Flames Have Some Tough Free Agent Decisions to Make

All is quiet now with the Calgary Flames, but that will change next month with the NHL Expansion Draft for the Seattle Kraken slated for July 21st, followed by the 2021 NHL Entry Draft starting July 23rd and finally, the opening of the league’s free-agent market on July 28th. The Kraken expansion draft is sure to bring a few changes to the Flames roster for the 2021-22 season, but the free agency bazaar will usher in more. 

Let’s look at which restricted free agents (RFAs) and unrestricted free agents (UFAs) are likely to be re-signed in Cowtown and who will probably saddle up and ride off into the sunset after July 28th. Much, of course, depends on who gets plucked up by the Kraken, which core players are bartered away in trades, and what guns are for hire on the free-agent market.

RFAs: Who Should Stay?

Connor Mackey

The rookie is a good bet to get a qualifying offer when his entry-level contract (ECL) ends next month. The 24-year-old, six-foot, 200-pound left-handed defenceman was named this year to the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Canadian Division all-star team leading all Stockton Heat defenceman with three goals and 13 assists in 27 games. Andrew Mangiapane and Rasmus Andersson also won the honor and that bodes well for him cracking the Flames’ lineup next season.

Connor Mackey Calgary Flames
Connor Mackey, Calgary Flames (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

With a goal and two assists in the six games he played with the big club this year, Mackey showed he could round out the third defense pairing on the left side next season. That will be important if Mark Giordano is lost in the expansion draft. There aren’t enough RFAs or UFAs to fill that hole and the Flames would need to go shipping for free agents.

Juuso Valimaki

The Finnish left-shot is another sure bet to receive a qualifying offer. He’s raised the ire of head coach Darryl Sutter this season, but he’s still regarded as a big piece on the teams’ future blue line.

Related: Darryl Sutter’s Criticism a Constant for Flames’ Young Players in 2020-21

Oliver Kylington (Maybe)

The big question on the left side of the blue line is Kylington. What do the Flames want to do with him? They signed him last year and promptly assigned him to the taxi squad, where he played just eight games. With four years and 95 games under his belt in the NHL, he has a big scouting book leading many to ask when the Flames will decide whether he’s part of their future. Maybe they have and the decision is to re-sign him as a sacrificial lamb in the expansion draft. 

Dillon Dube and Matthew Phillips

Another problem the Flames need to crack is their lineup at right wing. It’s weak with left-shot Matthew Tkachuk often being called in to round it out. For that reason, Dube and Phillips are bound to receive qualifying offers, but even still, the Flames will need to think seriously about signing a few pending UFAs, especially given the expansion draft.

Glenn Gawdin

Punters would probably put money down on centreman Glenn Gawdin being re-signed for next year. It’s not assured he would crack the lineup, especially with prospect Adam Ruzicka hot on his heels for a spot on the roster. 

His odds could improve, however, if Sean Monahan were dealt this summer. Depending on what comes back for him, the Flames may have a hole to fill at center ice. In theory, they could fill it with several pending UFAs, including the Montreal Canadiens’ Philipp Danault, Paul Stastny of the Winnipeg Jets and Alexander Wennberg of the Columbus Blue Jackets. While bordering on sacrilege in Cowtown, the Flames could also cut a deal with the Edmonton Oilers for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

RFAs: Who Should Go?

Artyom Zagidulin

Despite the big hole at backup for starting goalie Jacob Markstrom, the Russian crease keeper looks fated to be moving on. He spent the season on the taxi squad and played just 29 minutes in one game this year. It’s a good bet that the Flames have made their decision about Zagidulin and in their eyes, he’s at best an AHL goalie.

Dominik Simon

Dominik Simon will likely be one of the RFA’s leaving the Flames organization. With no points in 11 games wearing the Flaming C, the Czech right winger did nothing to deserve a qualifying offer.

UFA’s: Who Should Stay?

Michael Stone

For The Hockey Writers’ pundit Greg Tysowski, his longevity with the Flames makes him “like gum on your shoe,” and he’s a shoo-in for a one-year deal on the cheap with the Flames. He performed this year and is Sutter’s kind of player. 

Michael Stone Calgary Flames
Michael Stone, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Stone is needed to shore up a weak right side on the Flames’ blue line. Yet, with Nikita Nesterov now decamped for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), even if the club signs him, they’ll still be short on their starboard side. That means they’ll be window-shopping on the free-agent market for one or two more defensemen.

Derek Ryan

At 35, the fourth line center is long in the tooth by NHL standards. Still, with uncertainties surrounding Monahan’s future in Calgary, re-signing him to a bargain-basement one-year deal for insurance is something Flames management must be mulling over.  

Derek Ryan, Calgary Flames
Derek Ryan, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While Calgary may want Ryan back in the Stampede City for another year, the Kraken could have other ideas. As a native-born son of Washington state, he would be a marketing boon for the team as it struggles to sell hockey to a market where five-pin bowling notches higher television ratings than hockey.

Josh Leivo and Brett Ritchie

The two right wingers would be wise signings considering the Flames’ weakness at the position. Everyone who played the position this season needs to be re-signed.

The coaching staff, including Sutter, seem to like both players. On budget one-year deals, they would represent solid value in the bottom six. Even with a few acquisitions and call-ups from the Stockton Heat, it’s unlikely the Flames will find enough right wingers to fill all the spots that could open up.

UFAs: Who Should Go?

Zac Rinaldo

Johnny Gaudreau is the topic of endless trade speculation in Calgary. Not only that, but Tkachuk is now the subject of trade gossip. What’s more, Milan Lucic could be lost in the expansion draft. If any of this comes to pass, the Flames may need to fill huge holes on their left wing this summer.

Related: Flames Would Be Making Big Mistake Trading Tkachuk for Tarasenko

With all of this, Flames fans could be forgiven for thinking it might be a good idea to give left winger Zac Rinaldo a cheap one-year deal for next season. Nonetheless, that’s unlikely to happen since he played mostly on the taxi squad this year and didn’t have much of an impact in the four games he played for the Flames.

Louis Domingue

The veteran twine minder played just one game with the Flames this year and that says a lot about what management thinks of him. He won/t be back in Calgary next season.

Related: Flames’ Backup Goalie Options for 2021-22 Season

Buddy Robinson

Given the scant depth down the right side for the Flames, a case could be made that Robinson, like Leivo and Ritchie, should be re-signed to a one-year deal. That’s until you see he notched not a single point in the nine games he played with the Flames this year. 

He did nothing to earn an offer and he’ll be riding out of town in July.

What the Flames Will Look Like to Start the 2021-22 Season

All told, two of eight current Flames’ RFAs are expected to leave town along with half their UFAs. Add to that the possibility of Flames’ general manager Brad Treliving shopping around a few of the team’s big guns for exciting new roster players, topped off with some free-agent acquisitions and all the ingredients are in place for a much different look to the Flames next year. Stay tuned!

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