With the NHL Entry Draft and free agency period approaching quickly, the Calgary Flames have some big questions looming. How they respond to those questions will determine whether the 2022 offseason is a success.
The Flames had a very successful regular season in the 21/22 campaign, finishing first in the Pacific Division on the back of strong even strength play and excellent goaltending. Those trend carried over into the playoffs, where they were keys to a first round victory over the Dallas Stars.
The Flames season came crashing to an abrupt end in round two, where the arch-rival Edmonton Oilers won an entertaining 5 game series. Once again, the Flames played well at 5v5 but a combination of poor finishing and goaltending was enough to end their season.
With Johnny Gaudreau (UFA), Matthew Tkachuk (RFA), Andrew Mangiapane (RFA) and Oliver Kylington all in need of new contracts this summer, the team is bound to look a bit different by the time the puck drops in October. The Flames have only 12 returning NHL players under contract for next season and they have only $27M in cap space to fill out the remaining 10 or 11 roster positions.
Will Johnny Gaudreau be back?
Re-signing Johnny Gaudreau is a priority for the Flames this summer, but it takes both the team and the player to reach a deal. If Gaudreau decides to test the market and ultimately finds a new address for next season, the Flames will need to find a way to replace his impact. Gaudreau is obviously one of the top offensive threats in the NHL and he complemented that with a strong two-way game this season.
Gaudreau is the top forward on the list of pending free agents, based on the Puck Luck model. If he does leave town, replacing his impact won’t be easy but there are a number of intriguing names also headed for unrestricted free agency that could be part of the solution. Nazem Kadri, Valeri Nichushkin, and Andre Burakovsky are all pending UFAs and have been a big part of the Avalanche’s success this season. Filip Forsberg and Evgeni Malkin are big name pending UFAs. Along with the big names, there are a plethora of options for UFA additions that should come with a lower price tag that could have a big impact like Mason Marchment, Ilya Mikeyev, and Ryan Strome.
Can the Flames find additional cap space?
Regardless of whether Gaudreau returns to the Flames next season or finds a new home, Calgary will be in tough to improve the roster without finding additional cap space. They may have enough cap space to essentially run it back with some changes around the edges but it will be a tall task to improve without offloading some inefficient contracts.
Sean Monahan and Milan Lucic are two options to move out that have been rumored all season, that would each free up over $5M in cap space. There are a couple of other interesting possibilities and, although they would be harder to part with, might bring larger returns on the trade market.
Mikael Backlund is 33, entering an age bracket where age related decline becomes a real possibility. Coming off a strong playoff performance, the Flames may have a sell high opportunity with Backlund.
If we want to look way outside the box, moving Jacob Markstrom is a possibility. After a Vezina nominated season, his $6M cap hit doesn’t look too bad. However, goaltending is a fickle beast and top goaltending seasons often come from unexpected places. With a strong showing from Dan Vladar in a backup role and a dominant AHL season from Dusting Wolf, running with an young unproven tandem would come with risk but could free up significant cap space to spend elsewhere.
Where do the Flames need an upgrade?
The Flames defense was exposed in the playoffs after Chris Tanev went down with an injury. The depth players stepped up, but it wasn’t enough against the speed of Connor McDavid. Finding a way to upgrade the defense corps should be a top priority. Adding an elite defenseman and pushing everyone else down the depth chart would certainly help their chances of repeating or improving upon their 21/22 season.