The Flames have been busy since the opening of free agency Friday morning. They landed their number one target and made significant changes on defence. So what is Calgary still looking to do? And what else have the Flames been close to doing that hasn’t come to fruition. Here’s what we know with free agency more than three days old.
Jacob Markstrom. We’ve been all over this one for several weeks. In signing Markstrom to a six-year, $36 million contract on Friday, Calgary landed their unquestioned number one offseason target. It was my belief the Flames coveted Markstrom prior to the NHL’s shutdown back in March on the off-chance he got to free agency. Well, he did, and Calgary wasted no time in making a competitive, long-term pitch.
I won’t lie, though; I’m still a little stunned Markstrom became available. From what we understand, he and the Canucks were locked in negotiations in the days and hours leading up to free agency, but the two sides weren’t able to figure it out. It sounds like final numbers were in the five-year, $5.5 million range for Markstrom and Vancouver, but neither side would budge on protection.
Markstrom wanted a full no movement clause, which he got from the Flames. The Canucks weren’t willing to go down that road for expansion draft reasons. A full NMC would obligate Vancouver to protect Markstrom in the Seattle expansion draft, which would leave potential goalie of the future Thatcher Demko exposed. Instead of risking that, GM Jim Benning and the Canucks pivoted and signed Braden Holtby to a two-year deal.
In Markstrom, the Flames are getting something they haven’t had in essentially a decade: a true number one. I believe this is a homerun signing for Calgary and a defining moment of GM Brad Treliving’s tenure. Markstrom can shoulder a workload of 55 or 60 starts and sustain a high level of play, which Treliving is right to call “a unique skillset”. There aren’t 31 true number one goalies in the NHL, but I firmly believe Markstrom is of that caliber.
Markstrom’s contract doesn’t feel like a massive overpay in free agency, either, specifically considering it was fairly close to the most recent number being tossed around in Vancouver. The signing also keeps him away from a pair of division rivals: the Canucks, of course, and the Edmonton Oilers, who had a seven-year deal on the table.
Louis Domingue. The Flames added another goalie Saturday when they signed Domingue to a one-year, two-way deal at $700,000. While initially greeted by confusion by some fans online, the signing makes sense on a lot of levels. First off, it addresses overall organizational depth in net with the departures of Jon Gillies and Nick Schneider. But it goes further than that.
Treliving told me over the weekend he envisions a tandem of Markstrom and David Rittich next season, which looks good on paper. But in Domingue, the Flames get a goaltender with 139 NHL appearances to his name and someone they can feel comfortable with if injuries take their toll next season.
“We don’t know what the season is going to look like next year,” Treliving said. “We don’t know when it’s going to start. All of the indications point to that when it does start, we’re going to be playing a lot of hockey in a short period of time. Just look at the playoffs this year and how compressed they were, and look at the amount of goaltenders that people went through.”
Cam Talbot. When Talbot signed his three-year, $10 million deal with the Minnesota Wild, it really opened the door for Markstrom. From what we believe, the Flames were upfront with Talbot in their desire to chase Markstrom if he hit the market. While the team would have happily doubled back if a Markstrom deal didn’t work out, you can’t blame Talbot for pouncing on the deal he got from the Wild.
Talbot joined Calgary on a one-year “show me” deal last summer in an attempt to rehab his career. His strong performance in the second half of the regular season carried over into the NHL’s restart, which led to a solid contract from Minnesota. Cam got the term and the raise he was looking for and he deserves it.
The Flames have completed an overhaul in net, and the same is happening on the blueline. As of this publish date, Calgary’s most significant addition on defence has come in the form of Chris Tanev on a four-year, $18 million deal. The signing came late on Friday night and is coupled with numerous defensive departures.
The most noteworthy is TJ Brodie, who opted to sign a four-year, $20 million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs a few hours into free agency. A 2008 fourth round pick, Brodie played more than 600 games with the Flames and is coming off a resurgent season punctuated by a strong summer postseason. Many have connected the signing of Tanev and Brodie’s departure, which is fair, but only to an extent.
