As the league emerges on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Hockey League will be dealing with a flat salary cap for the next several seasons. For the Calgary Flames, the flat cap requires a few key decisions in the 2021 off-season and several very big decisions in the 2022 off-season.
Based on the cap math, it’s doubtful that they’ll be able to keep the team’s core together.
Under the flat cap system, the long and the short of it is every off-season basically needs to be money-in for money-out. So each summer, the Flames can only re-sign players with the funds made available by other contracts expiring.

The summer of 2021

This summer is relatively easy.
Derek Ryan ($3.125 million) and David Rittich ($2.75 million) are unrestricted free agents. Neither guy seems like they’ll be brought back at the same cap hit, and Ryan seems more likely to return at a discount than Rittich.
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On the restricted free agent side, there’s Sam Bennett ($2.55 million), Dillon Dube ($778,333) and Juuso Valimaki ($894,166). Bennett is probably gone one way or another – Seattle seems an obvious destination – while neither of Dube or Valimaki have arbitration rights. Heck, Valimaki doesn’t even have the ability to be offer-sheeted.
Dube and Valimaki will both get raises, but with the funds coming available, you can double their salaries easily without having to drastically rearrange the roster.

The summer of 2022

In the words of Milan Lucic: buckle up.
Pending UFAs in 2022: Matthew Tkachuk ($7 million), Johnny Gaudreau ($6.75 million), Andrew Mangiapane ($2.425 million) and Mark Giordano ($6.75 million). That’s over a quarter of the team’s cap space opening up… and decisions to be made on their most important players.
We have two expectations for Giordano: he’ll be a Flame for as long as he wants to be, and he’ll be taking a pay cut based on his age and expected play decline. The big question is how much of a haircut he’ll be taking. Right now, he’s playing about as much as Rasmus Andersson and Chris Tanev, so eye-balling his next deal at around $4 to $4.5 million for two or three seasons makes some sense. (That frees up a little more than $2 million.)
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Mangiapane will get a raise. How much? If I’m him, and my five-on-five production is similar to Elias Lindholm’s, I am for a Lindholm cap hit long term ($4.85 million) and see where it ends up. He has arbitration rights, but the Flames likely want to lock him down long-term. We presume he gets slightly less than Lindholm because he’s not a centre, but not a whole lot more.
The challenge there is all the money freed up from Giordano basically goes right to Mangiapane, So that means you have a pair of high-end players in Gaudreau and Tkachuk who will probably both be commanding long-term deals in the neighbourhood of $9 to $9.5 million, if not more. The Flames would probably love to keep both. Who wouldn’t? But where is the money coming from to keep both? The Flames would need to find an extra $5 million in cap space from somewhere, and that alone would require taking a big chunk out of their existing roster – and how can they do that without making the team less talented on the ice?
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Long story short? The Flames have a relatively simple summer ahead of them in 2021 and an extremely complex, challenging one beyond that in 2022. Enjoy the current blend of Flames while they last, because the sheer economic realities of the NHL require the club to make big, big changes in 2022 (if not sooner).