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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports

Checking in on former Flames in the free agency market

The Calgary Flames have been big spenders in the unrestricted free agent market this year.

They made a big splash by spending $36 million over six years to bring in former Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom on Friday. They shelled out four years of term and another $18 million in salary later that day to sign defenseman Chris Tanev, also from Vancouver.

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Along with the usual depth signings — Louis Domingue, Zac Rinaldo, Alex Petrovic, and a couple of others, with more likely to come — these two big deals have squeezed out some of the Flames’ personnel from last year. Much has been made of the Flames losing five UFA defensemen to the market, but their losses don’t stop there.

These new departures from Calgary join many familiar names from the past in changing hands or, in some cases, still seeking employment in free agency. Let’s take a look at how former Flames have done in this year’s UFA season.

TJ Brodie

A year after nearly being traded to Toronto in exchange for Nazem Kadri, Mark Giordano’s longtime defense partner signed as a UFA with the Maple Leafs on Thursday. Brodie leaves Calgary ninth on the Flames’ all-time leaders in games played, at 634. He scored 48 goals and 266 points in the Flaming C, adding 15 points in 30 playoff games.

The fourth round pick in 2008 enjoyed something of a Rasmus Andersson-like trajectory in his early career. He finished his OHL career with the Barrie Colts in 2010 before spending a couple of years on the farm with the (Abbotsford) Heat, ultimately cracking the bottom pairing of the NHL roster for good in 2011–12, his fourth season after being drafted. He became a fixture in the Flames’ top four for the better part of eight seasons, largely playing on the right side despite his left-handedness. Now 30, Brodie joins Toronto on a four-year contract worth $5 million per season and will likely find himself again on the right side of his team’s top pair, this time beside Morgan Rielly.

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Travis Hamonic

Hamonic has yet to find a home on the open market despite having logged over 20 minutes of ice-time per game in each and every season of his 10-year career as an NHL defenseman. Traded to the Flames in 2017, Hamonic has played three seasons in Calgary, notably excelling in 2018–19 with excellent defensive results across the board. His other two campaigns have been less stellar and marred by some concerning injury issues that have followed him throughout his career.

The Vancouver Canucks have reportedly expressed interest in Hamonic but the rumour mill has otherwise remained quiet about the 30-year-old right-handed defenseman. Hamonic opted out of the NHL’s “Return to Play” program for the 2020 playoffs and it remains to be seen whether he’ll suit up for the 2020–21 season, whenever and however it is played.

Erik Gustafsson

Gustafsson was a solid presence on the power play for the Flames after they acquired him at the 2020 deadline, contributing 7 points (all assists) in his 17 games with the team. He’s a year removed from scoring 60 points with Chicago and he can play both sides on the back-end. He’s also only 28, young for a UFA. But, three days into the UFA signing period, Gustafsson still doesn’t have a home, and there haven’t been a ton of rumours surrounding him. With the market in a strange spot due to COVID-19, it’s possible Gustafsson emulates fellow “offense-man” Tyson Barrie in signing a one-year value deal somewhere.

Cam Talbot

Talbot was one of the first names off the board on Friday, signing a three-year deal with the Minnesota Wild worth $3.67 million per season. It’s a reasonably hefty deal for a 33-year-old goaltender but it also has the potential to be a good contract for a retooling Minnesota team. Talbot was a great pickup for Calgary last season, posting a 12-10-1 record with a .919 save percentage in the regular season before improving to 5-4 with a .924 in the playoffs.

Minnesota looks to be on the rise with the imminent arrival of Kirill Kaprizov and Marco Rossi and a great defense corps all locked in. Talbot has Alex Stalock as his backup for next year with top prospect Kaapo Kahkonen also coming up with stellar numbers at AHL Iowa. Talbot will likely find himself in a mentorship role very quickly.

Tobias Rieder

The Buffalo Sabres signed Rieder to a one-year, $700,000 deal on Oct. 9.

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Rieder was a solid defensive presence in a depth role with Calgary last season and will likely see some more minutes on a weaker Buffalo squad next year. He’ll probably spend some time with fellow ex-Flame Curtis Lazar, potentially together on a penalty-killing unit.

