How the Calgary Flames can afford to keep their four big free agents

Photo credit:Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
2 years ago
The Calgary Flames are playing well so far in 2021-22, and a lot of the credit has to go to four players who are pending free agents at the end of the season: unrestricted free agent Johnny Gaudreau, and restricted free agents Oliver Kylington, Andrew Mangiapane and Matthew Tkachuk.
All four players are key pieces for the Flames. All four players are due for big raises. But based on the available cap space and the cap hits that these players will attract, there are a few ways the Flames can re-sign them to fair long-term contracts and ice a full team next season.

Already signed for 2022-23

The Flames have the following players under contract for next season.
  • F Sean Monahan – $6.375 million
  • G Jacob Markström – $6 million
  • F Mikael Backlund – $5.35 million
  • F Milan Lucic – $5.25 million
  • D Noah Hanifin – $4.95 million
  • F Blake Coleman – $4.9 million
  • F Elias Lindholm – $4.85 million
  • D Rasmus Andersson – $4.55 million
  • D Chris Tanev – $4.5 million
  • F Dillon Dube – $2.3 million
  • D Juuso Välimäki – $1.55 million
  • G Dan Vladar – $750,000
That’s 12 players (two goalies, four defensemen and six forwards) with a combined cap commitment of $51.325 million. With the cap reportedly going up to $82.5 million next season (up $1 million from the current cap ceiling), that gives the Flames about $31.175 million to use to fill out their roster.

Keeping the “big four” around

We’ve done breakdowns of likely signing ranges for the four pending key RFAs or UFAs. Here’s what we came up with at the high end of these estimates.
Collectively, these estimates come to $26.25 million AAV. Let’s also inflate these estimates by 10% for safety’s sake, for a total of $28.875 million AAV. (If we inflate by only 5% for safety, it’s still $27.563 million AAV.)
These deals would give the Flames 16 players signed for 2022-23 at a combined cap commitment of $80.2 million, leaving the Flames with just $2.3 million to fill out their roster. This obviously isn’t enough cap space to fill out a 20-to-23 man roster (with 4-7 additional players). Back-filling with six league minimum players would cost $4.5 million.
Here’s, roughly, what the team would look like:
Gaudreau – Lindholm – Tkachuk
Mangiapane – Backlund – Coleman
Dube – Monahan – Lucic
Hanifin – Andersson
Kylington – Tanev
Välimäki – TBD

Some solutions

If the Flames want to squeeze a bit more cap space out of this situation, they have a few options that could solve this issue.
  • They could go shorter term with Mangiapane and/or Kylington to get their AAVs down. (Going shorter with Tkachuk and Gaudreau might bring their AAVs up, as the eight year deals are currently capturing years on the back-end of those deals with lower annual salaries to reflect lower production in their 30s.)
  • They could trade or buy out Sean Monahan. A trade at 50% retention would clear $3.19 million of cap space and a buyout would clear $4 million. (It seems unlikely that they could move Monahan and not take any salary back or avoid retaining some of his cap hit or avoid sending some kind of asset out as a sweetener.) For the curious, buying out Milan Lucic would clear just $666,666, which wouldn’t really do enough to help – he’d be replaced by a player making at least $750,000, which would defeat the purpose of buying him out.
Either of these paths, or a combination of both, would allow the Flames to keep their best players and potentially back-fill their roster with the likes of Jakob Pelletier ($863,333 cap hit) or Connor Mackey ($912,500 cap hit).
The cap situation will be tight, but the Flames can potentially keep their best players. But if they want to pay fair market value for the foursome of Gaudreau, Mangiapane, Tkachuk and Kylington on long term deals, they might need to part ways with someone like Monahan to give themselves financial breathing room.


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