It is a strange time in the hockey world, as nobody knows if the season will resume, or if it will be canceled completely. There have been rumours that the playoffs could happen in July and August, assuming the COVID-19 pandemic slows down by then. If that is the case, it would change many things, one being free agency. Normally NHL free agency begins on July 1, but if games are still being played at that point, it would have to be moved to a later date.
The one thing we all know is that eventually, free agency will begin, meaning teams will have to make decisions on whether they want to give extensions to their pending free agents or release them. The Calgary Flames have some big decisions on their hands, as they have seven unrestricted free agents (UFAs) and three restricted free agents (RFAs). Here is a list of those players as well as the decisions the Flames should make.
Unrestricted Free Agents
T.J. Brodie has played all 634 career games in a Flames uniform. The 29-year-old defenceman will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason as his five-year deal which pays him $4.65 million per season is set to expire.
Brodie has been a solid defenceman for the Flames over the years, but has seen his point total drop dramatically this season. He had just 19 points prior to the NHL stoppage, which had him on pace to score under 30 points for the first time since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. He has also seen his average ice time decrease from 23:41 two seasons ago to 20:27 this season.
With that being said, I believe the Flames should move on from Brodie. He will soon be 30 years old, and it appears his play may already be on the decline. Someone will still pay him a good amount of money this offseason, but it would be wise for the Flames to not be that team. There are more than enough examples of teams who have paid aging players only to have it come back to haunt them.
Travis Hamonic, like Brodie, is 29 years of age. He has played almost the identical amount of career games as Brodie, with a total of 637. He has spent the last three seasons with the Flames after being acquired in a trade from the New York Islanders, who he spent seven seasons with.
Hamonic isn’t known for his offensive ability, as he has hit 30 points in a season just once. Instead, he is known for his hard-nosed style of play, which includes his great work on the penalty kill. Unlike Brodie, he has seen his ice time increase to 21:12 per game, the highest it’s been in four seasons.
Hamonic is coming off of a seven-year deal that has paid him $3.85 million per season. In the NHL, it seems offensive defencemen are the ones who tend to get paid the big dollars. Because of that, Hamonic’s next deal will likely be very good value for a team, which is why I believe the Flames should try to re-sign him.
After struggling as the Oilers starting goaltender the past couple of seasons, Cam Talbot signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract with the provincial rival Flames. It made sense for the team as starting goalie David Rittich hadn’t yet proven himself as a true No. 1 goalie. The Flames expected that Talbot, who had been a starting goalie for the past four seasons, would be able to step in for the team if Rittich were to struggle.
It has been a solid first year for Talbot with his new team. He currently owns a 2.63 goals-against average (GAA) and a .919 save percentage (SV%), which are significantly better than Rittich’s 2.97 GAA and .907 SV%.
Though it seems likely Talbot will receive a larger contract because of his stellar season, the Flames would be smart to try and keep him around. After all, it wasn’t long ago that he was regarded as a top-10 goalie in the entire league. The only thing to keep in mind with extending Talbot is that he will be 33 years old. If he is willing to take a short-term deal, the Flames should re-sign him as soon as possible.
Michael Stone is in his fourth season with the Calgary Flames, and although there have been some good moments, it certainly hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the 29-year-old defenceman. The 2018-19 season was extremely tough for Stone, who was diagnosed with a blood clot on Nov. 2, 2018. He only appeared in 14 games as a result. He was cleared to play near the end of the season and deemed healthy to play in the playoffs, but remained out as a healthy scratch.
This summer saw the Flames buy out the final year of Stone’s three-year contract which paid him $3.5 million annually, but then in a very uncommon move, they brought him back on a one-year, $700,000 deal.
He has been used very sparingly this season, appearing in just 33 out of the team’s 70 games. When he has been able to draw into the lineup, his ice time has been limited as he is averaging just over 16 minutes per game. This was a fine depth signing for one year, but the Flames will more than likely move on from Stone after this season.
One of the two players the Flames brought in was Erik Gustafsson from the Chicago Blackhawks. There was some excitement when this deal was made as he had a monster 2018-19 season, posting a career-high 17 goals and 60 points. Things haven’t gone the same way this season, as he struggled with the Blackhawks and even sat as a healthy scratch.
Before the NHL pause, he had recorded three points in seven games with his new team. Unfortunately for both him and the Flames, he wasn’t around long enough to give management much of an impression one way or another. From the team’s perspective, however, it doesn’t make much sense to re-sign him.
