Assuming there are no further signings or trades – a big assumption, but completely unpredictable at this stage – then the Flames still have a few items of housekeeping to wrap up, some of which will have to be done in short order.
Specifically, six restricted free agents need to be signed. Even more specifically, four of them are eligible for arbitration, starting as early as July 23. All four will be under contract by the end of the month.
Neither Noah Hanifin nor Hunter Shinkaruk are arbitration eligible, so the Flames may take their time getting them inked to new deals. Shinkaruk will likely come in relatively cheap: while this will only be his second big league contract, he hasn’t done much to prove he’s an NHLer, and scored at just barely half a point-per-game in the AHL this past season.
Hanifin will be the interesting one – will the Flames try to sign him long term? Will they bridge him? – but, unlike fellow former Hurricane Elias Lindholm, there’s no clock on his negotiation.
And besides, the Flames have a little over $7 million left in cap space; they may need to see how everyone else shakes out before tackling his deal.
July 23 – Brett Kulak
Brett Kulak may be an interesting, if perhaps underwhelming, case. By trading away Dougie Hamilton, the Flames introduced a massive shakeup to their defence: gone is a steady top pairing player, with hopes that an older defender coming off of a few rough seasons – TJ Brodie – will be able to take his place.
If he can’t, then the Flames may be in trouble. Potentially a part of the solution would be Kulak, who just this past season established himself as an NHL regular, albeit one who plays limited minutes (averaging 12:59 in ice time over 71 games) and doesn’t really score (two goals – both against the Rangers – and eight points total).
Kulak, 24, could conceivably still improve. If anything, he’s probably ready to get more responsibility. And that may be something the Flames need from him this upcoming season, if Brodie struggles, or Hanifin, or if a Juuso Valimaki or Rasmus Andersson isn’t ready quite yet.
But it goes both ways: if Valimaki or Andersson or both are ready, then Kulak becomes redundant fairly quick. And being placed on waivers certainly doesn’t help his case.
Kulak is coming off of a $650,000 cap hit. It’s fair to say he’s earned a raise, but is he in seven digits territory? The Flames don’t seem to think so.
July 27 – Mark Jankowski
The Flames added forward depth this offseason, which could see Mark Jankowski – the 2017-18 Flames’ de facto third line centre – tumble down the lineup. Or it could see him stay exactly where he was. Or, if he takes a massive step forward, he could improve – though that’s very much counting chickens before they hatch.
At this stage of his career, Jankowski is a bottom six NHL centre. He averaged 13:21 in ice time over 72 games; he scored 17 goals and 25 points, boasting an impressive – if, perhaps, unsustainable – 14.4 shooting percentage along the way. He should take a step forward this upcoming season, but will it be enough to overtake Sean Monahan or Mikael Backlund? That’s much harder to believe; Jankowski was often heavily sheltered, and hasn’t displayed the scoring or defensive prowess of the others yet. (For any objectors of Backlund, remember: he scored 25 points in 73 games in his first full NHL season at a younger age.)
Is Jankowski due for a raise from his two-year $925,000 cap hit contract? Probably; it’s easy to see him earning seven figures. But there’s a long way to go: maybe an Austin Czarnik type deal. Remember that though Czarnik hasn’t shown as much in the NHL, he was negotiating from a UFA’s standpoint; Jankowski still has restrictions applying.
July 28 – David Rittich
The Flames re-signed Jon Gillies to a two-year deal worth an annual average value of $750,000. Gillies is Rittich’s primary competition for the Flames’ backup job. Both have had successes and failures at the NHL level, all within a rather short period of time.
Rittich gets a leg up on Gillies thanks to his arbitration-eligible status, but it’s be pretty difficult to see him earning much more. Gillies got a modest raise from his previous $725,000 cap hit – the exact same one Rittich had in 2017-18.
July 30 – Garnet Hathaway
A few staples from the Flames’ depth group have likely been hurt by the additions of Lindholm, Czarnik, Derek Ryan, and James Neal. Garnet Hathaway should be prime among them. He played 59 games this past season, averaging 11:32 in them. He scored just four goals and 13 points. He’s willing to fight and play physical, but beyond that, there’s not much to write home about.
Hathaway is coming off of a one-year deal worth $650,000. It’s entirely conceivable he doesn’t make the Flames’ roster at all next year, or is primarily sitting in the press box. With that in mind, it’s difficult to see him getting too much of a raise, if any.
And when that’s all done…
Though, perhaps the Flames will re-sign Shinkaruk and Hanifin before every arbitration-eligible player is handled.
But assuming they don’t, then Jankowski will likely be the one to watch. Whatever contract the Flames sign him to could dictate how they’re able to use their remaining cap space – not to mention their level of faith in the player going forward, particularly with a vastly overhauled forward group he’ll be contending for ice time amongst.