Calgary Flames

The most intriguing non-qualified RFAs entering the 2023 NHL free agent market

Today is July 1, which of course means it’s the first day of free agency day in the NHL. Now, no one expects the Calgary Flames to be busy since they have zero cap room. But it is important to note that teams can go over the cap by 10% in the offseason, so Calgary could make some moves now, and deal with the cap later. I think that would be unwise, but with guys like Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, Mikael Backlund, and Nikita Zadorov on the block, who knows what the future holds.

Free agency opens at 10 a.m. MDT, so we are going to start hearing deals being announced soon. Given the unrestricted free agent crop this year, it would be wise to stray away from overpaying guys. But, the crop did gain some interesting young pieces on Friday, with the deadline for teams to give restricted free agents qualifying offers.

The Flames qualified their three RFAs in Ben Jones, Martin Pospisil, and Mattias Emilio Pettersen. But other teams opted to not qualify some interesting names. Given the limited cap space around the league, it seems that many teams were scared of potential arbitration cases.

Newly unrestricted free agents

We know the Flames want to add youth to their lineup, so one way to do that would be taking a chance on a unqualified RFA or two. Let’s take a look at some of the most interesting names that went unqualified on Friday.

Tyson Jost

The 10th overall pick in 2016 has played 413 NHL games, but hasn’t found a spot yet. The Colorado Avalanche flipped Jost to the Minnesota Wild, who was then waived and claim by the Buffalo Sabres last season. In his 413-game career so far, the 25-year-old has 54 goals and 134 points. He seemed to fit in decently with the Sabres, notching 22 points in 59 games. The Sabres are reportedly still interested in bringing Jost back, but would the St. Albert product be a fit with the Flames’ bottom-six? Jost has good defensive metrics throughout his career so far.

Daniel Sprong

This would be my favourite option—by far. Sprong burst onto the scene with the Kraken this season, scoring 21 goals and 46 points in 66 games this season. Sprong was primarily used as a fourth liner and power play dynamo. He had the third highest points per 60 minutes of ice time in the entire league. He’s got a wicked shot and with the season he just had, there’s going to be loads of interest. There is a little bit of risk considering Sprong never had a season like this before, so in leaving him unqualified, the Kraken stay away from arbitration and avoid overpaying for one good season.

I’ll go a bit deeper into Sprong than other free agents since he offers the most, well, intrigue.

Sprong’s regularized adjusted plus-minus (RAPM) chart courtesy of details how effective he was at both ends of the ice.

Next, Sprong’s Isolated 5v5 Impact, courtesy of Sprong has always been a good offensive player, but left things to be desired in past seasons. In 2022–23, Sprong had his best offensive season and was also a positive defensive player. I think the Kraken struck gold in using him against weaker competition on fourth lines, and he sure helped their power play as well.

All in all, Sprong represented a player who was scouted, targeted, and deployed in all the right ways for the Kraken. A big success for their scouting and analytics departments for sure.

Caleb Jones

Jones is what the analytics community likes to call an “analytics darling.” I imagine the Blackhawks didn’t qualify Jones because he averaged over 19 minutes per game, so his qualifying number was going to be large. He has the unique ability to play both sides, and has good defensive metrics. I would certainly bring in the 6’1″, 194 lbs defender for Calgary’s blueline, as I think he could be very solid on a third pairing. With rumours surrounding Zadorov and especially Hanifin, the Flames might have an opening or two.

Ethan Bear

Ethan Bear is also well loved in the stats community. Why didn’t he get a qualifying offer in Vancouver? Unfortunately, Bear had shoulder surgery a few weeks ago, and is expected to be out until around December. He suffered this injury playing for Canada at the World Championships. I would absolutely take Bear on the Flames, and you could probably structure the deal with a focus on games played bonuses. For example, a $775K base, with a certain amount for 10 games played, 20 games played, etc. I have a lot of time for Ethan Bear.

Sam Steel

Sam could be a “Steel” for whoever signs him. I’ll see myself out.

Steel was in a similar situation last season, when the Ducks didn’t qualify him. He moved onto the Minnesota Wild, where he had his best statistical season, at 28 points in 65 games. Steel spent the majority of the 2022–23 season playing between Kirill Kaprisov and Mats Zuccarello, so the Wild likely don’t want to pay his arbitration case since he might have been a product of his linemates. Steel might be a good stop gap option if the Flames lose one or both of Lindholm and Backlund.

Jaret Anderson-Dolan

Anderson-Dolan is from Calgary, so there’s that connection. The 23-year-old forward has been in and out of the Kings lineup over the past three seasons. In his NHL career so far, Anderson-Dolan has 14 goals and 24 points in 96 games. Would the Flames take a chance on a young Calgary kid who can play centre or wing?

Other names of interest that weren’t qualified

Morgan Geekie, Maxime Comtois, Jesse Puljujarvi, Christian Fischer, Denis Gurianov, Travis Dermott, Nolan Patrick, Nathan Bastian, Mason Shaw, Michael McLeod, Noah Gregor, Colin White, Ryan Poehling, Zack MacEwen.

Free agent frenzy or frugal free agency

With this year’s crop of free agents, it can go any direction. Some may get deals that pay them above market price, while others may need to take pay cuts to find a team. If the Flames go shopping for free agents, they’re already forced to err on the side of being frugal over frivolous.

We’ll see how every team shapes up once the offseason dust settles.

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