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Photo Credit: Candice Ward/USA Today Sports

The Flames will have to make a decision about these free agents next year

While the Flames made a couple of big splashes in unrestricted free agency to land Jacob Markstrom and Chris Tanev, it’s likely this summer will be remembered more distinctly for what the team lost.

TJ Brodie, Erik Gustafsson, Derek Forbort, Mark Jankowski, Cam Talbot, and Tobias Rieder are all gone, and Travis Hamonic looks likely to join them. All of these players frequently played regular shifts for the Flames last season. The Flames brought in two big names to help replace these seven notable departures but, otherwise, they’re probably going to have to try and replace them via promotions from within.

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This off-season has brought plenty of turmoil and turnover for the Flames. But, as things presently stand, the Flames will likely have to make some more tough decisions next summer (or whenever the off-season begins). With multiple important players a year away from either restricted or unrestricted free-agency, Flames general manager Brad Treliving will have to approach the next year with these three players’ respective futures in mind.

Sam Bennett

Bennett is nothing if not enigmatic. He’s far from being the most physically imposing guy at the Saddledome on any given night, checking in at 6’1″ and 195 lbs., but he’s thrown more than 100 hits in every season he’s played in the NHL. While most players of his draft pedigree garner larger roles as their careers progress, Bennett has actually seen his ice time drop consistently in every year of his NHL career, down from 15:09 in 2015–16 to 12:31 in 2019–20. He has all the tools to be a great NHL player and he is more than capable of playing electrifying hockey over short periods of time (particularly in the playoffs), but he has yet to put it all together for a complete season.

Against Winnipeg and Dallas in the 2020 playoffs, Bennett played some truly outstanding hockey as the centre on a line with Dillon Dube and Milan Lucic. He scored five goals and eight points in 10 games and those numbers don’t lie one bit: he was ridiculously good. But he also put up just eight goals and four assists in 52 regular season games, tying him in points with Travis Hamonic (who played fewer games). At the conclusion of his current two-year pact with the Flames, worth $2.55 million per season, Sam Bennett will be a veteran of no fewer than six (!!!) NHL seasons, and that doesn’t even include his debut effort in the 2014–15 playoffs as an 18-year-old.

Bennett is set to be a restricted free agent next summer and while he and his agent, Darren Ferris, will certainly point to his great playoff performances over the years, Treliving, quite rightfully, can point right back at Bennett’s consistently underwhelming regular seasons. Bennett is still just 24 and we’ve seen playoff specialists like Lars Eller carve out niches as dependable third-line centres in regular season play.

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If Bennett wants to become a big part of the Flames going forward, he might have to find a niche of his own to occupy before being allowed to go off-leash for the playoffs. It’s unlikely the Flames trade him this off-season, as high as his value may be right now. They’ll probably want to give him another extended go-round with Dillon Dube on his wing.

Derek Ryan

Ryan is a useful but expensive depth player who might not make it to the next off-season as a Calgary Flame. He’s turning 34 in December and, despite his excellent defensive play, his playoff scoring over the last two season has left a little to be desired.

With an annual salary of $3.125 million, Ryan is the Flames’ seventh-highest paid forward. Surprise, surprise, he finished seventh among Flames forwards in scoring this year with 29 points in 68 games, solid middle-six production to go along with his penalty-killing prowess. Of course, he’s the oldest forward on the team by two years, but he hasn’t really been driven into the ground — owing to his unusual career trajectory, he just passed the 300-game mark for his NHL career in March.

Sure, nobody wants to pay a fourth liner over $3 million. Ryan is not a fourth line player, though, and he probably won’t be in 2020–21 unless he takes a step back. He’s only scored one goal and three points in 15 playoff games, but he also spent a large chunk of his bubble hockey time this year playing with Zac Rinaldo and Mark Jankowski. Good luck netting many points in that deployment.

It’s entirely possible the Flames move Ryan to try and score a younger upgrade at the forward position. That said, if the right target doesn’t come along, they can keep him and reap the benefits of playing him on both special teams. It’s feasible they look at giving him another year or two at the conclusion of his current deal, albeit at a lower salary (particularly if the league’s current economic state continues).

David Rittich

“Big Save Dave” has had an interesting run as a tandem goaltender for the Flames, one that looks to be nearing its end with the arrival of Jacob Markstrom on a six year pact. Rittich is a solid goalie with good athleticism and the ability to go on crazy stretches of dominance. He’s also prone to falling off dramatically for weeks on end, as he did to conclude 2019–20.

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Rittich started the year pretty well, going 20-12-5 with a .913 save percentage before this happened. Rittich’s stick-flip against the Oilers led to a wee bit of controversy, particularly from up north, and his numbers subsequently plummeted. In his final 11 games, Rittich went 4-5-1 with a brutal .885 save percentage. He fared even worse in the playoffs, making one brief relief appearance for Cam Talbot in Game 5 against Dallas. After not seeing game action in four months, Rittich looked very rusty, allowing three goals on nine shots before taking his turn being yanked.

Now 28, Rittich is a year away from being available to any team that wants him. He’s set to make $2.75 million this year and, barring a season of big progress, he’ll probably have to take a haircut on his next deal. With the Flames locked into Jacob Markstrom as their starter for the next six seasons, it’s hard to see much of a future for Rittich in the organization. Calgary has Dustin Wolf, Tyler Parsons, Artyom Zagidulin, and Daniil Chechelev coming up through their ranks and Rittich will probably want to find a team that has more room for him to be a starter.

Even with Brad Treliving on the record saying he envisions a Markstrom/Rittich tandem this season, Rittich is probably the likeliest of these three players to be traded this off-season to make room for another potential acquisition. That said, they almost certainly won’t want to enter the 2020–21 season with Louis Domingue and Zagidulin as their second and third goalies. If the Flames do move Rittich, expect to see a corresponding move made to bring in a cheaper backup option.

Also set to be an RFA after 2020–21, with 2021 age in parentheses: Dillon Dube (23), Juuso Valimaki (23), Matthew Phillips (23), Luke Philp (25), Glenn Gawdin (24), Justin Kirkland (25, with arb. rights), Connor Mackey (25), Carl-Johan Lerby (24), Alexander Yelesin (25), Colton Poolman (25), Tyler Parsons (24), Artyom Zagidulin (25, with arb. rights)

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Also set to be a UFA after 2020–21, with 2021 age in parentheses: Buddy Robinson (30), Zac Rinaldo (31), Alex Petrovic (29), Louis Domingue (29)