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Dillon Dube continues to struggle, Dustin Wolf stays hot: Calgary Flames RFA stock watch
By Mike Gould1 month ago
Much has been made about the Calgary Flames having three of the NHL’s top pending unrestricted free agents. Even after their 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, the Flames are in prime position to be sellers ahead of the March 8 trade deadline.
But what of the Flames’ numerous pending RFAs? After all, if new GM Craig Conroy does trade Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm, and Chris Tanev over the next eight weeks, the Flames will have plenty of cap space available in the summer. If anyone needs a big raise, they should be able to get one in Calgary … that is, if they deserve it.
The Flames have 10 players set to become restricted free agents on July 1 (count ’em here — Ben Jones and Brady Lyle aren’t included, as they’re eligible to become Group 6 UFAs). Every single one of them is now eligible to sign a contract extension with the club at any time. With seven forwards, two defencemen, and a goaltender to deal with, Conroy and Co. have their work cut out for them.
Today, we’ll highlight three of the Flames’ most consequential pending RFAs before adding brief notes on the rest at the end. It’s time for the RFA stock watch!
It really isn’t working for Dillon Dube this season. The 25-year-old winger is currently on pace for a paltry 16 points, which would be his lowest total over a full season … ever. After back-to-back 18-goal years, Dube picked a real bad time to drop off the face of the planet.
Dube has a few things working against him. First off, his underlying numbers are horrendous. The Flames have been out-chanced 172-157 and outscored 19-13 in Dube’s 362 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time this season. His 47.01 expected goals percentage (via Natural Stat Trick) also puts him near the very bottom, but, unlike Rasmus Andersson and Elias Lindholm (both of whom are below him), Dube is struggling despite playing against relatively weak competition.
Then, there’s his qualifying offer: Dube is due a one-year, $2.4 million QO from the Flames this summer. That’s money that could very much be spent elsewhere on a better player. It’s difficult to imagine Dube commanding half that much on the open market after the season he’s currently having. After a similarly disastrous year with the 2019-20 Flames, Mark Jankowski had to settle for a significant pay cut (from $1.675 million to $700,000) on his next contract when he joined the Pittsburgh Penguins as a non-tendered FA.
It’s been so much fun to see Marty Pospisil ascend into NHL regular status this season, especially considering how uncertain his standing in this organization was less than a year ago.
The 24-year-old forward has dealt with more than his fair share of injuries since being selected by the Flames with their first pick (No. 105 overall) in the 2018 NHL Draft. Pospisil appeared in just 20 games with the Calgary Wranglers in the 2022–23 season, collecting 10 points, before being knocked out for the rest of the year (including the playoffs) with yet another concussion. For much of his pro career, the dude just hasn’t been able to catch a break.
Until now, that is. Pospisil has become a fan favourite on a Flames team desperate for silver linings wherever it can get them. The Slovak forward has four goals and seven points in 25 games while also being a wrecking ball whenever he hits the ice. Pospisil may not be a top-six guy now or ever, but he’s a ton of fun to watch and a much-needed ball of energy for these Flames. If anything, he might just be Micheal Ferland reincarnate.
The Flames showed faith in Pospisil when they qualified him as an RFA and subsequently signed him to a one-year deal last summer. He’s paid them back in a meaningful way. It’d be only fitting at this point for the Flames to reward Pospisil with a two- or three-year deal at a seven-figure salary.
The only thing preventing Dustin Wolf from playing in the NHL right now is the two goaltenders ahead of him on the Flames’ depth chart. Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar are both more experienced and more expensive than the 22-year-old Wolf, who has nonetheless drawn into five games with the Flames this season while one of the aforementioned two goaltenders has been unavailable.
Wolf is widely regarded as one of the top young goaltenders in the world. He’s won his league’s Goaltender of the Year award in each of his last four seasons and is coming off a year with the Wranglers in which he went 42-10-2 with an eye-popping .932 save percentage. The 2023-24 Wranglers aren’t quite as good as last year’s club but Wolf has performed admirably all the same, going 13-5-1 with three shutouts and a .924.
