Today at noon marks the beginning of NHL Free Agency for the year, and the Calgary Flames will have a number of important decisions to make. We already broke down what to watch for with the Flames’ RFA class.
But unrestricted free agency is a whole other story, and the Flames could be busy this year. According to CapFriendly, the club has over 16 million dollars in projected cap space. That doesn’t necessarily mean the team can afford to bring in a bunch of big ticket players, but it does give them the flexibility other teams don’t have. Three forwards are free agents who will either need to be re-signed or most likely replaced.
On defence, tit’s a much more wide open situation for the Flames. Travis Hamonic, Derek Forbort, Michael Stone, Erik Gustafsson, and T.J. Brodie are all slated to be UFA come 10 a.m. MST. Can the Flames re-sign some of them? Sure, but they are highly unlikely to re-sign them all. Hamonic, Stone, and potentially Brodie seem likely to be out the door.
In net, Cam Talbot is also a pending UFA and looks to be heading to market, which means the Flames are also in need of another goaltender. So with potentially three forwards, five defensemen, and a goalie up for free agency, the Flames will have to be busy, while also looking for the best bargains.
General Manager Brad Treliving has always been busy at this point of the offseason, but his signings haven’t necessarily worked out the best. Treliving signed the disastrous James Neal contract two summers ago, and has missed on other contracts such as Troy Brouwer, Mason Raymond, and Michael Stone.
So Flames fans have the right to be a little worried about the team going into free agency, but making moves this year will be a necessity rather than a choice. The focus should be on cheaper depth players who have lower risk, but who can help in the interim as the team figures out what to do with the rest of their core.
WHo might calgary sign?
Lots of options will be available and this free agency period will be one to remember for the NHL. The flat cap, the plethora of goaltenders, and more, all compound to make this offseason one of the most interesting ones in recent memory.
Let’s start with the forwards. Remember they are only losing three, and the team is likely expecting Glenn Gawdin, Matthew Phillips, or Jakob Pelletier to crack the roster. Heck, even Connor Zary, who was just drafted in the first round, could be a longshot to see some NHL playing time. With that expectation, I would look for the team the team to target one or two forwards in free agency.
One aspect of the team that has been frustrating over the last few years is the lack of quality right handed shots up front. Last year, Elias Lindholm and Derek Ryan were the only regulars who use their right hand as the bottom one on the stick. This pushes guys like Andrew Mangiapane, Dillon Dube, and others on to their off wing, and essentially forces Lindholm to play on the wing.
The lack of righties also influences the way the team plays. One area where the team struggles is passing the puck out of the zone, and too often relies on chipping the puck into the neutral zone, which often leads to turnovers and rarely results in puck possession. Is this all because players are on their off wing? No obviously not, but it is certainly a factor, and having a few true right wingers would help clean up the team’s transition game.
Who might be available that would solve the team’s handedness problem?
Josh Leivo is an interesting target. He has an injury history, so he might scare some teams away (although it would make him cheaper) but Josh Leivo could be great for the Flames. He is a right shot, bigger in stature, hard to play against, and has a good shot; all qualities that Calgary needs.
Last season with Vancouver, Leivo only played in 36 games, but scored seven goals at 5v5, and also contributed eight assists. For context, that would have been ninth on the Flames for the entire season, and he played less than half of the games.
When looking at his G/60, Leivo would have ranked fifth on the team last season, and fourth among regular skaters. All of Leivo’s stats came while his most frequent teammate was Antoine Roussel, so it was not as if he was just playing with the good players.
Many fans have called for the Flames to go after Tyler Toffoli. He is also a right shot and has many of the same attributes as Leivo. The problem is that Toffoli produced at only slightly better of a clip last season, with more G/60 minutes than Leivo, but less A/60.
Leivo also comes at a fraction of the cost, which would save the team money and allow them to be more creative in trades down the line. Cap space is a luxury right now and the Flames can look for cheap options like Leivo.
From an advanced stat perspective, Leivo posted a CF% of 52.45% last year. His xGF% was 49.95%, not bad for a guy who could play all over the lineup. Leivo really can play up and down the lineup, acting as a trigger man with someone like Gaudreau (which would free up Lindholm to another line) or giving a true right wing presence on a bottom line.
Leivo makes less than a million dollars a year, and while the Flames might have to pay slightly more than that, Leivo could be a good bargain bet.
Jesper Fast is another cheap right handed forward who could be a bargain for the team. He is 28 years old and had 29 points, 26 of which were at even strength. With a salary of $1.85M last season, Fast is cheap and still young enough to produce.
Again, he won’t be a superstar, but he could add some juice up and down the lineup. Fast was also a frequent option for the Rangers on the penalty kill, and could help that unit that is expected to lose Jankowski and possibly Rieder. New York has a ton of young talent coming up the pipeline, so Fast is likely to walk. Would be a good option for the Flames.
