With training camp fast approaching, the Flames have less than $8 million in cap space with a pair of players unsigned: Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane. Calgary needs to free up space and is actively exploring ways they can make that happen. Some options are more desirable than others, but all of the following three are better than not having Tkachuk signed.
RFA: Tkachuk, Mangiapanehttps://t.co/q3YrmsLP3P
— PuckPedia (@PuckPedia) August 1, 2019
Per PuckPedia, the Flames officially have $7.756 million in available cap space with some slight wiggle room, which we’ll get into. Even with the most low-end Tkachuk estimates ($8 million AAV on a long-term deal, $7 million on a bridge), Calgary doesn’t have the room to sign both players. That’s why the following options are ones the team has to consider, whether they like them or not.
Trade Michael Frolik or TJ Brodie
When the Flames bowed out to Colorado more than four months ago, it seemed like moving one or both of Brodie and Frolik was a foregone conclusion. With August coming to an end, both players remain Calgary property and still have the most obvious contracts to move. The circumstances are a little different now, though, at least for one of the guys in question.
With Juuso Valimaki’s knee injury and a few other off-season transactions, the Flames don’t boast the blueline depth they had late last season. While Calgary still has a strong group one through five, a couple injuries puts the team in a difficult spot compared to recent years. As such, a trade involving Brodie doesn’t seem near as likely now as it did a few months ago.
Even before the Valimaki news, I felt Brodie had a key role to play for the Flames this season. With Valimaki out, though, there’s a good chance Brodie will be spending plenty of time with Mark Giordano this season. At worst, and regardless of your opinion on him as a player, Brodie is a bona fide NHL defenceman with the ability to play 22-25 minutes a night.
If the team doesn’t have to move Brodie in a cap-driven transaction, they probably shouldn’t. That said, if it’s the only viable option, they may not have much of a choice. We know there’s a market for Brodie, or at least there was, as this summer’s ill-fated swap with Toronto showed us. Knowing the situation, Calgary may not be able to get a great return for him, but I still think moving Brodie is a realistic proposition.
Trading Frolik isn’t out of the question either, and doesn’t come with the depth worries that a Brodie deal does. The problem in moving Frolik comes down to asset management. Frolik remains an effective NHL forward: he’s a strong two-way winger and penalty killer that isn’t easily replaced in Calgary. In ideal circumstances, the Flames wouldn’t be eager to ship him out.
The rest of the league is fully aware of Calgary’s cap crunch, so I question how many teams will be lining up to help them clear cap space. Unfair as it might be, the Flames might be forced to eat part of Frolik’s salary and accept a mediocre return to find a partner. Or, potentially worse, they might have to throw in a sweetener to move an effective player.
Is accepting pennies on the dollar, if there’s even a market, in return for a viable NHL forward something Calgary’s braintrust can wrap their head around? Or does it make more sense to explore other options?
Trade a smaller contract
While Brodie and Frolik are the two obvious candidates to move out for cap reasons, they aren’t the only ones. Mark Jankowski and Austin Czarnik make significantly less, but moving one (or both) players could help free up the space the team needs. Going down this road is a double-edge sword for the Flames, though.
On the one hand, Calgary would almost certainly get a much more commensurate return for either one of Jankowski or Czarnik. Both are 26 years old or younger and carry very manageable cap hits, which makes them desirable targets for other teams. Conversely, though, the Flames likely aren’t eager to be dealing young, affordable players with upside.
Suggesting a Jankowski trade is taboo for some. He’s a former first round pick, has been decently productive in two NHL seasons, and there is hope he might be the heir apparent as a top two centre. I’m not quite as quick to put Jankowski in the “untouchable” category, though.
He turns 25 in a few weeks and is starting to enter “is what he is” territory, which isn’t necessarily negative. Jankowski can play in the league, but nothing I’ve seen suggests he’s close to usurping Mikael Backlund or Derek Ryan on the depth chart. With Dillon Dube and Alan Quine in the system, Calgary could withstand dealing Jankowski and would get a decent return for him.
Czarnik also seems somewhat redundant, even if that sounds unfair. Czarnik played 54 games with the Flames last year and showed flashes of a useful signing mixed with stretches of ineffective bottom six minutes. The emergence of Dube and Mangiapane gives Calgary more options on the wing and Czarnik could probably get the team something via trade, even if it’s not substantial.
At $1.675 million and $1.25 million for Jankowski and Czarnik, respectively, the Flames probably aren’t going to clear all the space they need with just one trade. Combined with some other tweaks, though, and it might get them in the neighbourhood.
Bury money in the American League
This is the easiest option for the Flames, although it almost certainly wouldn’t be enough on its own. But, let’s assume Calgary’s setup looks something like this to start the season:
Johnny Gaudreau-Sean Monahan-Elias Lindholm
Matthew Tkachuk-Mikael Backlund-Michael Frolik
Andrew Mangiapane-Derek Ryan-Sam Bennett
Milan Lucic-Mark Jankowski-Czarnik/Dube
PuckPedia’s projected cap space currently includes Czarnik, Dube, and Quine in the calculations. If/when Tkachuk and Mangiapane sign, that would leave the Flames with 14 forwards, meaning they’d have the option to bury one forward contract in the minors. Here’s where things get a little complicated, but thanks to our friends over at CanucksArmy, it’s a little easier to understand.
Per Article 50.5 (diB6) of the CBA, the Flames will be able to bury up to $1.075 million of cap space in the American League this season.
This year’s minimum salary has been bumped to $700,000, which is how we get our $1.075 million total.
- 2018-19: $650,000 + $375,000 = $1,025,000
- 2019-20: $700,000 + $375,000 = $1,075,000
- 2020-21: $700,000 + $375,000 = $1,075,000
- 2021-22: $750,000 + $375,000 = $1,125,000
So, while Calgary wouldn’t be able to bury the entirety of a contract like, say, Czarnik’s, they’d still be freeing up more than $1 million of cap space. Math is far from my strong suit, but combined with another smaller trade, the Flames might be in business.
$1.675 (Jankowski trade) + 1.075 million (Czarnik demotion) = $2.75 million
$2.75 million (new cap space) + $7.756 million (prior cap space) = $10.506 million
With approximately $10.5 million in cap space, it would be a far more realistic proposition for Calgary to get both Tkachuk and Mangiapane under contract. As much as the Flames would love to make one cure-all move to open up the necessary cap space, it may not be realistic. That’s why they might need to make a series of smaller moves.
Buckle up, because it is going to be a fascinating next month or so.