The Calgary Flames did some major re-tooling this off-season, bringing in additional strength at all positions. Some have worked out great, like Jacob Markstrom and Chris Tanev, while others like Dominik Simon, Joakim Nordstrom, and Josh Leivo have left something to be desired.
In this new re-tooling, the Flames let go of 10 players who played for the NHL team last season, who went on to find greener pastures elsewhere. Should the Flames have any remorse about not bringing back some of these guys? Let’s break it all down.
Cam Talbot was the better of the Flames’ two goalies last season, and arguably one of the best goalies the organization has had since Miikka Kiprusoff. Last season, he was signed to a one year $2.75 million dollar deal, which saw him earning the exact same amount as David Rittich. He finished last season with a .919 save percentage in 26 regular season contests. However, he was a phenom in the playoffs, keeping the Flames close in games that their forward group simply did not show up for. He finished with a 0.924 save percentage and two shutouts in 10 playoff games.
This season, Talbot has been incredibly unlucky. He has only featured in six contests so far this season, after being diagnosed with COVID-19. However, in those six games, he posted a 0.920 save percentage and has never been below a 0.880 save percentage in any of those games.
When the Flames let the free agent netminder walk at the end of the season, the Wild signed him to a three year deal earning $3.67 million per season. This is about 60% of what the Flames ended up signing Jacob Markstrom for, and the Flames also gave Markstrom a full no movement clause. Markstrom has been the Flames’ best player so far this season, keeping the Flames in games they had no business being in. He also has a lot of NHL experience, and has been a bona-fide starting goalie in the league. As good as Talbot has been, the Flames needed a true starting goalie, and Markstrom has not disappointed thus far.
A Flames draft pick and a guy who had been around the organization for over a decade, T.J. Brodie was a key piece of the Flames’ core. And for the first season in a long time, there was no Giordano-Brodie pairing on the Saddledome ice. Through his time in Calgary, Brodie was a regular 30 point a season guy who could handle heavy penalty kill minutes. Paired with Mark Giordano, the pairing was one of the best in the league for a number of season.
However, the Toronto boy is now playing for his hometown club. Brodie signed a four year, $20 million dollar contract to play behind Auston Matthews and company. So far he has no goals and seven assists, and has been playing primarily with Morgan Rielly. The pairing has been about average at 5v5, posting nearly 50% in all the major stats categories. Not bad a for a guy who many thought was getting a boost from playing with the Flames’ captain.
The way I see it, if the Flames re-signed Brodie, they would not have been able to sign Tanev. While there have been numerous questions about how the older and less offensive-minded defenceman would look in Calgary, but so far he has fit in incredibly well. He has been part of the Flames’ best pairing on the ice, and has been a leader to some of the team’s younger defencemen. A great fit so far this season.
When the Flames brought in Tanev, there was a lot of talk that he was just another Travis Hamonic. The latter would have been a fine fit in Calgary, and the team did not need to spend the amount of money that they did on Tanev when they had Hamonic already settled with the team.
While Hamonic was quite good for the Flames in his three seasons in Calgary, and was also a giant in the city’s philanthropic community, there were rumours about that Hamonic was ready for a new challenge. The most discussed landing spot for him was Winnipeg, where Hamonic is from. Even if the Flames wanted to re-sign him, it wasn’t something that he or his family were ready for.
However, the off-season was not as smooth as Hamonic expected. He was not offered a contract anywhere in the league, and signed a professional try-out with the Vancouver Canucks, who then offered him a contract. In eight games this season, Hamonic has just two assists, and finds himself mostly on the taxi squad. For the Flames who have multiple young guys in their system, having Oliver Kylington and Connor Mackey rotating in and out of the roster seems like a better long-term strategy.
Derek Forbort was brought in at the Trade Deadline last season, and was a staple on the team’s bottom pairing last season. Bringing him in last season had two effects, it helped to stabilize the team’s defence, which subsequently lost Hamonic for the playoffs but also pushed Kylington and Michael Stone completely out of the lineup.
Forbort was decent for the team. A more defensively focused guy, he allowed the team to more confidently roll three defense pairings and hold their own in the playoffs. After the season, there was little reason to expect him to re-sign with Calgary as the team had Juuso Valimaki coming back and other depth options were available on the market.
Forbort instead joined the Winnipeg Jets, where he has a goal and six assists through 22 games this season. He has played in all of their games, and leads the team in penalty minutes with 33. He is currently signed for a reasonable $1 million dollars for the season.
Would he have been an upgrade for the Flames? He is most similar to Nikita Nesterov in terms of both role and contract value, with Nesterov signed for $300,000 less for the year. On top of that, Nesterov’s on ice numbers are better. He leads Forbort in all the major statistical categories. While Nesterov has yet to record a point this season, he brings a defensive soundness to the Flames’ bottom pairing, and can rotate in and out of the lineup as needed. The cost probably gives Nesterov the edge.
Like Forbort, Erik Gustafsson was brought in at the trade deadline to add stability to the Flames’ back end. However, unlike Forbort, he was a very highly touted offensive defenceman who put up 60 points with the Chicago Blackhawks just two seasons before. Before joining the Flames, he was mired in a slump of a season that saw his ice time slump substantially.