Mark Jankowski

After eight years in the Flames’ organization, Jankowski wasn’t tendered a qualifying offer by the team on Oct. 7 and became a UFA. He signed a one-year deal worth $700,000 with the Pittsburgh Penguins shortly after free agency opened. For Jankowski, it’s a chance to rebuild his value and learn from the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin up front. There’s a decent chance that he’ll slot into their lineup directly behind those guys as a bottom-six centre.

The Penguins have some very skilled bottom-six defensive forwards for him to play with, including Brandon Tanev (the brother of the Flames’ Chris), Zach Aston-Reese, Jared McCann, and Teddy Blueger. It’s easy to see Jankowski rebounding offensively and remaining strong defensively in Pittsburgh.

Michael Stone

Stone hasn’t found a home anywhere on the market thus far but will have a source of income either way: he’s scheduled to receive $1.167 million in buyout money from the Flames this year. Stone, 30, is from Winnipeg and it’s feasible to see him with the Jets as a possible fit; it’s also easy to see him joining his brother’s old team, the Ottawa Senators, who could potentially use a guy to compete with Nikita Zaitsev, Christian Jaros, Josh Brown and Erik Gudbranson on the right side (not to mention top prospect Erik Brannstrom).

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But, really, the most likely fit is probably in Calgary on a league-minimum deal. Stone lives here and the Flames will need a guy to sit in the press box behind the presumptive top-six of Mark Giordano, Chris Tanev, Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson, Juuso Valimaki, and Oliver Kylington. Stone isn’t suited to play big minutes at this point but, as a band-aid option, he’d be fine.

Derek Forbort

Winnipeg is already stocking up on Forbort license plates after the Jets signed the 28-year-old defenseman to a one-year, $1 million deal on Sunday.

Forbort is a steady and physical bottom pairing presence, exactly what the Jets needed after spending a year dealing with frightening depth options that provided exactly the opposite. He’s not going to replace Tyler Myers or Dustin Byfuglien, but he’ll be able to provide solid, if unspectacular, contributions in whatever minutes the Jets need him to play.

Ryan Lomberg

It looks like Ryan Lomberg might finally have found himself a full-time NHL home. The all-time leader in games played for the Stockton Heat (with 219), Lomberg signed a two-year, one-way deal with an AAV of $725,000 with the Florida Panthers on Friday.

Lomberg played 11 games for Calgary over the 2017–18 and 2018–19 seasons, registering one assist. He looked like a safe bet to play some more this year, emerging as a top player in Stockton with 20 points in 21 games before suffering a lower-body injury that prematurely ended his season. The 25-year-old winger has never been one to shy away from a fight, despite his diminutive 5’10” stature. It’ll be interesting to see how much time he spends in the big leagues with Florida.

Alan Quine

Noted playoff double-overtime hero Alan Quine played parts of the last two seasons with the Flames and acquitted himself reasonably well, racking up four goals and six points over 22 games’ worth of regular-season call-up duty. He played three playoff games with Calgary this year, registering an assist.

The 27-year-old centre signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $750,000 with the Edmonton Oilers on Friday. He’ll probably play a slightly larger role in Edmonton than he did in Calgary, although he may still see time with their affiliate in Bakersfield.

Jon Gillies

Jon Gillies, a.k.a. “goalie Mark Jankowski,” signed a one-year, two-way deal with the St. Louis Blues on Friday. Gillies was drafted by the Flames shortly after they picked Jankowski in 2012 and he backstopped Jankowski’s Providence College team for three seasons before joining the Heat in 2015–16 (yes, in the same year as Jankowski). Both guys made their NHL debuts by playing one game for the Flames in 2016–17, although Gillies’ was a little more memorable: he posted a .964 save percentage and made a crazy spinning save (on Forbort!) in a 4-1 victory over the Kings late in the season.

(Yes, that is Dennis Wideman scoring the game-winning goal, his last goal in the NHL, on a breakaway. Yes, Freddie Hamilton scored the insurance goal. That season was weird).

