NHL Offseason Lookahead: Calgary Flames
In today’s NHL rumor mill, we examine the latest on the Flames and Oilers, plus how the elimination of the UFA interview period could be a win for the players.
LATEST ON THE FLAMES AND OILERS
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Scott Cruickshank recently examined the effect of a flat salary cap ($81.5 million) on the Calgary Flames for next season. With nine forwards, four defensemen, and one goaltender under contract, they have less than $17 million to work with.
Of their restricted free agents, Cruickshank assumed the Flames will retain Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington. He suggested shopping Mark Jankowski’s rights or letting him become an unrestricted free agent by not qualifying his rights.
Cruickshank doesn’t expect the Flames can afford to keep both T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic. Both are unrestricted free agents at season’s end. He suggested re-signing Brodie and letting Hamonic walk or shopping his rights for a pick at the 2020 NHL Draft. Trade deadline acquisitions Erik Gustafsson and Derek Forbort are unlikely to be re-signed. Cruickshank expects UFA goalie Cam Talbot could seek a starter’s job elsewhere, leaving the Flames in need of an affordable backup (like Anton Forsberg) for David Rittich.
That won’t leave much room to pursue a free-agent star such as winger Taylor Hall unless they make a couple of significant cost-cutting moves.
SPORTSNET: Eric Francis also speculated the Flames will retain Brodie during a recent mailbag segment. He was also asked if the Flames might replace Talbot and winger Johnny Gaudreau with Robin Lehner and Hall. Francis felt there’s a remote possibility to sign Lehner but it made no sense to dump Gaudreau to sign the more expensive Hall.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Francis also noted the trade speculation dogging Gaudreau over the past year-and-a-half, expecting such a move will eventually happen. The 26-year-old has fallen out of favor with Flames fans since a disappointing performance in last year’s playoffs followed by sub-par production during this season.
Another dissatisfying postseason effort on Gaudreau’s part will ramp up the trade speculation during the off-season. He lacks no-trade protection for next season, but his $6.75-million annual average value could be difficult to move under a flat cap.
THE ATHLETIC: Jonathan Willis recently examined the Edmonton Oilers’ cap situation. For next season, they could use their leverage to re-sign Ethan Bear (no arbitration rights) to a cheap one-year contract. Trade deadline acquisition Andreas Athanasiou (restricted free agent) could return at his current salary ($3 million) while veteran goalie Mike Smith (UFA) should return.
Willis speculates winger James Neal and defenseman Kris Russell could be bought out, though the latter could be shopped with 50 percent salary retention (in real dollars worth only $750K to his new team).
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I expect most of Willis’ scenario for next season will play out as expected. Smith is in the twilight of his career and could accept another one-year, bonus-laden deal with a $2 million base salary.
ELIMINATION OF UFA INTERVIEW PERIOD COULD BE A WIN FOR PLAYERS
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Matt Larkin believes the recent elimination of the five-to-seven day window for clubs to interview pending UFAs in the CBA extension is a win for the players. With little time for general managers to prepare, it could spark a return to the opening-day bidding wars of the past.
Larkin suggests it will be the end of media leaks leading up to the noon ET start of free agency. It could also mean fewer signings on opening day.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: While this isn’t a rumor, this will affect the UFA market going forward. The absence of the interview period means there will be more intrigue leading up to the start of the free-agency period. It will also mean we could see some notable UFAs taking several days to sign.
The flat cap could also affect the market value for the top UFA. Larkin speculates that could change in a year or two as hockey-related revenue improves, thus raising the salary cap.
Possible free-agent targets for the Red Wings and Devils in today’s NHL rumor mill.
POSSIBLE RED WINGS UFA TARGETS
THE DETROIT NEWS: Ted Kulfan believes a potential dip in next season’s salary cap could prove beneficial to the financially secure Red Wings. They have only $46.2 million invested in 11 players for 2020-21.
While a good chunk of the Wings’ cap space will be used to re-sign restricted free-agent forwards Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Robby Fabbri, Kulfan believes they’ll still be in a good position to take advantage of this summer’s unrestricted free agent market.
