61Dillon Dube
Photo Credit: Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports

Handicapping the last few roster decisions

The Calgary Flames have one pre-season game remaining when they host the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night. Their stated intention is to dress their opening night group, so their roster decisions will have to be made in the very near future.

Here’s a snapshot of how things look and what decisions still need to be made.

Who’s in?

Here are the 18 players who have nothing to worry about. They’re on the team.

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Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – Elias Lindholm
Matthew Tkachuk – Mikael Backlund – Michael Frolik
Milan Lucic – Derek Ryan – Sam Bennett
Andrew Mangiapane – Mark Jankowski – (somebody)

Mark Giordano – TJ Brodie
Noah Hanifin – Travis Hamonic
(somebody) – Rasmus Andersson

David Rittich
Cam Talbot

The combined cap hit (including buyouts) of these gentlemen is $77.07 million, which leaves $4.43 million to fill two everyday roster spots and potentially have an extra body or two.

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Who’s on the bubble?

Let’s start with some simple decisions. First off, for reasons of waiver eligibility and salary cap ease, it seems pretty likely that Michael Stone is on the team and that Andrew MacDonald will probably be signed. Between the two of them they’ll probably rotate in and out – Stone can play with Brodie on the third pair, MacDonald with Andersson – and neither will make north of league minimum ($700,000). Oliver Kylington has waiver exemption left, is a bit more expensive, and wasn’t great in pre-season outings. League minimum to Stone and MacDonald leaves $3.03 million to fill out the forward spots.

Let’s start with easy decisions. Alan Quine (and his $735,000 cap hit) is on the team probably for similar reasons as MacDonald and Stone. He’s inexpensive, he’s versatile, and he’s probably the ideally situated flex body as the 12th or 13th forward. He leaves $2.295 million to work with.

Here’s the challenge: how do you maximize the remaining space? Dillon Dube is a damn fine player, but he’s waiver exempt and didn’t blow the doors off in main camp like he did last season. He may be the easiest player to cut right now even though he has the most upside. Austin Czarnik knows the team and the systems, but he was so-so last season and carries a $1.25 million cap hit – the most of any of the bubble players. Tobias Rieder is fast and could probably be inked for league minimum but has limited offensive upside. The cheapest decision would be to go with Rieder, who could rotate with Quine.

But Czarnik is a right shot forward who could give the team some options for different looks up-front. Aside from the difference in cap hit (Czarnik would count $175,000 towards the cap if he was in the minors), it’s basically a toss-up between Dube, Czarnik and Rieder: Dube is the better five-on-five player, while Rieder’s penalty-killing work has been praised by Bill Peters. Toss a coin here, friends.

Don’t forget about Valimaki

Oh, and don’t forget the complicating factor of Juuso Valimaki. He’ll be listed on the opening roster as on the injury reserve and will be placed on the long-term injury reserve as soon as the Flames require the salary relief. We’ll get into the mechanics later on – LTIR is weirdly complicated – but the gist is the Flames will be allowed to exceed the daily salary cap by Valimaki’s $894,000 salary. In essence their cap ceiling is now about $82.394 million (including Valimaki’s hit), but they won’t be able to bank any cap savings for the future once they start dipping into the LTIR space.

Again, the mechanics of it are weird and complex. But there are incentives for the Flames to keep their cap hits minimal right now so they can bank some savings early and avoid dipping into the LTIR space until they absolutely need it. Think of Valimaki’s cap hit as a piggy bank: once you smash it open, you can’t exactly glue it back together again.

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Going with Stone, MacDonald, Quine and Rieder for the last roster spots would leave the Flames with $526,000 in cap space for the rest of the year. Well, before they need to dip into Valimaki’s LTIR space. Going with Czarnik for the last forward spot would give them $151,000, while going with Dube instead would give them $448,000.