As we drag through the dog days of summer, Calgary Flames fans are becoming increasingly more frustrated with the direction of this team. It is hard to blame them, given the fact that after years of disappointment, including missing the playoffs entirely in the 2020-21 season, general manager Brad Treliving seems unwilling to make any significant changes to his roster.
Shaking up the core of the team has been a major critique of Treliving for a few years now. However, one area where he has not received much flack during his tenure with the Flames is his cap management. He has been able to sign many great deals over the years, such as Elias Lindholm’s six-year, $29.1 million deal, and Johnny Gaudreau’s six-year, $40.5 million deal. Despite his recent struggles, even Sean Monahan’s seven-year, $44.63 million deal was considered a bargain for a number of seasons.
Assuming the roster remains the same, the Flames will need players to outperform their contracts like the ones above have done in years past. There are players on this roster that are capable of doing so, and ones that I believe could very well turn out to be the best value contracts for the team this season.
The player on this Flames roster who stands the best chance to be the best value contract is without a doubt Andrew Mangiapane. The 25-year-old has played at a level that far exceeds his cap hit – which is currently $2.43 million – over the past two seasons, and there is no reason to expect that to change. His 18 goals last season fell just one shy of both Gaudreau and Lindholm for the team lead, while his 32 points was tied four fourth on the roster.
The confidence that Mangiapane built last season will be great for both him and the Flames moving forward, but perhaps even more important was his showing at the 2021 IIHF World Championship, where he not only helped Team Canada to a Gold Medal, but was voted MVP of the entire event after scoring seven goals and 11 points in seven games.
Given that he is continuously improving, paired with the fact he will get a full 82-game scheduled season this year, he should have no problem setting new career highs in both goals and points. It wouldn’t surprise Flames fans at all if he is able to score north of 25 goals and hit the 50-point marker this season, making him an incredible value contract.
I know what you’re thinking. Dillon Dubé does not have a contract in place right now, so how can he be a possibility for one of the teams best value contracts this season? Technically, that is true, as the 23-year-old is one of many restricted free agents (RFAs) the Flames need to get signed before the start of the 2021-22 season.
The good news here is that it sounds like a Dubé deal is very close to being completed, and may be completed by the end of this week. (from ‘Hailey Salvian: What I’m hearing about Dillon Dube, Nikita Zadorov and the Flames’ RFA negotiations’ ,The Athletic — 08/18/21). Of course, we don’t know exactly what he will sign for, but contract comparisons throughout the league suggest he will likely get a two-year deal that carries a cap hit of roughly $2 million. If that is the case, he certainly has the potential to outperform that deal, it’s just a matter of putting all together.
In 2020-21, which was Dubé’s first full season in the NHL, he was never able to get in a rhythm and found himself watching numerous games from the press box courtesy of head coach Darryl Sutter. Even still, he managed 11 goals and 22 points in 51 games, which aren’t terrible totals for a player who was just 22-years-old at the time. He has proven both in junior hockey and the American Hockey League (AHL) that he is very talented, and the hope now is that he can bring that talent the NHL level. He could be in store for a breakout 2021-22 campaign.
Heading into the 2020-21 season, I wrote an article suggesting the Chris Tanev signing was extremely risky and may not work out in the Flames favor due to his well known injury troubles over the years, and boy did he prove me wrong. Many would agree that he was the most consistent player night in and night out on this squad, and was able to play a solid shutdown defensive game.
Not only was his play well on a personal note, but it helped others around him. Noah Hanifin, who has always had high end talent but had struggled with consistency prior to this past season, was much improved in 2020-21 and that had a ton to do with being paired with Tanev.
He won’t provide much offensively, proven by his two goals and 12 points last season, but what he was able to do on the defensive side of the puck as well as on the penalty kill made his $4 million cap hit seem like a bargain. If he is able to play that well again in 2021-22, the Flames blueline should be in good hands.
While it was a great season for Tanev, the same cannot be said for Juuso Välimäki. The Flames first-round pick (16 overall) in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft has had fans excited for quite some time, and that excitement was increased even more so when he began the 2020-21 campaign in the SM-liiga and lit it up with 19 points in 19 games.
By the time the NHL season got underway last year, many Flames fans were expecting Välimäki to quickly earn a top four role and come a key piece of the teams blueline. Instead he often struggled and like Dubé was relegated to the press box on multiple occasions late in the season.
The good news here is that he was able to remain healthy after missing the entire 2019-20 season due to an ACL injury. He is still very young and has a ton of potential, meaning he could turn the corner real quickly. He too is one of multiple RFAs the Flames still have to sign before camp, but his agent doesn’t have a ton of negotiating room here based on how the last two years went for him. He will likely sign a short-term deal with an average annual value near $1.5 million, which is a deal he both can and should outperform in a big way.
When the Flames announced on opening day of free agency that they had acquired Dan Vladar from the Boston Bruins, many fans had to go to google to see who he was. The reasoning behind that is that the 23-year-old Czech netminder only has five games of NHL experience under his belt to this point. With that said, he looks like he could be a very good acquisition.
While Treliving may still be planning to grab another goaltender before camp, Vladar is currently the favorite to be the backup to Jacob Markstrom this upcoming season. It is certainly a risky move if it does indeed happen, but it could pay off brilliantly. Vladar has proven the past two seasons at the AHL level just how talented he is, including a 2019-20 campaign that saw him post a 1.79 goals against average along with a .936 save percentage in 25 games.
Whether or not Vladar is able to translate his AHL success into the NHL remains to be seen, but if he can, then he will massively outperform his cap hit of just $750,000. He won’t get a ton of games in with Markstrom leading the charge, but if he can give the team even average goaltending in the starts he doe get, then he will be a great value contract given his very cheap salary.
Treliving Relying on Mentioned Players
It feels like this has been said for a couple of years now, but there is zero doubt that this is a make or break it season for the Flames. If they want to get back into the postseason, they will need their top players such as Gaudreau, Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk to perform like they can, but they will also be relying on the players listed above to step their games up.
In my personal opinion, it is possible that guys like Välimäki, Dubé, and Vladar have solid seasons. If that is the case, the Flames have a chance to be a good if not great team once again. However, if that doesn’t happen, Brad Treliving will likely be looking for a new job. He is counting on the players listed above to be great value contracts more than anyone.
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.