Calgary Flames Can Take Advantage Of Rising Salary Cap


The Calgary Flames haven’t had to worry much about the salary cap in the past few years, and they aren’t likely to be a cap team this season. Though they are going to have to spend wisely as they will be inching closer to the high end of the cap in the near future, they do have some flexibility to take on salary in the short and long term.

The NHL salary cap was announced today and it will be set at $71.4 million for next season. The Flames currently have just under $50.5 million committed to next year’s cap, but have a handful of free agents left to sign.

Forwards Lance Bouma, Josh Jooris, Drew Shore, Michael Ferland and Paul Byron are all restricted free agents looking for new contracts, and defencemen David Schlemko, Raphael Diaz and Corey Potter are all unrestricted free agents.

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While it’s doubtful all three of the UFAs will be signed, all five RFAs are likely to reach new deals, but they won’t combine to eat up the nearly 21 million dollars of cap space that the Flame have right now. It seems like a lot, but Calgary are going to be adding some significant cap hits in the near future.

Both Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau will be RFAs at the end of next season. Captain and Norris Trophy candidate Mark Giordano will be a UFA at the end of the 2015-16 season as well as Jiri Hudler, David Jones, Kris Russell and Jonas Hiller.

It will be interesting to see what the Flames do with Jones, Hudler and Hiller between now and when they are scheduled to be UFAs on July 1st, 2016, but there is no question they will sign Monahan, Hudler and Giordano to huge extensions.

Monahan and Gaudreau both have one year left on their entry level deals that pay each of them less than a million dollars.

May 8, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau (13) and left wing Jiri Hudler (24) celebrates a goal by Calgary Flames center Sean Monahan (not pictured) during the first period in game four of the second round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Monahan proved this year to be a legit two-way first line center who could become the Flames version of Jonathan Toews. A solid front and center forward who plays on the power play and first line but also takes on a difficult role of killing penalties and playing against top competition. He scored 31 goals and 31 assists this year at the age of 19, and if the Flames were to re-sign him tomorrow, I wouldn’t expect a cap hit at any less than $5 million per year.

Gaudreau played on the left side of Monahan’s line and was the catalyst for one of the top scoring lines in the league. The you pair teamed up with veteran Jiri Hudler, and Gaudreau is up for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year thanks to his 24 goal, 40 assist season. His 64 points were tied for first among all first year players, and though he is more of a pure offensive player than Monahan, the Flames had better put aside $4 million for the speedy 21 year old’s next contract.

That’s a combined $9.0 million for the two players whose combined cap hit right now is $1.85 million. Also, captain Mark Giordano has been an absolute steal at $4.02 million and will be looking for a huge raise next season as well. Giordano will be 32 at the end of this contract, but has proven to be one of the best defencemen in the league over the past two years. He has one year left on his deal, but my best guess at his cap hit for the 2016-17 season and beyond would be at least $6.0 million.

Feb 20, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano (5) controls the puck against the Anaheim Ducks during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Anaheim Ducks won 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

So, if we pencil Giordano is at $6 million, Monahan in at $5 million and Gaudreau at $4 million for 2016-17, the Flames would have over $43 million committed to just seven forwards, five defenders and Joni Ortio in goal. Seeing how little the cap climbed today, and that the players had to use an inflator clause to force it to grow, I wouldn’t expect a big jump from $71.4 million for the 2016-17 season.

Let’s just take a guess and say it grows slightly again, this time to $72.5 million. This would give the Flames just under $30 million to sign six forwards, two defencemen and a goaltender. They could have Jon Gilles in the NHL as early as 2016-17, but it may be a bit too soon to expect him to take over the Calgary crease, so Ortio will be the lone netminder once Hiller’s contract is up.

$30 million sounds like a lot, and it definitely is in this case. The Flames would need to sign six or seven forwards, but will have Monahan, Gaudreau, Sam Bennett, and Mikael Backlund in the top six, as well as Mason Raymond and Matt Stajan in the bottom six. They should also be getting contributions from first round picks Morgan Klimchuk and Emile Poirier somewhere on the top three lines at that point and they will both still be on their entry level deals.

Throw Klimchuk and Poirier into the 2016-17 lineup and the Flames suddenly only need five forwards, a couple of defencemen and a goaltender and still have more than $25 million to spend. It’s difficult to guess where their current defence prospects will be in two years time, but Kenney Morrisson and Patrick Sieloff will still be on entry level deals as well.

May 5, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames center Jiri Hudler (24) and Anaheim Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen (31) reach to a shot in the second period in game three of the second round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Depending on how these found players develop next season, the Flames will have tough choices to make on pending free agents Jiri Hudler, Jonas Hiller and David Jones. My guess is Jones is allowed to walk away, and Hiller will too as he is replaced internally by Joni Ortio, Jon Gilles and Mason McDonald.

After a career year, the Flames have a very difficult decision to make on Hudler. He led the league in even strength scoring last year, and would command a huge raise on his current $4.0 million cap hit. He has one year left, but will he be worth $6.0 million in 2016-17 and beyond? He is already 31 years old, so my assumption is that would end up being a huge overpayment.

If they allow Hudler to walk, or wisely trade him for a young player on entry level or picks at the upcoming draft, they will have even more flexibility for next season and beyond. This means the Flames will have plenty of space to add a player via free agency this summer, or could take on a player with a large contract from a team that is capped out like Patrick Sharp with the Chicago Blackhawks to replace Hudler, or a younger player like J.T. Miller or Derek Stepan who may not get the money they want from the New York Rangers as RFAs this summer.

Looking even further ahead to 2017-18 it becomes impossible to predict what the team will look like as almost everyone will need new deals before then. There will also be trades, signings and draft picks who quickly emerge as full time NHL players. However, Calgary will have big contracts expiring in Derek Engelland, Ladislav Smid, Dennis Wideman and Mason Raymond that take up nearly $12 million in cap space for the next two seasons.

Dec 29, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson (4) shoots the puck against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the third period at Amalie Arena. Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This tells me now is the time to spend for Calgary. If they don’t want to rush Gillies and McDonald, they could try and obtain a younger goaltender than Hiller to split duties with Ortio for the next few seasons. They also have a glaring need on the blue line and could really benefit from signing a UFA like 27 year old Cody Franson or 29 year old Mike Green.

The Flames could even decide to spend to keep Karri Ramo in goal and trade Hiller instead of letting their pending UFA goaltender walk away for nothing. At 28, Ramo could share the crease with Ortio on a three year contract to help bridge the gap to the younger generation.

Maybe they decide to add depth on the wing and sign 29 year old Drew Stafford or 27 year old Michael Frolik. Or an older veteran like 33 year old Justin Williams who would be a great player for the young forwards to learn from for the next few seasons.

Whatever the Flames decide, they have many options to help this team now and in the future. Many teams can’t afford to do that thanks to the salary cap, and though the Flames don’t have endless money to spend, they definitely have some flexibility under the salary cap and should take advantage of that via trades and through free agency this summer.

Today’s news that the cap is not going up much is bad news for many teams around the league who need every penny they can get to stay under the cap. However, it is good news in a way for the Flames as they are near the floor right now and can take advantage of teams that need to shed salary, and are one of a few teams who can outbid their competition for top free agents over the next two summers.

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