In the aftermath of a disappointing 2015-16 season, the Calgary Flames and general manager Brad Treliving have some decisions to make. In addition to trying to upgrade the roster through trades and free agency, Treliving’s club has 18 players who are pending free agents of various kinds – he faces decisions on whether to re-sign or qualify all of them.
Here’s a glance at the 18 decisions Treliving has on his plate.
Restricted Free Agents
LW Kenny Agostino
Originally acquired in the Jarome Iginla trade to Pittsburgh, Agostino has quietly become one of the most effective forwards in the Flames minor-pro system. He was briefly recalled by the Flames last season and looked fine, so he’s a good bet to be qualified by the club.
C Bill Arnold
Best known as Johnny Gaudreau’s linemate (along with New York Rangers winger Kevin Hayes), Arnold struggled a bit as a second-year pro as he dealt with injuries and consistency issues. He’s still got upside as a right-shooting center, but he’ll have to prove to the club that he’s outgrown the AHL.
RW Joe Colborne
Nicknamed “Big and Local” by local fans – he’s 6’4″ and from Calgary – Colborne had an impressive second half of 2015-16, enjoying a stretch where everything went in for him and linemates Michael Frolik and Mikael Backlund. There’s still a bit of a question as to what exactly he is at the NHL level, but he’s established himself as a fairly useful NHL player. He’ll definitely be retained by the club, but it’ll be very interesting to see what kind of deal he gets after the club seems to have buyer’s remorse over Lance Bouma’s $2.2 million cap hit from last summer.
C Turner Elson
Originally signed by the Flames after a try-out at rookie camp, Elson has quietly developed into one of the team’s more reliable AHL forwards. Not known for having a high skill level, Elson instead is defined by his high gas tank and compete level. He’ll likely be retained, if only to provide some leadership on the farm.
LW Johnny Gaudreau
In two seasons in the NHL, Gaudreau has played in the All-Star Game twice and finished sixth in the league in scoring as a sophomore. Due to a CBA quirk he’s not even eligible for an offer sheet. Expect the Flames to try to lock up Johnny Hockey for a long-term deal.
RW Freddie Hamilton
Brought in from Colorado for a conditional seventh round pick – so basically for free – Dougie Hamilton’s big brother got a late-season recall to the Flames and looked pretty decent on the team’s bottom-six. At this point of his career, he’s probably still a fringe NHLer and whether he’s retained or not depends on whether the Flames think he still has much upside. He probably still gets retained to give Stockton some older players to mentor their young pros on the farm.
RW Josh Jooris
After joining the organization as a college free agent, Jooris was the toast of training camp two years ago as he worked his way into the first recall and a regular NHL job. He wasn’t nearly as sharp this past season, dealing with injuries and inconsistency and frequently going in and out of the line-up. He’ll definitely be retained, but he’ll need to show more to get a long-term deal.
C Sean Monahan
Calgary’s first round pick in 2013, Monahan has become the center that Flames fans dreamed about for years. He leads the entire 2013 draft class in goals and points, and if the Flames can find someone to play the right side with him and Gaudreau perhaps both of their offensive numbers can take a leap forward. As it stands, the Flames would be wise to sign him for a long time.
G Joni Ortio
The primary reason behind the three-headed goaltending monster in October was the Flames fear of losing Ortio on waivers. His performance over 2015-16 was a rollercoaster, going from the AHL and back, ending the season as the de facto starting goaltender. He’s good enough to play in the NHL, but the jury is still out on whether he can play the lion’s share of the games or just be a back-up. He’ll likely be retained and be the number-two guy in Calgary to start next season.
G Kevin Poulin
Brought in from Tampa Bay for “future considerations” – Tampa had nowhere for him to play in their system – Poulin played a ton down the stretch for Stockton and helped solidify the minor-league goaltending situation a bit. He’s got very limited NHL upside, but he’s a solid AHL goalie and likely a decent mentor for Jon Gillies and Mason McDonald next season.
RW Drew Shore
Shore is an interesting case; acquired from Florida for Corban Knight, he’s established himself as a pretty good AHL player but has yet to really establish himself as an NHLer. He’ll probably be retained, but with the Flames turning several young forward prospects pro next season there may not be enough room for everybody and Shore may be the odd man out.
LW Bryce van Brabant
Similar to Shore, Van Brabant – a college free agent signing – has some good attributes but hasn’t really established himself as a strong AHLer. However, his size makes him an attractive depth option and he seemed to find his consistency as a pro last year in Stockton. He may be kept on to see if he can keep progressing, but his ceiling is relatively low compared to other young players in their system.
D Tyler Wotherspoon
A 2011 second round selection, Wotherspoon’s likely to be retained by the club but seems to be gradually running out of runway. He spent time with the Flames in each of his first three seasons but so far has failed to gain a foothold in their line-up. With prospects like Oliver Kylington, Rasmus Andersson and Brandon Hickey waiting in the wings, it may soon be do or die for Wotherspoon in the Flames organization.
Unrestricted Free Agents
G Niklas Backstrom
Backstrom, 38, came to the Flames at the trade deadline from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for fellow pending UFA David Jones. Backstrom played a handful of games and had a couple nice outings, including winning his final start of the season against Minnesota. He’s not an NHL-caliber goaltender at this point, but should have interest from European clubs.
C Derek Grant
Signed by the Flames last July as a free agent, and arguably just as depth for their AHL club, the 26-year-old Grant had a superb year in the minors and didn’t look a bit out of place as a bottom-six player with the Flames during two recalls. He’s now waiver-eligible, as well. If he doesn’t get re-signed by the Flames, expect to see him on another NHL roster in the fall.
G Jonas Hiller
The 34-year-old Swiss product had a horrendous year in 2015-16 between poor performance, injuries and acting primarily as a back-up to Karri Ramo and Joni Ortio. He wasn’t likely to get many NHL offers given his age, price-tag and recent performance, and he’s already signed in Switzerland with EHC Biel.
D Jakub Nakladal
An import from Europe, the Czech product split time between the Flames and Stockton (making the jump to the NHL two-thirds through the season) and looked at home on Calgary’s blueline. If the Flames can somehow open up a spot on their defensive core for Nakladal, perhaps they could keep him. He’ll be waiver eligible next season.
G Karri Ramo
The 2015-16 season was the best and worst of times for Ramo. He was demoted to the AHL after an iffy October, returned to the NHL when Hiller was injured and played a ton for the Flames. He played well enough that he may have earned himself a new contract, if not for a February knee injury that probably casts some doubt on his NHL future. He’s probably in tough to get an NHL job right away and may need to settle for an AHL opportunity to reassert himself.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.