July 1st is typical a very eventful day in the NHL world, perhaps the most eventful on the entire calendar. Typically a day full of terrible signings, regrets, and lots and lots of money, this year it will be much more quiet. Due to the pandemic and the NHL’s shortened and delayed season, the free agent frenzy will have to wait until July 28th. That doesn’t mean we can’t reminisce about past free agent signings by the Calgary Flames on July 1st.
Throughout the years the Flames have made some pretty significant moves on free agent frenzy. Some good, but also some very bad. The problem is for the most part the only ones most people remember are the bad ones, and for good reason because there have been a lot of questionable moves made on July 1st by the team.
It’s fair to say the Flames have had some pretty bad luck with free agents so let’s break down their midsummer moves over the years. We will look at just NHL players signed, and not two-way minor league deals, and we’ll go in reverse chronological order.
Signed G Cam Talbot (one year, $2.75 million AAV)
As mentioned above, the NHL’s schedule has been all over the place over the last year and a half due to the pandemic, so the last free agency that started actually started on July 1st was back in 2019. That year the Flames were pretty quiet, but their biggest move was bringing in former Oiler Cam Talbot on a one-year $2.75 million deal. Talbot was brought in to be one part of a 1A/1B set up with David Rittich.
As free agent signings go, this was a pretty good one and one of Brad Treliving’s better goaltender transactions. Talbot took the back seat for most of the regular season, suiting up for just 26 games. He did however post a very solid .919 save percentage and 2.63 GAA. In terms of goalies with at least 20 starts that year, Talbot finished 13th among goalies for save percentage, and 19th for GAA. Not bad for a goalie making under three million.
His big moment came in the playoffs though, as he was outstanding and without a doubt the Flames’ MVP in the postseason. Talbot posted a solid .924 save percentage, finishing fourth among goalies with at least 10 starts in the playoffs. Talbot was quite frankly the only reason the Flames even made it to Game Six.
For whatever reason though, Treliving decided to pursue Jacob Markstrom in free agency following the season and Talbot signed with the Minnesota Wild. All said though, it was a solid signing even if the Flames didn’t bring him back.
Signed F Derek Ryan (three years, $3.125 million AAV)
Coming off a disappointing season in which the Flames finished 5th in the Pacific Division, and 26th for goals for, the Flames desperately needed some forward depth. Just a quick reminder that James Neal was signed on the morning of July 2nd so he doesn’t qualify here, making Derek Ryan the biggest move for the Flames on July 1st, 2018.
As far as free agent signings of bottom-six forwards go, this was a very good one from Treliving. Ryan has been a dependable and consistent bottom-six centre for the Flames throughout all three years of this contract. He’s never been a huge point producer, however he still put up some solid numbers for the Flames considering his role. He posted 38 points in 81 games in 2018–19, 29 in 68 games in 2019–20, and then 13 in 43 games this most recent season.
What made Ryan such a great signing was his underlying numbers though. Ryan has put up elite underlying numbers with the Flames and has been one of the team’s strongest even strength forwards over the past three seasons. Among Flames forwards with at least 1,000 minutes at 5v5 over the past three seasons, Ryan ranks fifth for CF%, second for xGF%, and second for HDCF%. $3.125 million may have seemed like a little much for a fourth line centre, but Ryan has shown that he was well worth the contract. Overall a great signing from Treliving.
Signed F Austin Czarnik (two years, $1.25 million AAV)
At the time, this signing was a very good bet for a team needing some more offence. Austin Czarnik was coming off a career year in the AHL with 69 points in 64 games, while also adding four points in 10 NHL games. He was also a favourite among the analytics crowd, regularly posting solid underlying numbers over his young career. Some picked him to be the breakout player of the 2018–19 season, similar to Johnathan Marchessault two years prior.
Unfortunately it just didn’t work in Calgary as Czarnik would play just 54 games in his first year for the team, putting up a modest 18 points. Things went from bad to worse the next year as Czarnik would play significantly less with eight games with the team in 2019–20, due to injury and Geoff Ward’s puzzling decision to give players like Zac Rinaldo ice time over him. Czarnik would leave the Flames in free agency the following year.
Signed D Dalton Prout (one year, $800,000 AAV)
Not much to say here. Dalton Prout played primarily in the AHL the season prior in 2017–18 for the Stockton Heat after being acquired in December 2017, but for whatever reason the Flames decided to sign him to a one-way contract the next season.
At the time it was touted as just a depth signing for the team, but as we’ve seen before that is never the case with the Calgary Flames. Prout ended up playing 20 games for the Flames in 2018–19. He would leave the Flames following the season in free agency and has played two NHL games since. We do have this beauty of a goal to remember him by though.
