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Evaluating the long list of the Calgary Flames’ expiring contracts

This was a disappointing season for the Calgary Flames. What probably hurts most is the amount of optimism that there was going into the season, especially with GM Brad Treliving bringing in a number of new bodies to help shore up weak areas of the roster. From Jacob Markstrom in net, to Chris Tanev on the blueline, to the number of new options on the right side, the hope was that this would be the year that the team got over the hump and made it past the first round of the playoffs.

Alas, here we are. Lockers are cleaned out and golf bags are dusted off. While the players maybe out on the links, the Flames’ management is going to have a lot of work to do this summer to prepare for next season. As the Seattle Expansion Draft approaches, the Flames have business to take care of. A whopping 20 players have expiring contracts this season, either RFAs or UFAs.

Let’s breakdown the likelihood of each staying or going this offseason.

Calgary’s unrestricted free agents

Derek Ryan

This was a tough season for the whole team, but arguably the weakest stretch of play was when Derek Ryan was out of the lineup. Quietly one of the team’s best players, Ryan added much needed stability to the Flames’ bottom line, and helped them not be a liability. Per, the Flames’ expected goals for per sixty minutes (xGF/60) was 2.75 when Ryan was on the ice, when he wasn’t, it was 2.42. Defensively, the team’s xGA/60 was 1.66 when he was on the ice. When he wasn’t, it was 2.20. A massive difference, which goes to show the value that Ryan brought to the Flames this season.

There is a good chance that the Seattle Kraken might take Ryan in the expansion draft. Originally from Washington state, he would be a great add both on the ice and off of it. However, assuming that the Kraken take someone else, the Flames should do what they can to re-sign Doc. It seems unlikely that he will earn his $3.125 contract again next season with the flat cap, but if the Flames can keep him at a reasonable number, this should be a priority.

Likelihood of re-signing: 6/10

Josh Leivo

This one hurts. It seemed going into the season that Josh Leivo was going to be one of the Flames’ options in the top six. With incredible underlying numbers, it felt as though so long as he was healthy through the season, he would be one of the pieces that the Flames were missing at the top of their roster.

This obviously was not the case. Not only was he not a fit with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, he struggled to stay in the lineup at all, then was listed on the COVID-19 Protocol List for the last part of the season. The Leivo experiment quite simply did not work.

Could the Flames bring him back as a bottom line winger given their need for right shot forwards? Absolutely. However, it feels unlikely that they would choose him over anyone else that will be hitting the market this summer. He will almost certainly be looking for a new home.

Likelihood of re-signing: 1/10

Joakim Nordstrom

Joakim Nordstrom was brought in to be a bottom line guy who could kill penalties, and he was reasonably effective at doing so. He wasn’t flashy, didn’t put up a ton of points, and wasn’t any less responsible defensively than anyone else on the team. On top of that, he clearly had a strong relationship with some of the team’s other Swedes, having spent time fishing with Jacob Markstrom and Elias Lindholm over the summer. Character guy, good in the room, and not terrible on the ice, this feels like he did enough for the Flames this season.

Does he merit another contract next year? He probably won’t earn much more than his current league-minimum deal. And if he can come in and out of the lineup and help mentor some of the Flames’ younger guys while keeping some of the older guys content, it feels like a smart gamble.

The Flames clearly like his ability to kill penalties, where he played the fourth most minutes, and given he was rarely scratched, there seems to be a lot of love there. Assuming they can re-sign him for around what he was paid this past year, this feels like a guy who could be back despite not being the best available player.

Likelihood of re-signing: 7/10

Brett Ritchie

Brett Ritchie is probably the most interesting name on the list. Brought in on a PTO, the expectation was he would be a depth option off the Flames’ taxi squad, able to play as a physical winger on the fourth line. However, the Flames had other plans, playing him often on the top line with Gaudreau and Monahan. He had a few good moments, putting up some points with the Flames’ offensive stars, but was clearly playing beyond his depth.

He looked better when playing in a depth role, but likely did not do enough to justify re-signing him to another deal. He was the team’s third-worst regular player in terms of shot attempts, ahead of just Monahan and Rasmus Andersson.

Ritchie also was on the ice for the second most goals for at 5v5, ahead of former Flame Sam Bennett. If the Flames are looking for NHL depth, he may not be the right fit this summer. If they see him as a mentor who can provide AHL depth while being able to fill a role at the NHL level, it may just work but still feels unlikely.

Likelihood of re-signing: 2/10

Buddy Robinson

Gaudreau’s former high school linemate, Buddy Robinson has been a great add for the Stockton Heat, where he put up 32 points in 45 games last season. This year, he spent most of his time on the taxi squad, only finding his way into nine NHL games. He did not record a single point in any of them, but had decent numbers in all major stat categories.