Anyhow, after that promising 2016–17 season, Gillies’ development stagnated. He disappointed in his 11-game stint with the Flames in 2017–18 and really struggled in the AHL the next year, posting an .889 save percentage over 45 games. He rebounded slightly with a .907 this year but it wasn’t enough for the organization to justify keeping him. Surprise: he now departs the organization at the same time as one Mark Jankowski.

Austin Czarnik, Rinat Valiev, and Nick Schneider

These three organizational depth players have yet to find new gigs after entering the market:

  • Czarnik, a UFA signing in 2018, spent the 2018–19 season in a depth role with Calgary before being relegated to the AHL this past season after recovering from a lower-body injury. As per his usual, he dominated in Stockton, posting 33 points in 32 games. He’s now 27 and likely a known quantity.
  • Valiev, a 25-year-old Russian defenseman, was acquired from Montreal as part of the Brett Kulak trade on the eve of the 2018–19 season and spent the last two years in Stockton, being called up to the Flames (but not playing) on a couple of occasions.
  • Schneider spent the last two years as a tandem goaltender for the ECHL’s Kansas City Mavericks, posting save percentages of .884 and .882 in those seasons in the admittedly defense-light league. He’s still just 23 but his numbers thus far haven’t been encouraging.

Other familiar faces

You might recognize these names from Flames teams of years’ past. Here’s how they’ve done on the UFA market:

  • Goaltender Brian Elliott signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal on Oct. 3 to remain with the Philadelphia Flyers. Elliott spent the 2016–17 season as the Flames’ starting goalie, posting a 26-18-3 record with a .910 save percentage in the regular season before falling apart completely in the playoffs en route to a sweep at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks. He signed with the Flyers that offseason.
  • Goaltender Mike Smith signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal on Saturday to remain with the Edmonton Oilers. His contract comes laden with bonuses, similar to the previous one-year contract he signed with Edmonton last year. Smith replaced Elliott in the Flames’ crease beginning with the 2017–18 season. He spent two years in Calgary with his play ranging from excellent to dreadful on any given night. Now 38, he’ll once again run tandem with Mikko Koskinen for the Oilers.
  • Defenseman Brandon Davidson signed a one-year, $700,000 deal on Friday with the Buffalo Sabres. The Taber, AB product played seven games with the Flames in 2019–20 before being traded to the San Jose Sharks at the trade deadline in exchange for “future considerations.”
  • Defenseman Oscar Fantenberg remains unsigned after spending the 2019–20 season with the Vancouver Canucks. Fantenberg was acquired from the Kings by the Flames at the 2019 trade deadline in exchange for a 2020 fourth-round pick; he played 18 total games with Calgary (including three in the playoffs), notching one assist.
  • Centre Derek Grant signed a three-year deal worth $1.5 million per season on Friday to rejoin the Anaheim Ducks for his third tour of duty with the team. Grant left the Ottawa Senators to sign with Calgary on July 1, 2015. He spent one year in the organization and tallied one assist in 15 games with the Flames. Following subsequent stints with Buffalo and Nashville, Grant (a forward, remember) finally scored his first NHL goal with his fifth team, Anaheim, in 2017–18, emerging that season as a dependable middle-six forward at the age of 27.
  • Winger Michael Frolik remains unsigned. He played parts of five seasons with the Flames between 2015 and 2020 before being traded to the Buffalo Sabres in January. Frolik registered three assists in 19 games with the Sabres and scored one empty-net goal before the season was suspended due to COVID-19. Frolik will turn 33 in February and isn’t the player he once was in Calgary but could still be a decent option for a fourth line somewhere.
  • Defenseman Deryk Engelland remains unsigned. He spent the last three years with the Vegas Golden Knights after being selected from the Flames in the 2017 expansion draft. He served as an alternate captain with Vegas in all three of those seasons and notably gave a powerful speech before the club’s first home game after the tragic October 1, 2017 shooting in Las Vegas. Before joining Vegas, Engelland spent three seasons with the Flames after signing as a UFA in 2014.