In August, most big-fish NHL free agents have signed with a new team or re-upped with their former. Names such as Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel, P.K. Subban and Paul Stastny still find themselves on the free-agent market, and most teams may be setting focus on fitting players like them into their rosters. However, there are a multitude of more under-the-radar players up for grabs that the Calgary Flames and general manager Brad Treliving could take a look at. The team is still short of forward depth and offence after losing Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, who combined for a whopping 219 points last season. Of course, the newly-acquired Jonathan Huberdeau will help with that, and players such as Andrew Mangiapane and Tyler Toffoli are more than capable of moving up in the lineup.
Even still, the team could benefit from adding a middle- or bottom-six winger or two to round out the squad, and luckily for the organization there is still a great deal of value available that could fill such a need. It would have to be a cost-friendly deal as well, given that the team currently only has $2,761,667 in available cap space with a current roster of 20. Additionally, players like Sean Monahan, backup goalie Dan Vladar and the other piece of the Tkachuk trade, MacKenzie Weegar, will need new contracts after next season, among others. Therefore, the player coming in would preferably be on a relatively inexpensive one- to two-year pact. Let’s have a look at some of the best options out there.
Evan Rodrigues, Center/Right Wing
Not a name that jumps off the page, but perhaps that perspective should change as the 29-year-old is currently one of the finest attainable talents. The Toronto, Ontario, native suited up in all 82 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins last season and put up a very respectable 43 points, including 19 goals, while playing 15:50 per night. He is also a sparkling light in the analytics department, as his line dominated puck possession and shot attempts, judging by a 59.8 percent Corsi For (CF%) rating. Interestingly, he was the only Penguin to play in all 82 games last season, and stepped up while Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and others were out with injuries. Rodrigues can also shift to the centre if needed, throws his weight around, and is trusted for his two-way play as he was almost half and half with offensive and defensive zone starts.
Remarkably, Rodrigues only commanded a $1 million salary for all of that stellar play. Would he take that or a bit higher for a few years to come back to play in Canada, having played his career in Buffalo and Pittsburgh? He would likely be given a realistic shot at the top six for the Flames, but could seemingly play anywhere in the lineup if injuries occur.
Sonny Milano, Left Wing/Right Wing
Riding shotgun with star rookie Trevor Zegras in Anaheim certainly has its perks. Sonny Milano had his best season as a professional last season for the Anaheim Ducks, recording 34 points in 66 games. The 16th-overall selection in the 2014 Entry Draft hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, but certainly took strides this past campaign. One of Milano’s difficulties is that he’s always been on rather poor teams performance-wise, with his first five years spent with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the last two with the Ducks. He’s played a grand total of four playoff games in his seven seasons, mostly on rosters starved for offensive stars apart from Zegras, Rickard Rakell and Troy Terry at times this last year. Milano never shared the ice with Artemi Panarin with the Blue Jackets. What Flames fan wouldn’t enjoy potentially seeing goals like this?[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QAIDnaYGpM[/embedyt]
Like Rodrigues, Milano’s lines controlled the puck when they were on the ice, albeit at a slightly lesser 56.5 percent CF% clip, which is solid considering the Ducks were a relatively poor possession team. This season was also the first year in which he was given a respectable opportunity on the power play. In return, he put up five goals and 10 points with the man advantage, both career highs by a mile. The Ducks were cited as unwilling to give him a raise, and therefore let the young man walk. Notwithstanding, teams need more proof that he can remain consistent in putting up such numbers before offering him big money. Milano is only 26 years old, and perhaps a one- or two-year “prove it” deal will get his star to shine even brighter.
Carter Rowney, Left Wing/Center/Right Wing
Should Flames management elect to go in an alternate direction and shape up the bottom six, how about Alberta boy and Stanley Cup champion Carter Rowney? Rowney hails from nearby Grand Prairie, and would complement Blake Coleman, Trevor Lewis and Milan Lucic with his gritty style of play. The 6-foot-1 33-year-old averages a very respectable 193 hits per 82 games, a mark that would have placed him second on the team last year behind only the aforementioned Lucic. In addition, he sacrifices his body to block an average of 52 shots per campaign, which would have tied Elias Lindholm for the team lead amongst forwards. Like Rodrigues, he also provides value in that he can take and win faceoffs at a satisfactory rate.
Rowney has had his share of injuries due to his physical play, also unfortunately coming down with the COVID-19 virus last season, but that shouldn’t scare away the Flames. Rowney played his junior hockey in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, and interestingly was at one time part of the Flames organization, suiting up for four games for the former American Hockey League affiliate Abbotsford Heat in 2012-13. The forward likely wouldn’t eat into the team’s cap space, getting $825,000 last year with the Detroit Red Wings. Surely, he would be highly interested in donning the “Flaming C” in the beginning of the twilight years of his career, and bring experience, leadership and even more toughness to the Flames’ locker room.
To conclude, if Brad Treliving and his staff feel comfortable with their current roster, so be it. Perhaps they feel someone from the AHL’s Calgary Wranglers can step up and fill the holes at forward that exist.
However, if the free agent route is the one they plan on taking, any one or more of these players stand to be notable additions to the team that can help them win now and start off the Jonathan Huberdeau era on the right foot.