We’re now truly in the depths of August: that time in the hockey calendar when absolutely nothing is happening. This seems especially true for the Flames as, after a flurry of activity in late June and a packed period of signings in July, things have ground to a halt.
There still remain a few orders of business, though, to see to before the season actually gets underway. Probably not to the extent of “Johnny Gaudreau not re-signing until two days before the season starts”, though.
What’s already done
With just under a week to go until the NHL draft, Brad Treliving kicked his offseason into high gear by trading for Mike Smith on June 17. That move alone was a major step towards solving the Flames’ goaltending woes, with it being assumed that neither incumbent from the 2016-17 season would be back. The ante was further upped just under two weeks later when, on June 29, Eddie Lack was also brought in.
In the span of 12 days, goaltending went from a complete question mark to set up – barring a potential, but probably unlikely, training camp performance that could see a hand forced.
The Flames were facing turnover on their blueline, no matter what. With so many players of lesser quality coming off of expiring contracts, it was inevitable. Still, Treliving really got things started on the draft floor. Early into the second day of the draft, on June 24, Travis Hamonic was acquired in exchange for picks. After years of it clearly being needed, the Flames finally looked to have solved their defensive woes by assembling a real top four.
Not even a week later, on June 30, Calgary stacked it up by deciding to re-sign Michael Stone just before free agency was set to open. With one spot presumably left open for a prospect, the Flames set their defence.
- The one UFA that mattered.
Most of the Flames players on expiring contracts weren’t exactly guys one would consider bringing back – except for one. While Kris Versteeg was a last day addition to the Flames’ roster at the start of 2016-17, he quickly proved his worth. Versteeg was re-signed on June 29 to a one-year, $1.75 million deal: probably about as blatant a hometown discount as one could expect to see.
- Minor dead weight removal.
The Flames aren’t immune to bad contracts, and the 2016-17 roster could clearly attest to that. While losing Deryk Engelland to the expansion draft (June 21) wasn’t going to have much of an impact, and several guys walking on July 1 was expected, Lance Bouma still had one season left on his $2.2 million deal. Bouma had not come anywhere close to living up to it, and with his function seeming to be nothing more than occupying a roster spot, he was bought out on June 30.
- Free agent forward depth.
The Flames didn’t make any real splashes in free agency. They added Marek Hrivik on July 1, and officially brought college free agent Spencer Foo into the fold that same day.
- Re-signing RFAs (and signing a prospect).
The last noise from the Flames as of late came about when six players received contracts over the course of nine days. On July 13, the Flames and Micheal Ferland successfully avoided arbitration by coming to a new deal. Ferland was the only Flame to file for arbitration. On July 14, Curtis Lazar was re-signed. On July 20, Garnet Hathaway was re-upped. To mix things up a bit, the Flames inked their first round draft pick – Juuso Valimaki, 16th overall – to his first NHL contract. And finally, on July 22, Jon Gillies and David Rittich were signed to identical deals.
That’s the last we’ve heard from the Flames. It has been almost a month.
What’s to come
- Re-sign remaining RFAs.
This is the only thing to really watch out for at this time – that we know of. Sam Bennett is the obvious name to look out for. Nobody is quite sure just where he’ll end up – though he’s proven to be an NHLer at a young age, his first two seasons have still been underwhelming – but he’ll likely get the richest RFA contract on this team, and should have the greatest impact on the cap out of everybody remaining.
Brett Kulak and Tyler Wotherspoon still need new contracts, too, and both players could be in contention to win that sixth and final spot open on the defence, with Kulak the current favourite.
- Re-sign Mikael Backlund.
This is probably the least pressing item on this list, but it’s still there. Over the past couple of seasons, but 2016-17 in particular, Backlund has established himself as one of the Flames’ most important players. His current contract will expire following the end of the 2017-18 season, and a new one will be necessary. Does it get done sooner or later? Better question: does it get done before Backlund potentially drives his price up with more high quality play?
- Sign… someone else?
There are still a number of free agents available, from older players (your Jaromir Jagrs, your Jarome Iginlas) to depth guys to guys who may be looking to a drastically reduced role compared to what they once had. While the Flames appear to have a mostly full lineup, with spots open for a couple of prospects and training camp battles, it wouldn’t be out of the question for them to add another player at some point. Remember that Versteeg was a last minute signing, after all.
There will also almost certainly be players on professional tryouts added to this group, if only to get the team through training camp. But don’t forget that, while the Flames likely won’t be making use of LTIR to start this season off, Nicklas Grossmann did earn an NHL contract – and a spot on the opening day lineup – off of a PTO.
- Training camp battles.
This is when we know hockey really is on the verge of coming back. Between Kulak, Wotherspoon, and Matt Bartkowski, who takes the remaining spots on the Flames’ defence? Does Mark Jankowski snag a spot out of camp? (Side note: I just realized how similar Matt Bartkowski and Mark Jankowski are, name-wise. I had to double check that those are actually their names even though I’ve been writing about them for months and/or years. I’m shook. If Bartkowski assists on a Jankowski goal or something I’m going to lose it.) Does Foo make the team, or does another prospective winger who had a good 2016-17 campaign upstage him? Does somebody else surprise – maybe not in making the NHL squad, but like Rasmus Andersson did after he was drafted, sticking around far longer than any other junior-eligible player?
The Flames have tended to graduate at least one prospect to the NHL the past couple of seasons (from Roman Horak to Josh Jooris to forwards picked high in the draft), and without any blatantly clear choices this time around (except for probably Kulak), it’ll be interesting to see who makes it an interesting camp.