The Calgary Flames, despite being in a playoff spot before the suspension of play, have had their problems during the 2019-20 season. Their main issue is offense; almost their entire roster has struggled to put the puck in the net. The Flames may be able to fix that in free agency this summer (or whenever it begins), with eight skaters set to become unrestricted free agents giving them some cap flexibility.
Of course, this list could change if management decides to re-sign those players whose deals are about to expire. Regardless, the team could improve in some areas heading into 2020-21. Here are three free agents that they should target this offseason.
Tyler Toffoli spent his entire seven-year career with the L.A. Kings before he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks ahead of the 2019 deadline. The soon to be 28-year-old scored 24 goals this year, the fourth time he’s hit the 20-goal plateau. That number would likely be higher if he had played a full 82 games in both the 2013-14 and 2016-17 seasons.
Toffoli also brings championship experience, as he won the Stanley Cup with the Kings during his rookie season in 2013-14. This would be huge for the young Flames core who has struggled to make noise in the playoffs. As of now, the team’s only player with a ring is Milan Lucic.
The Kings have struggled the past few seasons, and as a result, Toffoli has too. Last season was his worst points-per-game season in the league, with 13 goals and 34 points in 82 games. He bounced back somewhat this season with 18 goals and 16 assists in 58 games prior to being traded. However, being back on a team in the playoff hunt was maybe what he needed all along, as he put up 6 goals and 10 points in 10 games before the NHL pause.
The Flames will have a good team again next season, which should make them enticing for Toffoli who spent the past few seasons on a struggling Kings squad. He would provide the Flames with more offense and could slide in nicely on the right wing on any of the top three lines.
He will easily get a raise on his current deal that carries a cap hit of $4.6 million per season. The Canucks would like to keep him, but goaltender Jacob Markstrom needs a new deal this offseason, and young studs like Elias Petterson and Quinn Hughes will also need new contracts in upcoming years, so they may not have the cap space to sign him. Considering he will be 28 years old to start next season, he should be able to command a contract around $6 million, and likely for 6-7 years, which the Flames should be able to afford.
Sami Vatanen has been an underrated defenceman throughout his seven-year NHL career. The 28-year-old spent his first five seasons with the Anaheim Ducks before being traded during the 2017-2018 season to the New Jersey Devils. He remained with the Devils until this year’s deadline when he was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes. He has yet to play a game with his new team because of an injury and now the NHL pause.
In his career, Vatanen has been a solid top-four defenceman, who can play at both ends of the ice. He won’t blow you away offensively, but he will put up numbers. This season he managed 5 goals and 23 points on a struggling Devils team. Although he doesn’t have a Stanley Cup ring like Toffoli, he still brings playoff experience, having played 44 career playoff games where he excelled with 23 points.
A big reason for the Flames’ lack of offense is that their defense isn’t producing. Before the hiatus, Mark Giordano led the team’s back end in scoring with just 31 points. Vatanen, who had a career-high 38 points during the 2015-16 season, could help out with that. It’s worth noting that if not for injuries, he would likely have multiple seasons of over 40 points.
Vatanen makes sense for the Flames who have six defencemen on expiring contracts. They may re-sign a few, but it is unlikely they bring them all back, meaning there will be some holes to fill. Vatanen should consider signing with the Flames. Like Toffoli, he has played for bad teams in the past few seasons and signing with the Flames would give him a very good chance to make the playoffs.
A contract for Vatanen should be similar to the last deal he signed, which was for four years at $4.875 million per season. Though the cap has gone up since then, Vatanen’s numbers have decreased due to injury, meaning the Finnish defenceman likely will not be paid as much as he may deserve.
This one may seem far fetched since the Flames’ starting goaltender David Rittich was an All-Star this season. However, backup Cam Talbot is set to become a free agent this summer. Considering Rittich’s cap hit is just $2.75 million per year, management can afford to sign another goaltender for a higher salary. Robin Lehner is one of the best goaltenders available in this year’s free-agent class, and would make a lot of sense for the Flames.
Rittich being named to the All-Star Game likely had more to do with playing for a good team than anything else. His numbers this season are considerably worse than most other NHL goalies. He has a 2.94 goals-against average (GAA) and a .907 save percentage (SV%). Compare that to Lehner who, with a much weaker Chicago Blackhawks team, had a higher GAA (3.01) but a much higher SV% (.918).
It’s also worth noting that Rittich’s numbers are not an anomaly. In his career to date, he has a 2.82 GAA and a .908 SV%. While these numbers aren’t horrible, they aren’t what a team should want from their number one goaltender.
Another thing to keep in mind if the Flames want to sign Lehner to a deal with the term, is that he is still in the prime of his career at just 28 years old. The Vezina Trophy candidate last season still has lots of high-end play left in him, and management should strongly consider signing him this offseason.
Lehner’s contract may not be as expensive as some would think. Outside of Carey Price, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Andrei Vasilevskiy, goalies generally don’t get paid top dollar. Based on what other goaltenders around the league are getting paid, Lehner should be able to command a deal worth around $6 million per season. The term will likely also be around six years.
I am not suggesting the Flames should or will sign all three of these players. With the NHL salary cap that wouldn’t be possible. However, if these three hit the free-agent market, the Flames would be wise to try and bring at least one of them into the fold.
Former Jr. A player turned blogger. At-large writer covering mainly the Calgary Flames. Co-host of Flames Faceoff and Oilers Overtime podcasts.