The Calgary Flames organization can rest easy knowing this season has been a success. While the players and coaches continue to pursue Lord Stanley’s Cup, the front office can look at the summer and iron out a plan of action when it comes to contracts and free agency. According to hockeybuzz, the Flames have the most salary cap money to spend going into next year. This comes during an off-season when the top name free agents to-be include Mike Green of the Washington Capitals, Justin Williams of the Los Angeles Kings and Christian Ehrhoff of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
State of the Current Contract and Salary Cap Situation
Calgary is one of the few NHL teams that can say their defensive core is in good shape. Losing Mark Giordano is something many people thought would derail any hopes Calgary had of making the playoffs. But with the emergence of Kris Russell as a leader and the fantastic play of Dennis Wideman, the Flames played well enough to secure the final playoff birth in the Western Conference. The Flames have six of their top seven defensemen signed through the end of next season, the exclusion being David Schlemko.
In addition to having the core of their defensive depth locked into contracts for the time being, Calgary will experience more relief once their season officially ends. As of right now, the numbers have Calgary at just over $12 million in overall cap space. Nine players are set to come off the Flames’ books when the year ends. Those contracts add up to $9.1 Million more dollars the Flames have to work with. Perennial cup contending teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers would do just about anything to have the amount of breathing room that Calgary is set up with heading into the summer.
If the Flames want to continue to progress as a team, theres no question they will have to improve the amount of skill on the roster. However, they have the opportunity that many playoff teams do not get: to go out and sign, or possibly trade for a top-tier NHL player. Many teams with a ton of cap space would be quick to sign the most coveted free agent to a high money contract. Because the Flames have drafted well and have experienced some success, they do not need to do what most teams might.
What Calgary Should do With the Money
A lot of NHL teams will be spending the off season trying to figure out how to get or stay under the cap. The Flames are going to be able to sit back, know they have a competitive roster and dial in some precise contract or trade offers. With all the cap room and moderate success, they have the upper hand in negotiations during the off-season. The young crop of talented players like Sean Monahan and Johnny Hockey also lends itself to some leverage on the Flames’ side of things. That being said, here’s what Brian Burke, Brad Treliving and the rest of the hockey operations staff should do with their money:
Sign Their Young Talent
The Flames have drafted well over the past years, grabbing contributing players like Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Markus Granlund. All three of these players are making less than a million dollars a year, something that could influence them to seek employment elsewhere when their current contracts expire after next season. While all three of these young dynamic players will be restricted free agents, its never a good idea to let another NHL team set the market price when you have the means to sign them to a bridge deal now. The Flames will be happy for years to come as these players come into their own and mature into the offensive leaders they have showed signs of being this year.
Extend Giordano and Russell
There is no doubt that these two players are the heart of the Calgary Flames defense. Dennis Wideman is a great hockey player, and T.J. Brodie had a career year, but Giordano and Russell are the wheels on this train.
Giordano was leading the league in points for defenseman before going down for the season, and was a legitimate Norris Trophy contender. He is one of the most efficient defenseman in the NHL, but will get more than his current cap hit of $4.02 Million. Giordano proved through 61 games that he can be that top pairing puck moving defenseman that ignites his teams offense. He should get around $5 Million a year for 3-4 years. Locking up the captain and a player who has performed well consistently will send a good message to young players.
Kris Russell lead the NHL in blocked shots with 283, beating the second place finisher by 79 blocks. This is not a glamorous stat in the slightest, but its an important one. With a young offensive core of players, especially centers, who are not very experienced, the defense can not help enough. With a player like Kris Russell who helps out immensely in the defensive end, the Flames would be wise to lock him up. At just 27 years old he has found his role on the team and is growing into it well. His stay at home, shot-blocking defensive nature should help to keep the price tag down. As a pro, he hasn’t had more success than he’s had the last two seasons with Calgary. Signing a longer term deal would most likely be a welcome opportunity to a player who has been traded twice in his young career.
Sign Justin Williams
Justin Williams earned himself the “Mr. Game Seven” monicker during the Kings’ Cup run last year. Williams personally loathes the nick-name, but he cant argue with the reasons that fans started calling him that. Justin Williams is the perfect candidate for Calgary to sign for more than just his game seven success. He is an experienced leader who not only has three Cups under his belt, but a Conn-Smythe trophy to boot. Signing him would solidify the second line and add a legit scoring threat that can offset some of the pressure the first line will see. During the past five years, not including the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, Williams has averaged 79 games and 50 points. He had 33 points in 48 games during the 2012-13 season. He would be an older, more mature player than most of who Calgary is currently rostering, and can be affordable at the money he’s reportedly looking for, which is $4 or $4.5 Million a season for 4 years.
More Than Anything, Flames Should Be Patient
The Flames do not need to go out and empty the vault for a player like Mike Green or Christian Ehrhoff, nor do they have an immediate need at goaltender or high-end forward. Some of the smarter moves Calgary can make would be to resign role players like Lance Bouwma and Micahel Ferland, and young center Josh Jooris. Backup Kari Ramo was serviceable this season in a split with 2014 free agent signing Jonas Hiller. While the mantra ‘two number ones means no number ones,’ can be applied in a situation like this, there are not many Jonathan Quicks or Carey Prices available. The Flames also signed draft pick and recent NCAA Division I Champion goaltender Jon Gillies to an entry-level contract.
The upcoming NHL draft will come, trades and picks will happen, and by the time the free agency window opens there will be an entirely different slew of options. As things sit, however, Calgary has a real chance to take a large step forward next year, while a lot of teams will be doing their best to not fall off the cliff salary cap wise. It will be interesting to see what mastermind Brian Burke comes up with, as he is known to make blockbuster deals.