It’d be incredibly surprising if the Flames entered the 2024-25 season with the same goaltending tandem as they have now. Whether it’s Markstrom or Vladar heading out the door, it seems inevitable that the club makes at least one change between the pipes to accommodate Wolf’s impending arrival. Trading, say, Markstrom would help the Flames to properly bottom out while presumably also fetching them a draft pick or two. It just makes too much sense.
For the time being, Wolf’s stock is holding steady. He’s proven basically all he can at this AHL level and is biding his time down there until another NHL opportunity beckons. Even though he hasn’t put together a massively consequential body of work with the Flames, Wolf is right on par with a guy like Devon Levi as a top prospect in the sport. Wolf taking a short-term, low-money deal as an RFA would give him the chance to bet on himself while providing the Flames with a bit more flexibility, potentially even to be paid to take on other teams’ more problematic contracts.
Jakob Pelletier: Unfortunately, Pelletier has yet to play a game this season as he recovers from shoulder injury he sustained off a dirty hit in the pre-season. When healthy, “Pelts” is a spark plug who offers a highly entertaining blend of energy and skill. He has the ability to be a perennial 20-goal scorer in this league. But with so much of his contract year lost, expect Pelletier to re-up with the Flames on a short-term, ‘prove it’-type deal.
Adam Ruzicka: For whatever reason, Ruzicka hasn’t been to find any consistency over his entire tenure with the Flames. He’s now up over 100 career NHL games with 14 goals to show for it, including just three this season. “Ruzy” has been asked to play a No. 4 centre role for much of this year and has done his best under the circumstances, but he could really use a change of scenery. Barring a trade, a one-year deal is probably in the cards.
Cole Schwindt: In Schwindt’s case, the lack of year-over-year progression is beginning to become a little worrying. Even without Pelletier, Connor Zary, and the departed Matthew Phillips in the lineup, Schwindt has remained a middle-six forward on this Wranglers team. Although he might actually be better suited than Ruzicka to the NHL fourth-line centre role, Schwindt’s only standout attribute is his size. Even so, he’s a shoo-in to be qualified when his ELC ends this summer.
Adam Klapka: Man, Klapka has been so good this season. He’s a big ol’ Golden Retriever who already has 20 points in 29 games with this year’s Wranglers, enough to put him in a three-way tie with Dryden Hunt and Rory Kerins for fourth in team scoring. Klapka is a 6’8″ finesse player who is extremely overdue for some NHL games. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he goes up and Walker Duehr comes down before the end of the season. Lock him down!
Emilio Pettersen: With Phillips no longer in the equation, Pettersen has taken up the mantle as the Wranglers’ top puck-carrier and distributor this season. The Norwegian winger is tied with Ben Jones for second on the team with 23 points and is likely near the top of the list for potential call-ups down the stretch. Although it’s unlikely he ever becomes much more than a third-line guy, Pettersen should still be in line for another one-year deal in the summer.
Yan Kuznetsov: At this point, Kuznetsov has been passed by a lot of other defencemen in the organization (including the next guy on this list). The big Russian is still pretty young — he won’t turn 22 until March — but he hasn’t been able to stand out in any meaningful way even without Jeremie Poirier in the lineup for much of the season. He’ll be re-signed, but he needs to show he can be more than just an AHL bottom-pairing guy pretty soon.
Ilya Solovyov: “Solo” has been pretty consistently more reliable and versatile than Kuznetsov at the AHL level, even if his offensive ability hasn’t quite shone through this year to the same extent as it did last season. Solovyov has been playing big minutes and has already earned his way into the lineup for his first six NHL games with the Flames. Of all the guys on this list, Solovyov’s RFA case might be the most intriguing — especially if he draws back into the lineup with the Flames more regularly after the trade deadline.
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