The 2015-16 season has been one of frustration and disappointment for the Calgary Flames, as the club failed to build upon their memorable 2015 playoff run and instead slid backwards into the bottom of the National Hockey League standings. With the NHL’s annual trade deadline looming, the Flames are likely hoping to shuffle their roster up a bit and provide some positive energy for their young team to build upon for next season.
Unfortunately, the nature of the team’s salary structure will make it tough for the club to make wholesale changes. Here’s a brief glance at the impending fire sale in southern Alberta.
LIKELY TO MOVE
RW Jiri Hudler, RW David Jones and D Kris Russell
Hudler was superb last season, acting both as an off-ice mentor and an on-ice complement to the young dynamic duo of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. His performance led him to finish 8th in league scoring and saw him capture the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly conduct. This season, though, Hudler’s been hampered by inconsistency and has generally been a non-factor in games (despite playing with Gaudreau and Monahan still). His play has picked up since the All-Star Break, though, which should make it easier to move him. Hudler likely fits for a team looking for some scoring help down the stretch, and his post-season experience (and Stanley Cup ring) likely make him a fairly attractive commodity as a rental.
Another pending unrestricted free agent, Jones has a pricey contract for a third liner at $4 million, but he plays a smart, physical game and has an underrated scoring touch. He’s been used primarily in a shutdown role in Calgary, and could be attractive to a prospective playoff team looking for a veteran two-way winger with some size. He doesn’t score a ton (in part due to his role), so don’t expect a big return if he is moved.
Russell is a local fan favourite for his shot-blocking and occasional offensive heroics, but he’s in a tough spot in Calgary. He’s a local product and a pending UFA and the team likely wants to retain him but they lack the cap room going forward to give him much of a raise, especially with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau needing new contracts (and big raises) this summer. If the team can free up some salary with another transaction, he might stay and re-sign. If they can’t, he’ll be moved to a team needing help on the blueline.
POSSIBLY ON THE MOVE
G Jonas Hiller, D Tyler Wotherspoon, RW/C Drew Shore and C Markus Granlund
With Karri Ramo out with a knee injury, Hiller is the team’s de facto top goalie. However, despite his struggles this season he could be an attractive piece for a team wanting a veteran back-up with playoff experience (just in case). Plenty of prospective playoff clubs are very front-loaded in net (with untested back-ups), so this may be an option the Flames explore. Depending on what the return would be, this would make Calgary’s goaltending tandem Joni Ortio and Kevin Poulin, both of whom played with their AHL club in Stockton for most of this season.
Wotherspoon and Shore are both good AHL players that (a) haven’t quite been able to jump into the NHL full-time and (b) have been leapfrogged by younger prospects. Both are pending restricted free agents, and would likely benefit from a change in scenery.
Granlund has made the jump to full-time NHL duty this season, but his underlying numbers aren’t great and he’s found himself in the challenging position of either playing third-line center or sitting in the press box. He’s good enough for the NHL, but Calgary’s center depth might mean Granlund (a pending RFA) has a better chance of playing elsewhere.
(Note: prior to Karri Ramo’s injury, I would have placed both him and fellow Flames netminder Joni Ortio into this group as well. Given Ramo’s level of play, he was possibly the most likely of Calgary’s netminders to be moved to a team looking for depth, while Ortio fit in the same general category as Wotherspoon and Shore.)
PROBABLY STAYING PUT
This grouping is a mixture of “players with bad contracts that the Flames can’t likely move,” and “players with good contracts that the Flames probably don’t want to move.”
The first group (the “Can’t Moves”) includes: F Matt Stajan, F Brandon Bollig, F Mason Raymond, D Dennis Wideman, D Ladislav Smid and D Deryk Engelland. Of this group, the most likely to move is potentially Engelland; he can play either side of the ice, and he’s a fairly reliable physical veteran defender, but he makes nearly $3 million per year.
The second ground (the “Don’t Want To Moves”) includes: F Mikael Backlund, F Joe Colborne and F Josh Jooris. Despite the sub-category’s name, the Flames probably would move one of those players if a deal really blew them away. Backlund would be the most likely player to move; he’s a strong 200-foot player, but he’s also somebody that could be moved if the Flames hope to clear out some cap space to re-sign Russell.
DEFINITELY NOT MOVING
Finally, we come to the team’s core; players that they almost definitely are not moving because they’re the club’s long-term building blocks. The names probably aren’t overly surprising: F Johnny Gaudreau, F Sam Bennett, F Sean Monahan, F Michael Frolik, F Micheal Ferland, F Lance Bouma, D Dougie Hamilton, D Mark Giordano and D T.J. Brodie.