Free agent frenzy 2016 is set to begin in the National Hockey League and even though Steven Stamkos settled last minute to return to the Tampa Bay Lightning, there remains several interesting pieces on the open market. The question is, who will the Calgary Flames target in free agency as a means to upgrade their roster heading into next season?
The Flames have a few things to sort out before they can go all in on a free agent. Things such as, how much will it cost to re-sign Sean Monahan as well as John Gaudreau? Also, where is the biggest need for this team and who fits that role?
Who Will The Calgary Flames Target In Free Agency?
The Flames currently have over $21 million in cap space, but need to set aside $14 million to ensure there is enough room to bring back Gaudreau and Monahan. Once the two stars are locked up, Calgary will have eleven forwards, seven defenceman and one goaltender signed.
This means the Flames will need to fill out their NHL roster by bringing in a couple of forwards and a backup goalie for Brian Elliott. Also, the Flames have several big contracts coming off the books next summer and should be somewhat conservative this summer, and wait a year before making their big splash.
Dennis Wideman, Ladislav Smid, Brandon Bollig and Deryk Engelland all have contracts that will expire following next season which combines for a shade under $13 million in cap savings for Calgary. This means the Flames should be searching the bargain bin to patch holes this summer, biding their time for a year before making a big free agent acquisition.
Looking at the depth chart, Calgary is deep down the middle with Monahan, Sam Bennett, Mikael Backlund and Matt Stajan. Where they need help is on the wing. Their only proven top six wingers are Gaudreau on the left side and Michael Frolik on the right.
Gaudreau is just fine as a first line left winger, and Frolik is a great second line option for the right side. The sixth overall pick was used last week to select hulking left winger Matthew Tkachuk, and though he may not step into the NHL immediately, he will be playing on that second line in the very near future.
This leaves the biggest need for the Flames as the opening on the right side that was left vacant with the Jiri Hudler trade. What are some not-so-expensive options on the market to fill this void? Let’s take a look at the top five.
Devante Smith-Pelly– GP: 64 G: 14 A: 11 P: 25
Smith-Pelly is an interesting option that will come cheaply to whoever chooses to sign him this week. He was rarely used above the fourth line in Montreal before being dealt to the New Jersey Devils at the trade deadline. In 18 games with the Devils, he scored eight goals and 13 points.
Smith-Pelly is a big, tough winger who was a second round pick in 2010. Though the offensive side of his game hadn’t shone until his brief stint with the Devils, there is reason to believe he could play the type of game that Brad Treliving enjoys, and also chip in some offense if given the opportunity.
His most common linemates in Montreal, where he struggled to produce offense, were fourth liners Torrey Mitchell and Bryan Flynn. Once he was sent to the Devils and played primarily with Adam Henrique, he started to put the puck in the net.
I don’t believe that Smith-Pelly would continue his near 40 goal pace with New Jersey if he was signed in Calgary. However, he would be much closer to the Devils version than the Habs version if he was given a top six role in Calgary next season.
Lee Stempniak – GP: 82 G: 19 A: 32 P: 51
Stempniak has been traded at four of the past seven trade deadlines, so it would be hard for him not to return to a previous home on his next contract. He has certainly had an inconsistent career, but has proven he can produce offense when put in the right role.
Coming off a 51 point season split between New Jersey and Boston, Stempniak could provide a decent amount of scoring punch at a low cost next season if put in a favorable position.
Playing on the right side of Gaudreau and Monahan would be one of the most favorable positions in the league. Stempniak scored 1.76 points per 60 minutes of even strength ice time (P/60) this season, which is tied with Kyle Okposo. Okposo is sure to sign a long-term deal at somewhere in the neighborhood of six million per year. For a fraction of the annual salary at on a much shorter deal, the Flames could land a player who scored at exactly the same frequency at even strength this year.
Jiri Hudler – GP: 72 G: 16 A: 30 P: 46
They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Even better than that, the Flames could take a situation that isn’t broken, trade it for a second round pick, then fix it by re-signing the player they traded. Hudler led the NHL in even strength scoring in 2014-15, and though his point production dipped this season before a deadline deal to Florida, he still finished the year with decent production.
If Hudler were a free agent one year ago, he’d be looking for five million per year on a long-term deal. After a bit of a down year, though he still produced 2.1 P/60, which ranked 27th in the league this season.
After scoring 46 and 76 points the past two seasons, you would expect Hudler to get back to his regular production of slightly over 50 points if he returns to Calgary next season and plays alongside Monahan and Gaudreau.
P.A. Parenteau – GP: 77 G: 20 A: 21 P: 41
Parenteau is coming off a quiet 20 goal season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto had a dismal season, but Parenteau led them in goals and finished second in points. He is a solid even strength scorer (1.72 P/60) who contributes offense on the powerplay as well.
Parenteau had a down year in 2014-15 with the Montreal Canadiens, but has consistently been a first or second line level scorer in his career. He has proven in past seasons he can play with elite players by putting up near point per game seasons with Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene in Colorado as well as alongside John Tavares on Long Island.
Coming off a one year deal that paid him just $1.5 million in Toronto, Parenteau would be looking for a slight raise, but could provide excellent value on a one year, $2.5 million contract playing on the Flames top line.
Teddy Purcell – GP: 76 G: 14 A: 29 P: 43
Purcell is coming off a bit of a bounce back season, but won’t command the huge dollars that David Backes or Troy Brouwer will. However, Purcell scored four more points than Brouwer this season and just two less than Backes.
Purcell produced at even strength last season, scoring 1.73 points per 60 minutes of ice time (P/60). This ranked the Newfoundland native 102nd among NHL forwards last season. Though this doesn’t jump out as a top line scorer, considering each of the 30 NHL teams obviously has three players on their first line, Purcell ranks as a solid second line scorer.
Purcell had a down season in 2014-15 with the lowly Edmonton Oilers, scoring 34 points in 82 games, but even including that season, he has played at a 49 point pace per 82 games since 2010-11. Put him on a line with Gaudreau and Monahan next season and no one should be surprised if he reaches the 50 point plateau for the third time in his career.
This is usually the time of year for NHL executives to overpay and bid against each other until contracts get out of control. It’s a time of many mistakes, but who the Calgary Flames target in free agency could fill their most important need of scoring and come at a low cost if they search for value outside the top few names available.
Main Photo: MONTREAL, QC – MARCH 20: Sean Monahan #23 of the Calgary Flames celebrates his goal with teammate Joe Colborne #8 during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on March 20, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Calgary Flames defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-1. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)