The Calgary Flames have had one glaring hole in their roster for the better part of the last decade – a top line right winger who can play alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. They have had some success with Micheal Ferland and Elias Lindholm, but the former was moved in exchange for the latter, and the latter has been more valuable at centre than on the wing. Any of the other options that the Flames have tried have struggled to match the skill and pace of the two dynamic offensemen.
And, although the Flames have finally taken the plunge and broken up 13 & 23, there is still a hole on the right side of Monahan, which has been filled most recently by Brett Ritchie. Although he brings a lot of energy and grit to the game, Ritchie is not a long term solution in the top six.
Assuming the team is not planning to tear everything down this summer, which for financial and practical reasons does make sense, finding a top six right winger should be the team’s top priority this summer. However, this season’s UFA market is very weak. The only way the Flames are going to be able to get the winger that Gaudreau and Monahan have needed is through trade. Let’s break it all down.
What does unrestricted free agency look like?
This has typically been where the Flames have tried hard but come up short. This off-season was excellent, with the signings of Jacob Markstrom and Chris Tanev, although expectations have not been met by Josh Leivo and Dominik Simon. Over the last handful of seasons, GM Brad Treliving has a very rough history on July 1st, with the team still paying for the buyouts of two free agent signings, Michael Stone and Troy Brouwer. Free agency has not been the Flames’ friend.
However, the UFA market this year leaves a lot to be desired. Here are the top 10 right-shot right wingers available this summer with data from CapFriendly:
|Player||Age||GP||Goals||Assists||Points||Last Contract Cap Hit|
|Alex Ovechkin||35||43||24||18||42||$9.54 Million|
|Zach Hyman||29||43||15||18||33||$2.25 Million|
|Kyle Palmieri||30||42||9||10||19||$4.65 Million|
|Bobby Ryan||34||33||7||7||14||$1 Million|
|Nick Bjugstad||28||37||6||9||15||$4.1 Million|
|Alex Chiasson||30||34||7||4||11||$2.15 Million|
|Joel Armia||28||30||6||6||12||$2.6 Million|
Yikes! This is not a great list. As incredible as it would be to have Johnny Gaudreau alongside Alex Ovechkin, that’s not happening.
Going down the list, the Flames are likely looking for a long-term fit. This excludes anyone over ~32, as their trajectory probably has them moving into retirement quickly. Corey Perry, Jason Spezza, and Bobby Ryan are probably not what the Flames are looking for.
On this list, the two names that pop are Zach Hyman and Kyle Palmieri. Hyman has been a jack-of-all-trades kind of player for the Leafs, slotting up and down the lineup as needed. He has established himself as a strong two-way player, and someone that any team would want. However, because he has been such a strong option on a very deep Leafs’ squad, they are looking to retain his services going forward. He is unlikely to be available come free agency, and even if he is, the asking price will likely be very high.
Palmieri has previously been on the Flames’ wish list and would have been a great fit earlier in the year. However, he has since been traded to the New York Islanders, who will no doubt look to retain his services beyond this season. In the unlikely event that like the New Jersey Devils, the Isles are unable to sign him, the Flames will no doubt be looking to sign him.
The remainder quite simply are not good enough of a fit for the team to be considered. The Flames are unlikely to want to go back to Alex Chiasson this summer, having tried that experiment once before. Nick Bjugstad has carved out a role as a depth winger in Minnesota, and Joel Armia is likely not a prolific enough scorer to garner interest in Calgary this off-season.
With the UFA market looking the way it does, here are the options that the Flames have going into next season.
The trade market
When it comes to trade, the Flames have broadly two options available: they can either trade for an established top six right winger who has some term (anything from the rest of next season to a longer term deal) or trade for the rights of a restricted free agent (RFA) who they would then have to sign. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Players with term
A player with experience and term likely makes more sense for the organization. The Flames are at a transition point, where they have Gaudreau, Monahan, and Mark Giordano signed for only the next couple of seasons, then will likely be trying to build the team around some combination of Matthew Tkachuk, Rasmus Andersson, Juuso Valimaki, Andrew Mangiapane, and Jacob Markstrom. If the Flames think that this group as it is has one more shot, signing a slightly older (mid to late 20s) with some term is probably the way to go.
A player like this has a couple of advantages. First, they have been around the league long enough to be in their prime. The Flames are not acquiring a player with potential, but rather one with a proven track record of performance. This player will likely be a little older- late 20s to early 30s- but will come with a long resume of performance. The downside is that they will be more expensive, as they likely fill a need on the team for whom they currently play. As a result, they will likely command a similar value to what the Flames paid for Travis Hamonic from the Islanders, a number of picks or impact players.
The Flames will need to decide if this is worth their while. If they remove a player from their roster to add another, are they making themselves better, worse or staying exactly where they are? The trouble is it is hard to know definitively until the team makes the move and the player they bring in either performs or does not. The Flames will need to be as certain as possible that they are making themselves better with a move like this, as the cost is likely high.