“Defensemen Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis), Livonia’s Torey Krug (Michigan State/Boston) and Tyson Barrie (Toronto), forwards Taylor Hall (Arizona) and Mike Hoffman (Florida), and goalies Robin Lehner (Vegas) and Braden Holtby (Washington)” are among the notables who could be available at season’s end.
Kulfan admits some of those players could end up re-signing with their current clubs. Some, however, will hit the open market and the Wings could be among the teams that benefit. They need to bolster their defense and goaltending.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Wings general manager Steve Yzerman could target Pietrangelo, Krug, Lehner, or Holtby if they hit the open market. Convincing one of them to sign with a rebuilding club that finished this season with the league’s worst record, however, will likely take more than waving lots of dollars at them.
Their preference could be to sign with playoff contenders. Yzerman will have to sell them on his vision for the future and how long he believes it’ll take to achieve it.
POSSIBLE DEVILS UFA BLUELINE TARGETS
THE ATHLETIC (subscription required): Corey Masisak recently examined some UFA targets to improve the New Jersey Devils’ defense corps. Alex Pietrangelo and Torey Krug topped the list.
Other clubs could give Pietrangelo a better chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. There’s some question if Krug would be as effective with another club as he’s been with the Boston Bruins.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Like the Wings, the Devils have plenty of salary-cap room ($55.2 million invested in 13 players) to make a competitive bid for a top-four free-agent defenseman. However, they’re also a rebuilding team that still hasn’t decide who their full-time general manager will be.
Whoever’s sitting in that role following this season will have to be a good salesman to land one of this summer’s better UFA rearguards.
Check out the latest Maple Leafs and Red Wings speculation in today’s NHL rumor mill.
SPORTSNET: In a recent mailbag segment, Luke Fox was asked how much it could cost the Toronto Maple Leafs to re-sign Morgan Rielly when the defenseman’s contract expires in 2022. A good comparable is the Arizona Coyotes’ Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s eight-year, $66-million deal. Fox also suggested paying attention to whatever Boston Bruins blueliner Torey Krug gets in the coming off-season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fox acknowledged the fallout from the pandemic could affect the salary cap by 2022, which could impact what Rielly’s next contract looks like. Then again, perhaps league revenue rebounds by that point. Given Rielly’s value to the Leafs, don’t be surprised if his agent seeks top dollar. It’s worth noting the Leafs have over $55 million invested in just seven players for 2022-23.
Asked about a suggestion in The Athletic in which the Leafs trade goaltender Frederik Andersen and sign Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray or Vegas’ Robin Lehner, Fox isn’t sold on either guy as an upgrade over Andersen. He doesn’t expect Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas to break up his current goalie tandem in the off-season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Agreed. I expect the Leafs will return with their Andersen-Jack Campbell tandem next season. Their performances will determine their long-term futures in Toronto. Murray, by the way, is a restricted free agent. The Leafs will have to trade for him or sign him to an offer sheet.
Fox doesn’t see the Leafs acquiring another LTIR contract to free up cap space to pursue St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. However, he thinks Dubas could attempt to acquire a defenseman via trade. “Paying Ryan Kesler or Marian Hossa to not play hockey won’t help Toronto land Petro. Paying Kesler might, in theory, help Dubas acquire a Josh Manson plus a draft pick from Anaheim in exchange for Kasperi Kapanen.”
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Dubas and his staff surprised observers with their wheeling and dealing last summer to free up sufficient cap space to re-sign Mitch Marner. We can’t rule out a scenario like that mentioned by Fox to bring in a defenseman, although that might not be necessary with yesterday’s signing of Mikko Lehtonen. Speaking of which…
NBC SPORTS: James O’Brien believes the addition of Lehtonen could bring some intrigue to the Leafs defense corps. On paper, his addition creates a log-jam of left-handed defensemen. O’Brien wonders if the Leafs could trade someone like Travis Dermott to balance things out on the right side.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Lehtonen said he’s comfortable playing either side. If he adjusts well on the right side with the Leafs, they won’t have to trade someone like Dermott for a right-handed defender.
