Michael Frolik has had an interesting tenure with the Flames.
Perhaps Brad Treliving’s best July 1 signing, when Frolik was brought into the fold during the 2015 offseason, it made a lot of sense: he was one of the top right wingers on the market, and his great underlying numbers had him pegged as a perfect fit for playing alongside Mikael Backlund, who up until that point had been playing with the Lance Boumas and David Joneses of the hockey world.
Furthermore, he was brought onto a team just starting to get its upswing in order, and one that had plenty of room to give him a well-earned five-year, $4.3 million AAV contract.
Things have changed since then, though, and by a lot. Once guaranteed second line ice time and a top spot on the penalty kill, Frolik has seen his role diminished over the years. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan became established top line players, Matthew Tkachuk jumped into the NHL right away, and Elias Lindholm helped round out an impressive young forward group. Backlund never really took a step back, but Frolik – now 30 – was hit with a particularly brutal 2017-18 season, even when compared to the similarly disappointing seasons many of the Flames had that year.
And now the Flames have a Frolik freshly returned from injury, who is still an occasional healthy scratch, with just nine points on the season, still on the books for another season after this one, still carrying a $4.3 million cap hit right when Tkachuk’s is about to go up exponentially.
Frolik only averages 12:02 a game now; he hasn’t seen ice time that low since the 2013-14 season, when the Blackhawks used a then-24-year-old Frolik in a pure shutdown role, giving him 12:31 minutes a night. He had three 40-point seasons since then (likely would have been four, if it weren’t for another injury), but those days appear to be behind him, especially considering the forward depth ahead of him now.
On the one hand, if Frolik is playing in your bottom six, you probably don’t have that many issues with your forward construction. On the other hand, that’s a hefty chunk of change for someone the coach doesn’t seem to trust playing in a fairly limited role.
Throw another wrench into the mix: the Flames look like they’ll be going to the playoffs this year (knock on wood), which means it might be time to buy at the trade deadline. Frolik could potentially be a trade chip – he’s still a good enough player, and another team may have bigger minutes in line for him – or crucial forward depth for a postseason run, especially considering how he still appears to be the best fit alongside Tkachuk and Backlund.
Which brings us to the What Would You Do Wednesday question: where do you see Frolik finishing the year? If it’s on the Flames, is it with a reunited 3M line, or does he play further down the lineup? Is it worth it to hold onto him for this season for forward depth purposes, or would it be better now to try to cut the cap hit loose?
If he does get traded, is there anyone available to step in for him right now? The Flames have been shuffling AHL forwards and prospects all season; fun as Alan Quine’s run was, he’s not as good as Frolik, and players like Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane haven’t looked like they’re quite up to the task of regular NHL minutes over a full season just yet. Or would he be a part of a package to bring in a true top six linemate for Tkachuk and Backlund (one that would likely cost the Flames another good, young player – potentially one of their rookie defencemen)?
Agent-inspired complaints aside, Frolik’s usage this year under Bill Peters has been odd, and it may be a hint that the team doesn’t see him in their plans for much longer. But in the meantime, there doesn’t really appear to be anyone else available who can play at the level he does – and maybe it’d be best to not just hang on to him, but re-elevate his role, unless an offer or option the Flames can’t refuse comes up instead.