To say day one of NHL free agency on Wednesday was busy would be an understatement. If you blinked, you likely missed multiple moves and may take a while to realize which players will be on which teams next year, as many will be wearing different uniforms. There were a few blockbusters and surprises, such as Dougie Hamilton signing a massive seven-year, $63 million deal with the New Jersey Devils, as well as Philipp Grubauer inking a six-year, $35.5 million deal with the Seattle Kraken.
While the Calgary Flames weren’t able to add a player of that caliber to their lineup, they did make some moves that will improve the team moving forward. It is clear through both the signings and trades that they made yesterday that they have no plans of retooling and will try and make it work with this core, or at least the majority of it, once again. Here is a look at the moves they made on the opening day of free agency.
The first signing of the day for the Flames was their biggest, as they brought in two-time Stanley Cup winner Blake Coleman on a six-year, $29.4 million deal with an average annual value (AAV) of $4.9 million. The 29-year-old was originally drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the third round (75th overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. He played parts of four seasons with them before being dealt with the Tampa Bay Lightning at the 2020 trade deadline, helping them win back-to-back Cups.
This past season saw Coleman in the midst of what would have likely been a career year, as he had 14 goals and 31 points in 55 games. Those numbers – the point total in particular – fell just shy of his best season in 2018-19, where he scored 22 goals and 36 points. In his career to this point, he has skated in 301 career regular-season games, posting 71 goals and 126 points, while also playing in 53 playoff contests and putting up 10 goals and 26 points.
At first glance, this may appear to be a bit of an overpay given the fact he hasn’t cracked the 40-point mark in his career. However, his numbers suggest he is still improving as a player, and he helps in many other categories. One of his biggest assets is his speed, which will make him a great fit in the Flames’ top six on the left side, and he is also a very good penalty killer. That, along with the fact that he has scored north of 20 goals twice in his career and likely would have again this past season makes his $4.9 AAV make plenty of sense. Coleman, who had interest from many other teams, is a solid signing by the Flames.
The second signing of the day came when the Flames announced they were bringing in forward Trevor Lewis. This deal isn’t nearly as exciting as Coleman’s, proven by both the term of one year as well as the dollar figure of $800,000. While this deal isn’t a blockbuster by any means, it had to be done as general manager Brad Treliving needed to fill out his bottom-six after many players in it last year, such as Josh Leivo and Joakim Nordstrom that did not pan out.
The 34-year-old Lewis, similar to Coleman, is a two-time Stanley Cup Champion, both of which came with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014. Adding this championship pedigree to a Flames lineup that has had playoff struggles in years past is a wise decision by Treliving. On top of his Cup wins, Lewis also brings a much-needed veteran presence to the dressing room, as he has played in 730 career games and north of 800 if you include the playoffs.
This past season Lewis played in 56 games with the Winnipeg Jets, which marked the first season of his career that he didn’t spend with the Kings. In those 56 games, he tallied five goals and 10 points and also played a significant role on the penalty kill, averaging nearly two minutes of ice time per game when down a man.
Adam Werner, Kevin Gravel, Nick DeSimone
The final three signings of the day for the Flames were depth moves in goaltender Adam Werner along with defencemen Kevin Gravel and Nick DeSimone. Werner is 24-years-old and has spent most of his North American pro career in the AHL, though he did appear in two NHL games in the 2019-20 season. In 2020-21 he played eleven games with the Colorado Eagles, compiling a 2.55 goals-against average (GAA) along with a .908 save percentage (SV%).
Gravel, 29, is a player most likely haven’t heard of but has 109 career NHL games to his name. He appeared in a career-high 49 games with the Kings in 2016-17 and also had stints with the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs. He spent the 2020-21 season with the Bakersfield Condors, where in 37 games, he managed a goal and eight points.
DeSimone, 24, is a 26-year-old defenceman who is capable of putting up solid totals from the back end, proven by his 2018-19 season with the San Jose Barracuda of the AHL, in which he had 14 goals and 46 points in 65 games. This past season, he suited up for eight games with the Barracuda and had six points. He’s expected to play for the Stockton Heat in 2021-22.
One of the first moves by any team on free agency day was made by the Flames as they acquired defenceman Nikita Zadorov from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a third-round pick at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. The 26-year-old comes to Calgary having played in 411 career games, registering 23 goals and 83 points.
The former first-round pick Zadorov is known most for is his punishing open-ice hits, which he has done a good job of keeping clean for the most part. He is a capable defenceman, averaging over 19 minutes of ice time per game for the Blackhawks this past season. Though there is no denying he isn’t as good of a player, he should help a Flames blueline that just lost their captain in Mark Giordano this past week to the Seattle Kraken.
