The Calgary Flames and Michael Frolik haven’t been on the best of terms for the better part of half a year. Frolik’s, and his agent Alan Walsh’s concerns over ice time and player usage were on full display last season, when Walsh publicly called out Flames coach Bill Peters through his Twitter account.
Michael Frolik and the Flames
Frolik was a consummate professional though the whole ordeal, working hard and playing well for the Flames at every step of the way. He improved his scoring from the previous year to finish eighth on the team with 16 goals and 34 points in 65 games played. He also finished averaging 13:22 TOI per game, which was eighth on the team but over three and a half minutes less than his average one season ago.
The trade rumours surrounding Frolik haven’t gone away, and most recently his name has been tied to the New Jersey Devils. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman has reported that there is a strong chance Frolik is dealt before July 1st, and it looks like it’s only a matter of time before he’s with another organization.
The writing is on the wall, but even with the perceived off-ice challenges with the player, losing Frolik could create a large hole in the Flames’ lineup that would need to be immediately filled.
Right Wing Depth
As it stands, the Flames’ RW depth chart looks like this:
It seems like the Flames are perpetually starved of good goalies and good right wingers. It’s been the case for many seasons now, and it’s the case this season as well. Beyond Lindholm, who we must assume will be the 1RW for the duration of this contract (unless he moves to the middle, but that’s another conversation for another time), the depth on the right side is slim.
Frolik is easily the team’s second-best option there right now, and had he not missed 17 games last season, he would have paced for 43 points. He’s a reliable option on defence, sporting the best CF% on the list, and plays in virtually every situation. Take him totally off the roster and there’s a massive hold on the second line.
The obvious in-house replacement is a toss-up between James Neal and Austin Czarnik. However, there is well earned skepticism around Neal’s ability to be a top-six forward, and Czarnik’s stint on the MMA line was not as inspiring as we had hoped.
If they choose to re-sign him, the team could look to promote Hathaway, who had an impressive campaign with 11 goals on the fourth line, but a jump to the top-six is probably not a good idea at all. Sam Bennett is a LW, but he could potentially slide into the right side of the second line. Again though, this is probably not the most ideal situation and could cause more problems.
A more intriguing, and likely longer term option, is Dillon Dube, who played 25 games with the Flames last season but needed a year in the AHL to learn the pro game. After putting up 37 points in 31 games, Dube will start next season in Calgary. The 2RW slot could be the perfect place for the reliable, speedy, and mature 20-year-old.
There’s no guarantee that Dube is capable of shouldering this load though and relying on him to jump into this type of role in just his second professional season is asking a lot. He has the tools to make it work, but it’s too much of a gamble for a team with its eyes on the Stanley Cup.
Options Through Trade
Frolik isn’t a player whose value has decreased so dramatically that he can’t be an effective middle-six winger on any team in the NHL. In fact, he probably slides seamlessly into the middle-six of every single team in the league, and can help in a variety of ways.
At this point, the Flames are looking to trade him because his best before date has passed and a change of scenery would be beneficial to both the team and player. There is no reason to assume the Flames can’t replace Frolik’s spot in the lineup one-for-one in a trade.
Like the Jason Zucker trade that failed to materialize at the trade deadline, the Flames should be looking to obtain a similar type of player in a Frolik deal. Packaging an expendable players like Mark Jankowski, Bennett, or even T.J. Brodie should allow the Flames to more than cover for Frolik’s departure.
From the rumours that have been circling around for the past few months, here are a few options the Flames could target via trade:
Zucker is one of the best targets in this scenario. If the Flames can get Minnesota to agree to the terms that were agreed upon in March, the Flames could replace Frolik’s spot in the lineup one-for-one.
Zucker is a 0.5 point-per-game player, capable of playing in all situations and around 17 minutes a night, and is defensively responsible sporting the best CF% out of all the names on this list.
The only wrinkle here is that since that failed trade three months ago, several other teams have inquired about the Wild’s ask for Zucker, and could drive the price for his services up above what the Flames are willing to pay.
Jesper Bratt is a potential option and could come the other way in a swap with the Devils. He’s a cheap, young winger who has yet to truly prove himself a regular NHLer, but his combination of speed and skill could work well in the middle-six.
Phil Kessel is obviously a big fish around which trade rumours have recently died down, but if there is fire to the Kessel trade smoke, the Flames could easily slot him into their top two right wing slots. In the unlikely scenario that he becomes a Flame, Kessel could even bump Lindholm down to the second line and serve as a second triggerman for Johnny Gaudreau to feed passes to.
Connor Brown looks like Toronto’s version of Bennett, and probably isn’t a good bet to be an effective top-six winger on this team. Hoffman, on the other hand, has a proven track record of filling the net, can play tough minutes in all situations.
However, Hoffman might end up as the odd man out if the Panthers do sign both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky as many predict they will. In that scenario, Hoffman could be a sneaky trade target for the Flames. Adding him to this lineup while sending a bottom sixer in Frolik could be a beneficial deal for both the Flames and Panthers.
Options Through Free Agency
As we’ve discussed before, free agency is a very dangerous time in the hockey calendar. Generally the signings that occur in the first few days of July end up being ineffective and costly to teams, and this avenue for pursuing players is more harmful than helpful.
That being said, it can’t be ignored, and this year’s crop of UFAs does have a few interesting names that Calgary could pursue should Frolik be moved without a roster player coming back:
Brett Connolly is coming off a career year which saw him set highs in goals, assists, and points. He’s more of a power forward, but proved he can produce in a top-six role both in Boston and Washington. At 6′-3″ and 198 lbs, he also adds an element of size to the forward corps which is a welcomed addition.
@EvolvingWild has projected he’ll earn ~$3.5M AAV on his next contract, which works out to the Flames saving ~$800k by replacing Frolik with Connolly. However, several teams have already spoken to the winger, including the Oilers, and that number might be on the lower end based on the interest he’s received.
The other player that could be a target for the Flames is Sharks winger Joonas Donskoi. He’s also coming off a career year where he set highs in goals and points, and could be unsignable if Joe Pavelski returns to San Jose. Donskoi sports an impressive CF%, scored 14 goals, and has played in San Jose’s middle-six for the better part of two seasons. He’s a skilled player and could fit in well on the second line in Calgary.
Both UFAs averaged basically the same TOI as Frolik did last season, and could easily play an effective 15 minutes for the Flames next season.
The strongest rumour floating around right now has Frolik moving to New Jersey. If that ends up being the deal, it doesn’t seem likely that the Flames will receive a roster player in return. Bratt is an option there, but in all likelihood Frolik nets the Flames additional draft picks in the coming years.
If that happens, the most probably outcome is an internal promotion. A combination of Czarnik, Neal, and Dube will get a shot to establish themselves on the second line, and whoever ends up being the best option by Christmastime will stay there for the remainder of the year.
With the low cap increase and several important contracts still to be signed, the Flames probably won’t make any noteworthy splashes in free agency either.
However, the best move the Flames can make is to revisit the trade for Zucker with the Wild. If that ends up working out, and the Flames can fit all their necessary RFAs under the cap, it’ll be a major upgrade from last season. Fun times are ahead.