It’s June, friends. While the Calgary Flames are sadly no longer active in the Stanley Cup playoffs, they’re in the midst of preparation for what’s sure to be an extremely eventful off-season. The 2022 NHL Draft is a mere four weeks away!
As we wait, let’s check out the mailbag!
From the DMs: Could (or should) the Flames buy out Sean Monahan and then bring him back on a lower cap hit (ala Michael Stone)?
I’ll say this: I asked around and there’s no rule against the Flames doing this, but specifically in Sean Monahan’s case the player would need to give the approval to be bought out since he’s injured and on long-term injury reserve. The league would probably be a bit grumpy, but it’s not really cap circumvention since the Flames would (a) be paying out the player and carrying a cap hit and (b) be completely within the letter of the law.
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(It’s worth noting: the Flames bought out Michael Stone in August 2019… before Juuso Valimaki blew out his knee and required surgery. So the defence for the team’s actions, in case the league got mad, was “Hey, we did this before our circumstances changed.” They would probably prefer to have a defensible logic in the event they bought out Monahan and then re-signed him at a lower cap hit.)
Buying out Monahan would convert his $6.375 million cap hit for 2022-23 into a $2.375 million hit in 2022-23 and a $2 million hit in 2023-24. Bringing him back for another season at a $750,000 (league minimum) cap hit would bump his effective camp hit for 2022-23 to $3.125 million.
Could the Flames do this? Yes! Should they? Well, if Monahan is judged to be a viable fourth line centre as compared to the other available options, bringing him back at league minimum wouldn’t be terrible. His buyout cap hit would be dead money, anyway, so it’s basically a question if he’d be a good use of a roster spot and $750,000.
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1) Internal options to be the third line centre include Adam Ruzicka (who’s young and inexpensive) and Calle Jarnkrok, who did everything but score after being acquired at the trade deadline. External options are a bit fuzzier, but I’d look at possible reclamation projects like Victor Rask, or possible value options like Marcus Johansson or Nico Sturm. But there are also likely to be some interesting players not qualified as potential restricted free agents by their clubs due to arbitration and/or cap concerns, so this list will probably grow by mid July.
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2) As mentioned, Ruzicka is in good shape to push for a full-time NHL gig. I would also point to Connor Mackey and Jakob Pelletier. Mackey could easily slot into the third pairing and work well, while Pelletier is a true utility player with a high ceiling, and he could be used in a defensive role with Mikael Backlund and also potentially chip in on either side of special teams. (This is all dependent on these gentlemen having good summers and strong camps, but the potential is definitely there.)
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From a hockey perspective, the Flames have a lot of prime-aged assets that are on really favourable contracts – looking at you, Elias Lindholm and the majority of the blueline group – which provides a really nice foundation. If the Flames can get Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk locked into favourable deals, they have a team that stacks up really well within the Pacific Division group and should be competitive for a few more seasons at least.
The elephant in the room is, of course, the new arena. An optimistic view is that the Flames and the City have a new deal before the end of 2022, a deal which will include public funds (but probably nothing more than the $287.5 million that was previously offered and committed). It’s a lot easier to get non-fans onside with spending any public money if the team is competitive and the general populace is excited about the club and their future in the community.
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Honestly, between the Flames’ cap situation and the players they have in the developmental pipeline, it feels like the philosophy right now is to have a balanced defensive attack rather than going out to buy somebody fancy on the free agent market. Big names available (as of now) include P.K. Subban, Kris Letang and John Klingberg. None of them are going to be cheap, and the Flames probably can’t afford any of them given the hefty deals they’ll be trying to give out to Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk.
The Flames used six players really effectively this season, and while it seems unlikely that Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson or Oliver Kylington become Cale Makar at any point, having three young defenders that can be used in tandem with Chris Tanev is a luxury in itself.
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