The Flames’ season is over, and soon enough, some of the contracts of players on the team will officially expire as well. There aren’t too many of them at the NHL level – for the most part, this team’s roster makeup is set – but it still begs the question for some of these players: should the Flames try to keep them? Or is it time to simply part ways?
The lone forward unrestricted free agent on the Flames, Garnet Hathaway, 27, has had a hell of a journey to make the NHL. An undrafted forward who played his way up from an AHL contract into multiple NHL deals, all with the same organization, Hathaway is now a veteran of 175 games at the highest level, an energy player effective enough to earn a regular spot in the lineup. With 40 points in those 175 games – 19 this past season alone – he’s also capable of contributing offensively, even though scoring isn’t the main part of his game.
Therein lies the red flag: Hathaway scored 11 goals this past season, a career high by seven. You can’t take any of those away from him, but you can advise caution when considering how a future season of his may go: he had a 14.3 shooting percentage this past year, well above the 5.9% he posted when he scored four goals in 2017-18 with only nine more shots taken. Though it’s certainly possible, the safe bet would be to not think he’s going to hit the double digits in scoring again. This isn’t a rookie coming into his own: this is a depth player who had a good year and isn’t a safe bet to repeat it.
He averaged 10:32 in ice time per game, carved out a role as a pretty good penalty killer, but had the worst CF at 49.47% among all Flames regulars. As a depth player, Hathaway works, but that involves him receiving a depth cap hit. Evolving Wild’s model has him receiving a one-year deal for a $938,795, which seems entirely reasonable; anything more than that, though, and it would probably make more sense for the Flames to move on.
Dalton Prout, 29, spent most of the season as the Flames’ seventh defenceman. With Michael Stone out most of the year due to a blood clot and the Flames’ prospective defencemen capable of performing at the NHL level already, there just wasn’t quite as much room for him in the lineup. When he did get in, it was in part due to his 6’3, 215 lb. frame – though having 262 games of NHL experience probably helped, as well.
Prout only averaged 13:07 a game when he did play, though, and his 50.59% CF wasn’t comparatively great – only rookies Juuso Valimaki and Oliver Kylington had lower ratings as far as Flames defencemen went. He carried an $800,000 cap hit this season.
But it probably just makes more sense to move on from Prout at this stage, or have him in the AHL but not the NHL. With Rasmus Andersson proving he’s ready for a major NHL role, Valimaki right behind him, and Kylington with a ton of potential and now experience of his own, there just isn’t room, even as an extra defenceman.
And that’s because the extra defenceman role – if it doesn’t go to a recovered Stone who could be set to get a fresh start next season – could very well now be Oscar Fantenberg’s. The Flames’ lone addition at the trade deadline, Fantenberg, 27, drew into the lineup for most games after being acquired, as well as three playoff games. He averaged 15:50 a game over that time, and posted a 56.58% CF along with it – albeit that’s a very small sample size.
Fantenberg carried a cap hit of just $650,000 this past season, and Evolving Wild’s model predicts him to clock in at a $1.383 million cap hit over a two-year deal. If that holds true, he would cost more than Prout, but he’s also probably the safer option as an extra defenceman: Fantenberg played a steady if unspectacular game, and could be good backup for any potentially struggling sophomores next season. He offers decent upside and no real angst to him drawing into the lineup.
Fantenberg seems like a good candidate to be the Flames’ seventh defenceman next year – though Stone still has another year at a $3.5 million cap hit, so perhaps that role would belong to him, even if out of sheer convenience. Fantenberg is probably worth exploring bringing back, though there is a chance that, just like with Prout, there simply may not be room for him.
And then, of course, the big one: Mike Smith started 40 games for the Flames this past season. He posted a .898 save percentage, one of the worst in the NHL. He had a couple of phenomenal playoff games, but ultimately, that’s all they were: a couple of games. And then, the real kicker: he’s 37 years old and it’s more likely than not his career will be over sooner rather than later.
The playoff games were good ones, but the Flames still have yet to find a long-term solution to their goaltending woes. This past season could have been a blip on Smith’s radar – in 2017-18 he did post a .916 save percentage – but considering just how poorly things went combined with his age, the smart money says Smith doesn’t make too much sense as a goalie playing half of the season for the Flames going forward.
That doesn’t mean he can’t still play goalie at the NHL level: it means the Flames have a choice to make. Do they want to spin their wheels for another year, hoping the David Rittich we saw in the first half of the season – before he was injured – is their starter of the future, or do they want to be more proactive? There could very well be a space for Smith on the team in 2019-20, but he doesn’t present a meaningful upgrade at this time, so it would have to be on a cheap cap hit while praying Rittich is the real deal.
Or the Flames could look for new solutions to solve the one position that’s seemed to elude them. That one is probably the way to go. It’s only if they can’t find any other goalies with present and future upside that they should look at bringing Smith back and hoping he can replicate his playoff performance over the course of the regular season. Not being able to make something new work is one thing, but at the very minimum, they should be looking.
Who should stay, who should go?
I would say Fantenberg should be the free agent the Flames look at retaining the most, but with a couple of caveats attached, namely just how many of their defencemen already under contract will be sticking around (Stone and his cap hit especially).
Hathaway follows Fantenberg: as long as he’s kept at a manageable cap hit and there’s no expectation of another 11-goal season, he’s perfectly fine as a depth option and penalty killer.
Smith would follow Hathaway, but again with a caveat: the Flames should be exploring other, more long-term goaltending solutions.
And finally, Prout: with Andersson and Valimaki almost certainly full-time NHLers to start next season, the defence is crowded. Does he fit in on the Flames in an NHL capacity at all anymore? Probably not, though the farm team could be a possibility.