Now that both the Calgary Flames and Stockton Heat’s seasons have come to a close, the work really begins for general manager Brad Treliving. He has until July 13 to sign the Flames’ unrestricted free agents (UFA) to contracts, while he has until July 11th to tender qualifying offers to the restricted free agents (RFA) that the Flames are planning to retain after this season.
As with every season, not every RFA will earn a qualifying offer, and not every UFA will remain with the Flames. The team has only so many contracts to dole out, and only so much space under the cap to play with. Every dollar counts. Here is who we think will be back and who will be looking for a new home after this year.
Calgary’s restricted free agents
Matthew Tkachuk was the Flames’ best two-way player this season, one of their best forwards, and was a key part of one of the best top lines in the entire league. He put up 104 points in 82 games this year, while having the third best plus-minus in the entire league, behind just Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm.
Tkachuk’s contract renewal this summer is the second most important for Treliving to accomplish after extending Gaudreau. There is no doubt that he remains a Flame going into next season, but the variable here is at what cost? If the Flames are able to sign him long-term this summer, that would be huge for this franchise.
If he is only signed to his qualifying offer of $9M for one year, this is cause for concern as the Flames are walking him right into unrestricted free agency next season. However, for Tkachuk, it probably behooves him to sign long-term this summer after the season he had. Sure, he could bank on trying to have as good of a season next year as he did this, but that seems to be a risky gamble. It seems more likely he stays on a big contract.
Andrew Mangiapane has developed into one of the Flames’ top wingers, and an elite goalscorer in this league. On top of that, his two-way game has been phenomenal, and his play with Mikael Backlund has been instrumental to the Flames being able to shutdown many of the top players in the league this season.
It is hard to imagine the Flames not qualifying Mangiapane this summer. While he is eligible for arbitration and may use it to negotiate, it seems likely the Flames get this one done this summer on a long-term deal. The Flames took a gamble on him once as an over-ager in the draft, and kept working with him to develop into an elite NHLer. The hope is that they are able to retain him long-term.
Oliver Kylington had an incredible training camp and earned himself a role with the Flames on the blueline. Paired with Chris Tanev, the two formed an elite two-way pairing, and were among the best in the league. Kylington particularly excelled at helping the Flames on zone exits and entries, using his skating to carry the puck through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone to create scoring chances.
However, his play did struggle to keep up through the back half of the season, and he looked worse without Tanev than with him. The question then becomes is Kylington actually good or did he just look good with the elite shutdown blueliner?
The answer is probably somewhere between the two, but as an RFA, it seems almost certain that the Flames will retain him at least for another season or two. A top-four offensive defenceman is hard to find in this league, and Kylington at worst was serviceable and at best was excellent. Expect the Flames to try and get an extension at a reasonable price for Kylington for the next few years.
Matthew Phillips was one of the Heat’s most reliable forwards this season, and a key reason why they were so successful. He put up 68 points in 65 games, the best on the team. There is probably a good chance that he would have earned a call-up as well this season had the Flames not been remarkably healthy this year.
Phillips has quietly been biding his time in Stockton, but is quickly looking to be too good for that league. He likely returns with the Flames on another short-term deal, and will no doubt be pushing for a job with the big club in Calgary. If nothing else, the Flames need to see what they have in him on a regular basis in order to assess what to do with him.
On a team of high energy, smaller forwards, Pospisil plays a very heavy, hard hitting game and does so without sacrificing skill. He has struggled with injuries over the past few years, but has been a steady contributor to the Heat team.
This season, Pospisil had 25 points in 47 games, just over a half-point-per-game. Expect him back with the Heat next season.
Probably the Flames’ most NHL-ready prospect, Adam Ruzicka slotted into the Flames’ team reasonably well, putting up 10 points in 28 games with the big club. He also had 20 points in 16 games before earning a call-up to Calgary.
He almost certainly is qualified and signs with the Flames, but where he plays is up to him. He will likely be given the chance to earn a role as a depth centre against a veteran, and will need to have a very good training camp to earn the spot. If he can do so, there is a good chance he stays up with the Flames next season.
