NHL free agency is set to begin on Wednesday, and the Calgary Flames are facing a ton of questions. After a very successful 2021-22 regular season, how the team will perform on 2022-23 is solely based on what happens in the coming days. With Johnny Gaudreau still unsigned, it feels less and less likely that he is back wearing the flaming “C” come the fall.
If Gaudreau is to move on, Flames general manager Brad Treliving will be forced to make some difficult decisions. While a roster retool or perhaps even somewhat of a rebuild could be considered, it is likely that he looks to instead replace the 28-year-old with one, or several, solid free agents in hopes of being a Stanley Cup contender once again this coming year. With all that said, here are some pending free agent forwards that are worth considering for Treliving.
After a very turbulent start to the 2021-22 season, which began in the American Hockey League with the San Jose Barracuda, Evander Kane latched on with the Edmonton Oilers in January and had a half season to remember. The 30-year-old potted 22 goals and 39 points in just 43 games, and had an even more remarkable 13 goals and 17 points in 15 playoff outings.
In large part due to signing with the Oilers, Flames fans quickly grew a disdain for Kane, and weren’t shy to take shots at several of his past off-ice issues. That said, many would quickly change their tune if Treliving were to sign the talented left winger, one who is more than capable of scoring north of 30 goals while also being a very physical presence.
As mentioned, there have been off-ice issues in the past, but it seems the previously troubled Kane was able to clean his act up, to the point where many Oilers vouched to have him back for the 2022-23 season. However, it doesn’t appear that is likely to happen anymore, and as a result the Flames have been one of the teams rumored to be interested in his services. There is some risk here due to his previous off-ice history, but on ice he is undoubtedly one of the game’s best power forwards.
Another forward who has been linked to the Flames recently is Nazem Kadri. The 31-year-old’s stock is as high as it’s ever been after not only recording a career-high 87 points in 71 games, but winning his first ever Stanley Cup as a member of the Colorado Avalanche.
It is worth mentioning that this isn’t the first time the Flames have had interest in Kadri, as they had a deal in place for him during the 2019 offseason, though he went on to veto it with his no-trade clause. At this point, however, he will likely be interested in cashing in after not only winning a Cup but also coming off of a bargain contract, meaning he may very well consider any team willing to pay him top dollar.
One thing Treliving needs to be careful about in regards to Kadri is that he doesn’t pay him the $10 million that some believe he may get on the open market. While no doubt a great player, the 2021-22 season saw him post numbers well above his career averages, meaning somewhat of a regression is likely. That said, if they are able to get the dollar amount somewhere closer to the $8 million range, he is very much a player worth considering.
Ondrej Palat is not nearly as much of a household name as Kane or Kadri, but make no mistake, he is a terrific hockey player. After helping the Tampa Bay Lightning win back-to-back Stanley Cups and coming oh so close again this past season, the 31-year-old appears to be headed to the free agent market due to the Bolts’ tricky salary cap situation.
Due in large part to their stacked roster, Palat has often been overlooked when it comes to some of the Lightning’s top players in recent years, despite being just that. Not only can he be counted on for 50-plus points in a full 82-game season, but he is also fantastic in his own end of the ice. As far as complete players go, there are few who are as solid available in free agency this year.
Perhaps even better is that Palat not only brings winning experience, but is a proven playoff performer. Through the last three years, he has appeared in 71 postseason games, registering 27 goals and 52 points. He also isn’t expected to command as big of dollar value as the two mentioned above, meaning Treliving could sign him along with another solid free agent or two if he sees fit.
Another intriguing free agent who also plays on the left wing is David Perron. The 34-year-old has been extremely underrated in past seasons despite putting up some of the better offensive totals around the league. In fact, over the past five seasons, he is tied for 43rd amongst all NHLers with 287 points. For comparison’s sake, Elias Lindholm sits 38th during that same span with 305 points, but has played in 49 more games.
While he is getting up there in age at 34, he showed no signs of slowing down this past season with 27 goals and 57 points in 67 outings. He turned it up even more in the playoffs with nine goals and 13 points in just 12 contests.
On top of his great offensive abilities, Perron also has some similarities to Matthew Tkachuk in that he is able to agitate his opponents each and every shift. While he isn’t a dirty player, he does play with a rat-like mentality that tends to drive opposing teams crazy.
While by no means a proven player like the ones above, Dylan Strome is a very intriguing name available as a free agent due to his very high skill set. The now 25-year-old was taken third overall in the 2015 Draft and at the time was viewed as a can’t-miss prospect who was sure to put up massive offensive numbers at the NHL level. Unfortunately, that hasn’t quite been the case to this point in his career.
While some of the onus certainly falls on himself, he hasn’t been given a ton of opportunity to prove what he can do. When given that opportunity, he has seemed to excel, however. Back in 2018-19, after being acquired by the Chicago Blackhawks, he went on to record 17 goals and 51 points in just 58 games. Since that season, his role regressed for unknown reasons resulting in a drop in numbers, though he did play reasonably well this past season with 22 goals and 48 points in 69 contests.
Due to the uncertainty still surrounding his game, he likely wont cost a ton for the Flames if they look to pursue him. At just 25 years old, there is still a chance he turns into the player many believed he would be back on his draft day, making the risk/reward very worth it for any interested team.
Re-Signing Gaudreau Not Impossible but Unlikely
While many Flames fans are still hopeful, it doesn’t seem very promising at this point that Gaudreau will be back. He has had plenty of time now to ponder his decision, and the fact he has not yet signed a deal with the only team who could offer him an eight-year deal is pretty telling. Even worse is the fact that Frank Seravalli from Daily Faceoff recently mentioned the fact that Treliving has offered him a maximum term deal with an average annual value north of $10 million. One would expect that if he planned on staying, that deal would have been signed by now. That said, anything can happen, making Wednesday and the following few days very interesting, and likely stressful, for Flames fans.