Now that the dust has settled on the Iginla trade and ‘rebuild’ is not such a dirty word down at the Saddledome, where exactly do the Flames go from here? The intellectual honesty that’s been preached for years seems to have finally won out, but does that mean fans are looking at a three-year plan? Five, maybe? And what should GM Jay Feaster’s highest priorities be before training camp in the fall?
Since taking over in Calgary, Feaster has shown a knack for dealing contracts that seemed impossible to move – Ales Kotalik and Jay Boumeester come to mind – and he’ll have to build on that reputation moving into the summer. Mike Cammalleri still has one year left at a $6 million cap hit, Alex Tanguay is due $3.5 million a season for the next three years, Matt Stajan is at $3.5 million for this upcoming season and Dennis Wideman is signed up for another four seasons at an annual cap hit of $5.25 million (CapGeek.com). Finding a way to part with these contracts would not only clear some cap room to commit to their younger free agents, but it would also open up quality NHL minutes for the younger core in the short-term.
Since the departure of Boumeester, the coaching staff has been challenged with distributing his minutes on the blue line and T.J. Brodie has been the primary beneficiary. But whether the Flames choose to move Dennis Wideman or not, another high-end defensive prospect needs to be added to the roster come October. Coming over from St. Louis in the Boumeester deal, Mark Cundari could be a good fit if he remains healthy – something that has been a challenge in his pro career thus far. The likes of John Ramage (Wisconsin, NCAA) and Tyler Wotherspoon (Portland, WHL) are good prospects at this point but certainly don’t project to have the high-end, top four talent that Brodie has shown this season. Brodie, Cundari and fellow blue liner Chris Butler are all restricted free agents and it will be interesting to see how negotiations go with Brodie and Butler in particular, especially if they play well at the upcoming world championships.
In goal, there is a strange irony that the Flames have finally landed a proven NHL backup in Joey MacDonald just as Miikka Kiprusoff is moving on. Whether it is this season or next, Kiprusoff is on his way out and the possible roster replacements are all playing outside of the Flames system. Karri Ramo may have an inside track due to his experience and his recent success in the Kontintental Hockey League, but his earlier stint in North America was less than stellar. The pressure will be squarely on Feaster in the next few months to at least lay out a plan for the crease and the hope is that either Ramo or newly acquired Swiss prospect Reto Berra will be ready to stick in the NHL come fall.
The Flames also have a couple of highly touted draft picks coming off very impressive seasons in the nets, although neither is likely to get a shot at the NHL roster immediately. Jon Gillies, 19, has had a significant impact as a freshman at Providence College, winning multiple Hockey East honours as well as NCAA Division I National Rookie of the Year. The Edmonton Oil Kings’ Laurent Brossoit, 20, is likely finishing his Western Hockey League career with another long playoff run after leading the Oil Kings to a Memorial Cup appearance in 2012.
There will obviously be a tremendous focus on making the most out of the draft this summer, but Jay Feaster and his staff still have some roster work to do in the short-term as well. Between locking up their young free agents and addressing the uncertainty in goal, the Flames’ have an opportunity to make some real progress in overhauling their roster in time for training camp. There should be an infusion of young, high-end talent into the organization with the next two drafts and it will be interesting to see how the Flames are positioned to take advantage of it.