He has been a guy who has made a decent impact for the organization, and has been decent when called upon this year. Is it worth re-signing the right shot winger to a league minimum deal to play mostly in the AHL? Maybe, but the Heat have a number of prospects who will be fighting for minutes on the right side.

This long list includes newly signed Walker Duehr, Adam Ruzicka, Martin Pospisil, Dmitri Zavgorodny, and almost certainly Ryan Francis, when the Flames inevitably sign him. If the only way to re-sign Gaudreau is to keep Robinson around, it feels like a no brainer to keep him around. However, if the organization is thinking of it like a business, expect him to be looking for a new home come September.

Likelihood of re-signing: 3/10

Zac Rinaldo

The Flames had a serviceable player in Zac Rinaldo. Generally well-liked for his personality, his on-ice results left a bit to desired. He had marginal numbers last season, but the Flames opted to keep him around for depth going into what was a very odd year. And he was there when they needed him, although less often than in previous seasons, appearing in just four games this season.

In those games howeer, he wasn’t a liability, not putting up any points but not being defensively leaky when on the ice. While he is a physical player, he wasn’t the first choice big guy for the Flames, sitting behind Ritchie in that role.

It seems unlikely that the Flames sign him again this season. He hasn’t been called on much over the course of the season, and he likely feels he deserves a chance to prove himself. Expect he is likely looking for a new home this summer.

Likelihood of re-signing: 1/10

Nikita Nesterov

Brought in to add depth to the bottom pairing, Nikita Nesterov quickly became a fixture on the blueline, beating out Oliver Kylington and Connor Mackey for the final spot. He was just serviceable but not spectecular for the Flames, averaging 14 minutes a night in his 38 games this season. What’s more is that he was able to maintain his spot in the lineup for the majority of the season, drawing out of the lineup less often than many expected.

The upside to Nesterov was he was fine this season. The downside is that the Flames have a lot of bodies on the left side of their defence that are going to be pushing for minutes. Mackey looked much better at the end of the season, after spending the majority of the year with the Stockton Heat, and assuming Kylington does not get selected by the Kraken in the upcoming expansion draft, he will be looking for more minutes as well.

Nesterov may be squeezed out simply by the system as opposed to his own performance. That being said, he has proven himself to be a good bottom pairing defenceman since returning from the KHL, and those are still reasonably hard to find right now. Maybe the Flames will see him as the guy that they need, but it is more likely he’s elsewhere next year.

Likelihood of re-signing: 3/10

Michael Stone

Raise your hand if you had Michael Stone as one of the Flames’ best defencmen this season? It was a weird year for him, and the Flames. Signed off a PTO, Stone spent most of the season on the taxi squad and a handful of games in the AHL before becoming an NHL regular in the final 15 games of the season. And once he was in the lineup, Stone was incredibly effective, putting up four points and having one of the highest corsi percentages on the entire team. Not bad for a guy signed as the team’s seventh defencemen.

It feels every year we have the same discussion about how the Flames need to let Stone go, but finally for once, it feels like he has earned himself another look on the Flames’ blueline. Assuming he continues to come in around the league minimum, he continues to be a great fit as the seventh defenceman who can play when called on, but has no issue spending the majority of the year sitting in the press box. He seems to like Calgary, and the Flames seem to like him. Expect him back again, we all know better by now.

Likelihood of re-signing: 8/10

Alex Petrovic

The Stockton Heat Captain this past season, Alex Petrovic spent most of the season down in Stockton, being shuttled up to the taxi squad from time to time, but never featured in a game for the Flames. This season, he put up 12 points in 17 games, second among defencemen behind just Mackey but in 10 fewer games.

He is clearly quite good offensively, but more importantly he fills a need the Flames have on the right side of their defence. They currently only have four right handed defencemen in the entire organization after this season, and two of the five did not play pro hockey in North America this past season.

Renewing Petrovic as AHL depth on the right side as well as to help work with the Heat’s very young defence seems like smart business. However, if Petrovic sees an opportunity back into the NHL, that is probably the move that he makes. Once protected in the Vegas Expansion Draft by the Panthers, Petrovic shouldn’t be that far off from being an NHL regular, and that may be the one barrier to re-signing with Calgary.

Likelihood of re-signing: 8/10

Louis Domingue

Signed to be the Flames’ third netminder for the taxi squad, Louis Domingue only featured in one game at the very end of the Flames’ season, allowing three goals on route to a 4-2 Flames loss at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks. He also had three games for the Stockton Heat, going 0-2-1 with a 0.859 save percentage. Yikes, not great.

As great as his cooking videos were off the ice, he just was not good enough this year to justify another season. Heck, the Heat had Garret Sparks in net, and he looked substantially better this season and proved he could play regularly. Sparks may not be the answer at the NHL level, but it likely isn’t going to be Domingue either. Expect him to be looking for a new home, and the Flames to be scouring free agency to find a replacement.