“When we went into the market, we made calls right away,” Treliving explained. “We had stayed in touch with TJ Brodie. Rightly or wrongly, we were upfront with the representatives in the case of TJ and some of our other UFA’s to say: here’s what we’re trying to accomplish. We’re trying to find a certain goaltender, we don’t know what that’s going to cost right now, we want to have the flexibility to make sure that we can achieve that. Once that’s done we’ll attack the second piece.
“The two defencemen on the right side that we talked a lot with were TJ and Chris. As things progressed throughout the day and we ended up coming to terms with Jacob, we turned to the defence and had stayed in regular communication with TJ’s representatives. When TJ made the decision to go to Toronto, once we got Jacob done, we immediately moved to finalize something with Chris.”
The Tanev signing is interesting, because I don’t think it’s as bad as some do. Realistically, Calgary paid the typical UFA premium to bring in a player that fills a need. This feels like a replacement for Travis Hamonic for an additional $800,000. That’s palatable if you believe, like I do, that Rasmus Andersson is ready for an everyday top four role.
Mark Giordano-Rasmus Andersson
Noah Hanifin-Chris Tanev
Juuso Valimaki/Oliver Kylington-??????
Real talk now: the Flames can’t be done reshaping their blueline. Calgary needs to add at least one more NHL regular, because depth on defence looks suspect right now. Tanev has never played more than 70 games in a season, which means you can almost pen him in to miss double digit games over the course of a full year. Valimaki also has injury concerns, missing significant time in each of the last three seasons.
Erik Gustafsson has signed in Philadelphia (one-year, $3 million) and Derek Forbort has joined the Jets (one-year, $1 million). We’re also not expecting Travis Hamonic to return, although he remains unsigned currently. As it stands, Calgary has a glaring hole on the right side unless you’re comfortable with Alexander Yelesin or newly signed Alex Petrovic playing every night.
The Flames have been quiet at forward thus far, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t tried. My intel suggested Calgary would take a run at Taylor Hall once free agency opened up and our Ryan Pike has confirmed they were in the mix prior to Hall signing in Buffalo. The Flames likely couldn’t have made Hall’s one-year deal at $8 million work with their current cap situation, but we know they made a push.
It also sounds like Calgary at least discussed a deal for Josh Anderson with the Blue Jackets before he was dealt to Montreal, which isn’t surprising. The Flames had been linked to Anderson for months, but you can understand them shying away from Columbus’s asking price. The Jackets ended up getting Max Domi and a third round pick for Anderson before the Habs signed him to a bonkers seven-year contract at $5.5 million per.
Calgary didn’t have a ton of free agents to address at forward, but they have brought back Buddy Robinson, Zac Rinaldo, and Byron Froese. Somewhat surprisingly, though, the team didn’t retain Tobias Rieder, who was a standout last year coming off a PTO. Rieder signed a one-year deal at $700,000 with the Sabres Friday afternoon, but not because Treliving didn’t want him back.
“We talked about what a contract would look like for us and he wanted a chance to enter the market and see if there was maybe what he felt was a better opportunity for himself.”
So that leaves us with the biggest unanswered question of the offseason: what change is still to come up front? Calgary isn’t signing Hall and Tyler Toffoli, another potential forward target, has signed in Montreal. Mikael Granlund and Mike Hoffman are still on the market, but are either the type of signing that would allow the Flames to trade a player like Sean Monahan or Johnny Gaudreau?
Calgary has just under $6 million of cap space and has a pair of RFA’s to deal with in Kylington and Andrew Mangiapane. With a hole on defence to fill and an assumed desire to shake things up at forward, it feels like any move for Gaudreau or Monahan would fall under the category of “hockey trade”. That would be a deal involving impact NHLers on both sides as opposed to one for cost-shedding reasons.
Now we wait and see.