I was playing Puckdoku sometime a couple of weeks when I got to thinking on this topic. If you play, you know it’s always fun to have those go-to former Calgary Flames players in your back pocket – players that most non-Flames fans may forget ever played for the team. That train of thought led me to the realization that the situations we’re seeing currently with Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri, while extreme (considering the whopping sizes of their contracts both in AAV and length), are not unreminiscent to the Calgary Flames.
Of course, Huberdeau and Kadri could both play well enough to have at least a portion of their time in Calgary considered within their career “peak” or “prime” windows. But regardless, with both players’ deals will expiring when they will be 38-years-old, it’s safe to say that – barring any physiological or gerontological anomalies – much of their time as Flames will be beyond their most impactful hockey-playing years.
The brain train kept rolling and I ended up with a long list of players scribbled into my phone’s Notes app, those who departed prematurely and those who were brought in to fill holes past their prime. We’ll take a look at some of those names shortly, but first, a few notes:
- I know that most NHL teams have extensive lists of players who left too early and who joined too late. I am not proclaiming that the Flames are unique by having the history they do.
- The primary takeaway for me relates back to a piece I recently wrote about building culture in the Calgary Flames organization by committing to a properly planned rebuild: the premier perennial Cup contenders in the National Hockey League have top players who were developed in-house. Tampa Bay, Colorado, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston are recent examples of teams with realistic Cup aspirations for a number of years (and that won at least one within their windows).
- My list below is not exhaustive – I’m sure I missed some fascinating names, so feel free to call me out for my inexcusable omissions.
- All data referenced comes from CapFriendly, NHL.com, and HockeyDB.
Former Calgary Flames players who were brought in past their prime and failed to meet expectations
Troy Brouwer (F)
A decade into his pro hockey career, Troy Brouwer joined the Calgary Flames in the 2016-17 season at age 31 at a career-high cap hit of $4.5 million (yes, this was a Brad Treliving deal). Brouwer’s most productive seasons were with the Capitals in 2013-14 and 2014-15 – when he notched 43 points in two consecutive seasons.
Unfortunately, Brouwer’s time with the Flames was a massive disappointment; he totalled 150 games, had only 47 points in that span, and was a minus player. His contract was bought out after two seasons.
Tony Amonte (F)
Amonte played nearly two decades in the NHL, but a fact sometimes forgotten is that he ended his career as a Calgary Flame.
One of the first moves the Flames made in the salary cap era was signing veteran forward Tony Amonte to a two-year deal with a $3.7 million AAV. Joining the Flames for the 2005-06 season, Amonte played two seasons in Calgary totalling 72 points in 161 games before retiring.
While Amonte’s term with the Flames isn’t remembered nearly as negatively as Brouwer’s, signing a 35-year-old forward who was just bought out to a $3.7 million deal in the inaugural salary cap season (when the cap was only $39 million) is the type of Flames move we’re all too familiar with.
Owen Nolan (F)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Owen Nolan, but his time in Calgary wasn’t anything special. He cost the Flames $1.75 million in 2007-08 as a 35-year-old and had only 32 points in his 77 games.
It’s fun to recall Nolan was a Flame, but unfortunately he’s another glowing example of an expensive mid-30s forward who underproduced in Calgary.
Jeff Friesen (F)
Jeff Friesen was a solid hockey player, but his most productive season came nine years before he joined the Calgary Flames when he tallied 63 points in 79 games during the 1997-98 season with the Sharks.
Friesen came to Calgary for the 2006-07 season and was paid $1.6 million for his measly 12 points in 72 games during what would be his final NHL season.
Jonas Hiller (G)
Jonas Hiller joined the Flames for the 2014-15 season at 32 years of age, seven years since he recorded his best NHL numbers (2.06 GAA, .927 SV%) and four years after putting up his best season as a starter (2.56 GAA, .924 SV%).
While he was still performing well coming from Anaheim to Calgary (2.48 GAA, .911 SV% in 2013-14 with the Ducks), Flames GM Brad Treliving agreed to give the 32-year-old the same $4.5 million salary he was earning in Anaheim. Hiller had a good first season with the Flames recording 2.36 GAA alongside a .918 SV% before putting up his career-worst numbers in 2015-16 (3.51 GAA, .879 SV%), finishing his NHL career and heading to the Swiss-A league for four seasons and ultimately retiring.
Grant Fuhr (G)
Grant Fuhr is a four-time Stanley Cup Champion and a legend of the game, but paying him $3 million (equal to over $5.5M today) for the 1999-2000 season – even without a salary cap in place – was a ridiculously poor decision by the Flames.
Fuhr was 37-years-old, started only 20 games and had a 5-13-2 record with a 3.83 GAA and .856 SV%. This would be Fuhr’s last season in the NHL.
Mason Raymond (F)
Before the 2014-15 season, Brad Treliving signed 29-year-old forward Mason Raymond to a three-year contract with a no-trade clause for the first two seasons. The kicker was that the deal totalled $9.45 million, Raymond’s largest AAV ($3.15M) to date.
Raymond was bought out after two seasons (23 points in 57 games in 2014-15 and five points in 29 games in 2015-16). He was sent down to the Stockton Heat in 2015-16 before signing with the Ducks in the off-season, where he played in only four games. Raymond would head to Switzerland for 35 games in 2017-18 prior to retiring.
James Neal (F)
Perhaps Treliving’s worst free agent signing and possibly the worst in Flames history, James Neal was a pathetic excuse for a hockey player during his time in Calgary. The 31-year-old appeared not to care at all about the success of the team. After all, he’d secured the bag – a $28.75 million bag to be precise ($5.75 x 5 years). The “sniper” scored only seven goals in his 63 games with the Flames and adding a mere 12 assists before being traded to the Oilers for Milan Lucic with over four years remaining on his contract.
Edmonton ended up buying out the remainder of Neal’s contract in the summer of 2021. Neal signed a one-year league-minimum deal with the Blues entering the 2021-22 season, but couldn’t hack it at the NHL level anymore.
Some players I did not include in the list include Jaromir Jagr, Curtis Joseph, Olli Jokinen, Todd Bertuzzi, and Brendan Morrison with reasons being that they were actually pretty good, their contracts weren’t overly egregious, or not enough data was available.
The takeaway for the Calgary Flames
Bringing in veteran players can sometimes be a solid strategy, especially at the trade deadline when your team is in a position to make a legitimate playoff/Stanley Cup push, but multi-year deals tend not to be the best way to re-tool. Older players are more expensive and do not have the same upside as hungry, young players who require salaries that cost a fraction of their veteran counterparts.