Tuulola has developed into a handy depth piece for the Stockton Heat. This season he had 25 points in 61 games playing mostly on the third line for the Heat. While a half-point-per-game pace isn’t bad, his point production has not improved substantially in three years in Stockton. The Flames would need to believe he is primed for a breakout for him to earn another contract.
Oh, what could have been. The hype around Kinnvall going into this season was enormous. A big offensive defenceman who was one of the best in Sweden last season, Kinnvall came to Calgary with a lot of excitement. Unfortunately an injury derailed his training camp, then when he started in Stockton he could only really perform on the power play. He did not feature in a single playoff game for the Heat this year.
There are strong rumours that he will head back to Sweden after this season, but even if he does want to stay around North America, it probably won’t be with this organization.
Primarily a defensive defenceman, Poolman’s offensive totals were never going to excite, but he was a steady reliable blueliner for a Heat team that needed it. He had 13 points in 62 regular season games this year and two more in the playoffs.
The trouble is the Heat have Yan Kuznetsov coming up from Saint John next season. Is there going to be room for two defensive defencemen on an already busy blueline? It seems likely Poolman will be looking for a new home next season.
Zero games this year and unable to pass quarantine requirements this season. Tyler Parsons will be looking for a new team next year.
Calgary’s unrestricted free agents
The biggest piece for GM Treliving to get done this summer. Johnny Gaudreau is a superstar in the league, the Flames’ marquee player, and a big reason why they were as good as they were last season.
The cost to key Gaudreau is going to be very high, and the interest in him from teams around the league is going to be even higher. The Flames need to do everything they can to retain him. This team has been built around Gaudreau, and losing him will have dire impacts on this team’s ability to be competitive beyond this season.
The Flames need to pay him this summer.
Ryan Carpenter was brought in to add depth to the team in preparation for the playoffs last year, but didn’t really feature for the team much. He only saw the ice eight times in the regular season, adding one assist in the Flaming C. He also did not feature in any playoff games for the team.
It’s hard to see the Flames electing to keep him after this year. Maybe you bring him back on a league-minimum deal, but it seems very unlikely at this point.
Calle Jarnkrok was brought in like Carpenter to add depth to the Flames’ bottom-six, but was generally fine in his time in Calgary. In 17 regular season games, he had just four assists, and added a goal and three assists in the playoffs.
While he is from Galve and grew up playing with Jakob Markstrom and his cousin Elias Lindholm, unless he comes in at a team-friendly number, it is hard to see the Flames being able to afford to keep him. His current deal pays him $2M a year, and it seems unlikely he will be willing to play for much less than that at this point in his career. If he can come in cheap, he likely comes back, but if he earns more money elsewhere, there is a good chance he goes there.
Trevor Lewis did exactly what he was expected to do. He played a below-average player fourth-liner, but was serviceable in his role as the bottom line’s centre. Lewis did what he was brought in to do. He was an empty-net specialist, checked hard, and was not a liability defensively. A Sutter-type player, he succeeded in the role he was given by his coach. If he comes in around the same number, there is a good chance he’s back again next year.
Brett Ritchie was a marginal 13th forward for the Flames, and ended the season with three goals and an assist in 41 games this year. He also added two goals in the playoffs, which was definitely helpful. The Flames can probably do better with their 13th forward spot, and will probably keep that spot for someone to rotate out with a younger player like Adam Ruzicka. That probably should be a guy more like Lewis than Ritchie. Ritchie should be elsewhere next year.
Who would’ve thought Erik Gudbranson would have re-discovered his form this season? The veteran blueliner came to Calgary with little fanfare, but quickly impressed in a third pairing role for the Flames. He did exactly what he was supposed to, and added 17 points in 78 games for the team this year.
The big question this summer will be what does he think he is worth on the market this summer? He is coming off of a one-year deal that paid him $1.95M, and will likely be looking for a decent increase this summer. Can the Flames afford this for a bottom pairing blueliner this summer with all the other deals they have to do this year? It seems unlikely but if they can make it work, it may not be the worst thing in the world.
