The Calgary Flames are in a fairly enviable place in their recent drafting and development. Their 2018-19 roster featured graduated prospects from nine different draft classes – including a long-shot fourth round pick that had 99 points. But the challenge of cap management is figuring out how to keep your team competitive while freeing up cap space to pay your prospects when they become high-performing core pieces.
That’s why if the goal of the off-season is opening up space to re-sign Matthew Tkachuk, the best player to move for cap relief is TJ Brodie.

The cap crunch

The projected 2018-19 salary cap is $83 million – the exact number will be confirmed in a couple of weeks by the NHL’s Board of Governors. Barring moves or buyouts, the Flames already have 15 players under contract for 2018-19 season with some hefty cap hits:
  • Forwards Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, James Neal, Mikael Backlund, Elias Lindholm, Michael Frolik, Derek Ryan, Mark Jankowski and Austin Czarnik
  • Defensemen Mark Giordano, Noah Hanifin, TJ Brodie, Travis Hamonic, Michael Stone and Rasmus Andersson
(Oliver Kylington, Juuso Valimaki and Dillon Dube are all waiver-exempt, so we’ll ignore them for right now.)
Via PuckPedia – and our sweet math skills – the contracts for these gentlemen is $63.888 million, which leaves the Flames with $19.112 million of cap space to fill eight roster spots. They would need two goaltenders, a defensemen and five forwards to fill out a complete roster.
This all seems alright until you start considering the deals that they likely need to ink with their key restricted free agents. If we use the forecasts from Evolving Wild: $7.98 million for Matthew Tkachuk, $2.85 million for Sam Bennett, $926,000 for Andrew Mangiapane, and since Evolving Wild doesn’t project wacky goaltender contracts let’s just throw out an even $3 million for David Rittich. Those new deals would leave the Flames with $4.356m for three more forwards, another defender and another goalie.
That leaves them with zero wiggle room whatsoever for in-season trades, injuries, waiver action or basically anything that comes up during the season. Thus, some cap relief is needed.

The argument for trading TJ Brodie

Over the weekend, TSN’s Bob McKenzie mentioned on his podcast (the Bobcast) that the Flames are reportedly looking to move either Brodie or Hamonic. Both are right side defenders. Both play in the top two pairings. With Rasmus Andersson emerging as a player that can play reliably with both Giordano and Hanifin – or with another youngster on the third pairing – suddenly there’s an opportunity to save some cap space without making the team worse. Andersson makes just $756,000 next season.
If the choice is between moving Brodie or Hamonic, there are a few reasons to prefer to move Brodie.
First, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman contrasted the duo’s playing styles last season in 31 Thoughts: “Hamonic is structure, Brodie is a jazz virtuoso.” Guess which one coaches tend to prefer, and which one tends to lead to high-danger scoring chances going in the wrong direction?
Similarly, moving Hamonic means that to have Andersson playing with Giordano, the other top defensive pairing would be Hanifin and Brodie. Both of those players have some rough spots in their defensive games and are prone to similarly skating themselves into (and out of) trouble. It would be unwise to be in a situation where they need to play together.
Beyond the logistical reasons, if the entire purpose is cap relief then Brodie ($4.65 million) saves more space than Hamonic ($3.857 million). From an asset management perspective, Brodie has six consecutive seasons of 30-plus points (Hamonic cracked 30 points once in that span), has quarterbacked the Flames second power play unit and played with Giordano on the top pairing against the league’s top players. Brodie has rough spots in his game – he’s full of peaks and valleys – but his peaks could potentially net the Flames a bigger haul than Hamonic’s more consistent play.

No better options to open up cap space

Let’s look at this situation from a different perspective. If you assume that the Flames need cap space – and they do – who else can the Flames move out to open up space without (a) making the team worse on-ice or (b) needing to take back a bad asset to make the trade happen. Heck, the oft-reported Frolik for Jason Zucker trade saw the Flames get a little bit better (and younger) but add over $1 million in cap hit. Buying out Stone would give the Flames a bit more wiggle room, but would also eliminate some potentially helpful veteran depth (albeit expensive depth). Moving out Neal probably isn’t in the cards this off-season due to the amount of time (and money) left on his deal.
Given all of their options, moving Brodie or Hamonic is the best bet for opening up cap space. Brodie is the best option because the Flames could get more value back for Brodie, they open up more cap space by moving Brodie, and stylistically he’s the easiest player to remove from their blueline group without weakening it.
Brodie’s been a very useful player for the Flames for eight seasons, but it’s probably time to send him on his way.