Calgary Flames’ Group 6 free agency could soon erode their depth
Photo credit:Stockton Heat on Twitter
By Ryan Pike10 months ago
If you take a quick look at the Calgary Flames’ organizational depth chart, a couple things become apparent. The club has a nice bit of depth regarding players currently in their entry-level years, headlined by players like Dustin Wolf and Jakob Pelletier. Behind them, though, are a group of players in their mid-20s who are really carrying the mail for the AHL’s Stockton Heat and helping those entry-level players shine.
The bad news is the Flames could be losing a few key names to Group 6 free agency over the next couple of off-seasons.
Group 6 free agents are players that meet three specific requirements:
- The player is 25 years or older (as of June 30th of the calendar year the contract is expiring).
- The player has completed 3 or more professional seasons – qualified by 11 or more professional games (for an 18/19 year old player), or 1 or more professional games (for a player aged 20 or older). This can include NHL, minor league, and European professional league seasons played while under an active NHL contract.
- The player has played less than 80 NHL games, or 28 NHL games of 30 minutes or greater for a goaltender.
If these requirements are all met, a potential restricted free agent becomes an unrestricted (Group 6) free agent.
The 2022 potential Group 6 free agents
Luke Philp and Justin Kirkland have each played zero NHL games in their careers. They won’t hit 80 NHL games this season, so they’ll definitely become free agents. Neither has really been pushing for NHL call-up duties as they’ve both been strong complimentary pieces for Stockton, but not quite good enough to be pushing for prominent enough roles to impress Flames brass for call-ups.
Glenn Gawdin has played nine NHL games for the Flames since going pro, but he too won’t be hitting 80 career games this season. He’s been, in a word, superb for the Heat during his tenure, but he didn’t really move the needle for the Flames as fourth line centre during his early-season call-up and it seems like that spot has been grabbed by Adam Ruzicka. As such, there’s really no spot for Gawdin with the Flames beyond being a featured AHL star. He might be better off looking for an NHL depth gig elsewhere.
Adam Werner played a pair of NHL games while he was with the Colorado Avalanche, but he’s likely behind AHL starter Dustin Wolf in the Flames’ call-up plans. Wolf received the call-up to back up Jacob Markstrom in late December, for example. It seems quite clear that Werner is probably destined to be Wolf’s understudy in Stockton, so it seems likely that he’ll explore free agency this summer.
The 2023 potential Group 6 free agents
Matthew Phillips is a pending restricted free agent this off-season. If he accepts his qualifying offer for a one year deal, he’ll be walking himself straight into Group 6 free agency. He’s played one NHL game and while there’s a ton of runway remaining to get him into 79 more NHL dates, it might be an uphill battle. Phillips has been an excellent AHL soldier for the Flames and it’s hard to imagine how he could’ve done more for the Heat during his tenure so far, but it’s also unclear where he would fit within Sutter’s system given the Flames coach’s preference for burly two-way checkers. (We recently included Phillips as a potential trade piece for this reason: the Flames might try to get some value out of him before he potentially walks next summer.)
Connor Mackey is in a similar predicament. He’s been a very good AHL defender for the Heat, but he’s only earned six NHL appearances. He’s under contract for 2022-23 and when his deal expires, unless he gets into 74 more NHL outings, he’ll be eligible to walk as a free agent. He was a highly-touted college signing when the Flames nabbed him a few springs ago. And while he hasn’t become the Bobby Orr of the AHL by any stretch of the imagination, he’s been quite good for the Heat and plays in basically every key offensive situation for them. He’s on a one-way deal for 2022-23, so we may see Mackey get a long look in next fall’s camp… or see him sent to a club with less defensive depth and more willingness to try him out at the NHL level.
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