Heading into the 2020-21 season, most would have expected the Calgary Flames to be buyers by the time the trade deadline arrived, including general manager Brad Treliving. As we now know, however, this season has gone horribly for the Flames, and they were instead forced to be sellers, shipping both David Rittich and Sam Bennett out of town in exchange for picks and a prospect.
While they were sellers, they still have plenty of pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs) they didn’t move. One of the main reasons for this is the flat cap this season, which resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the flat cap, many teams struggled to add players at this season’s deadline as it was hard to do so and stay cap compliant.
As of now, the Flames have nine players who are set to become UFAs at season’s end. Today, we will review them all and discuss what the odds are that they are back in Calgary for the 2021-22 campaign.
Every team in the league has a need for a fourth-line player who is good on draws and can kill penalties. That is exactly what Ryan would give them, and it’s why he has as good a chance as any on this list to be back in Calgary next season. This all depends on where the organization sees players like Matthew Phillips, Adam Ruzicka, and possibly even Glenn Gadwin fitting in next season. But they would likely want those players getting more than fourth-line minutes anyway, meaning a Ryan return still makes plenty of sense.
Like mentioned before, Ryan gives the Flames good penalty killing and is very good on faceoffs. He would also have a cap hit much lower than his current $3.125 million, so he would easily be affordable for the Flames, who will have plenty of cap space this summer.
Through his first two seasons in Calgary, Ryan was a player who could be trusted centering the third line when called upon, as he was always able to provide solid secondary offense. This season, however, his scoring has vanished completely. In 34 games, he has just two goals and nine points. While it is likely more of an off-year than anything else, it is somewhat concerning given that he is 34 years old.
Personally, I still have plenty of time for Ryan, and while an extension isn’t crucial, he is a familiar face to both the coaching staff and players. Given his age, however, it would have to be a one-year deal at a low cap hit. If he is wanting more, the Flames would be wise to let him walk.
Josh Leivo was one of many that Treliving brought in on a cheap contract this season as he looked to fill out his roster with some depth options. The Leivo signing excited many Flames fans, as his inexpensive contract appeared to be related to injury history rather than a result of poor play and felt like it had the potential to be a bargain for them. Instead, he has struggled immensely, scoring just five goals and seven points through 36 games.
A pro to bringing Leivo back into the fold is that his contract would almost certainly be a league-minimum deal, which would be even cheaper than his current $875,000 cap hit. Another is that for a player who’s had problems staying healthy throughout his career, he has been able to avoid injury so far this season and will be less of a question mark in that regard heading into the 2021-22 season.
The obvious con here is that Leivo hasn’t moved the needle at all for the Flames’ bottom six. In fact, he has been more of a liability than anything else. Given that he doesn’t kill penalties, he needs to provide secondary scoring to be effective and has not done that this season.
In Leivo’s defence, he has been hindered by some bad luck in terms of shooting percentage this year, so a bounce-back season is certainly a possibility moving forward. However, given his struggles as well as the team’s, it would be wise for the Flames to let him walk. The chance of an extension here is next to zero.
Though he has been on the taxi squad for the majority of the 2020-21 season, Buddy Robinson has been able to suit up for five games with the Flames this season. Unfortunately for him, he hasn’t been trusted much at all by the coaching staff, averaging under seven minutes of ice time in those five contests.
In a normal year, Robinson would likely be in the AHL, but regardless, he provides the Flames with depth and is a player they can call up and have fill in for a few games. He also gives them tremendous size at 6-foot-6, 232 pounds, and isn’t shy to drop the gloves.
Outside of his physicality, Robinson doesn’t provide much to an NHL roster. At 29 years old, he has played in just 17 career NHL games for that exact reason. He would be a downgrade to their current bottom-six unit, one that already needs improving as is.
If the Flames re-sign Robinson, it would be to play in the AHL and perhaps get in a game or two with the big club. He certainly shouldn’t be high on their priority list, and he may search for another team this offseason in hopes of finding a bigger role. An extension here isn’t impossible by any stretch, but it doesn’t seem all that likely either.
After signing a professional tryout offer (PTO) heading into the Flames training camp earlier this season, Brett Ritchie was able to secure a one-year deal. Though it took him some time to get into the lineup once the season began, he has since gotten regular looks in the top six and appears to have made an impression on head coach Darryl Sutter.
As mentioned above, the coaching staff seems to like him as a player, as he has gotten multiple looks in the top six this season. He would likely sign another deal at league minimum or just slightly above, making him extremely affordable. Like Robinson, Ritchie isn’t afraid to stick up for his teammates and drop the gloves, which helps add to his value.
Despite his opportunities to play with skilled players this season, Ritchie has just three goals and five points in 23 games. Outside of a 16-goal 2016-17 season with the Dallas Stars, he has never been able to provide offence at the NHL level. The Flames as a whole have struggled to score this season, ranking 22nd in the league with just 126 goals, and Ritchie certainly hasn’t helped in that regard.
Outside of Ryan, Ritchie may very well have the best chance of any player on this list to sign an extension. Despite the limited offence, it is clear he has a fan in Sutter, who is known to love players who compete as Ritchie does night in and night out.
Another cheap signing Treliving made to shore up his bottom-six was Joakim Nordstrom, who inked a one-year, $700,000 deal with the Flames. Though he wasn’t expected to bring much offence, the hope was he would help out a pretty good penalty kill from the season prior that lost Tobias Rieder and Mark Jankowski. Unfortunately, the penalty kill has gotten slightly worse, while Nordstrom has just one goal and four points on the season.