Signed F Spencer Foo (two-years, $925,000 AAV)
2017 was a very uneventful July 1st for the Flames. The only signing they made that day was undrafted college free agent Spencer Foo. Foo had already agreed to sign with the Flames, so this was just about putting pen to paper and making it official.
At the time it was an exciting signing for the team. Foo was highly coveted across the league after his breakout season for Union College the year prior. He even turned down his hometown Edmonton Oilers to sign for the Flames.
His professional career started off well as he put up 39 points in 62 games for the Heat in 2017–18 before earning a call-up to the big club. Foo would suit up for the Flames four times that season, getting two goals and no assists. Unfortunately it was all downhill from there as he hasn’t played in the NHL since. Foo’s AHL production decreased the next season and he ultimately left the team to sign in the KHL following the 2018–19 season.
While the Flames did give him a qualifying offer to retain his rights, those rights won’t be come into play as he’d be a free agent in his NHL return if that’s the path he chooses.
Signed F Troy Brouwer (four-years, $4.5 million AAV)
The Flames’ most infamous July 1st signing under Treliving is without question Troy Brouwer. This was the largest AAV Treliving had handed out at the time. It remains the highest AAV handed out on July 1st by the Flames under Treliving, and is tied for the third highest AAV given out by Treliving behind only the Jacob Markstrom, and James Neal contracts.
Even some of Treliving’s worst free agent signings—yes, even the James Neal move—seemed like good bets at the time. This one was not, and really made no sense from the moment it happened. The Flames were desperate for a top-six right winger, specifically to play with 13 and 23 but how Treliving landed on Brouwer as the solution no one will ever understand.
Brouwer was 31 years old going into free agency that year and was coming off a season in which he put up just 39 points, his lowest points per game since 2011–12. As expected, Brouwers time in Calgary was a disaster to say the least. He posted totals of just 25 and 22 points over his two years with the team, spending a good chunk of his time in the bottom-six. He was bought out following the 2017-18 season, and still counts against the Flames cap until the 2022-23 season. Oh and he made everyone suffer through the Brouwerplay.
As we broke down a couple years ago, at least Brouwer wasn’t the only terrible contract signed that day as the 2016 free agency period was an all-time stinker across the NHL, not just for the Flames.
Signed G Chad Johnson (One-year, $1.7 million AAV)
Brad Treliving likes signing goalies on July 1st. After acquiring Brian Elliot earlier in the offseason, the Flames needed a backup so Treliving pulled the trigger on journeyman goalie Chad Johnson on a one-year deal.
All said, this was a decent signing. Johnson was coming off a season in which he posted a .920 save percentage and 2.36 GAA over 45 games for the Buffalo Sabres. Those numbers were good for 15th league-wide for save percentage and 18th for GAA among goalies with at least 20 starts in 2015–16. So getting him as a backup for just $1.7 million was tidy work from Treliving.
Johnson would go on to play in 36 games for the Flames in 2016–17, posting a respectable .910 save percentage and 2.59 GAA. With Brian Elliot struggling throughout the season, Johnson was able to pick up the slack at times, but never looked like anything more than a backup. He would leave in free agency following the season and has played just 54 NHL games since.
Signed F Michael Frolik (five-years, $4.3 million AAV)
Michael Frolik is pretty easily Treliving’s best July 1st signing thus far. To date the five years and $21.5 million Frolik got is the longest term and most amount of money given to any free agent by Treliving on July 1st. It’s also tied with the Neal contract as the second longest term for any free agent under Treliving behind Markstrom’s six years.
The difference is unlike the Brouwer and Neal deals, this long term contract actually worked out and was a good move from the beginning. At the time of the signing, Frolik was in his prime at 27 years, and was coming off back to back 42 points seasons. He also had a history of putting up very solid underlying numbers as well.
Frolik made an immediate impact with the team, forming a solid duo with Mikael Backlund on the team’s second line and number one penalty kill. He would also form one third of the dominate 3M line that was amongst the best in the league while together. Over five seasons with the team Frolik posted 145 points in 319 games, including a 54.15 CF%.
During the fifth and final year of his contract, Frolik was dealt to the Sabres for a fourth round pick after falling out of favour with coach Geoff Ward. The fact Treliving got four solid years out of Frolik and recouped a fourth round pick for him as well makes this the best July 1st signing of Treliving’s time with the Flames so far.
Signed G Karri Ramo (one-year, $3.8 million)
As I mentioned above, Treliving loves signing goalies on July 1st. This time around however, it was a current goalie for the team that he decided to bring back on July 1st. Karri Ramo had been with the team for two years prior to the 2015 offseason, putting up some decent albeit unspectacular numbers. He posted a .911 save percentage in 40 games in 2013–14, and a .912 save percentage in 2014–15 while also suiting up for four games in the playoffs.
