The 2021-22 season has been a rejuvenation for the Calgary Flames, who currently own a 16-7-6 record. The improvement from a season prior comes not so much from changes that general manager Brad Treliving made this summer but returning players stepping up their individual performances. With that being said, there were still changes that Treliving made this offseason, and he will be forced to do the same this coming summer, given the fact that they have eight pending unrestricted free agents. Here is a look at three that are nearly guaranteed not to return next season.
Treliving surprised many this September when he chose to sign defenseman Erik Gudbranson to a one-year, $1.95 million deal. Many expected younger players such as Juuso Valimaki, Oliver Kylington, and Connor Mackey to get an opportunity in 2021-22, but this signing, along with the signing of Michael Stone, seemed to suggest otherwise.
As we now know, both Valimaki and Kylington were able to stick with the big club out of camp, while Mackey was reassigned to the American Hockey League (AHL). Gudbranson, meanwhile, who was given a rather lucrative contract considering how long he had to wait for a deal, has been a regular on the Flames bottom pairing.
While he started quite well this season, his play has regressed to the point that he has at times become a liability. This shouldn’t come as a major surprise to anyone, given that the Flames are his sixth team in the past three seasons. This experiment has gone how most expected, and unless there is an improvement for the majority of the 2021-22 campaign, this will be Gudbranson’s one and only season in Calgary.
The other defenceman who has mainly played on the Flames’ third pairing is Nikita Zadorov, who was acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks this summer. Throughout his career, the 26-year-old has been known to be a physical presence but one who can often get caught out of position defensively. On top of that, his foot speed can be an issue, and he has little to no offensive presence at the NHL level.
Everything that Zadorov came as advertised, he has been for the Flames. He hasn’t been shy about throwing the body, which at times can provide a momentum boost for his team but at other times has him well out of position, which has resulted in far too many scoring chances against. He won’t be back next season.
One major issue the Flames had last year was that they brought in several players on one-year deals to fill out their third and fourth lines, and almost none worked out as planned. The same could be said for this season, as forwards like Brad Richardson and Trevor Lewis, who received one-year deals from Treliving this summer, haven’t moved the needle a ton. However, the most disappointing of the bunch to this point has been Tyler Pitlick, who wasn’t signed to a one-year deal but was instead acquired in a trade from the Seattle Kraken with just one-year remaining on his contract.
Last season, the players on one-year deals who played in the bottom six for the Flames weren’t overly capable of scoring or providing physicality. Many thought Pitlick would help in that regard, as he has been regarded as a highly energetic player who isn’t shy to throw his body around throughout his career.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Pitlick has struggled to make much if any impact, as proven by the fact that he has just two assists through 24 games this season. Unless things change in a major way for the 30-year-old for the remainder of 2021-22, there is no chance he will be back in Calgary next season.
Not All Free Agents Will Be Gone
While this article goes over players who the Flames won’t likely want back next season, they have several pending free agents they both want and will need to do their best to bring back into the fold. The first is Johnny Gaudreau, who is having one of his best seasons to date with 37 points in 31 games. The others the Flames will have a bit more control over as they are all set to be restricted free agents but are extremely important nonetheless in Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane, and Kylington. It certainly won’t be easy, but if Treliving can get all four signed and replace the three above with more competent pieces, this Flames team could be even better in 2022-23.
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.