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2020-21 Calgary Flames Offseason Primer

Calgary Flames offseason
As a shortened and hectic offseason approaches, Last Word on Hockey is looking ahead towards how teams will deal with the reality of a flat salary cap. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make. We’ll operate going from worst to best. Today’s piece focuses on the Calgary Flames‘ offseason.

Calgary Flames Offseason Primer

For the past two seasons, there has been talk of the Calgary Flames offseason being filled with upheaval if the Flames didn’t make a big impact in the playoffs. They led the division in 2018-19 only to flame out in the first round. The next season was the same story, after the play-in win. This year they didn’t even reach the second round, but the by-now traditional talk of stars being too expensive and no one else being good enough got a bit more complicated. The complication was general manager Brad Treliving bringing in high-value – and older – free agents to long-term deals. Not your normal move for a team looking to rebuild.

They did trade away one of the “young guns” that were expected to lead the team into the bright, shining future. And Sam Bennett went and did exactly what Flames fans feared, turning around his mediocre season in Calgary into a brilliant showing with the Florida Panthers. Veteran goaltender David Rittich was also shipped out, though with less painful results. Again, these aren’t the moves of a team pushing for the playoffs. But signing Jacob Markstrom to a six-year deal is, as is bringing in Chris Tanev. So… now what? Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau have been offensive leaders on this team since the 2014-15 season. As such, they receive the most heat for the Flames’ single second-round appearance in all those years, their names coming up each off-season. But with this year’s moves? Threats of “blowing up the team” ring hollower with passing every year.

Pending Free Agents

Despite Milan Lucic recognizing reality and waiving his no-movement clause, the Flames still need to sign someone else to expose enough qualified forwards to the Seattle Kraken for their expansion draft. It should be a player they actually want, in case the Kraken look elsewhere, but there are options. Both Brett Ritchie and Josh Leivo were fine in bottom-line minutes and will be available at sub-million-dollar deals. Derek Ryan falls into the “solid foot soldier” category, but at 34 years old he’s unlikely to return. Likewise Buddy Robinson, who spent most of the year bouncing on and off the taxi squad.

On defence, the Flames have their Big Four, then it’s going to be a matter of filling the bottom of the roster. Assuming, of course, they don’t lose captain Mark Giordano to Seattle. Unrestricted free agent Nikita Nesterov isn’t going to get an offer to stay, though Michael Stone could. Few teams are willing to let inexperienced players into the bottom pair, and Stone did well alongside RFA Juuso Välimäki. Välimäki is absolutely getting a new deal, though his 10.2(c) status means it won’t likely be for much. Oliver Kylington should get an offer as well, but after his time as a cabbie, it won’t be much above qualifying.

As for between the pipes, Dustin Wolf is coming, and Markstrom is here. In between, Artyom Zagidulin has the inside track as the Flames’ backup and showed well enough in Stockton to get a new deal.

Salary Cap Outlook

With just 13 players signed to NHL deals, the Calgary Flames offseason is going to be reasonably busy. They have ten spots to fill, and while some of that is going to come from within, it can’t be everyone. As of this writing, they have $14.5 million, which is an awful lot of minimum-wage – or close to it – contracts. Zagidulin and Jacob Pelletier are going to get their shot, but they would have anyway. Unless Treliving does finally act on his threat of moving one of the big deals, he’s going to be hard-pressed to do much other than promoting the prospects.

If not Gaudreau or Monahan, perhaps the older and less productive Mikael Backlund moves out. He’s got another three years at $5.35 million, though, so it could be a hard sale to make. He’s still a very useful player, but his strength is on the defensive side of the puck. That skill should come cheaper.

Major Likely Departures

The Flames don’t really have any major losses set up. Their starting goalie is signed long-term. The top-two lines are done. Their top-four defencemen are signed… Ohhhhh, wait.
Yep, it really is going to come down to Mark Giordano. The management might finally follow through on blowing up the team, but we doubt it. On the other hand, one deadline the team can’t avoid is the expansion draft. They simply can’t afford to protect the nigh-38-year old defenceman, captain or not. The Flames can’t count on his selection to ease their cap crunch, though. Seattle may not want the veteran, giving Kylington a shot instead, or whichever generally useful forward Calgary exposes instead.

Major Likely Re-Signings

The two signings to look forward to aren’t exactly “major” yet, but if everything goes according to plan they will be soon. Dillon Dubé and Välimäki aren’t getting major ice time yet, but are a part of the Flames’ future. Neither one has a lot of leverage yet, and the team may be somewhat snakebit about second contracts being long ones. Dubé could get something like Andrew Mangiapane‘s short bridge deal but coming in around the $1 – $1.25 million mark. The defenceman’s in harder because of his status. Another short deal, a bit lower in value. Calgary’s pinching pennies where they can this season.

Potential Free Agent Additions

By the time free agents are looking at Calgary, the pickings are going to be slim. That’ll suit the team just fine. They are going to need a few bodies up front, perhaps another defenceman, and at the bottom of the list maybe a veteran goalie who won’t mind starting in the AHL. Christian Wolanin or Tomas Jurco may not stir fans’ souls, but they are affordable. It’s not the best rallying cry ever, but without a major shakeup, this team won’t stir.

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