In Calgary, he was quite good through the playoffs and finished at around the 50% mark in all the major statistical categories. This while playing on the team’s bottom pairing alongside the aforementioned Forbort. At the end of the season, there was limited expectation that the Flames would re-sign him. Gustafsson was going to want to bet on himself, and thus prices himself out of the Flames’ budget.
In the off-season, he signed a $3 million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers. So far this season, he has featured in 15 games and has nine points in that time. But as good as his offense has been, his defence has struggled. He has been guilty of numerous bad turnovers that have led to his ice time being limited of late. He currently sits on the bottom pairing, and has struggled to be as big of a difference-maker as his salary would expect.
While nine points in 14 games is quite impressive, his defensive play has been an issue. He was also not a player that the Flames would have been able to sign for the amount that the market was offering. For these reasons, the team likely doesn’t miss his services much.
Oh how the mighty have fallen. Austin Czarnik was once a highly touted free agent that chose to sign with the Flames after being courted by up to 24 other teams. In his time in Calgary, he fit in seamlessly with Matthew Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund, forming the dynamic MMA line (1.0). However, this did not last long, as Czarnik fell out of favour with the coaching staff in Calgary due to mediocre on-ice performances. He saw his ice time diminish steadily, and ended up playing most of his time with the Stockton Heat, featuring for the Flames just six times.
While he was a favorite among some Flames fans, Czarnik was not re-signed by the Flames, and ended up joining the New York Islanders in the off-season. So far, he has featured for their NHL squad just twice, and has zero points. New Flame Brett Ritchie has played two games as well, and has played almost the same amount of minutes as Czarnik this season. So far, Ritchie has generated more than twice as many shot attempts and has two high danger chances on net compared to zero for Czarnik. Zero remorse for not re-signing Czarnik.
Alan Quine started his career as a third round pick of the Detroit Red Wings, but did not sign with them. He was then re-drafted in the sixth round by the New York Islanders two seasons later. However, after working his way through the system and into the NHL, Quine was not tendered a qualifying offer by the Isles, and chose to sign with the Flames in 2018.
In his two seasons with the Flames organization, Quine spent most of his time with the Stockton Heat, and was top scorer and second highest scorer in his two seasons respectively. However, he couldn’t stay in the big team’s lineup, appearing just 22 times for the Flames in two years. In this time, he put up four goals and two assists, not bad for a bottom line guy.
He was not re-signed by the Flames, and headed up the QE2 to Edmonton to join the Oilers. While he was hoping for an NHL job, he has found himself back in California, where he has three points in seven games for the Bakersfield Condors.
Quine was the definition of a tweener. Clearly very good in the AHL, but seemingly not able to make the jump to the NHL. The Flames had to ask themselves what he brought to the table that Zac Rinaldo and Buddy Robinson did not. He is clearly a talented player, who can slot in as needed, but his skillset is one the Flames already have in their arsenal.
A draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers, Tobias Rieder‘s rights were traded away in 2013 but he found his way back to the organization in 2018. However, after not recording a goal in 68 games, he was singled out as part of the problem for the team that season. After a disappointing season, he was brought to the Flames’ training camp on a try-out basis and was signed to a league minimum deal.
With the Flames, he found a home on the bottom line and stood out as one of the team’s better bottom six players. He was particularly impressive on the penalty kill, and recorded two of his ten regular season points shorthanded. This was especially pronounced in the playoffs when he had three shorthanded goals, tying an NHL record with the likes of Wayne Gretzky.
Somehow it was not enough. Between him and the Flames, they were unable to come to an agreement on a new contract for this year. Rieder left for the Buffalo Sabres on a $700,000 one year deal. So far this season, he has featured in 18 games for the Sabres and has four goals.
This one is perplexing. Rieder clearly was providing value in a bottom six role for the Flames and clearly would have been an upgrade on Joakim Nordstrom or Brett Ritchie. There may have been factors to which we aren’t privy in terms of locker room fit, but if there is one player who the Flames could have used this season, it’s Rieder.
Saving the best for last. Mark Jankowski was a former Flames first round pick, who former Flames GM Jay Feaster thought would be one of the best players out of the draft that year. He did not in the time he was with the Flames, instead becoming the team’s bottom line centre. In his final year, he put up just seven points and 14 penalty minutes in 56 games. A rough ending for “the next Joe Nieuwendyk.”
Jankowski was often criticized for not using his massive body to play a physical style of game, instead relying on a good shot to generate offense. Unfortunately, he was rarely able to get into a position to use that shot, and ended up falling out of favour with the Flames coaching staff and fans alike. He finished his Flames career with 36 goals and 64 points in 208 games.
This past offseason, Jankowski signed a one-year, $700,000 league minimum deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He’s had the chance to serve as their third line center, and has done just about as well as expected. Jankowski has played in 18 of the Penguins’ 21 games this season, scoring one goal and two assists. He has just 14 shots, is averaging 11:14 TOI, and has a horrendous 35.85 xGF%. To be frank, he hasn’t been very good for Pittsburgh and despite the low price tag, the Flames are much better off rolling a combination of Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan, Backlund, Derek Ryan, and Sam Bennett down the middle. Safe to say they don’t regret moving on from Jankowski.