142
Photo Credit: Perry Nelson/USA Today Sports

Which Flames forwards will return to Calgary next season?

The 2019–20 Calgary Flames outlasted their predecessors from last year by one playoff game, jumping out to a 2–1 series lead in the first round against the Dallas Stars before losing three straight games to end their season.

Sure, they beat the Winnipeg Jets in the newfangled play-in series, but, at the end of the day, the Flames finished 14 wins away from the Stanley Cup, compared to 15 in 2018–19.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

This season was a test for the Flames’ core. Their score? A resounding meh-out-of-10. And that’s led to raucous chatter by fans and media members alike regarding the future of many of the Flames’ stars, supporting players, and coaches.

Here at FlamesNation, we’ll be taking extended looks at all of the Flames’ players individually throughout the summer and fall. But, for now, let’s take a brief gander at the roster and staff to determine which Flames can probably start packing their bags.

Forwards

Johnny Gaudreau Everyone is talking about Gaudreau. While it’s certainly not a given he’s played his last game as a Flame, it does make some sense for the Flames to explore trade options for him this summer. He has two years remaining on a deal that pays him $6.75 million per season, but this is the final summer of that contract where he doesn’t have a no-trade clause. Gaudreau would have a lot more say over where he’s traded if the Flames wait until the summer of 2021 to do it. But Gaudreau, 27, said today that Calgary is a “second home” to him, and it’s hardly unthinkable that he would sign another deal with the Flames. Odds of staying: 40%.

Sean Monahan — Monahan is a very good goal-scorer with three years left on his team-friendly contract. He had a poor playoff this year, but does that really spell the end for him here? Trading Monahan would send the Flames’ centre depth back to the Brent Sutter era unless a corresponding move can be made to bring a better guy in. But as of now, Monahan looks to be the best centre on the market. Unless a ridiculous offer is made or the Flames decide to drastically change the path of their organization, Monahan probably isn’t going anywhere. Odds of staying: 80%.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Elias Lindholm — Lindholm struggled mightily in the playoffs. But the Flames heavily invested in him just two summers ago and he’s the type of versatile forward teams don’t surrender easily. His defensive impact is somewhat overstated, but it’s still  valuable. Nothing’s impossible, but a Lindholm trade would certainly be a big surprise. Odds of staying: 95%.

Matthew Tkachuk — Something miraculous and unforeseen would have to occur for the Flames to even consider trading Tkachuk. If, for whatever reason, Jack Eichel or Auston Matthews hit the trade market, maybe the Flames would look at moving Tkachuk in a deal for one of those two. But even that’s not for certain. The Flames are thrilled with how Tkachuk has developed. Right now, he’s probably their captain-in-waiting. Odds of staying: 99%.

Mikael Backlund — Backlund is definitely expensive. With four more years on his deal at $5.35 million per, the Flames might look at him as a potential cap casualty if they’re looking at adding someone big to their mix. At the same time, though, Backlund is the Flames’ best shutdown forward. He has underrated scoring ability. And if the Flames are maybe looking at running with someone cheaper like Sam Bennett or Dillon Dube as their second-line centre, maybe they can afford to keep the more expensive Backlund manning their “third” unit. Odds of staying: 85%.

Andrew Mangiapane — Mangiapane is a restricted free agent who already went through a lengthy contract negotiation with the Flames one summer ago. Ultimately, Mangiapane ended up accepting his $715,000 qualifying offer last year, but he’s definitely now in line for a more costly deal. He’s great in both ends at even-strength, and, ideally, the Flames would move money to fit him in. But, until he’s locked in, there will always be a likelihood that a team with more flexibility swoops in with a trade proposal or even an offer sheet. Odds of staying: 75%.

Milan Lucic — It’s impossible to ignore Lucic’s $5.25 million cap hit for three more years. If the Flames decide to trade him, they’ll almost certainly have to take another bad contract back. But why do it? The Flames know that Lucic is a good fit on their third line. He turned back the clock as part of a terrific unit with Bennett and Dube in the playoffs. Lucic provides the Flames with solid value and there’s no need for them to sacrifice that fit, especially considering that they probably won’t get a good return in a trade. Odds of staying: 99%.

