The NHL offseason is the time when 31 (soon to be 32) general managers take stock of what they’ve got in the cupboard and what needs to be filled on their shopping list, all while staying under the league salary cap and not breaking the bank. Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving didn’t exactly make wholesale changes to his roster this past offseason, but he did make a big splash on the back end by signing coveted free agent netminder Jacob Markstrom and beefing up his defence by adding Chris Tanev. He also made a few depth-forward signings to shore up the bottom six, but for every newcomer that joined the squad, we saw an equal exodus of notable players move on from Calgary for a fresh start in a new NHL city.
TJ Brody: Signed with Toronto Maple Leafs
Easily the longest-tenured ex-Flame on this list, TJ Brodie appeared in ten consecutive seasons in Calgary before signing a four-year, $20 million deal in the offseason with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The veteran D-man was brought in to play on the top pairing and be a steadying influence for the Leafs’ budding star Morgan Rielly – which is ironic because Brodie was often the fans’ favourite whipping boy for making glaring defensive gaffes while playing with the very steady Mark Giordano.
However, by all accounts, the 30-year-old is quietly having a very productive start in Toronto. Averaging close to 22 minutes of ice time, Brodie has six points in 17 games and has developed some solid chemistry with Rielly. The ex-Flame still has the elite skating skill that made him a top-pairing guy in Cowtown, and he’s become a dependable, two-way defenceman for the Buds.
Do we miss him in Calgary? No sir. Not with the incredible start Chris Tanev has had and the continuing progression of Juuso Välimäki’s game.
Mark Jankowski: Signed with Pittsburgh Penguins
“The Big Jankowski” was supposed to be the Flames’ center of the future when he was the highest selected Canadian high school player in draft history. The 2012 first-rounder was picked 21st overall, and after four years of college hockey and two years in the AHL, the 6-foot-4 center finally became a full-time NHLer during the 2017-18 season, notching 17 goals in 72 games. The following year saw Mark Jankowski score 32 points in 79 games, and he seemed to be trending in the right direction. That all came crashing down with a disastrous 2019-20 campaign that saw the 26-year-old struggle mightily, tallying only five goals and two assists in 56 games.
The Flames chose not to re-sign Jankowski in the offseason, but the Pittsburgh Penguins offered up a one-year contract worth $700k in the hope the big center could return to his old form. He got off to a roaring start, scoring a goal in the opening game of the season, but he hasn’t found the twine since. The ex-Flame has put up three points in 14 games and has anchored the Pens’ third line, which has been pretty solid so far.
Do we miss him in Calgary? Nope. He became expendable when the Flames coaching staff decided they wanted to move Elias Lindholm to center.
Tobias Rieder: Signed with Buffalo Sabres
Three years ago, Tobias Rieder’s game became famous for all the wrong reasons. His lone season playing with the Edmonton Oilers was highlighted by a 67-game goalless drought that made him an easy target of fans, media and even the franchise’s CEO, who blamed the underperforming winger for the Oilers missing the post-season. The Flames took a chance on the German forward and made him the team’s premiere penalty-killing specialist, which paid big dividends in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, where Rieder scored three shorthanded goals in 10 games.
When the Flames passed on re-signing the speedy winger this past offseason, the Buffalo Sabres snapped up Rieder for a one-year, $700k contract to bolster their bottom-feeding penalty kill. So far, the move has paid off, with the Sabres currently sitting 12th in that category after falling all the way down to 30th last season. The 28-year-old has also found some success anchoring the team’s energy line and already has three goals in his first 12 games – after scoring only four last season as a Flame.
Do we miss him in Calgary? Absolutely. Joakim Nordstrom was brought in to replace Rieder on the PK unit, but he’s failed to impress anyone. Nordstrom has zero points, shown very little offensive upside, and the team’s PK is currently 18th in the NHL.
Travis Hamonic: Signed with Vancouver Canucks
I think the writing was on the wall for Travis Hamonic when he opted out of playing in the Edmonton bubble for the 2019-20 Stanley Cup playoffs. After three solid but unspectacular seasons patrolling the Flames’ blueline, the team decided to move on from the Manitoba-native, allowing the 30-year-old d-man to explore other offers. Hamonic signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Vancouver Canucks after the club lost veteran defenceman Tanev to the Flames during the offseason. It’s obvious the Canucks were trying to fill that big void on the back end, but so far, the results haven’t been very good.
Hamonic has only suited up five times so far this season and is currently out of the lineup after suffering an upper-body injury on January 20. In the games he did play, the stay-at-home defenceman struggled, looking rather rusty. For a supposedly aggressive blueliner, he hasn’t thrown many hits and looks like he’s simply trying to get back up to speed after having to quarantine for two weeks because of COVID-19 protocols. The ex-Flame has picked up two assists through five games and has averaged 18:18 of ice time.
Do we miss him in Calgary? Not even a little bit. Hamonic is a poor man’s Tanev…very poor.
Cam Talbot: Signed with Minnesota Wild
Like Rieder, Cam Talbot was another ex-Oiler reclamation project that actually worked out pretty well for the Flames. Calgary signed the 33-year-old netminder to a one-year deal to backstop David Rittich at the start of the 2019-20 season, but over the course of the year, the veteran puck stopper ended up stopping more pucks than Big Save Dave and was named the team’s starting goalie heading into the playoffs. Talbot may have been yanked from the deciding Game 6 of the Dallas series, but he actually had a very strong postseason run, and many thought he deserved to be re-signed.
Obviously, the Flames had other plans between the pipes, so Talbot hit the free agent market, landing a three-year, $11 million contract with the Minnesota Wild. After trading away the underperforming Devan Dubnyk, the Wild brought in the ex-Flame to provide some stability in net, and so far, the Caledonia, Ontario native has been pretty, pretty good. While he missed a week with an injury and several more days being on the COVID list, Talbot has appeared in six games: posting a 3-2 record, a 2.40 goals against average (GAA) and a .920 save percentage (SV%). Not too shabby.
Do we miss him in Calgary? Actually, yes. David Rittich has been very underwhelming in his two starts – could you imagine if they had Talbot backing up Markstrom this season?
Next Offseason Could be Very Interesting
In the end, I think the overall scope of the Flames’ offseason arrivals and departures would best be described as “tinkering” – with the obvious exception being the blockbuster Markstrom signing. While the team has a definite upgrade in goal, the middling results this season have shown that all of those other roster moves have amounted to zero forward progress.
I think we all expected a lot more from this group, but the Flames currently sit at a very mediocre 8-7-1, which is the exact same record they had after 16 games last season. Could another early playoff exit, or a complete failure to even reach the postseason, force the GM to finally make the wholesale changes needed to really shake this organization to its core? Is it time to break up the band? With only 40 games left in the 2020-21 campaign, we’re about to find out.
Greg Tysowski is a former broadcast journalist who chose the exciting life of a stay-at-home dad for over a decade. He’s now a published author, blogger and aspiring sports writer covering the Calgary Flames for The Hockey Writers. Greg is also a regular contributor to the weekly roundtable discussion “Flames Faceoff”, now streaming on YouTube and Facebook.