The Calgary Flames are mired in a major roster turnover, fueled by numerous players approaching unrestricted free agency next summer. While the hope was that the Flames would be able to retain most of the seven players looking for new contracts at the end of next season, that is starting to look unlikely. The news circling the team suggests that most of the major pieces, Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm, and Mikael Backlund are more likely to leave than stay, with the remainder also unsure at this point.
Flames news from 32 Thoughts
Elliotte Friedman broke down the whole situation on this week’s 32 Thoughts The Podcast epsiode in some depth. Here’s the summary.
As has been widely reported, Hanifin has told the Flames that he will not be signing with the team next season. His preference is to go back to the United States. On the one hand, it’s his right to do so as an unrestricted free agent, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less that he’s planning to not stay. However, this gives the Flames a chance to properly trade him. The key here is that they will need to decide whether they want players coming back, prospects or picks coming back, or a mix of the two based on how they see the team going from here.
Lindholm has apparently not given the Flames a decision as of yet. The Flames are aware that the contract for Lindholm will have to be in the range of eight years at $8.5 million, similar to what Bo Horvat commanded in Vancouver. The hard part is that Lindholm is now 28 years old, and locking him up to his age 36 year at that amount is a risky gamble for a team unsure of what it is.
Lindholm also wants to be sure he’s going to be on a winning team. He clearly wants to win a Stanley Cup in his career—just like every NHLer—and to be locked in on a rebuilding team for what is likely his final big contract is a big gamble to take.
Friedman notes that he believes the team offered Backlund the captaincy. This was of major importance to the team’s longest-tenured player, and it was clear he felt that he should have been offered it sooner. Friedman went on to say that a major theme that came out of the team’s end-of-season meetings was that one of the reasons the players felt this year went as badly as it did was that there was not one go-between the players and the coach.
The issue with Backlund right now is that the numbers on a new contract are not close right now. This is going to make it tough to retain him.
The Flames apparently went to the rest of the players on expiring contracts and said that their priority was to get decisions on Lindholm and Hanifin first before negotiating on the remainder. This gave the remaining players like Tyler Toffoli a sense that they weren’t in control of their destinies, which is a scary position for a player to be in. Note, that all seven of the players are key parts of the franchise, with Nikita Zadorov and Oliver Kylington probably at the bottom of the list. Both are, at their best, middle pairing blueliners that are incredibly hard to replace. When players feel like they are not priorities, this causes major issues on the team.
The other key with this process is that the Flames have been very hesitant to offer longer term contracts to their players, pushing for shorter two- to three-year deals. For guys like Toffoli, who are around 30 and have families, term is one of the key factors in their next contract. For the Flames who don’t know where they’re going as an organization, pushing for shorter contracts makes sense, but this makes it hard to retain the guys that they have.
This was a very tough year for the Flames. Friedman noted that the Flames players did not get along well this season. He said it wasn’t that there were factions within the dressing room but there were clearly those that got along and those that didn’t, and some of the new guys didn’t get along with some of the old guys and vice versa.
Put together and adding in the very public uncertainty around the future of Hanifin and Lindholm, this is why the Flames are in the position that they are right now.
Some good news
Friedman noted that if he comes available, the Flames will be targeting Anthony Duclair in the offseason. Not only does he bring a lot of speed and the ability to open the ice, but he has worked really well with Huberdeau and could be someone to get the most out of their star winger. Duclair has one year left on his contract at a $3 million AAV, but his actual salary is $4 million based on the way it was structured. He is coming off of a short 20-game regular season in which he put up nine points. He also added 11 in 20 playoff games with Florida.
The Panthers will almost certainly be looking to add defencemen this summer, and the Flames will have at least one if not two on the chopping block. While I doubt the Flames would be silly enough to trade Hanifin for Duclair one-for-one, desperate times make people do silly things.
What does this all mean for the Flames
The Flames clearly needed an organizational shift after last season. With management and coaching changes already done, it was only a matter of time before the Flames made player changes to their core. If the players were not getting along and this wasn’t a fun room for the players to be in, Friedman noted that maybe this is the best for everyone involved.
Going into this summer with no cap room and only a handful of depth players expiring this season, the hope was that this would be a quiet offseason on the player front. The Flames would have hopefully made just a couple tweaks to the lineup and run it back feeling that the issue was coaching last year, but alas that’s clearly not going to be what happens. Whether the Flames blow it all up and rebuild or just make a handful of tweaks, the team that hits the Saddledome ice next season is going to look very different from the one that they have right now. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.