A potential player that the Flames have been linked with in the past that they could look to target this summer is Viktor Arvidsson. A 29 year old Swedish winger who can play in the top six and who is signed long term is exactly the type of player that the Flames would be looking into. With Nashville looking to rebuild, the price is likely a high draft pick plus at least one or two prospects as opposed to a player who is older and with term.
Restricted Free Agents
Alternatively, the Flames could look at trading for a player who will be a restricted free agent when their deal comes up for renewal. These players are younger and do not come with as long of a resume, but they likely have a longer future in the league. The downside is that if their current team sees value in them, it will be costly to bring them over to Calgary.
In this case, the Flames would be banking on future performance of a younger player that may or may not pan out, but if it does, like how Noah Hanifin and Lindholm did, it could provide long-term value. The Flames are transitioning from the Mark Giordano era into a new leadership core, and adding a younger player could help solidify this group.
There are a number of players who could fit this bill. The one name that really leaps out this off-season is Patrik Laine. The former second overall pick struggled to fit in in Winnipeg, and has struggled even further under John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets’ system. He seems like a player who may be in need of a new home.
Will Columbus be willing to cut their losses on Laine after just a half a season? It’s difficult to say, but if they get the right offer, they will no doubt look at it. Columbus is in the midst of a rebuild, and will be looking for key players to build around for the future. The Flames will need to put a big package together in order to trade for a player like Laine, but no doubt he would be an improvement on paper over most of the Flames’ current top six. Whether he can translate that on-paper impact to on the ice will be the question, but if he comes available in the summer, the Flames should absolutely take a swing at him.
The second option is that the Flames can look to draft a player who could fill in this role. This season with the pandemic, the draft is even more of a crapshoot than in previous seasons. This is both a positive and a detriment, where teams could find a great player simply by accident or miss on a player who looks good this season.
The other downside with drafting is that unless the Flames move up in the draft, through winning the lottery or trading up the order, the player they draft will likely not be ready for a couple of seasons. That does not solve the Flames’ problem today, and if they move up in the draft, they will likely have to give up either a pick or an asset to do so, further weakening the team in the short-term.
The one player that looks closer to being NHL ready, but would likely require the Flames to move up in the draft order is Dylan Guenther. Currently leading the WHL in points-per-game, Guenther is a big, right-shot right winger who has quickly climbed up the draft order. With this year being such a free-for-all, he has been ranked anywhere from #2 by Bob McKenzie to 12 by Dobber Prospects. It is likely he goes somewhere between 5-10 depending on how the draft rankings look when all is said and done. He may need a year of AHL seasoning, but is likely close to being NHL ready.
Depending on where the Flames end up in the draft lottery, the cost to move up may be quite high. However, moving on draft day has been GM Brad Treliving’s forte. If the trade market does not pan out, expect this may be something that the Flames look at.
Promote from within
The final option is for the Flames to try to plug the hole from within. The easiest way to do this would be for them to move Elias Lindholm back to the wing and roll with Monahan and Mikael Backlund as the team’s top two centres. This gives them options for next season, with numerous centre options within the organization already. Ideally, they will be able to retain Derek Ryan this summer (for far less than he is currently earning) to be one of their bottom-six centres then play around with Glenn Gawdin or potentially Jakob Pelletier as their fourth line centre. Alternatively, the Flames look for bottom six centres on the trade market, which is likely cheaper and easier than trying to find a top line player.
They could also look to promote from within, bringing up a player like Matthew Phillips to the big club for next season. Phillips currently leads the team in points, and is looking like he is ready for a test at the NHL level. While he may work his way up to being a top six winger in the league, it will likely take a couple of seasons for him to get there. With the Flames looking to plug that hole right away, Phillips is probably not a fit.
Unfortunately, the Flames have a dearth of right-shot wingers across the organization. Both Connor Zary and the aforementioned Pelletier are left shots, and the rest of the Flames’ right-shot players still need some AHL seasoning before they are ready for the NHL. The option of promoting from within is likely not tenable.
What does it all come down to?
The Flames need help on the right wing going into next season, and likely will need to find a trading partner across the league to fill that gap. There are a number of options available that the team can look into, but it will likely cost them upwards of a high pick, a prospect, and a roster player to plug this hole. This is also leaving aside what the player’s salary will do to the books in a flat cap. The good news is that the Flames have most of their high value contracts coming off the books over the next two seasons, which should leave some room for a high impact player to be brought in this year.
Cash is king, and the playoffs next year are a key opportunity for teams to make up revenue lost from not having fans in the stands this year. Having brought in an elite netminder, a top four defenceman, and a Stanley Cup winning coach with unfinished business, expect the Flames to swing big in the off-season.