Now that the Flames' season is over, let's take a look at who is staying and who is going for next season.
As of right now, the team is projected to have about $10.1 million in cap space under the current Salary Cap. With it going up to about $83 million next season, that could open up an extra $4 million. Let's meet in the middle and say they have $12.1 million to play with.
UFA Forwards: Garnet Hathaway
-Hathaway is definitely due for an increase in pay. Our fourth line this season was the most consistent. He tallied 11 goals, 19 points and a +14 rating. Players like that are in demand through free agency, but unless someone overpays considerably, I would imagine he is returning to the Flames for the 19/20 season. I would estimate a deal at around $1.7 million per season, so that leaves us with $10.4
UFA Defensemen: Dalton Prout, Oscar Fantenberg
-With 7 NHL defensemen and Oliver Kylington potentially ready to make the jump full time, I don't see Dalton Prout returning to the team. An under the radar acquisition at the trade deadline, Fantenberg acclimated himself quite nicely to the Flames system, pairing up with Rasmus Andersson mostly to provide a very steady third pairing. Even though re-signing Fantenberg would make him the 8th NHL ready defenseman on the roster, his big body, quick thinking and vision should be enough to push someone out. We'll get to that in a bit. I would re-sign Fantenberg. He made $650,000 this year. Despite his rock solid play, Fantenberg's not done anything to warrant any crazy dollars, so let's bump him up a bit past what Prout was making and say it's a one year deal at $900,000. Now we're down to $9.5 million.
UFA Goalies: Mike Smith
-Smith made $4.25 million this season. For the entire body of work, it's a steep price, but he played his best when it mattered most, and his early struggles gave David Rittich a chance to establish himself as a future number one. Smitty has made no secret of his displeasure with how Bill Peters handled him this season. I believe that is the reason he doesn't return. Smith wants to play the bulk of the games, and it's just not going to happen in Calgary. If he were willing to take a mentors role and play between 25 and 41 games as needed, letting Rittich take the reigns, I'd be interested in bringing him back at a cap hit of around $2.5, but he's not going to go for that. Smith doesn't return. We still have $9.5 million.
RFA Forwards: Sam Bennett, Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane, Alan Quine
-Benny and Tkachuk are two of the hardest working guys on the roster. Bennett was a beast against Colorado, throwing his body at anything that moved, and Chucky is a future captain who does it all. Both of those guys get re-signed, no doubt. Mangiapane was a standout for the team against the Avalanche, and Quine fit in very nicely when he did get a chance to play. I keep both of those guys also.
Tkachuk is set to become the highest paid Flames player this season, but Treliving has been very good about making that happen for guys without causing too big of a pay gap. Gaudreau and Giordano make $6.75 million to set the bar right now. Tkachuk will come in higher than that, but I'm not sure he's going to get $10 million. So let's say $8.8 for Chucky on a bridge deal. We now have $700,000 in space.
Bennett made $1.95 this year. While he hasn't worked out to be the offensive force that he looked like he could be when drafted, Bennett has become a very integral part of the Calgary roster, and is probably our most aggressive player when it comes to taking the body. I'm projecting him at about $3.5 million a year. We now are over the cap by $2.8 million.
Mangiapane and Quine will probably come in at a combined $1.5 million. We are now over the cap by $4.3 million.
RFA Goalies: David Rittich
-The Chronicles of Rittich look like they will be continuing in Cow Town. He made $800,000 this year, almost completely stole the starting job from Mike Smith, but faltered down the stretch as the team began to have some issues. Ideally, I'd be looking at a one year "Prove Yourself" deal worth $2 million, but there will be interest in his services if he's dicked around by the Flames. Rittich will want term, and with the way he is in the locker room with his teammates, and what he showed he is capable of this season, I'm willing to gamble on him. Rittich pulls $4 million a year on a deal between three and six years. We are now over the cap by $8.3 million.
Getting Under the Cap
-The team still needs another goalie. So not only do we need to get under the cap, but we need to get under enough to sign another netminder.
After the season he had, it would be amazing if we could get out from under James Neal's $5.75 million contract, but the only interest in him after this year is going to be from teams looking to buy low. They'll want us to eat salary or take back an equally bad contract, and that's not something we're interested in. Maybe Neal bounces back, or maybe injuries after the start of the season force someone to make a more intriguing offer, but for the time being, he's a Calgary Flame.