Wayne Simmonds would be another guy who is all about the contract. He is a righty goal scorer, who could bring some toughness to the top six. If they can get him at a good deal, I think it works. That being said, he feels like a classic overpay for a guy who was never an elite skater, and is now fighting age.
With other teams being interested, the last thing the team needs to do is get into a bidding war for a depth player who is past his prime. It’s more likely than not that he ends up staying on the east coast, but you never know.
As long as the Flames are paying for what he is, and not what he has been, then it could be a fit.
The Flames will have holes to fill on D as Hamonic seems like a guarantee to be getting a contract elsewhere. Brodie is the one who will have more of a question, as the club still seems to be interested and has still tried to negotiate up until he hits market.
The team did sign NCAA free agents Connor Mackey and Colton Poolman, but it is unlikely that both will compete right away. The other good news is this team has at least four legitimate NHL defensemen, with Mark Giordano, Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson, and Juuso Valimaki all ready for next season.
Oliver Kylington and Mackey round out the list in terms of depth right now, so it is fair to say that the club will look to add a defensemen or two. They are likely to be rumoured in the sweepstakes for one of the big names like Alex Pietrangelo, or more likely Tyson Barrie, but would those really be great signings for the team?
The team has a couple young defensemen like Valimaki and Andersson that are expected to be big top four minute players and who will also need new contracts in the future. On the flip side, Giordano is not getting any younger, and the club might be looking to find a guy to fill the top role when the Captain is eventually gone.
It feels like a necessity to write about Barrie due to the current rumors, but I think the Flames can find cheaper options on the market. Barrie struggled mightily under Mike Babcock, although he rebounded nicely once the coaching change happened in Toronto. He most likely will be too expensive for Calgary, especially when they will be paying him well into his thirties.
Barrie seems like the kind of guy the Flames could have gone after a year from now, once they figure out what to do with the current core, but I dont think this is the year. The big argument is if you are going to pay Barrie for what you think he could bring to the team, why not use that money on Brodie?
He is a right hand shot though, so that makes him a valuable asset.
Sami Vatanen will be all about the price tag, which the Flames may or may not want to get involved with. Unfortunately, he will likely command a pretty penny in free agency due to his services. If the Flames can get him at a decent price it would make a lot of sense, but there could be cheaper more efficient options out there come the market call.
Vatanen doesn’t produce at the same rate he did a few years ago, but he is still a great skater, and could fit nicely with a guy like Hanifin to form a really mobile second pairing. Crucially as well, Vatanen is a right handed shot.
If you couldn’t already tell, that’s what everyone is after. He has has posted mediocre possession numbers on a bad New Jersey team over the past few seasons, but that has to be attributed at least in part to poor team that got hemmed in their own zone a lot.
In a mid-level deal, he could play some easier minutes in Calgary, and even take over some of the power play duties from Giordano. It could be a fit.
It was a surprise to not see Troy Stecher get an offer from the Canucks, but there are a lot of guys to pay in Vancouver and not enough money to go around. Stecher is another righty who could play on the bottom pair for the Flames, but would give them a young dynamic third pairing opposed to the normal big sized one that we tend to see.
Not to beat a dead horse, but Stecher is another guy who can really skate. If the Flames are going to bet on a guy on the bottom pair, they should prioritize a guy like Stecher who is mobile and a puck mover. Stecher with a guy like Valimaki could be a solid third pairing, with Valimaki being more of a stay at home type. The club needs to get faster in general, and Stecher could help at a reasonable price.
The only difficulty with this is that other teams may view Stetcher as someone who could play on their second pairing and offer him a bigger role. It’s not always about the money sometimes, as some players want more responsibility. A younger team on the rise may look at Stetcher and give him a bigger opportunity than the Flames can provide.
The biggest splash the team is expected to make looks like it will be in net…
Jacob Markstrom will be expensive, but he also might be worth it. Free agent goalies are hit and miss, in fact goalies are in general. After the Sergei Bobrovsky deal from last year, everyone is a little weary about a big goalie contract on Free Agent Frenzy.
The Flames have not had a bonafide starting goaltender in years, but the league is moving towards more of a two goalie system anyways. Talbot and David Rittich formed a great duo last year, but just faltered at the worst time. This is most likely the reason behind the Flames interest in Markstrom.
The worry with Markstrom would be that Calgary is buying high after Markstrom had a career year. Not to mention, the club has Dustin Wolf, Tyler Parsons, and Artyom Zagidulin coming up. If Markstrom gets a five or six year deal, what happens to that plan?
There are still a few more years before any of the prospects are NHL ready, but on a six year deal Markstrom would still have a lot of term left with one or maybe two of the prospects ready to go pro.
Markstrom is an easy upgrade over what the team currently has, but it’s always a cautious time to be signing a goalie to a contract on July 1st…or October 9th?
All in all, the Flames have a wealth of options at their disposal and it will be fascinating to see who they end up with today. Free Agent Frenzy starts today at 12 p.m. EST so stay tuned for complete analysis from TWC all weekend long!
Feature Image: Adam Gretz