Johnny Gaudreau is obviously the biggest name unrestricted free agent the Calgary Flames are trying to sign. As free agency approaches, it will be all hands on deck to get the superstar winger back in Calgary for the next eight years and it looks like the Flames are committed; it’s going to come down to what Gaudreau wants to do.
Lost in the shuffle are several key UFAs that played important roles on the Flames’ division-winning team last season. To round out the roster, the Flames will need good complementary pieces, and we asked which smaller name free agent the Flames should sign. The answers were interesting as always.
Lots of pending free agents on the roster
There are several big name restricted free agents that need new contracts including Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane, and Oliver Kylington, but there is also a long list of pending UFAs on the roster right now. The list includes Ryan Carpenter, Brett Ritchie, Michael Stone, and the four options in this week’s poll.
Despite a strong season for the Flames, Trevor Lewis finished last in the poll with just 7.1% of the votes. Mostly a fourth liner, but playing in the top-six on a shutdown line with Mikael Backlund in several key games against high flying offensive teams like the Edmonton Oilers, Lewis did whatever was asked of him this season. He also provided leadership in the dressing room and as a previous Stanley Cup winner his experience is always valuable to have around.
He is a player Darryl Sutter loves and trusts, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him back in a Flames uniform next season. However, he will be 36 years old next season and is very clearly on the back nine of his career. Lewis may not even want to return for another season at all. If he does, it looks like he fit in well with the team and moving his family again may not be something he’s interested in. He’d come in at league minimum so if he is back, it would likely be fine.
It doesn’t really feel like Calle Jarnkrok was worth his acquisition price at the trade deadline. The Flames sent three draft picks away to acquire the Swedish pivot, and he had just one goal in a Flames sweater all season long. He fit in as a defence-first centre, but it just felt like he wasn’t being utilized properly. Jarnkrok finished second overall in the poll with 26.8% of the votes.
The only way I can Jarnkrok returning to the Flames is if he comes in at under $2M or so. He did not play well enough to be paid more than that, and the Flames (hopefully) won’t have the cap space to accommodate any more anyway.
Ideally, the Flames can lock up a third line centre and shift Jarnkrok to the wing where he should be more effective than he was last season with the Flames. He’s a talented and responsible player so if he is back, it would be nice to have him in the bottom-six. However, it will come down to price with Jarnkrok.
I was pleasantly surprised with Nikita Zadorov this past season. He played much better than most predicted, showing off his incredible size and physicality early on, but then his mobility and offensive upside as the season went on. He finished third in this week’s poll with 23.8% of the votes.
The issue with Zadorov is once again going to be the price. He’s coming off a contract that paid him $3.75M and outplayed his expectations. If he’s looking for a raise, the Flames likely won’t be able to afford him. Players like Zadorov aren’t particularly easy to find and they generally cost a pretty penny to have on your roster. The Flames clearly liked him so if they do bring him back, hopefully his cap hit starts with a three and not a four or five.
Erik Gudbranson finished at the top of this week’s poll with an incredible 42.3% of the votes. Prior to this season, Gudbranson was widely viewed as one of the absolute worst defenders in the NHL. He really struggled in his last few stops in the league and it looked like a very odd decision to sign him this season.
However, you have to give credit where credit is due, and Gudbranson had a truly solid season for the Flames. His highest value minutes came on the penalty kill, playing the second most PK minutes on the team and 10th most league-wide at 225:49.
At 5v5, he was still below average and allowed a lot more than he generated, but paired with Zadorov the Flames had a competent and extremely big third pairing. It’s easy to see why and how Gudbranson enamoured himself to the Flames fan base, however I’m not so sure he’s the best option to return.
By all accounts he fit in well with the team and organization, filled a leadership role, and was a stalwart third pairing defenceman. But, he’s coming off a $1.95M contract and will surely be looking for a raise, and I don’t know if it’s necessarily worth paying $3–4M for a third pairing defender who is essentially a penalty killing specialist with very weak 5v5 impacts.
Brad Treliving talked about how his team did a ton of research before signing Gudbranson and felt this could be a big comeback season for him. Perhaps we’re just seeing the first step of a resurgent Gudbranson an he’ll be even better next season. Time will tell.
Everything hinges on Gaudreau
Hopefully the Flames can finalize an extension with Gaudreau soon so they can focus on signing their other pending free agents. There is a lot of work to be done with the roster this offseason, and hopefully Treliving can run it back with another division-winning calibre Flames team.