Calgary Flames NHL Free Agency Preview


NHL Free Agent Frenzy has arrived and the Calgary Flames head into the day with plenty of cap space. Calgary also has some very specific needs that they would like to fill on the busiest day for transactions on the NHL calendar each year.

One year ago the Flames locked up a forward, defenseman and a goaltender, though they may have overpaid for the wrong targets in 2014. Mason Raymond was brought in on a three year deal that pays him $3.15 million per year. Deryk Engelland was signed to an outrageous $2.9 million contract on a three year term and goaltender Jonas Hiller played admirably in year one of a two year pact at $4.5 million each season.

This year, the Flames head into the day with over $15 million in cap space, and could definitely use a second line right winger if they can find the right one. Some of that cap space will be used to eventually sign restricted free agents such as Lance Bouma, Micheal Ferland, Josh Jooris, Drew Shore and Paul Byron, but the five of them combined will earn barely $5 million next season, leaving the Flames with about $10 million to play with today.

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I don’t believe the Flames are willing to go out and spend all of the $10 million on whoever they can reel in, but it shows they have the flexibility to add some talent today if they wish to do so. I would say their top target would have to be a right winger to play behind Jiri Hudler, but they also have a few other areas that could be patched up.

Down the middle, the Flames have plenty of depth in Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, Mikael Backlund and Matt Stajan. They also have wingers such as Jooris, Byron, Shore and Joe Colborne who can play center, but if they choose to leave Bennett on left wing for his rookie year, I could see Calgary targeting a third line center today.

Sure, you can move Colborne or Jooris to third line center, but neither are proven commodities as middle-men at the NHL level. If they want Bennett playing on Backlund’s wing next year, adding a two way, third line center would be an ideal fit at a reasonable cost.

Apr 1, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN;  Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Flames also could add some depth on the blue line. With Ladislav Smid’s career in jeopardy due to injury, the Flames could chase a third pairing, left shooting defender to fill that role. They could get greedy and chase a top pairing guy like Cody Franson or Mike Green to go with Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and T.J. Brodie in the top four, but I don’t think the Flames are desperate enough to win a bidding war for the top available defensemen.

Then again, it depends what they think of guys like Jakub Nakladal and Tyler Wotherspoon. If they think Nakladal is an NHL defender next year, you can forget them signing another defenseman, but as David Schlemko, Corey Potter and Raphael Diaz become UFAs today, I could see the Flames target a depth option to fill their roles.

So, with their needs sorted out, who is available for the Flames to go after today?

There are plenty of options to play right wing on the second line. Alex Semin was just bought out by the Carolina Hurricanes, but he is probably the most skilled player available today. He signed in Carolina in time for the shortened 2013 season and scored 44 points in 44 games that season. He followed that up with 22 goals and 42 points in 62 games a year ago, before suddenly dropping to just 19 points in 57 games this season.

A one year fall from grace could see Semin become a bargain today. A lot of people are scared off by his lackadaisical attitude on the ice, but he is one of the most talented players in the league, and the 31 year old could be a huge steal on a short term deal after one disappointing year.

Feb 21, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Frolik is another player that could fill that second line right wing role and play alongside Sam Bennett and Mikael Backlund. If you don’t look at his stats with the Chicago Blackhawks when he was buried on the depth chart, he has scored between 15-21 goals and 42-45 points each of his four full seasons.

Frolik started his career with the Florida Panthers and scored 21 goals in each of his first two years as well as 45 and 43 points. In the past two seasons with the Winnipeg Jets, Frolik scored 42 points each season and had 15 and 19 goals.

If the Flames were to sign Frolik today, you could pencil him in for 20 goals and 45 points next season. The 27 year old is also a terrific two way player, who could help the Flames in both ends of the rink and play some tough minutes on the penalty kill. Considering his age and factor in that the Flames need some scoring depth, and that you can never have too many players who are good in their own end, I’d say Frolik would be a perfect fit.

A few other right wingers that could be targeted, but wouldn’t fit as well mostly due to age would be Martin St. Louis, Justin Williams and Joel Ward. Sure, they would be great fits next season, but the Flames need younger players who will fit the rebuild that is centred around Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, Johnny Gaudreau, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton. St. Louis, Ward and Williams will be looking for long term deals and are on the wrong side of 30. While Semin could be had on a one or two year deal, the rest of the thirty-something just don’t fit.

The third line center role would be difficult one to fill, as there just aren’t very many good centres available this summer. You could roll the dice on Jarrett Stoll who helped the Los Angeles Kings win a pair of Stanley Cups in the past four years, but he is battling some legal troubles which makes a signing risky.

Apr 6, 2015; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Then again, which Kings player isn’t battling legal troubles? You might get a great third line center for cheap who wants to prove he can put his off ice issues into the past and still be a contributor on a great team. Stoll as the third line center would give the Flames a solid face-off guy, a good penalty killer and a player than can play against tough competition and also chip in some offence, though that side of the 33 year old’s game is fading.

Other than that, the center market is extremely thin, though the Flames could target 27 year old Shawn Matthias, 38 year old Matt Cullen or 36 year old Shawn Horcoff for veteran depth in the bottom six. Again, it’s not the biggest need so I wouldn’t suggest that the Flames are going to spend a pile of money on one of these guys, but they may ask around and see if they can get a bargain on a one year deal with one of the players in their thirties.

On defense, I don’t think the Flames are going to reel in a big fish, though they are still being linked to Cody Franson. They already have one of the best defence groups in the league, but are letting Schlemko and Diaz walk and likely won’t get much, if anything out of Smid next year. I could see them targeting a number six or seven type defender for some added depth.

There are a few interesting options when it comes to bottom pairing defenders. One who jumps out at me and isn’t being talked about much, is Matt Donovan of the New York Islanders. The 25 year old is a rare Group VI free agent, meaning he has been a pro for four years but hasn’t played enough games to be retained as a RFA.

Jun 6, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Flames could also look to add Johnny Oduya from the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. He would cost a lot more than a depth guy, and could round out the top four with Giordano, Brodie and Hamilton, pushing Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman down to the third pairing. It would cost more than Schlemko or Diaz, but wouldn’t cost as much as Mike Green, Franson or Andrej Sekera. At a mid range price for a proven 33 year old veteran, this could put the Flames into the territory of having the best defense in the league.

Looking at more depth role type defenders, the Flames could try to land Matt Bartkowski who they almost got in a Jarome Iginla trade from the Boston Bruins. He’s a 27 year old left shooting defender who played a depth role on the Bruins over the past two seasons. Bartkowski would be an ideal replacement for depth options that are moving on.

A few more cheap depth options that could provide solid bang for their buck on the blue line would be Matt Irwin, who is formerly a San Jose Shark. Also, a couple of interesting options pop up when looking at RFAs who were not qualified. John Moore seems to have played on every team in the league, but is just  24 years old and has proven to be a valuable depth defender on good teams in the past. The fact that the Arizona Coyotes didn’t qualify him is baffling.

Another player who is a UFA a few years early is Mark Barberio who the Tampa Bay Lightning allowed to become a free agent at the age of 25. A big time point producer in the QMJHL and the AHL, Barberio is a great skater who moves the puck well, but hasn’t been able to score in the NHL like he has at every other level. He could prove to be a valuable third pairing guy on a very cheap contract.

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