With time ticking down in the offseason, more and more signings are being announced and teams are beginning to complete their roster. But there is still much to do league-wide, as teams still need to make room to re-sign restricted free agents (RFAs) and there are still free agents available.
Filling out the Flames’ depth
The talk of Calgary Flames media has been centred around Evan Rodrigues, whom I deep dived as a potential replacement for Calle Jarnkrok. Assuming the Flames will add one more top-nine winger and are going to re-sign forward Adam Ruzicka, they will have a roster consisting of 22 players, which would still leave one forward spot open.
There are of course several players that will push for a spot such as Jakob Pelletier, Cole Schwindt, Matthew Phillips and Clark Bishop. The Flames may choose to give that last spot to a veteran with the ability to play multiple forward positions, similar to Brad Richardson last season.
Cap space is tight for the Flames and they may not be able to afford the luxury of multiple forward scratches on their roster, but if they do have an extra $750K, let’s jump into some options they could use it on.
Remember, these players are categorized as depth options, so they won’t be everyday options, but can be plugged and played when needed. All of the following players mentioned are still unrestricted free agents and are able to sign a contract or professional tryout agreement (PTO) whenever they like. Let’s start off with Victor Rask.
The former Calgary Hitmen forward is still looking for a new deal after splitting the season between the Minnesota Wild and Seattle Kraken. After signing a six-year, $4M average annual value (AAV) deal with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2016, Rask was flipped to the Wild for Nino Niederreiter a year and a half later.
Since then, Rask has averaged 40–50 games at roughly half a point per game. Those numbers are great for a bottom-six player, but when you are making more money than a typical bottom-six forward, you will be subject to criticism, whether fair or unfair.
Safe to say Rask didn’t live up his previous contract, but I would definitely take a look at him on a deal close to league minimum. Looking below at the isolated 5v5 impact, courtesy of HockeyViz.com, Rask has provided significant contributions to the defensive end of the ice in the past two seasons, and still produces at half a point per game.
Micro-stats show Rask as a very strong defensive player with very good cycle playmaking skills. Rask also grades out well in possession and exit transition, while he is not a physical or forechecking player, and his volume shooting grades out very low.
I know I would prefer Rask to other forward options the Flames currently have—notably Kevin Rooney and Trevor Lewis. You can never have too many Swedes either, right? It also helps that Rask is a good friend of Elias Lindholm, who has played a part in Joakim Nordstrom, Jacob Markstrom, and Calle Jarnkrok becoming members of the Flames.
Derick Brassard split last season between the Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers, putting up 19 points in 46 games. Brassard has played for nine teams in the last seven seasons, so he has definitely seen his fair share of locker rooms and teammates.
I’ve included Brassard on this list because of his versatility to play both wing and centre, which is always something the Flames covet. Brassard reminds me of a more offensive Brad Richardson, as he brings similar dump and chase, physicality and decent defensive play.
What distinguishes the two for me is Brassard’s passing and playmaking ability, which grades out pretty well league-wide, which is why Brassard is still able to put up a decent point total. Looking into Brassard’s isolated 5v5 impact below, the long-time NHL forward has graded out as a solid defensive forward in recent seasons.
Brassard’s versatility and solid defensive play makes him a very solid candidate to be a 13th/14th forward for the Flames, as he fill the role which Richardson held last year.
Carter Rowney remains on the free agent market after a tough 2021–22 season, where he fought injury and only got into 26 games last year with the Detroit Red Wings. He ended up notching six points. Prior to that, Rowney only got into 19 games in 2020–21 with the Anaheim Ducks.
So, there is definitely some injury concern in bringing in Rowney, but the Grande Prairie product has been a solid defensive and forechecking forward throughout his career. In fact, Rowney grades out league-wide as one of the best forechecking forwards, with solid defensive results throughout his career, demonstrated by his Isolated 5v5 impact below.
Rowney also brings the versatile ability to play multiple forward positions, and he could provide forechecking and defensive play as a 13th/14th forward.
Riley Nash spent last season between the Winnipeg Jets, Arizona Coyotes, and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Consort, Alberta product was acquired by the Lightning at the deadline and got into eight games during their run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Why did the Lightning acquire Nash at this year’s deadline, and the Maple Leafs doing the same at last year’s deadline? Well, Nash is a prototypical fourth liner in this league, with his versatile ability to play multiple forward positions and defensive ability. Looking at Nash’s isolated 5v5 impact below, he has been a consistently great defensive player throughout his career, grading out among the league’s best.
Nash’s micro-stats share a similar story, showcasing him as one of the better defensive players league-wide, with very good forechecking and dump and chase grades, while also being a good net front and physical player.
What stands out to me the most is Nash’s exit transition ability, where he grades out as one of the best players in the league in that category. Getting the puck out of the defensive zone has become one of the most important aspects for a defending player to create success.
For comparison sake, one aspect that makes Blake Coleman such a good player is his exit transition ability, where he is also among the league’s best. You aren’t acquiring Nash for his offensive play, as he is a strict defensive player, and is very good at what he does. Nash is a perfect fit as a 13th/14th forward in Calgary’s system, and I would welcome his signing announcement.
I threw Joe Thornton on this list for fun. Is Thornton the same player he used to be? Not quite. But the 43-year-old has had a storied NHL career that is missing one thing, a Stanley Cup. Not only does Thornton bring a boatload of NHL experience with him, but he is also still a good cycle playmaker and possession player.
You aren’t signing Thornton to be an every game offensive contributor, and he only saw 34 games of regular season action with the Florida Panthers last year, putting up 10 points.
Thornton isn’t your stereotypical fourth line player like the other players mentioned in this article, but I think it would be cool to give Thornton a contract and let the storied veteran get another shot at getting his cup. He would certainly be Calgary’s first cup toss—or any team for that matter.
I categorize this as similar to the Jagr signing a few years ago, where he isn’t the same player he used to be, but the jersey sales alone more than made up for his contract. However, Thornton would probably be willing to be the 13th/14th forward as he accepted that role last year with the Panthers and just wants a shot at the cup.
Thornton may see another team as a better shot for the cup—like the Avalanche for example—and may choose to sign elsewhere. He is also not as productive or a fit like other players mentioned here, but I thought it would be fun to throw Thornton on this list as a number 19 Thornton Flames jersey would be a pretty neat sight to see.
Deepening the depth
The Flames (and many other teams) have a good list of free agents still available that they can use to bolster their depth. Players who join a team with the clearly defined expectations of the 13th or 14th forward take that role in stride and want to contribute for every shift they play.
Should the Flames turn to the free agents or look to promote from within, they’ll want to optimize their roster to give themselves the best chance to compete. There’s no reason to waste a roster spot on someone with little to no utility, so let’s hope the Flames find their way to an optimal roster at every position.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire