31Zac Rinaldo
Photo Credit: Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports

Projecting the Flames’ expanded roster for the 2020-21 season

It looks like Calgary Flames hockey may soon be back on the menu.

The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman both reported Friday night that the NHL and the NHLPA have reached a tentative agreement on the logistics of a 56-game 2020-21 season, to begin Jan. 13, 2021.

LeBrun and Friedman shared some interesting tidbits about the tentative deal. Players will reportedly have the option to opt out of the shortened season, without pay, but their teams will then have the option of “tolling” their contracts forward one year.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

For example, if Calgary captain Mark Giordano chose to opt out of 2020-21, the Flames would have the option of burning the year off his contract or sliding the remaining two years of his deal forward a year.

Furthermore, to reduce travel from AHL affiliate cities, NHL clubs will be able to carry “taxi squads” of between four and six players being paid AHL salaries. These players won’t count against the cap unless they’re promoted to the big squad—it’ll be like having a mini version of the Stockton Heat practicing with the team at all times.

It’s probably safe to assume that the Flames will go with a six-player black ace pool, considering that they’re one of just three  NHL teams with its minor league affiliate located across an international border.

What might this taxi squad look like? First, let’s establish what the Flames’ roster will look like. With their current personnel, the best the Flames can do to fit under the cap is carry a 22-man NHL contingent. It’ll probably look something like this:

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Forwards (13): Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane, Mikael Backlund, Dillon Dube, Milan Lucic, Sam Bennett, Derek Ryan, Dominik Simon, Josh Leivo, Joakim Nordstrom

Defense (7): Mark Giordano, Chris Tanev, Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin, Juuso Valimaki, Nikita Nesterov, Oliver Kylington

Goaltenders (2): Jacob Markstrom, David Rittich

Those players will all count against the salary cap on a daily basis. Without factoring in performance bonuses for Dube and Valimaki, the Flames are set to have $223,344 in cap space at the end of the season.

The taxi squad, meanwhile, probably won’t feature any young prospects like Matthew Phillips or Dmitry Zavgorodniy. While these players could be in line for call-ups from Stockton if a top-six player goes down, the Flames probably won’t want to have them toiling on a practice squad instead of getting regular game action.

Instead, it’s likely that the taxi squad players will be primarily veteran guys who can be counted on to step in on a semi-regular basis when needed. How often? That remains to be seen—there may be “limits on how long a team can keep a player on taxi squad without playing a game,” according to TSN’s Frank Seravalli, so the Flames will want their extra guys to be NHL-ready and capable.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Here’s a look at what a Flames taxi squad may look like.

Louis Domingue (G) Alex Petrovic (D) ??? (D)
Byron Froese (F) Zac Rinaldo (F) Buddy Robinson (F)

The Flames have two good NHL goaltenders already but they’ll need a third one ready to go for sure in case of an emergency. It could be extremely difficult for the Flames to recall a guy from California to serve as the backup if either Markstrom or Rittich were to go down in practice the day of or even the day before a game. Right now, regular travel across the U.S.-Canada border is a logistical nightmare.

Louis Domingue is the obvious choice, and the Flames probably signed him with this in mind. He has 139 games of NHL experience with a .904 save percentage—not great, but okay in a pinch. The Flames have been pretty lucky over the last two seasons about only needing two goaltenders, but you don’t have to go back far to find years where they’ve used three or even four of them.

On defense, Alex Petrovic definitely fits the mould as a band-aid option with plenty of experience. He’s got 263 games of NHL experience under his belt but spent all of last season in the AHL. He’s 28 and a known quantity so the Flames will probably be fine with having him around as a reserve—it’ll probably allow Connor Mackey and Alexander Yelesin to get more ice time with the Heat.

The Flames will probably want to carry two experienced veteran defensemen on the taxi squad, but they don’t currently have any other options resembling that under contract. Mackey and Alexander Yelesin are both 24, but they collectively have four games of NHL experience and could probably benefit from some more AHL time. Colton Poolman and Carl-Johan Lerby are both totally new to North American pro hockey.

Flames general manager Brad Treliving will probably explore adding a couple more veteran defensemen in the coming weeks—one for the taxi squad, and one to serve as a mentor in Stockton. A guy like Cody Goloubef is familiar with the organization—he split the 2017-18 season between the Heat and Canada’s Olympic team—and has 160 games of NHL experience. He could be a fit.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Up front, Zac Rinaldo makes a lot of sense to have around. He spent much of last season with the Flames and would probably be happy getting his $350,000 AHL salary to skate with the big club. Big Buddy Robinson played six total games for the Flames last season and would be a good presence to have in the wings for rivalry games against Edmonton and Vancouver. Rinaldo is 30 and Robinson is 29, so they’re past the point of being prospects.

Finally, Byron Froese is a seasoned pro who served as Heat captain last season. The Flames re-signed him to a two-year deal in October. He has 110 games of NHL experience with Toronto, Montreal, and Tampa Bay, and he’s a right-handed shot.

Who do you think the Flames should include on their 2020-21 roster and taxi squad? Sound off in the comments!