does well there I can see him being called up to the AHL. Again all any of us can do is speculate. The season will play out as it does and it should be interesting.

    • freethe flames

      I would love to see Pribyl live up to expectations but as I frequently say players have to earn their jobs. Again a big RHS that can play either RW or C would help this team significantly. So here’s hoping he has recovered from his injuries and has had a good off season of training. The more competitive training camp and preseason the better. Here’s the challenge is to make 8 lines for the double header vs Edmonton in the preseason. Also to determine who the Flames and the other teams send to the young stars tourney; I doubt we send Tkachuk but I see other teams sending last years first rounders.

  • Day1-Cfan

    Here’s hoping BT can get the last 3 RFA’S signed shortly so we will have no distractions coming into camp. I am looking forward to this season, it can not come fast enough!
    Looking for a great year out of Parsons as well , hope his play lights a fire under the other goalies ahead of him and we get strong performances out of them all.

      • Puckhead

        $4.25M for 7 years is a pretty sweet deal for Nashville. Nashville has Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis signed for a combined $20.5 million cap hit through 2019. That’s crazy good management. I think Nashville will be the team to beat in the western conference for a few years to come.

        Although I like Bennett, a shorter ‘show me’ deal seems to make more sense for both sides.

      • freethe flames

        Arvidson had almost as many point last year as Bennett has had in his career; no way Bennett gets signed for that kind of money. He might get that kind of money after his bridge contract. By the way I like Bennett but he has not done nearly to earn that kind of money or term.

  • freethe flames

    Just an interesting footnote: Spencer Foo is older than Janko, Poirier, Shinkaruk, and Klimchuk; with no professional experience- a classic late bloomer.

        • TheoForever

          And here comes the ConnorFart, what took you so long?
          He was fine with Flames 1goal, 3pts in 4 games, love this guys smile.
          Hey, that’s as many goals as Pulju had in 28 games.

          • Puckhead

            Man Crush 💕 replied to a comment about Foo. Totally confusing reply but that’s what you get from a tool who is not the sharpest in the shed. Foo is from Deadmonton and Lazar is from Salmon Arm but played for the Deadmonton Coil Kings. Both players have opted to play for the Flames, a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

        • Mr. J

          I love the delusion of Flames Fans thinking Foo and Lazar CHOSE the flames over the oilers. First of all read Foo and his agents comments. They said they felt foo had the best chance in Calgary. Translation- Calgary has a very very weak forward group and it would be easiest to make that team and get a payday. It’s a business and you all are acting like it was a grudge to EDM lol and Lazar was traded to Calgary. He had no choice. Trust me Lazar has peaked as a tweener. He’ll be a good minor
          League player for years to come.

          • Jumping Jack Flash

            Well I was a little unsure at first but when you indicated to “trust you” that changed everything. No doubt that you have inside knowledge, maybe your his Dad, maybe your a scout, or maybe you coached him either way I will take word for it. It is possible that you peaked as a poster….only time will tell.

  • Connor'sGotHart,Ross,Lindsay!

    Loozar. 39 points in 180 games and you guys are praising him like he is the next Draisaitl.
    The problem is those are Sam Bennett numbers he has put up.