The one thing to watch for now regarding Zadorov is an extension, as he is currently a restricted free agent coming off of a one-year deal that carried a cap hit of $3.2 million. This deal will likely get done soon and his AAV will likely be very similar to his last.
The second trade of the day came in a deal made with the Boston Bruins that has goaltender Dan Vladar coming to Calgary in exchange for another 2022 third-round pick. While this deal hasn’t generated much chatter, it is one that Flames fans should be quite excited about, given how solid of a prospect the 23-year-old netminder appears to be.
Vladar has been playing professional hockey, mainly in the AHL, since 2016-17. While it took some time, he really arrived during the 2019-20 season in which he posted an incredible 1.79 GAA along with a .936 SV% in 25 games with the Providence Bruins. He started the 2020-21 campaign in the Czech league and continued to dominate with a 1.29 GAA paired with a .955 SV% in six starts.
This past season also saw Vladar make his NHL debut with the Bruins, where in five games, he posted a 3.40 GAA and a .886 SV%. Those numbers are certainly underwhelming given what he had done in both the AHL and Czech league, but it is an extremely small sample size and he is still quite young for a netminder. It will be interesting to see where the Flames see him fitting in this next season, as they are without a backup goaltender at this point. Regardless of where he plays, he is a very solid goalie prospect for them and still has two years remaining on his contract with an AAV of just $750,000.
Flames Moving On
While that was all of the players brought in by the Flames on the opening day of free agency, there were also some players from this team’s 2020-21 roster that found new homes. The first to sign a deal was Leivo, who inked a one-year deal with the Carolina Hurricanes with an AAV of $750,000, a deal very similar to what he signed for in Calgary last offseason.
When the Flames brought in Leivo, it seemed like a very positive signing given that he was coming off of two pretty impressive seasons as a depth scorer with the Vancouver Canucks. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out for him in Calgary as he struggled from the get-go and ended his season with just six goals and nine points in 38 contests. If he cannot pick things up with the Canes, this could very well be his last season as an NHLer.
Though the Leivo deal certainly didn’t work out the way the Flames had planned last offseason, it was still miles better than Dominik Simon’s signing. When the Flames brought Simon in last year, it wasn’t a move that got much discussion, and rightfully so. Despite getting numerous opportunities in the top six with the offensively gifted Pittsburgh Penguins in seasons prior, he could not do much of anything, failing to reach the 30-point marker.
As it turned out, a change of scenery was not what Simon needed. He struggled early in the season and was healthy scratched on several occasions before being placed on the taxi squad. By the time the 2020-21 campaign ended, he failed to record a single point in 11 games. He will head back to Pittsburgh on a one-year, $750,000 deal and try to earn a spot in their lineup out of training camp, though it is a two-way deal, so whether he can crack the roster or not remains to be seen.
Though he didn’t appear on the Flames roster at any point last season, the Flames brought in Garret Sparks during the 2020 offseason for goaltending depth. He suited up for 16 games with the Stockton Heat, registering a 2.69 GAA and a .913 SV%. He also played six games in the ECHL for the Orlando Solar Bears, where he had a 2.21 GAA and a .928 SV%.
Sparks, who appeared in a career-high 20 NHL games with the Maple Leafs in 2018-19, is headed to the Kings on a one-year deal worth $750,000. Given that the Kings have both Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen in the lineup, we likely see Sparks in the AHL once again, though crazier things have happened.
The final player to find a new home who finished the 2020-21 season as a Flame is Derek Ryan. The 34-year-old agreed to a two-year, $2.5 million deal with the provincial rival Edmonton Oilers. The deal will carry an AAV of $1.25 million, a solid contract for a team that has been looking to add a third line center to the mix.
While Ryan struggled last season with just two goals and 13 points in 43 games, he scored 10 or more goals in four straight years from 2016-2020. On top of that, he is sound defensively and can also play on the penalty kill, something the Oilers will need after choosing not to re-sign Jujhar Khaira.
Far From Finished
There were certainly some notable additions made to this team yesterday, with Coleman being the frontrunner, but make no mistake; Treliving is far from being done. If the Coleman signing is the biggest move he makes this offseason, his job could be in serious jeopardy as he will certainly be gone if they miss the playoffs again in 2021-22. In fact, he will likely be on the hot seat if this team isn’t able to go on a bit of a run in the 2022 playoffs. This is a huge summer for the Flames and one that should be very interesting to watch from an outside perspective.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.