Teams around the league are always looking for offensive defencemen, and it is likely one will offer Gustafsson a high salary number hoping he can repeat last season’s success. Given that he is already 28 years old and had never had 30 points prior to his breakout campaign, the Flames would be better off to let him go.
The other player the Flames acquired at this year’s trade deadline was Derek Forbort. The 6-foot-4 defenceman was brought in from the Los Angeles Kings to provide the team with more size as they were looking to go on a playoff run this spring.
Much like Gustafsson, Forbort wasn’t able to make much of an impression one way or the other due to the NHL pause. Regardless, over his 275-game NHL career he has been nothing more than a third-pairing defenceman, and at the age of 28 isn’t likely to improve much more. Unless the Flames are able to get him on a contract much cheaper than his current $2.5 million salary, it doesn’t make sense to bring him back.
One positive for Tobias Rieder is that his first season with the Flames has gone much better than his first with the Edmonton Oilers. The German forward wasn’t able to score a goal all season for the Oilers during the 2018-19 season, and was called out by the teams CEO Bob Nicholson as a result. (from ‘JONES: Nicholson calls out Tobias Rieder and Edmonton Oilers win,’ Edmonton Sun, 03/22/2019)
With Rieder’s NHL future very much up in the air, the Flames offered him a professional tryout (PTO) on Sept. 4. He made the most of his opportunity, as he was able to secure a one-year, $700,000 contract less than a month later. He has appeared in just 55 games this season, as he has found himself healthy scratched on numerous occasions. When he does play, he usually finds himself on the fourth line playing low minutes. As a result, he has contributed little to the scoresheet with just 4 goals and 10 points on the season.
Rieder’s best attribute he has brought to the Flames is his superior penalty killing. When in the lineup, he averages 1:36 on the penalty kill, and has been a big reason they had the eighth-best penalty kill in the entire league.
Although his penalty killing has been helpful, he has provided little to no offense on a team that has struggled at times to score this season. There is no reason to bring him back.
Much like Rieder, Zac Rinaldo also received a one-year, $700,000 deal from the Flames after attending camp on a PTO. He started the season in the AHL with the Stockton Heat, but has since been called up and has played in 19 games with the Flames.
The Flames went into this offseason wanting to add more toughness to their roster, as many felt they were being pushed around in the playoffs. Rinaldo certainly fits that bill, as he has become a fairly well-known enforcer over the years. His 5 points in 19 games this season doesn’t seem like much, but over a full 82 games would have him on pace to shatter his career-high nine points set in 2011-12.
This is meant as no disrespect to Rinaldo. He plays with a physical edge and has been valuable for teams over the course of his 370-game career. However, with the enforcer role going away more and more each season, it takes away much of his value. The Flames would be better off looking elsewhere for forward depth for next season.
Restricted Free Agents
It was a strange offseason for Andrew Mangiapane, as the Flames forward held out until Sept. 15. This was an odd situation given that he had only played in 54 career regular-season games, and had only managed 13 points in 44 games last season.
Mangiapane ended up settling on a one-year, $715,000 deal, and has made the most of it. The 23-year-old was up to 17 goals and 32 points in 68 games prior to the NHL pause. The Flames will certainly keep him around for next season, and he can expect to see a significant pay raise.
It was a nightmare beginning of the season for Mark Jankowski, who found himself in the worst scoring drought of his career. (from ‘Flames struggle to find offence in loss to Senators,’ Calgary Sun, 01/18/2020) It took the former first-round pick 39 games to score his first goal. He has picked it up somewhat since, but still has just 7 points through 56 games.
If the Flames were to make a qualifying offer to Jankowski, it would be $1.75 million. That seems like a very high amount for a player who is putting up the numbers he has this season. They should move on from him.
It has been a disappointing season for Flames defenceman Oliver Kylington. The 2015 second-round pick has been healthy scratched multiple times this season, and has just two goals and five assists through 48 games. When he has dressed, he has been very sheltered, averaging under 14 minutes per game this season.
One thing to remember with Kylington is that he is just 22 years old. Though he has not yet produced in the NHL, the young Swede has proven he has the talent to be an offensive defenceman. In 18 AHL games last season, he put up 7 goals and 14 points. Considering the Flames may be losing multiple defencemen this offseason, they should strongly consider bringing him back on a cheap deal and seeing if he can have a breakout season. Even if he is not able to turn into the player many thought he would, he can still be a depth option for them next season.
Former Jr. A player turned writer. Cover both the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers, and am part of both the Flames Faceoff and Oilers Overtime podcasts.