The 2023-24 NHL season is right around the corner, and after a largely uneventful offseason, the Calgary Flames look like they’ll start the season with an extremely similar roster to the one that finished the 2022-23 campaign.
Out of the seven pending UFAs, there has only been movement on one (Toffoli), while all of Chris Tanev, Elias Lindholm, Mikael Backlund, Oliver Kylington, Noah Hanifin, and Nikita Zadorov are still without a new contract or a trade.
When Craig Conroy took over as General Manager, he pledged not to enter the season with seven pending UFAs. It’s looking more and more like a Captain Barbosa moment as the Flames are set to enter the season with six of those seven pending UFAs on the roster and in contract limbo.
The last day for Conroy to really do something to cement himself as a man of his word is March 8, 2024, the NHL trade deadline.
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How many pending UFAs will be here after the deadline?
We presented this poll:
The big ones
The two big ones on the list are Lindholm and Hanifin, and both are exercising their leverage over the team right now. It would be horrendous asset management for the Flames to allow these two to remain on the roster post deadline, but unfortunately, they’ve given both of these players all the leverage in the deal.
Lindholm knows that he’s the team’s number one center by default for an indefinite amount of time, and the Flames would be completely devoid of any center depth without him. If I was him, I’d wait for as long as possible before making a decision. If I were going to predict this one, Lindholm re-signs for a ton of money, maybe even north of $9M per year, sometime near the end of February or beginning of March. The Flames should be in the playoff picture and that will sway Lindholm to stay, but not at any kind of discount.
For Hanifin, I think it goes the other way. He’ll be moved early on in the year, likely around December or January once Kylington shows he can still play at a high level in the NHL. The Flames will feel comfortable filling Hanifin’s minutes, and will ship him off to a team on the east coast. Conroy’s most recent comments about Hanifin are majorly concerning, and I think he’ll realize Hanifin is not signing here.
Come on, Craig, you sound delusional.
So, let’s assume we’re 1-1 for staying and going.
The medium ones
The second tier of pending UFAs would probably be Tanev and Backlund. Both have been amazing players for the Flames both on and off the ice, both have been leaders in the dressing room, and both will probably leave by the deadline.
At the end of the day, Tanev is defying Father Time by continuing to play at such a high defensive level. You have to assume it’ll just stop at some point, whether that’s due to age or injury or both. He’s a player that cup contending teams would covet, and pay for at the deadline. I think that despite what happens with the Flames’ performance, Tanev gets moved just before the deadline.
Backlund is in a bit of a sticky situation. There is seeming consensus with the team that Backlund has been the captain since Mark Giordano left, should be the captain, and would love to be the captain. However, with his wishy-washy comments on committing to being a Flame for life, it just doesn’t seem like captaincy is in the cards.
I think Backlund is going to ask out so he can chase a cup, and the big sway for this will be when the team probably announces Rasmus Andersson as the captain. Backlund will realize he missed his chance and his time with the Flames has come to an end. He’s another player who will be coveted at the deadline, but I think he gets moved earlier in the season, maybe around January just like Hanifin. It would create some turnover with the blueline, but shipping out one full defense pairing and keeping two intact might be better.
I think the likely scenario is both of these players are gone by the deadline, so that puts us at one staying and three going.
The small ones
The last part of the list is Kylington and Zadorov. I feel like both will stay with the Flames and extend fairly early into the season. Kylington may qualify to have his 2022-23 season exempted, but even if it isn’t, his best bet is to stay with Calgary. He needs to build back his profile as an NHL defender and the Flames are the place to do it. Following his missed season and with the Flames standing by him, I feel like he will sign at least one more contract in Calgary.
For Zadorov, he has been the most vocal person about how much he loves it here and sees the team doing well this season. Zadorov could wear a letter based on how he’s handled the media and been a champion for the team and city ever since he got to Calgary. He loves it here, they seem to love him here, and he will probably re-sign for too much money.
Two stays with this list.
Tallying it up, we’re even at three staying and three going. The majority of respondents felt that this was the case as well, maybe not the exact players, but it looks like Flames fans are thinking along the same lines.
I think the most ideal scenario is the 3/3 split, but really, who knows? We have on idea what Conroy is going to be like as a GM, and until he shows us how he’s dealing with these six pending UFAs, we never will.