As mentioned above, Nordstrom is able to kill penalties, which is always valuable to a team. He was also expected to provide a physical presence for the Flames and has done just that, averaging 10.91 hits per 60.
The lack of offence from Nordstrom makes him very hard to throw on the ice at 5-on-5, as he provides almost no impact aside from his physicality. While the penalty killing is a good asset, there are many other players who would be able to fill that role.
There is no chance the Flames will bring Nordstrom back into the fold for next season. They have many other players who can take over his role on the penalty kill, and they’ll hope whoever that is will also be able to put up more points. This signing was a bust for Treliving, and it’s fair to say this may be the last we see from Nordstrom in the NHL.
It was quite a surprise this past January when the Flames announced they had agreed to a PTO with defenceman Michael Stone. While he was quite familiar with the team, having been with them for multiple seasons already, he was healthy scratched more often than not during the 2019-20 campaign, appearing in just 33 games. Despite that, they chose to sign him to a one-year deal, and while he has spent most of the year on the taxi squad, he has been able to draw in the lineup on 12 separate occasions.
Through Stone’s entire time with the Flames, especially these past few seasons, he has been a consummate professional and has not complained at all about his lack of game action. It is clear he is on the back nine of his career and could be signed to a league-minimum deal if management wishes to do so.
While he hasn’t looked bad when called upon, the fact he has played so little in the last two seasons makes you question what he will be able to provide going forward, especially now that he is on the wrong side of 30. The other problem here is that while he has looked okay so far this season, foot speed has been a problem for him in the past, which is a big issue in a league that is continuing to get faster.
An extension here isn’t necessarily out of the question, though he would once again be used in a limited role. Perhaps Stone will choose to look elsewhere for more of an opportunity, though it remains to be seen if he’d receive much if any interest. Given his reliable play when called upon this season, he isn’t the worst depth option to consider bringing back on a cheap one-year deal.
Treliving and the Flames made an intriguing move this offseason when they signed defenceman Nikita Nesterov to a one-year deal. The 28-year-old had spent the last three seasons in the KHL after brief NHL stints with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens. Though it didn’t work out the first time for him, he had reportedly made major improvements and was garnering interest from multiple NHL teams.
Nesterov has been able to step in and play on the third pairing for the majority of the season, appearing in 31 of their 47 games. This has allowed prospects such as Connor Mackey to remain in the AHL and continue developing.
While there was some optimism regarding this signing, Nesterov has often struggled this season despite playing limited minutes on the third pairing. As a result of his struggles, he has been healthy scratched on numerous occasions this season, particularly of late. His coaching staff does not seem to have much confidence in him.
Nesterov sits in a category with Nordstrom when it comes to his chances of an extension, meaning that there will not be one. Treliving made a reasonable bet here that unfortunately didn’t work out. Perhaps the Russian defenceman will garner some interest from other NHL teams this offseason, but the Flames won’t be one of them.
While he hasn’t yet played in a game for the Flames this season, Louis Domingue is currently the team’s backup goaltender since David Rittich was dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Flames signed the 29-year-old to be their third goalie, and he has done just that, spending most of the season on the taxi squad aside from three AHL starts with the Stockton Heat.
Though Domingue hasn’t had great success at the NHL level throughout his career, he is a great third option for a team in case either of their main two goalies were to get injured. He has proven that he can provide adequate goaltending in short stints throughout his 139-game career.
Like mentioned above, his numbers at the NHL level are not very impressive. To this point in his NHL career, he has a 3.06 goals against average along with a .904 save percentage. While he provides nice depth as a third-stringer, he hasn’t shown anything to suggest he is a regular NHL goaltender.
With the Flames having young guys in the system like Dustin Wolf and Tyler Parsons, it doesn’t make much sense to bring Domingue back, as he would just be taking away playing time from their young prospects. This deal made a ton of sense for this season with the taxi squad situation, but there isn’t much of a fit going forward. The Flames would be wise to part ways with Domingue and search for another goalie this offseason to back up Jacob Markstrom.
Despite being used quite sparingly in the 2019-20 season, the Flames chose to re-sign Zac Rinaldo to a one-year deal this past October. He has been a great option to have on the taxi squad as at 30 years old, not playing in games isn’t stalling any development. While he has been on the taxi squad for the majority of the season, he has been able to suit up for four games.
Though he only measures at 5-foot-10, Rinaldo is one of the toughest players in the NHL and has no problem dropping the gloves. When inserted into the lineup, he provides great energy and is a pest for opposing teams to play against, given how much he throws his body around.
While his effort and ability to stick up for teammates is admirable, there isn’t a whole lot of skill in Rinaldo’s game. In 374 career games, he has just 18 goals and 42 points. The role of the enforcer is one that is nearly extinct from the NHL, and while he is able to provide some value, he can also be a liability at times, which is why he has struggled in recent seasons to secure a regular spot in the lineup.
Re-signing Rinaldo this past offseason likely had more to do with Treliving wanting to add as much depth as possible given the uncertainties of this season. It was a smart move given the taxi squad situation, but it probably wouldn’t have happened in a normal year. While another extension here isn’t impossible, it would likely result in him spending most of his time in the AHL.
No Game Breakers
The nice thing for Treliving and the Flames this offseason is that while they do have multiple players set to become UFAs, none are of high value. They can replace all of the players on this list with other options in free agency this summer. While it wouldn’t be surprising to see a few return, most of these players will not be back in Calgary for the 2021-22 season.
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.