Likelihood of re-signing: 1/10

Calgary’s restricted free agents

Dillon Dube

A former second round pick and Captain Canada, Dillon Dube put up 22 points in 51 games this season, good for ninth on the team. The Flames expected Dube to take another step forward after an excellent playoffs last year, but he struggled to make as much of an impact this season. That being said, he was decent across the board and has a lot of potential still remaining.

Not only will the Flames re-sign him, he will likely be protected in the upcoming expansion draft. While he won’t get massive amounts of money this season, he is likely due for a substantial increase from his current entry-level contract. You could see him growing on the ice as the season went on, and expect him to take another step forward next year as he recovers from his concussion.

Likelihood of re-signing: 10/10

Glenn Gawdin

Glenn Gawdin was on the cusp of becoming an NHL regular this season, and were it not for the shortened season, he likely would have been. He has been a phenomenal find for the Flames, having been signed out of the WHL, and an even better AHLer over the last couple of years. This season, he featured in seven games with the big club and got his first NHL assist.

He is almost certainly going to be signed this summer, with many penciling him in as the Flames’ fourth line centre. There are some questions surrounding how much high his ceiling is, but regardless, finding an NHLer in a WHL signing is an incredible bit of work by the Flames’ team. Let’s see how he does next season. The only consideration for him is that the Kraken might have their eyes on him too, but other than than that, he should be a shoo-in to remain with the Flames.

Likelihood of re-signing: 10/10

Dominik Simon

A former linemate of Sidney Crosby, Dominik Simon was a very exciting signing by the Flames. Touted as the potential solution to the Gaudreau Monahan line and a guy who could bring physicality and size to the lineup, to say Simon was a disappointment would be an understatement.

Unable to crack the lineup, let alone the top line, he languished on the taxi squad, featuring in just 11 games for the Flames this season. He also had among the worst analytics numbers of any player on the roster, putting up a less-than-ideal 46.5% CF.

As bad as he was, I think there is a good chance that the Flames qualify him this summer. Here’s why. The Flames need to expose at least two forwards under contract for next season who have played at least 70 games over the past two seasons. Milan Lucic is one, having waived his no-movement clause. Simon is under team control, and would be an easy player to stash in Stockton next season. Simply for the expedience of having this to-do item taken care of, there is a good chance that he is signed again, for business reasons more than for hockey reasons.

Likelihood of re-signing: 7/10

Luke Philp

Just like Derek Ryan, Luke Philp is a product of the University of Alberta Golden Bears system, where he put up 45 points in 24 games in his final season. In his second season with Stockton this year, Philp had 17 points in 30 games, good for third on the team.

Now 25 years old, it feels as though Philp is running out of real estate to show he can take the next step to the NHL. While he has been quite good for the Heat, he has not put his name into the conversation for an NHL spot the way the likes of Phillips, Gawdin, and other have. Expect him to be qualified this summer, but for this to be a make-or-break year for the forward.

Likelihood of re-signing: 8/10

Connor Mackey

Mackey had a tale of two seasons. After some incredibly strong words about his game from Captain Mark Giordano at the start of the season, there was talk of him becoming an NHL regular as early as this year. However, in his first three games, he struggled to make an impact, posting a brutal 41.7% CF and seeing his ice time drop from 14 minutes to nine in his final game. He was then sent down to Stockton, where he put up 16 points in 27 games for the Heat. Recalled to Calgary, he played three more games with the Flames, scoring his first NHL goal, and putting up a 54.5% CF.

Mackey is on the cusp of being an NHL regular next season, and has proven he is too good for the AHL. Expect him to push for a roster spot to start the season. He will no doubt be signed this off-season.

Likelihood of re-signing: 10/10

Juuso Valimaki

Juuso Valimaki has had a weird season. He returned to Calgary after a tremendous season with Ilves in Finland, where he was by some accounts the best player in the entire Liiga. However, he was not able to continue that impressive form with the Flames. While he did have stretches of great play, it looked like he would take his eyes off the puck for one second and it would end up in the back of the Flames’ net.

He seemed to fall out of favour with new coach Darryl Sutter often this season, and was scratched from time to time in the team’s final few games. That being said, Valimaki finished the year with a 53% CF and put up 11 points in 49 games this season. Are the Flames going to give up on a former first round pick? Absolutely not. But Valimaki does have some work to do to prove he can be the top NHL defencemen that the Flames thought they got in the draft in 2017.

