The Calgary Flames’ 2016 offseason figures to be a busy one. The central focus of Calgary’s upcoming summer figures to be locking up marquee stars Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.
However, pinning down those two significant contracts won’t be the only bit of business for Flames general manager Brad Treliving. Calgary also has nine other free agents to deal with after the conclusion of this season.
Calgary’s roster seems almost certain to go through fairly significant changes before 2016-17 begins. Looking at the players Calgary already has under contract for next season, the Flames will have $45 million committed to 13 players in 2016-17. Combine that with recent estimations pinpointing the 2016-17 cap at around $74.5 million (i.e. $3 million more than it is now), and we see the Flames will have roughly $29.5 million to sign the rest of their 23-man roster.
However, a large chunk of that $29.5 million will be taken up by the aforementioned signings of Gaudreau and Monahan. The pair will likely net a combined $12–14 million next season (a steep upgrade from their current combined cap hit of $1.85 million), leaving Calgary $15.5 million for the rest of their group.
Complicating matters further is the fact that Calgary has exactly zero goaltenders signed past the end of this season. They’re currently spending a combined $8.3 million on Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo’s one-year deals, and will likely need to allot a similar total for the club’s future goaltending situation – cutting the available amount down to around $7 million for the remaining six spots, with names like Jiri Hudler and Kris Russell unaccounted for.
Needless to say, there is work to be done.
Luckily, Calgary has plenty of opportunity to create the needed space, given their free-agent situation. With changes certain to come, let’s take a closer look at who should get the call to remain in Flames colors.
The biggest name among Calgary’s unrestricted free agents is surely veteran forward Jiri Hudler. The former Detroit Red Wing paced the club last season with a career-best 31 goals and 76 points in 78 games. However, he’s come back to Earth this season, having posted only nine goals and 32 points through 49 games. Despite that drop in production, there’s no denying that Hudler is a valuable commodity on the Flames’ roster.
At 34 points, he remains the highest scoring forward on the team after the club’s duo of Gaudreau and Monahan. The Flames’ secondary scoring wasn’t great last season, and it’s been similarly lacklustre in 2015-16. Hudler remains the only bona fide first-line talent not wearing Nos. 13 or 23, and his chemistry with the two young forwards has been key to their success during this season and the last.
Though he’s having a down year, the 32-year-old has posted his best Corsi For percentage as a Flame (50.2 percent) in 2015-16, and has seemed to right the ship with a point-per-game pace since the start of February.
The key issue with Hudler is salary. Compared to other players at a similar point in their career and a similar cap hit ($4 million), Hudler seems to be scoring at a higher level. Such players – like Milan Michalek, Ales Hemsky, Jussi Jokinen, and Benoit Pouliot – all finished around the 30-40 point range as Hudler topped 70. Even in his current down year, Hudler is on pace to finish closer to 50 points. Should he top that mark, it would be the fifth time he’s done so.
Even if his level is judged to be closer to his current performance than his career-best 2014-15 season, it seems Hudler is due for a raise. However, there’s reason to believe it won’t be in the millions.
Looking at players who make just $1 million more – i.e. James Neal, Mike Cammalleri, and Tomas Plekanec – we see an arguably higher level of talent. If the Flames could bring Hudler back on a deal worth around $4.5–5 million per year, it seems the veteran could still provide some useful offensive punch.
That said, Hudler’s history as a consistent scorer also means he’s likely to get a fairly decent haul if the Flames decided to trade him prior to the upcoming deadline. With the team in need of future cap space and still looking to acquire picks and prospects to aid in their rebuilding effort, there’s a good chance Hudler could be wearing a different jersey before the season is through. Should that be the case, the effect on the Flames’ secondary scoring could be much bigger than some realize.
The other name certain to draw interest is that of oft-maligned defender Kris Russell.
Like Hudler, Russell rose to prominence during Calgary’s 2014-15 season – most notably during the postseason, when he played a key role in stabilizing the Flames’ blue line after captain Mark Giordano went down with a torn bicep. Fast forward to now, and the perception of Russell is far less adoring.
The 2015-16 season hasn’t been kind to the 28-year-old – his Corsi For percentage of 44.1 is the fourth-worst on the team (which illustrates the underlying defensive problems that force him to block hundreds of shots each season) and he’s done little to help offensively as well. Russell has also been given far too big a role on Calgary’s blue line – he averages the second-most shifts per game of any player in the league, despite his mediocre numbers – which has only exacerbated their defensive woes this season.
He could still be useful to the Flames at a reasonable price, perhaps one similar to his current $2.6 million cap hit. However, despite Russell’s lacklustre 2015-16 season, he’s earned some interest on the trade market due to the perception of him being a heart-and-soul defender, willing to put his body in harm’s way for his teammates. In a smaller role, he could be a decent pick up for a stronger club, and it’s likely the Flames will cash in on that interest.
