It has been a whirlwind week for the Calgary Flames and their fans as rumours and news swirled and filled the airspace, like they always do this time of year. With Johnny Gaudreau making it clear he was leaving on the eve of NHL Free Agency and signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets a few short hours later, the Flames have remained pretty status quo, signing only NHL/AHL depth players like Kevin Rooney and Nicolas Meloche as new faces.
So far, the Flames have not made a panic move, although insiders continue to link them to Nazem Kadri. Kadri’s fit with Calgary may not be the best one on a player expectation to team expectation perspective, and besides Kadri, things around Calgary have been pretty focused on the reflection of Johnny Gaudreau signing elsewhere.
Elliotte Friedman did drop a nugget in the recent episode of 32 Thoughts (57:40 mark), where he mentioned that teams still have some business to do, and it wouldn’t surprise him if both Alberta teams were looking at Sonny Milano. Friedman added that the Flames have the cap space available to sign him right now if they wanted to, while the Oilers would need to make a move.
Who is Sonny Milano?
If that name doesn’t jump off the page for you, you probably aren’t alone. Milano was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets 16th overall in 2014, after impressive seasons in the USDP. Milano was drafted as a guy that plays a very fast style of game and provides significant offensive upside and not much defensive impacts.
That style didn’t blend well with Columbus head coach John Torterella, and Milano was up and down between the NHL and AHL for five seasons before being shipped off to the Anaheim Ducks for Devin Shore.
His tenure with the Blue Jackets was far from impressive for a first-round draft pick (besides this highlight reel goal), but his tenure with the Ducks last season was much better and what people expected in his draft year. This past year, he burst on the scene playing with Trevor Zegras, potting 14 goals and adding 20 assists for 34 points in 66 games, a point per game rate of 0.516 P/GP. Milano tied his career high for goals which came all the way back in 2016–17, but set career-highs for assists and points. His most impressive moment came on the NHL goal of the year, where he batted home a puck that Zegras launched from behind the net right onto his stick in front of the net.
Diving deeper into Milano
Now that we have some background on Milano, let’s dive deeper into his 2021–22 season. The point totals don’t jump off the page, although 34 points in 66 games this past season isn’t a slouch, either. Milano started out really strong, just like the Ducks, and tailed off near the end, as the Ducks traded away key veterans and started to slide. Milano only had five points in his last 25 games, including an 11-game pointless streak, which will bring down his asking price from where it was in January.
What really stands out to me is the underlying metrics that Milano has put up so far in his career with the Ducks, especially last season. Milano was a positive contributor in all major analytical categories at 5v5 via NaturalStatTrick, putting up a 51.14 CF%, 51.95 xG%, 51.40 SCF%, and a 51.46 HDCF%, while having a PDO of 0.990.
For comparison, he outperformed every other key Ducks player in the same metrics last season, where the average for Ducks players was 47.81 CF%, 47.62 xGF%, 47.67 SCF%, and a 48.18 HDCF%, with a PDO of 0.991. Milano outperformed every single Ducks metric from last season while having a lower PDO, showing just how good of a season he had.
Other models show Milano having really solid microstats, excelling in passing categories and posting pretty good results in his shots and entry categories. His zone exits category is quite poor, but as I mentioned previously, he has never been known to be a top defensive player. Models also show that Anaheim was a much better team in both the offensive and defensive zones—as well as on the power play—when Milano was on the ice compared to when he wasn’t.
Milano grades out as a very good player off the rush, who excels in offensive playmaking with an above average shot. For a Flames team that just lost a similar attribute player in Gaudreau, Milano would be a good bet to replace some of those qualities. I am in no way saying Milano can replace or even come close to replacing Gaudreau, but he can help to improve some playmaking, speed, and rush offence attributes that the Flames were already missing before Gaudreau left.
Also interesting to note that the Flames have someone in their organization that has a superb scouting report on Ducks players and traded for Sonny Milano: then Ducks GM and now Flames scout Bob Murray. Murray could have some good in depth insights on Milano. On top of that, there should be some information from Murray on Sam Steel as well, who along with Milano wasn’t qualified by the Ducks. I could see the Flames having interest in the duo.
Should the Flames sign Milano?
Sonny Milano is not someone that jumps off the page or has a proven track record, but if the Flames are looking to take a bit of a gamble on a player that has finally come into his own and posted excellent underlying numbers, he’d be a good bet.
I would suspect Milano’s ask is somewhere in the one- or two-year range at an AAV between $2–2.5 million. The Flames have a lot of offseason work ahead of them, as all of their key restricted free agents still remain unsigned. However, taking a gamble on Milano should be something Calgary strongly considers, which is why it makes sense that Elliotte Friedman would connect the two.
Finally, as a last bit worth noting, Milano wears number 12, which is of course retired in Calgary. This leads to the possibility he could choose Gaudreau’s old number 13 should he sign with the Flames, which would be something else too.