Some things are just constant with this team. Win or lose, you can always bank on Michael Stone being signed as the team’s seventh defenceman. Six points in eleven regular season games to go along with five points in the playoffs is no small feat for a player who rarely played this year. This goes to show his conditioning and mindset.
Stone is almost certainly coming back next season, likely on a similar deal to last season. How much he plays depends on how hard players like Connor Mackey and Juuso Valimaki along with the veteran blueliners the Flames bring in push for spots. However, the Flames can clearly do worse than to have Stone in the press box.
A heavy hitting defensive defenceman, Nikita Zadorov had a massive year this year for the Flames, putting up 22 points in 74 games this year. While he did start off a bit slow, he quickly became a major force on the Flames’ blueline with both his defensive play as well as his numerous huge hits.
Coming off of a $3.75M deal, it is hard to imagine the Flames will be able to afford his services next season. He will almost certainly move on to a new team, but the memories of what he brought to the team will last long after he’s gone.
The Heat’s captain was one of their most productive offensive weapons this year. Byron Froese put up 37 points in 55 games, playing primarily as a second line guy, then added 10 points in 13 playoff games for the Heat. The journeyman forward has played all over the AHL since being drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009. With the Heat expected to be a very young team next year, expect Brad Treliving to try and retain Froese’s services next year, but if someone offers more money, expect Froese to go elsewhere.
Glenn Gawdin was once thought of as a sure-shot NHLer with the Flames, with some going so far as to pencil him into the roster for this season. However, things have not gone according to plan, and he has been passed in the depth chart by Adam Ruzicka and others.
Gawdin is a Group 6 UFA, having not played enough NHL games to this point in his career. With the Flames’ centre pipeline pretty full, expect him to move to a team where there is more opportunity for him to earn an NHL job.
Justin Kirkland was quietly excellent for the Heat this season, putting up 48 points in 66 regular season games then adding a team-leading 12 points in 13 playoff games. He was one of the Heat’s best skaters in the playoffs, and was a huge difference-maker for the team.
Unfortunately, he is a Group 6 UFA this season and has his choice of teams for next year. If the Flames can show him a path to the NHL that he believes, there is a chance he stays, but the smart money is on him going elsewhere next year.
Signed out of the University of Alberta Golden Bears, Philp has been a very good two-way forward for the Heat. He had 44 points in 66 games this year for the Heat, and was generally quite decent for the team.
Another Group 6 UFA, it’s hard to see Philp staying with the Heat for next year. There’s a good chance he goes elsewhere.
Nicknamed Diesel, Nick DeSimone was very good for the Heat this year on the blueline. The 27-year-old had 25 points in 68 games for the team in the regular season, then added five more in the playoffs. He was one of the team’s more consistent blueliners this year.
Given his age and production, he is probably going to be looking for a larger role on another team next year. This role is probably one where he sees an NHL future, which appears unlikely with the Flames at this point.
Once an NHLer, Kevin Gravel has settled in to be primarily an AHLer over the last couple of years. He put up 14 points in 59 games for the Heat in the regular season, and added three more in the playoffs. He was serviceable in his role for the Heat, but probably moves on to another team next season.
Andy Welinski was actually quite good for the Heat, playing for good chunks of the season on the team’s top pairing with Connor Mackey. He put up 19 points in an injury-shortened 39 game season and added six more points in the playoffs. While he a UFA, he is probably the one the Flames would want to keep the most. The Heat will have a very young blueline next year, and adding the experience of Welinski will go a long way to helping their young players grow.
The expectation was that Adam Werner would probably share the starts with Dustin Wolf, but the latter was the Heat’s best player by a country mile and stole the starting job outright this season. Wolf probably needs a different tandem partner, one who is more inclined to play as the backup while Wolf takes over as the starter for the whole year. Werner is a great goalie, and will likely be looking for a bigger role next season.
Time for Treliving to work
To say there’s a long list of negotiations and decisions that Treliving needs to tend to is a total understatement. There’s plenty to do and a limited time to do it all. One by one, the contracts will be signed, and slowly the makeup of the 2022–23 roster will take shape.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire