The Calgary Flames are nearly a month away from the 2022 preseason, and rumour has it the team is looking to make another addition to the forward group before that time. With such an eventful offseason so far, it would really come as no surprise to see the Flames make another addition, as Brad Treliving has been aggressive in ensuring his team is competitive next season.
Top targets for Calgary
Even after the additions of Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri, there is the opportunity for more additions. While the defence is already rock-solid, another winger up from would help assure the team doesn’t lose a step after topping the Pacific Division in 2021–22.
Evan Rodrigues is probably the best fit left on the market for the Flames, and according to Elliotte Friedman on his 32 Thoughts podcast, they are interested in signing him. Rodrigues is 29 years old, and can play on the wing or at centre.
We’ve mentioned Rodrigues a few times over the past few weeks as a solid target, but now there seems to be a bit more steam behind him signing with the Flames.
Last season, he set a career-high of 43 points in 82 games, including 19 goals. He also set a career-high in ice time, playing 15:50 a night on average. Prior to the 2021–22 season, his offensive output was less impressive, but he is known for his strong defensive play as well.
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He’s probably the best player left in free agency, and the Flames have just over two million dollars in cap space. To get a deal done, they may need to move out some money. However, with a surplus of defencemen in the organization, it very well could happen.
Rodrigues is a player who could really thrive under Darryl Sutter. There’s no quit in his game, and when he’s on the ice, his team tends to control possession. Further, when he was given the opportunity to move up the lineup, he showed he could do it. While playing with Sidney Crosby is sure to bump anyone’s point totals up, he also spent a lot of time on the second line, filling in for the injured Evgeni Malkin.
Another compelling option for the Flames to consider is Sonny Milano. The 26-year-old playmaker set a new career-best in points, and tied his career-high in goals, scoring 14 goals and 20 assists on a struggling Anaheim team.
Milano was tied to the Flames earlier in the offseason, but now that the free agent market has tapered off, circling back on him makes a lot of sense for both parties.
Milano is quite a bit different than Rodrigues in how he plays, and would bring a more offensively focused play style. But, despite his playmaking style, he’s had impressive underlying numbers defensively throughout his career.
Furthermore, last year with his offence started clicking and there were signs that his career was starting to take off. The fact Anaheim did not retain him for next season was a surprise to many. There is reason to believe that they gave up on him too early.
His isolated impact over the course of his career, according to HockeyViz.com, has always been positive. Better yet, 2021–22 was undoubtedly a step up and that can turn into found gold on a team like the Flames.
He could provide some offensive creativity to the Flames’ winger group, something you can never have too much of.
One downside, however, is that he is a left shot, and the Flames would probably prefer a right-shot right wing if they are going to add a forward. Another issue could be salary cap space, as the winger is probably aiming for a higher salary than the two million dollars in cap space they have available now.
The Flames will have to use recent Phil Kessel and Paul Stastny’s recent contracts as market examples to hopefully drive the price down. With any player signing with the Flames, the hope is that they also see the team as contenders, just as Kadri did, and that can be worth a slight pay cut in order to compete.
Like with Rodrigues, the cap space can be worked out, but the team needs to determine that its worth it to add one of these two higher end forwards remaining.
Other good depth players still available
Outside of the two above mentioned players, the remaining wingers on the market are much less enticing. While Milano and Rodrigues can play in the top-six, the rest of the free agent forward market is pretty clearly suited for the bottom half of the roster.
Gagner had a similar stat line to Milano with 13 goals and 18 assists in 81 games, a bit of a resurgence for the winger. At 32, he brings experience and can play on the third or fourth line. While the defensive side of his game isn’t the best, he’s become more responsible in that regard over the past few seasons. However, he may look up north to try a stint with the Oilers.
Chiasson, the former Flame, has Darryl Sutter written all over him. Big, responsible in his own end, and not too detrimental in the offensive zone. While his previous time in Calgary was sometimes frustrating as the coaching staff used him in a power play role he was ill suited for, he would make a good depth player. He’s played for all three Western Canada teams and a small return to Calgary wouldn’t be out of the question.
Last season, he recorded 22 points, including 13 goals, playing for the Vancouver Canucks. Although not flashy, he’s a reliable, putting up fairly consistent point per game numbers over the course of his career.
Finally, Sprong. Sprong a good play driver, with a 51% 5v5 Corsi share across the 2021–22 season for the Washington Capitals and Seattle Kraken, according to Evolving-Hockey.com. This year, Evolving-Hockey.com’s goals above replacement (GAR) breakdown shows he was worth 0.2 wins above replacement—the result of very strong offence worth 0.7 GAR, and -0.2 for defence.
The remaining difference came from a poor penalty differential, something that has not been a pattern in his career. If Sutter can straighten out the defensive side of his game, he could be a great value add for the bottom six forward group as someone who can really help drive the offence.
Adding to the lineup
Hopefully, the Flames’ continue the exciting offseason and make another splash for Rodrigues or Milano. But, if they aren’t affordable, there are definitely other options that could be the best value moves for strengthening the depth.