Michael Frolik's $4.3 million can be shipped off. He's still a very capable player, but consistency and attitude were an issue this season, and if someone wants him, it just opens up room on the depth chart for Derek Ryan or Garnet Hathaway to get an extended opportunity at the third line, and for guys like Dillon Dube or Austin Czarnik to find a full time roster spot. Moving Frolik gets us to just $4 million over the cap.
TJ Brodie returned to form this season, making this summer a perfect time to move the defenseman. I love Brodie for what he brings to the game, but he's guilty of making dangerous plays too often when the safer play is right there. He's also struggled when not paired with Giordano, which makes him expendable. Especially since Rasmus Andersson's time on the top pairing with Gio worked out so well. Brodie makes $4.65 million. We are now $600,000 under the cap.
Michael Stone's $3.5 million contract is a fairly good price-point for what he brings to the game, but his absence from the lineup this season and the arrivals of Juuso Valimaki and Oscar Fantenberg, the quick rise of Andersson from 3rd pair to Giordano's partner, and the need to clear some room has made him expendable. With free agency typically encouraging over-spending, there should be lots of interest in Stone from teams looking to upgrade without spending a lot of money. We are now $4.1 million under the cap.
Moving these guys out will likely mean bringing other players back, but Treliving will be doing his best to off-set costs by packaging some of the desirable returning players with those we are okay with moving. So unfortunately, some of our choices to stay will probably end up being dealt to facilitate the shaping of next season's roster. For the purposes of this though, I'm not going to worry about that.
What We Need:
-A goalie. With $4.1 million to spend and only one position of need, let's look at the market and see who's available. To get someone under the $4.1 million we have available, it's not looking like a legitimate number one guy is on the radar. That's okay though. David Rittich is our number one goalie going forward. We're just looking for someone who can play between 25 and 41 games if needed.
If Anaheim moves on from Ryan Miller, I'm making a call to his agent. He only made $2 million this season, posting a save percentage of .912 with the lowly Ducks. He's older than Mike Smith, but he's a good mentor and played better hockey more consistently this season. Smitty had an .898 save percentage, for comparison, with a better team. Rittich's posted save percentage was .911
Miller is a good fit if Calgary is a destination he likes.
Rittich's fellow countryman Petr Mrazek is having a good season for the Hurricanes, making $1.5 million. If he becomes available, and we're not as worried about having a more experienced guy, a 1A/1B of Rittich/Mrazek could see both guys push each other to try and take the number one job.
Either of those plans works for me. Whether it's bringing in a mentor to work behind Rittich, or bringing in a challenger to create an ongoing battle for the net. However, Rittich just went through a year where Smith was given the nod despite Rittich's better play at times, and a post-season in which he sat on the bench and watched his team fall apart. He's going to need that vote of confidence that this is his team moving forward. It also helps make the decision easier that Petr Mrazek is going to be looking for bigger dollars and longer term than Miller.
If Ryan Miller is open to it, Calgary signs him to a one year deal at $4 million, matching Rittich's dollars in case he ends up playing the bulk of the games for some reason, but sticking to a one year term so that Rittich knows that the number one job is his to lose.
What the Team Looks Like Now:
-Forward lines of: Johnny Gaudreau / Sean Monahan \ Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk / Mikael Backlund \ Sam Bennett, James Neal / Mark Jankowski \ Andrew Mangiapane, Austin Czarnik / Derek Ryan \ Garnet Hathaway
-Defense pairings of: Mark Giordano & Rasmus Andersson, Travis Hamonic & Noah Hanifin, Juuso Valimaki & Oscar Fantenberg
-Goaltending duo of: David Rittich & Ryan Miller
Why Aren't We Spending in Free Agency?
-There isn't a need beyond acquiring a goalie. This is a team that led the Western Conference in points in the regular season, and we haven't subtracted anything from it that would suggest that they can't churn out a comparable year next season.
The post-season ended on a very down note, but it's easy to over-react. This Flames team was filled with players who hadn't experienced the NHL post-season yet, and the embarrassment of being ousted in five games by a wildcard team should help them be prepared for next year.
My only areas of concern are whether or not James Neal can rebound, or if he's destined for the press box with that big money, and whether or not we'll see any regression from Giordano. Signs point to no on Giordano, as he's consistently gotten better over his career and is a workout machine, doing everything he can to keep his body in top shape. As for Neal, I doubt that we'll see a similarly bad season next year, but maybe the wheels fell off the vehicle and he's done. Maybe he can't get going again in the same environment where he struggled so badly. James Neal is the big question mark for next season, but Bill Peters has shown that he won't handle him with kid gloves. If there's someone else who is going to give us a better chance to win, Peters has already proven he doesn't mind sending almost $6 million to the press box.