The Flames have a fairly strong blue line as it is, with Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton all signed long-term, so they can certainly afford to let Russell go. Moving him would avoid having to give him a raise, would net the team some useful pieces to help their rebuild, and would also allow Hamilton to truly step into the role of the club’s number-three defender.
While he won’t draw as much interest as either Hudler or Russell, veteran winger David Jones presents an interesting conundrum for the Flames. The 31-year-old seems to have lost the scoring touch that earned him two 20-goal seasons earlier in his career, as he’s posted only nine goals and 15 points through 54 games this season. It’s been a rough season for Jones – he’s putting up fewer goals, assists, and points per game than he did in either of his first two seasons in Calgary, and his average ice time has dropped to only 12:41.
But Jones brings more to the table than offense alone. The versatile forward adds some much-needed physicality to the Flames’ attack (a staple of their offensive style), and currently ranks second on the team with over 100 hits thus far. He’s also surprisingly responsible for an energy-style player; Jones has amassed the second-lowest total penalty minutes (eight) of any Flames forward, and has earned enough trust from head coach Bob Hartley to start 62.1 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone.
His $4 million cap hit isn’t low by any means, but Jones is exactly the type of consistent, hard-nosed forward the club needs for their bottom-six. Unless he’s shipped out of town at the deadline to clear room, the veteran seems worth re-signing at a discount.
Jonas Hiller & Karri Ramo:
Goaltending has been the Flames’ weakness this season.
While the rest of the team hasn’t exactly been stellar either, the tandem of Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo simply hasn’t measured up in 2015-16. The club is tied for dead last in the league in goals-against per game (3.05) and Calgary has had to endure fewer shots per game than either of the teams they’re tied with.
Hiller and Ramo have had their moments this year, but overall, neither has put up the numbers Calgary needs if they’re to remain a playoff team. After two seasons of the tandem, it seems time to move on. Unfortunately, there aren’t many attractive options in free agency this summer, meaning the Flames could keep one of either Hiller or Ramo to serve in a backup role.
Ramo seems to have had the better year, as his save-percentage (0.909) and goals-against-average (2.63) are only slightly worse than last season’s numbers – whereas Hiller has posted career-worst marks in both categories (0.888 and 3.27). Of course, the news that Ramo is out for the rest of the year with a torn ACL complicates the issue further.
If the Flames are hoping for better results in 2016-17, it starts in their own net, and they’ll need a brand new name as their starter to truly take a step forward.Restricted Free-Agents
The Flames’ restricted free agent options aren’t quite as up in the air. Net minder Joni Ortio – who hasn’t looked great this year, but still has plenty of time to develop into a number-one – figures to return to the club. He’s due at least a 110 percent raise, per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but that amounts to a very reasonable $630,000 – which the Flames are likely to shell out given the instability of their goaltending situation.
Johnny Gaudreau & Sean Monahan:
Calgary’s least suspenseful restricted free agents are Gaudreau and Monahan, who will undoubtedly return to the club and will continue to play a central role in the Flames’ success. At this point it’s just a matter of money, as the team is likely to want long-term contracts with each.
Colborne has been given a fairly prominent role on the team since he came to Calgary, but he hasn’t done much with it. The 26-year-old has failed to top 30 points yet during his Flames tenure, though he has taken a slight step forward in 2015-16. Colborne has improved his goals per game pace, his shots per game pace, and his Corsi For percentage – though none of his numbers are remarkable.
While he hasn’t broken out like the Flames had hoped, Colborne does still possess a rare blend of size (6’5″, 221 pounds) and stickhandling skill, so the potential is still there. He’s owed only a contract of equal value, per the CBA, as he earned over $1 million last season, so he could be worth bringing back if the price is reasonable.
The same can be said for Markus Granlund. The young center has performed fairly well in a limited role this season, and is owed only $805,875, per the CBA. It’s a slim price to pay for a 22-year-old prospect that still possesses some decent upside. Though it’s unclear where Granlund fits into the club’s long-term plans given their centre depth, he remains a decent bottom-six option for now.
Josh Jooris, however, could find himself on the outside looking in, if only due to financial reasons. Because he earned $975,000 last season, Jooris will be owed at least $1 million for the upcoming season. That might be a reasonable price if Jooris were playing at the level he showed in 2014-15 (when he scored 12 goals and 24 points as a rookie), but the 25-year-old has taken a big step back this season.
With only three goals and four assists through 34 games, Jooris’ per-game pace has dropped to nearly half of what it was last year, in terms goals, assists, and points. He’s still one of the club’s fastest skaters and a decent face-off practitioner when used at center, but it’s unclear whether Treliving will want to shell out $1 million in cap space for a player that has been scratched over a dozen times this season.
While a strong push for the rest of the year could earn Jooris a contract come summer time, he’ll have to find his former level very soon to avoid getting lost in the shuffle as the Flames continue their transition into the Johnny Gaudreau era.