Unable to reach a deal on their own, the Flames and Brett Kulak had to turn to an arbitrator to get the latter signed. Now, the arbitrator has handed down their ruling: Kulak will be playing the 2018-19 season on a one-year, one-way deal worth $900,000.
Arbitrator has ruled on #Flames D Brett Kulak — a one-year deal worth US$900,000. It’s a one-way contract.
— Wes Gilbertson (@WesGilbertson) July 25, 2018
From an outside perspective, Kulak and the Flames’ battle has appeared to be at least somewhat ugly: that the two actually went to arbitration to begin with, let alone waited for the arbitrator to hand down their ruling, is testament that there was some disconnect between the team and player.
The Flames successfully waived Kulak ahead of the meeting, a move that showed he had limited value; they were trying to re-sign him to a league-minimum deal, whereas Kulak’s camp felt he was worthy of a raise into the seven-digit mark. The two were $500,000 apart, so the arbitrator split the difference: a $900,000 cap hit is exactly in between the amounts both parties were asking for.
At this stage, Kulak doesn’t project to be much more than a depth defenceman; the Flames have a number of bodies ahead of him, and quite a few prospects who not only have higher ceilings, but may be ready to make their push for an NHL spot sooner rather than later. This contract guarantees Kulak will be one of the Flames’ lower-paid defencemen, but not the lowest: Dalton Prout, who may be the team’s seventh guy, has a cap hit of $800,000 for the 2018-19 season, while both Rasmus Andersson and Juuso Valimaki’s entry-level contracts fall under $900,000.
Kulak’s arbitration award may put the Flames in a bit of a cap bind, however, especially after re-signing Mark Jankowski to a $1.675 million cap hit. The team has just under $4.7 million in cap space remaining with four players left to sign: Noah Hanifin, Garnet Hathaway, David Rittich, and Hunter Shinkaruk. At least one likely won’t be in the NHL at all next season, and possibly as many as three; Hanifin is the only one that really needs to be retained in order for them to be able to dress a full roster.
Assuming Hanifin gets a Brandon Montour-esque deal – two years, a $3.3875 cap hit – the Flames would have a little over $1.3 million remaining in space, and that doesn’t account for any potential in-season crises or Matthew Tkachuk bonuses.
It’s going to be tight, but if the Flames are worth their salt, they’re preparing for this: either they can make it work, or there’s a trade or buyout on the horizon.