After what was arguably the best regular season in franchise history, Calgary Flames fans are still coming to grips with their second-round playoff exit at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers. As hard as that has been, however, it is important for the organization to now look forward and focus on big decisions that they need to make over the next month, many of which will be detrimental to how this team performs in 2022-23.
Those big decisions will be trying to decide which unrestricted free agents (UFAs) to bring back and which to move on from. There are some that seem like foregone conclusions to depart, and others are still big-time question marks, whether it be the organization pondering on whether to re-sign them or the particular player choosing himself to go elsewhere. With all that said, here are the odds that each of the Flames’ eight pending UFAs will be back for the 2022-23 campaign.
Johnny Gaudreau — 65 Percent
Not only the Flames’ biggest UFA, but one of the biggest UFAs in the entire league is Johnny Gaudreau. The 28-year-old has spent his entire 602 NHL games in Calgary, and general manager Brad Treliving has stated numerous times he will do everything in his power to re-sign him. On top of that, the player himself is on record saying he loves the city and would love to be back.
Whether Gaudreau truly means what he has said remains to be seen. The fact his camp was not willing to negotiate a deal early on points to the fact he may be willing to test the market, something that several insiders, most recently David Pagnotta, have alluded to. Given the fact he is coming off of a career-high 115 points, his value on the open market is sky high and could result in some teams offering him as much as $10 million annually.
If indeed he does test the open market, however, it does not mean a return to the Flames can’t happen. While he may be interested in hearing from other teams, the fact of the matter is that this is the only organization he has ever known and one that he has had plenty of success with. He already sits sixth all-time on the franchise leaderboard in points with 609 and could continue building on that legacy if he chooses to do so. By no means is it a guarantee he will stay, but at this point, at least in this writer’s mind, it seems more likely than not.
Erik Gudbranson — 55 Percent
When the Flames announced the signing of Erik Gudbranson to a one-year, $1.95 million deal late in last year’s offseason, the majority of the fanbase was unimpressed. After all, the now 30-year-old didn’t seem to fit with any team in recent years, having played for four teams in the two prior seasons before signing in Calgary.
There were plenty of questions surrounding Gudbranson, most notably about his foot speed. To his credit, however, he settled in quite nicely on the Flames’ third pairing and averaged over 18 minutes per game in the 78 outings he suited up for. On top of that, his six goals and 17 points, while by no means big totals, were the best of his career and were likely more than Flames management had envisioned when signing him. Given both his veteran presence and solid play in 2021-22, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if the Flames were to bring him back on another short-term, inexpensive deal. The fit between the two clubs worked out better than most had originally thought, and even if he were to test out the market, it is unlikely he would find a deal any better than what he could get if he were to re-up in Calgary.
Calle Jarnkrok — 40 Percent
Recently, I wrote an article about how the fit between Jarnkrok and the Flames didn’t work out as planned and mentioned that him returning in 2022-23 was extremely unlikely. While I am still in the belief that the pickup didn’t work out as Treliving would have liked, I have come around somewhat to the idea of bringing him back.
If the Flames are to re-sign Gaudreau along with Matthew Tkachuk, who will also command a lot of money, this team will need to fill out some other roster holes with cheaper options. Jarnkrok seems to fit that bill, coming off of a deal in which he earned just $2 million per year. Though his offense in his short stint in Calgary wasn’t as good as it should have been, he was a solid player in his own end as well as in the faceoff circle, something he has been known for throughout his entire career.
For Jarnkrok, returning to the Flames may make some sense as well. If you recall, he, along with goaltender Jacob Markstrom and centerman Elias Lindholm, were thrilled back when he was acquired, given the close relationship the three have. That in itself, along with seeing how competitive a team this was last season, may be enticing enough for the 30-year-old to consider giving it another shot.
Brett Ritchie — 25 Percent
Few players drew the ire of the fanbase more in the 2021-22 season than Brett Ritchie. The 28-year-old provides next to nothing in terms of offensive ability, having notched just 12 points in a combined 73 games over the past two seasons. Those numbers come despite the fact that he was able to spend some time in the team’s top-six during the 2020-21 campaign.
Despite his lack of offensive skill, however, he brings maximum compete level and effort to not only every game but every single shift. This has clearly put him in the good graces of head coach Darryl Sutter, who loves hardnosed-styled players and proved just that by dressing Ritchie for seven of his team’s 12 playoff games this year. While it still doesn’t seem overly promising he’s back with the Flames in 2022-23, Sutter may lobby to have him signed to a league minimum deal as a depth option.
Trevor Lewis — 20 Percent
Similar to Ritchie, Trevor Lewis is a player who won’t provide much of anything offensively, but he is a great veteran player who brings winning experience to any locker he is in. That said, it is fair to question whether or not he would have played in the NHL this past season had the Flames not chosen to sign him to a one-year, $800,000 deal last July.
The signing of Lewis last season had Sutter written all over it, as the two were together for each of the L.A. Kings’ Stanley Cup victories in 2012 and 2014. Despite the great relationship between the two, however, there are plenty of younger options than the 35-year-old who can provide a very similar role. While a return isn’t impossible given the connection with Sutter, it would be wise for Treliving to move on.
Nikita Zadorov — 20 Percent
Much like Gudbranson, there were plenty of questions as to whether or not Nikita Zadorov would be effective with the Flames. Early on, those questions appeared to be well warranted, as the 27-year-old former first-round pick got off to a very slow start with his new club. As the season went on, however, he improved tremendously, and settled in quite nicely on the teams third pairing.
Given the strong second half to his season, the Flames would likely welcome Zadorov back with open arms. However, he will command more dollars on a deal than Gudbranson, and with the Flames still hoping to re-sign others, they simply don’t appear to have the room to bring him back.
Michael Stone — 10 Percent
For three straight years now, the Flames have signed Michael Stone to cheap one-year deals and used him strictly in a depth role. In fact, over the past three seasons, he has suited up for just a combined 65 games. To his credit, he has not once complained about his extremely limited role and has performed rather admirably for a player who has gotten as little game time as he has.
While it seems extremely likely the 32-year-old would accept another similar deal with the Flames this offseason, it is time for the organization to move on. With younger defenceman in the waiting, most notably Connor Mackey, there is little to no point in giving Stone another deal. That said, it is impossible to rule out completely, given the fact they have brought him back year after year.
Ryan Carpenter — 1 Percent
On the day of the trade deadline, Treliving chose to make a move with the Chicago Blackhawks that saw him acquire depth forward Ryan Carpenter. It didn’t seem likely at the time that the 31-year-old would see much game action unless injuries were to compile, and that was exactly the case, as he suited up for just eight regular season games and none in the playoffs.
To Carpenter’s credit, he has been able to carve out 308 games at the NHL level to this point, but it seems that his time in the league may be coming to an end. Prior to being acquired by the Flames, he had just 11 points in 59 games with the Blackhawks while averaging less than 13 minutes a game. Perhaps another club is willing to give him a shot in a depth role in 2022-23, but it would be very shocking if that opportunity came with the Flames.
Top Players the Main Concern for Treliving
As you can see from this list, the Flames do have several UFAs heading into the offseason, though outside of Gaudreau, none are a top priority. For the time being, Treliving will be focusing on getting extensions worked out with both Gaudreau and Tkachuk, but he will also have his hands full in a few other restricted free agents in Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington. If he is able to get all four signed to new deals, he will then be looking to fill a few other holes on the roster, whether it be with youth or non-expensive options, making almost every other player on this list expendable unless willing to take very cheap deals.
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: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, 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.