Calgary Flames

Four free agency forwards that the Calgary Flames could target

With the 2021 NHL expansion and entry drafts now over, the attention turns to free agency. The Calgary Flames have a lot of work to do going into next season, and with the loss of Captain Mark Giordano, they have a lot of available money to play with. Having hired Coach Darryl Sutter, the view has been that this is a very important season for the Flames. This is a make-it year.

In order to go from the disaster which was last season to becoming a strong team in what looks to be a weak division, the Flames will need to add substantially to their roster. While there are options on the trade market, the Flames would have to give up assets to make them work. Free agency allows the Flames to add players without removing any assets.

What do the Flames need up front?

The long and the short of it is a lot. Let’s work under the assumption that the Flames start the season with the same top line of Elias Lindholm between Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, the depth from there begins to get murky. Here is how it looks right now assuming the Flames don’t make any trades and do not re-sign any of their UFAs.

Left WingCentreRight Wing
1Johnny GaudreauElias LindholmMatthew Tkachuk
2Andrew MangiapaneSean Monahan
3Dillon Dube (RFA)Mikael Backlund
4Milan LucicGlenn Gawdin (RFA)Tyler Pitlick
ExtraByron FroeseBrett Ritchie

While there are some good pieces in there, this lineup does not inspire much confidence as a Stanley Cup chasing team. But what it really shows is how big the hole is on the Flames’ right side. There are exactly two right-handed right winger on this lineup: Tyler Pitlick and Brett Ritchie. While Lindholm, Gawdin, and Froese can all also technically play right wing, the organization has been more committed to keeping at least the first two in the middle.

Assuming the Flames keep Tkachuk on the right side of the top line, the Flames are going to need at least two right shot wingers to start net season. Let’s break down who could be a fit.

Brandon Saad

While he is a left shot, Brandon Saad can play both left and right wing. Coming off a season where he put up 24 points in 44 games for the Colorado Avalanche and was earning $6 million a year, expect him to be a highly coveted option this offseason. As much as the Avalanche would have loved to keep their third line winger, having to re-sign a number of other players including Cale Makar makes keeping him near impossible.

While his point totals were impressive on their own, they are worth taking with a bit of a grain of salt. He managed 15 goals this season, 13 of which were at even strength, but of his nine assists, seven were secondary. Studies have shown that secondary assists are by and large based on being at the right place at the right time rather being part of driving play. He also scored at an obscene 22%, more than 10% above his next best season. Expect that these scoring totals may come back to earth next season.

That being said, he was a net positive player, owning a 59.0% corsi for percentage, meaning that when he was on the ice, the Avalanche produced more shot attempts than their opposition. Individually, he did not put up a ton of shot attempts, finishing 12th with 113, he was seventh in high-danger chances and scoring chances for, meaning when he had a chance on net, it was an impactful.

The inflated numbers combined with him being a two-time Stanley Cup Champion mean that the cost to bring him to Calgary will be high. He will not only demand a high salary, but at 28 years old, he will likely be looking for a longer term deal. He would likely be a great fit for the Flames, but is it worth paying likely somewhere between $5 and $6 million dollars per season for a middle-six winger? Maybe not.

Blake Coleman

Another two-time Stanley Cup Winner, Blake Coleman could be an interesting option for the Flames. Coleman played a depth role for the Lightning, and could do the same for the Flames if a deal can be reached.

Coleman actually finished fourth in regular season 5v5 goals and 5v5 assists on a stacked Lightning team with 9 and 14 respectively. This while shooting a reasonable 9.4% shooting percentage through 55 regular season games. He was also fourth on the team in shot attempts, second in scoring chances, and third in high danger chances at 5v5. This while also being one of the team’s top defensive forwards. Not bad a depth winger.