Sam Bennett — After a showstopping turn in the playoffs, Sam Bennett’s value is the highest it’s been in years. Despite playing with a torn triceps, Bennett was the Flames’ best skater in both the Jets and Stars series, finally beginning to look like the top-six centre that the Flames wanted when they selected him fourth overall in 2014. He skated with confidence, passed and shot the puck well, and dominated everyone physically with 54 hits in 10 games. But the question is: will they bring him back next year and try to replicate that success, or will they trade him at peak value? Only time will tell. We’ll be digging into this more throughout the summer. Odds of staying: 60%.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Derek Ryan — “Doc” is a valuable penalty killer and a good secondary scoring option. But, at 33, he’s also the Flames’ oldest forward, and his current $3.125 million AAV UFA contract expires next summer. He’s the most obvious cap casualty on the roster right now. That said, his defensive value was on full display during the playoffs, even if his offensive output fell short of expectations. Furthermore, the Flames could take a look at signing Ryan again after his current deal expires even if they trade him. A lot depends on how aggressive they are in free-agency this off-season. Odds of staying: 45%.

Dillon Dube — The Cochrane product Dube enjoyed a great playoff campaign with four goals in 10 games. He showed great speed, good instincts at both ends, and a willingness to get into the tougher areas of the ice. He can play both centre and wing. And, best of all, he’s signed for a pittance next year: $778,000. The Flames would be remiss to move one of their top young talents unless something truly gobsmacking came along. Odds of staying: 99%.

Mark Jankowski — After encouraging rookie and sophomore seasons, Jankowski’s production cratered in 2019–20. He posted 31 goals and 57 points in his first 151 NHL games, but regressed to just five goals and seven points in 56 games this season. Similar lacklustre production condemned Curtis Lazar to the AHL after the 2017–18 season, where he remained before being allowed to walk to UFA after not having his rights qualified by the Flames in the summer of 2019. The Flames will have to offer Jankowski a one-way, $1.75 million contract this summer to retain his exclusive negotiating rights. Even if the Flames don’t qualify him, they can still negotiate with him as a UFA, but, given his poor production and the team’s impending cap crunch, that seems unlikely. Odds of staying: 5%.

Tobias Rieder — Rieder made the most of an increased role in the playoffs, providing rock-solid penalty killing and displaying a little of the offensive confidence Arizona Coyotes once expected from him. As the season progressed, Rieder seemed to grow into Jankowski’s old role little-by-little before seizing it from him in the post-season. Flames GM Brad Treliving and VP of Hockey Ops Don Maloney, themselves both ex-Coyotes brass, are more than familiar with what Rieder can do, while interim coach Geoff Ward seemed more than comfortable with deploying Rieder in all types of situations. His blazing speed and solid defensive results make him a good bet to be kept in the fold, while his relatively low offensive production in the regular season should keep him cheap. Odds of staying: 65%.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Zac Rinaldo  Rinaldo is what you want in a regular-season deterrent. He has decent boots, he’s fearless, and he can give a team a real spark. The Flames played with a lot of swagger in November and December when Rinaldo was inserted into games. He plays with plenty of heart and he knows his role. The problems come when he’s dressed every night, particularly in the playoffs. Rinaldo’s usefulness wanes substantially when teams begin to adjust. His best attribute is the element of surprise, but that doesn’t really hold in a playoff series when his team plays against the same guys over and over. Still, you can do worse as far as extra forwards go. Odds of staying: 20%.

Buddy Robinson and Alan Quine — These are two guys the Flames like. They have both proven themselves capable of playing bottom-six minutes in times of need. Robinson provides great size and decent skating, while Quine is a responsible two-way player. Both guys will almost certainly find two-way NHL contracts next year, but it’s entirely possible that a non-Flames team offers either of them a deal with the promise of a bigger role. But the Flames also need guys like Quine and Robinson in their organization to compete with prospects and be available in the case of injury. Odds of staying: 40%.

Austin Czarnik — Czarnik signed in Calgary to escape the AHL. As a member of the Boston Bruins organization, he was all-too-often relegated to the minors thanks to their abundance of quality forwards. Two years later, Czarnik found himself right back in the AHL for the vast majority of the second year of his two year contract. He’s simply not a good enough scorer to play top-six minutes with the Flames, and he doesn’t play the style of hockey that most teams are looking for in the bottom-six. He’ll probably try to find more NHL minutes somewhere else. Odds of staying: 1%.