Most people had thought the team would let Ramo walk in free agency as they already had Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio on the team, but instead they decided to bring Ramo back after letting him go to market for a day. Well this ended up being a costly decision as the team carried three goalies, yes three, into the 2015–16 season which essentially led to the team placing Paul Byron on waivers. We all know how that ended.
Ramo would also have his worst season for the team after being re-signed, putting up a .909 save percentage over 37 games for the team as the Flames finished fifth-last in the league. He would leave in free agency following the season and hasn’t played in the NHL since.
Signed G Jonas Hiller (two-years, $4.5 million AAV)
2014 was Treliving’s first free agency with the Flames, and to date his busiest as well. With the Flames in full rebuild mode and needing some veteran help at every position, Treliving went out and spent some money. One of those moves was bringing in veteran goalie Jonas Hiller on a two-year deal.
The year prior the Flames ran with Ramo, Reto Berra, Joey MacDonald, and Ortio in net, so to say they needed some consistent goaltending going into the 2014–15 season would be an understatement. Coming off a couple solid seasons with the Ducks in which he posted save percentages of .911 and .913, Hiller seemed like a good stopgap in net for the team.
It was a tale of two seasons for Hiller during his time in Calgary though. During the miracle 2014–15, Hiller was great, posting a .918 save percentage, 2.36 GAA to go along with a 26-19-4 record in 52 games as he helped the underdog Flames reach the playoffs. He would start the playoffs off on fire, posting a .940 save percentage over the team’s first five games of round one. However he ended up getting pulled in Game Six and didn’t start another game the rest of the playoffs.
It didn’t get much better for Hiller after that as his 2015–16 season was downright awful. He posted an ugly .879 save percentage and 3.51 GAA for the Flames as he suited up for just 26 games that season. Following the year he would leave in free agency and hasn’t played in the NHL since. Noticing a trend?
Signed F Mason Raymond (three years, $3.15 AAV)
As mentioned, the Flames needed veteran help at every position going into the 2014 offseason, so Treliving went out and signed Mason Raymond to help shore up the team forward depth. At the time most people were okay with this deal, even if it was a bit of an overpay. The team desperately needed some veteran players and had a ton of cap space to work with, so bringing in Raymond seemed like a decent move.
He was coming off a great season with the Toronto Maple Leafs with 45 points in 82 games and seemed like a solid addition to the Flames. Unfortunately as we’ve seen with other forwards signed by Treliving on July 1st, it was all downhill from there. Raymond would battle injuries throughout his time with the Flames, suiting up for just 86 games with the team over two seasons.
He would put up just 23 points in 57 games in 2014–15, and only five in 29 games in 2015–16. He was placed on waivers prior to the 2015–16 season, spent time in the AHL and was regularly a healthy scratch when on the Flames roster.
Following the 2015–16 season, the Flames bought out the final year of Raymond’s contract. He would go on to sign with the Ducks but played just four games with the team and hasn’t played in the NHL since.
Signed D Derek Engelland (three years, $2.9 million AAV)
Completing his trio of veteran signings in 2014, Treliving brought in former Pittsburgh Penguin Derek Engelland on a deal that looked like a typo at first glance. Engelland was widely regarded as an enforcer defenceman throughout his time in Pittsburgh and had never put up more than 17 points in a season, yet the Flames brought him in at the price of a second pairing defenceman.
Credit where it’s due, Engelland was decent for the Flames during his tenure, especially during the 2014–15 playoff run. With Mark Giordano out for the year with an injury, Engelland stepped up big time for the team down the stretch as they would make the playoffs and get out of the first round for the first time since the 2003–04 season.
Of the three big signings the team made on July 1st in 2014, Engelland actually ended up contributing the most to the team over the duration of his contract. He was also well respected in the locker room and provided some great leadership to the teams young core. He ended up being selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 expansion draft where he would play three seasons and even served as an alternate captain before retiring in 2020.
Some hits, but even more misses
July 1st has been an interesting day over the years for the Flames under Treliving. He’s certainly never been afraid to be active and hand out some big money during the free agent frenzy, unfortunately the Flames would probably have been better off over the years if he just put his phone away for the day.
Of the five NHL forwards Treliving has signed on July 1st with the team, two have been bought out. Of the four goalies he has signed on July 1st, two have never played in the NHL again. It’s fair to say that the only hits Treliving has had on July 1st in seven years with the team are Frolik, Ryan, and Talbot. The rest were either massive disappointments, had little impact for the Flames, or were overpaid for their contributions.
With the 2021 free agency period pushed back due to the delayed season, there won’t even be a chance for Treliving to sign any free agents on July 1st this year. That’s probably good news for the Flames.