This production does not seem like a one-off. The 29-year-old has been building up to this point for the last number of years, and finally having an enormous breakthrough in his production this season. That being said, he will be in line for a major pay raise. Elliotte Friedman in his most recent blogpost noted that his next contract could be in the range of $5 million a year for six years. That’s a big number for whoever pays it, but his tangible numbers combined with intangibles could be worth it.

A Texan born player, and just the second from the Lone Star State to win the Stanley Cup, Coleman may opt to remain stateside for his career. However, if the Flames are able to tempt him north of the border, he could be a huge help to a Flames team that struggles to score.

Best case scenario, Coleman could be the winger on the right side of the Flames’ second line, forming a dynamite two-way line with Andrew Mangiapane and either Sean Monahan or Mikael Backlund. Worst case scenario, he does the same alongside Dillon Dube. While it is a long-term deal for a 29-year-old, signing a player until he’s 35 is not the worst decision in the world. Were this deal running into the seven year range, it would be a different story, but at this term and contract, signing him in Calgary would be an incredible fit.

Joshua Ho-Sang

Joshua Ho-Sang has a reputation for being a heart-on-his-sleeve type player, but who brings an immense amount of skill and diligence to the ice. A former first-round pick, Ho-Sang has put up 24 points in 53 career games, and will no doubt be looking for a change in scenery after not featuring in a single game this past season in the NHL.

The skill and talent are clearly there, but there is a concern with his personality. He clearly did not fit with the culture of the Islanders, leading to numerous highly publicised incidents surrounding him, but if the Flames think that they can avoid this by bringing him to Calgary, he could be a very cheap option on the third line right side. A right-handed shot, Ho-Sang may be the option on the third line with Dube and perhaps Monahan. This could be a lethal depth scoring line.

However, with Darryl Sutter behind the bench, Ho-Sang’s style may not be a fit with this team. Sutter is an old school coach with a very specific no-nonsense approach to hockey. This may not jive with the way that Ho-Sang has been known to play, and as such may make this move a non-starter with the Flames. The team would be wise to explore the situation, but do a lot of due diligence on the player and his personality to determine whether it would be a fit.

Vinnie Hinostroza

With just over five million dollars in remaining cap space and no goalies on the books, the Chicago Blackhawks may have to let Vinnie Hinostroza hit free agency this summer. If they do, the Flames would be wise to explore signing him. Coming off of a season in which he put up 12 points in 17 regular season games for the Hawks, Hinostroza could be in line for a reasonable increase from his previous $1 million deal.

Of his 12 points this season, nine were at even strength, and of his six assists, five were primary assists. Hinostroza shot a cool 12%, which is a bit higher than he typically has done, but nothing outrageous. He did not take a lot of shots this season, averaging just under 11 per 60 minutes of ice time, he finished sixth in scoring chances per 60 and fifth in high-danger chances per 60. This metric is useful here as he played substantially fewer games than most players, but the impact that he had on the rebuilding Hawks team cannot be overstated.

Assuming the Flames can tempt the player to come north of the border, Hinostroza could be a great fit for the Flames. He could play either in the top-six, but more likely would be a fit on the third line with the Flames. A right shot winger, Hinostroza would be an inexpensive depth signing that would make the Flames better.

In the system

The Flames could also opt to promote from within—in particular for the third line role—by giving it to Matthew Phillips. After finishing last season with 21 points in 30 games with a very rough Stockton Heat team, Phillips had his first taste of NHL action, having a very good performance in the Flames’ final game of the season. He could be in line for a look at the NHL level.

While he is a smaller player, Phillips plays much larger than his size would suggests, and with incredible hands and great skating, he could be in line for a look with the Flames. They clearly believe strongly in the local kid, and may look at him as an option for next season.

Whatever happens this offseason, the Flames are likely to look vastly different going into October. The Flames know they need to shake things up this year. Having already added a strong netminder and added an incredible second pairing defenceman, the hole that GM Brad Treliving needs to fill this off-season is on the right side. Here is hoping this finally gets resolved.

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