Likelihood of re-signing: 10/10

Oliver Kylington

The last time that the Flames moved up in the draft was in 2015, when they traded two third round picks to the Arizona Coyotes in order to select Oliver Kylington at pick 60. Now six seasons later, Kylington has yet to establish himself as an NHLer, and only featured in eight games this season, recording just one assist. Things have been going downhill for Kylington since last season’s trade deadline, when the Flames acquired Erik Gustafsson and Derek Forbort in an attempt to bolster their backline for the playoffs.

Kylington has a high chance to be selected in the upcoming Seattle Expansion Draft. If he is not selected, expect him to be on the trading block going into next season. While he is a serviceable bottom pairing defenceman, there simply is no room for him in Calgary. Like Victor Mete from Montreal, Kylington likely needs a change of scenery to reinvigorate his career. While definitely upsetting from an asset management point of view, if the Flames can get a reasonable return for him as opposed to losing him for free, that may be a good move for them.

Likelihood of re-signing: 4/10

Alexander Yelesin

Alexander Yelesin has been an interesting signing for the Flames. Brought in from the KHL, he put up seven points in the AHL this season as a mostly defensive defenceman. While he featured in his first four NHL games last season, he did not make it into any in 2021, being pushed down the Heat’s lineup this season.

Although the Flames do hold his rights, this one could go either way. On the one hand, he fills a need on the right side for another season, and could help the Heat’s younger guys, and especially their Russian prospects, develop. On the other, he has not really played his way into the NHL conversation. It’s hard as a defensive defenceman to make a name for himself among fans, but he has been pushed down the depth chart and is slowly finding himself on the outside looking in. I’d imagine he’s probably looking for a new home next year.

Likelihood of re-signing: 4/10

Carl-Johan Lerby

Lerby was an interesting signing by the Flames a few seasons back. Apparently well-liked by the Flames team, he came to North America this year and has been decent for the Heat. In 22 games, he had seven assists, but saw his ice time slowly diminish as the season wore on, and was eventually scratched in the team’s final game.

A left handed defenceman, he is likely behind Ilya Solovyov, Yan Kuznetsov, and Colton Poolman on the left side of the depth chart. He likely saw the writing on the wall, and has already signed with the Malmo Redhawks in the SHL for next season.

Likelihood of re-signing: 0/10

Colton Poolman

Like Mackey, Poolman was signed out of college at the end of last season, but has not received the same amount of fanfare as his fellow signee. However, Poolman has played a steady reliable defensive game for the Heat, and is almost certainly going to be re-signed by the Flames this summer. He still has a lot to prove, and will have some tough competition next season, but he clearly has the tools to fight his way into the NHL conversation.

Likelihood of re-signing: 9/10

Artyom Zagidulin

The Flames have a knack for finding undrafted European netminders who do well for them. From David Rittich to Artyom Zagidulin, the Flames have had some good luck in this department. This season, Zagidulin found his way into his first NHL game, as well as six AHL games. He also spent chunks of the season with the Flames’ taxi squad, especially when they traded Rittich to Toronto.

Likely to sign for reasonably cheap, and with the crease situation a bit up in the air, re-signing Zagidulin seems like a reasonable idea. Not only is he a known entity, having played steadily for the Heat for the last two years, he can also step in as a backup at the NHL level should the Flames have an injury. With Tyler Parsons and Dustin Wolf likely in next season, having a veteran AHL netminder in Zagidulin is likely good to help push the other two.

Likelihood of re-signing: 8/10

Tyler Parsons

Saving the best for last. It has been a long long road for Parsons. Things have not gone well since winning the Memorial Cup with the London Knights. Between physical health and mental health issues combined with there simply being too many goaltenders in the Flames’ system, Parsons has not had a real shot at the AHL level to prove his worth. However, in fairness, he has been around the Flames’ organization for the past four seasons and has not been able to prove that he can be an AHL level netminder.

This season was a complete write-off. He featured in just one game after undergoing ankle surgery in the off-season. That one game was a 5-2 loss to the Manitoba Moose. Not a great welcome back. While he has struggled, I think it’s hard to take anything away from his performance in just one game.

That being said, assuming he is healthy, next season is likely the make-or-break year for him. Competing against Dustin Wolf and potentially Artyom Zagidulin (assuming he re-signs) for starts, Parsons will need to show that he is the goalie of the future for the Flames in order to justify them continuing to give him looks in the crease.

Likelihood of re-signing: 7/10

The Flames’ checklist is long

To say that the Flames have a lot to tend to this offseason is an understatement. On top of retooling their current NHL roster to give them the best shot at becoming truly competitive, they have to tend to all of these secondary items in signing players to fill out their depth charts.

It’s a grocery list with a little bit of everything including many RFAs and UFAs, as well as tending to the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. In any case, the Flames will have lots to do to prepare for the upcoming season. Barely any time has passed since the Flames’ locker cleanout day, but know with certainty that the Flames’ brass are already hard at work this offseason.

Photo credits: Todd Korol/CP

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