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Photo Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After a day of making calculated bets, Jack Eichel should remain atop the Flames’ list

The Calgary Flames were very active on the opening day of unrestricted free agency.

Before the signing period even began, the Flames closed a deal with Chicago to bring in ultra-physical 26-year-old defenceman Nikita Zadorov. Later in the morning, they agreed to terms on a six-year deal with 29-year-old forward Blake Coleman.

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The Flames subsequently agreed to terms on contracts with Trevor Lewis, Adam Werner, Kevin Gravel, and Nick DeSimone. They also made a trade with Boston to acquire Dan Vladar, their presumptive backup goaltender for the next two seasons.

Flames general manager Brad Treliving has undeniably been busy. With the Coleman, Lewis, and Tyler Pitlick additions, he’s brought in physical presences up front who can help on defence (and, in Coleman’s case, contribute offence).

Zadorov also offers significant upside in his own end. He’s certainly #HardToPlayAgainst but he backs up his grit by being legitimately good at preventing his opponents from generating quality chances at 5-on-5. Just don’t ask him to score.

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Coleman has a lengthy track record of being an excellent two-way player. He’s a tenacious player who defends well both at 5-on-5 and while killing penalties. During his time in New Jersey, he also succeeded when deployed on the power play.

While the six-year term on his contract is a little concerning for Calgary, they’ll undoubtedly be expecting him to score at least 20 goals in 2021–22 while providing his hallmark defensive value. If he can do that, he’ll be well worth his $4.9 million AAV.

To this point, the Flames have done a relatively good job of rounding out their roster and taking calculated bets on players with upside. (I’d advise you all to knock on some wood until we know the terms of Zadorov’s upcoming contract).

The Flames currently have approximately $12.9 million of salary cap space. Zadorov, Juuso Valimaki, Dillon Dube, Matthew Phillips, Connor Mackey, and a few other restricted free agents still need to be signed, which will surely eat at that figure.

Still, Calgary looks to have plenty of flexibility entering the second day of the UFA signing period. While deals for either Tomas Tatar or Ryan Murray would be nice, the Flames could take a big step towards contending in the Western Conference by acquiring just one player.

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Get Jack Eichel

Jack Eichel is a 24-year-old top-line centre who is reportedly very unhappy with his situation in Buffalo. Now, as the offseason keeps chugging along, Eichel apparently feels left behind by the market.

Calgary bringing in Eichel would immediately change everything about the team’s previous off-season moves. It’s difficult to imagine Coleman as anything but the perfect complementary piece in a top-six group featuring a player of Eichel’s calibre. It’s easier to justify bringing in a defence-only player like Zadorov when Eichel is also around to score at an elite level.

Make no mistake: Eichel, when healthy, is a franchise centre. Over 68 games during the 2019–20 season, he ranked 10th in the entire NHL with 78 points and eighth with 36 goals.

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Eichel tallied a career-high 82 points in 77 games with the 27th-place Sabres in 2018–19. That season, only seven NHL teams scored fewer goals than poor Buffalo.

He’s 24 years old and has five years left on a contract paying him $10 million per season. For a centre of his calibre, that’s more than fair value.

There have been questions about Eichel’s health. He dealt with a serious neck injury during the 2020-21 and has reportedly clashed with Sabres representatives about the best way to handle his recovery process.

The Flames should certainly do all the possible due diligence on Eichel’s condition. If they come to the resolution he’d be able to play for them, making Eichel a Flame should be a top priority of this management group.

Adding Eichel — and, most likely, trading Sean Monahan — would give the Flames a projected top-six featuring him, Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, Blake Coleman, and Andrew Mangiapane. That group would likely provide high-end skill, scoring, and two-way ability.

He would instantly legitimize the Flames as a prospective contender. Eichel could be the Flames’ best centre since Joe Nieuwendyk. He’s the skilled, young, productive pivot they do desperately need (and he’s right-handed).

Depending on who you ask, the price to acquire Eichel could be very high or very low. Recently, Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News made waves on Twitter by sharing Buffalo’s reported ask from the Vegas Golden Knights in Eichel negotiations.

Could the Flames assemble a similar package? Sure. Hypothetically, a collection of Monahan, Connor Zary, Juuso Valimaki, and a first-rounder should carry similar value.

Things can change very quickly in the NHL and there’s no guarantee Kennedy’s report still rings as true as it may have on Tuesday. Nevertheless, the Flames should be very interested in adding Eichel to take their forward group to the next level. He’s a difference-maker and the type of player who comes around on the trade market very infrequently.

Calgary should be very aggressive about acquiring Jack Eichel. If they can get him, they should. Otherwise, they risk remaining in the NHL’s dreaded mushy middle.

It’s time to take the next step towards contention.