DETROIT FREE PRESS: Helene St. James examined potential free-agent options to bolster the Red Wings’ defense corps. The best of the bunch is St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, but he’d probably prefer going somewhere more competitive if he doesn’t re-sign with the Blues. It might not be possible to lure Michigan native Torey Krug away from the Boston Bruins.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap Friendly indicates the Red Wings have over $46.2 million invested in 11 players for 2020-21. A good chunk of that cap room will be invested in re-signing key players like Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha.
Provided ownership is willing to spend toward the cap ceiling, they should have enough to make a competitive offer to one of those UFAs in the offseason. Nevertheless, the rebuilding Wings might have to overpay to entice one of those blueliners to join them.
Recent speculation on the Oilers, Flames, and Red Wings in today’s NHL rumor mill.
SPORTSNET: In a recent mailbag segment, Mark Spector was asked if the Edmonton Oilers might bring back Taylor Hall if they can shed some salary. He felt there’s zero chance of the 28-year-old winger returning to Edmonton, pointing out the Oilers already carry several players with expensive contracts. “I think it’s a dream Oilers fans should wake up from. Hall’s not coming back,” wrote Spector.
(NOT MARK) SPECTOR’S NOTE: I agree with “Cousin Mark”. Hall returning to the Oilers is a pipe dream. Stop pining about what could’ve been and look forward.
Asked out the most likely scenario for Jesse Puljujarvi, Spector said the Oilers prefer he returns and plays for them. If he doesn’t, they could let him spend another season in Finland (where he’ll make less money), or trade him at the draft for perhaps two second-round picks, or a second and a prospect (the Oilers lack a second-rounder in this year’s draft). Spector thinks Puljujarvi should return to the Oilers on a one-year deal and prove he can still play.
(STILL NOT MARK) SPECTOR’S NOTE: It’ll be interesting to see how the Oilers handle this situation. Puljujarvi’s done well in Finland (53 points in 56 games), but that’s not much of an indicator whether he can be an effective NHL player.
Asked if Sam Gagner might sign with the Oilers as an unrestricted free agent, Spector believes he will. He’d be an affordable signing, his home is in Edmonton, and Oilers general manager Ken Holland could see Gagner as a future member of the front office.
(THE OTHER ) SPECTOR’S NOTE: Gagner is completing a three-year deal worth an annual average value of $3.15 million. He’s not getting that much ever again, but he could be a decent fourth-line pickup for the Oilers (or somebody else) on a one-year, $900K contract.
SPORTSNET: Eric Francis recently opened up the mailbag to address questions from Calgary Flames fans. Asked if the Flames might shake up their core, Francis doesn’t believe they will. Acknowledging the production of stars like Johnny Gaudreau is down this season, he feels the early end to this season ensures Gaudreau will return next season. He thinks players like Gaudreau and Monahan shouldn’t be shopped until they’ve had a shot at redemption.
(THE BETTER-LOOKING) SPECTOR’S NOTE: I didn’t put any stock into the trade rumors involving Gaudreau and Sean Monahan this season. Yes, their production was down this season, but they’re only a year removed from their respective career-high point totals. They’re still in the mid-twenties and very much in their playing prime. Unless they asked to be moved, they’re not going anywhere.
Francis thinks the Flames will kick tires on Taylor Hall if he tests the UFA market but believes they’ll use their cap space to plug holes in their defense corps than overspending on Hall. He also doesn’t see both T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic returning next season but Brodie could stay.
Francis also sees the Flames attempting to re-sign UFA goalie Cam Talbot or taking a stab at Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom or Vegas’ Robin Lehner. He doesn’t think they’ll try to buy out Milan Lucic’s contract, pointing out he fills an effective physical role, as well as his popularity with his teammates and among Calgary fans.
Asked if interim coach Geoff Ward will remain as their bench boss after this season, Francis believes he will, citing GM Brad Treliving saying he’s seen enough to make his decision. Following a shaky start, the Flames turned things around under Ward, who has a year remaining on his contract.
THE DETROIT NEWS: Ted Kulfan recently weighed in with his thoughts on what Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman will do with his 12 restricted free agents.
Tyler Bertuzzi will likely get a long-term deal. Anthony Mantha’s situation could be more complicated. He could sign a one-year deal to post up big numbers before his UFA eligibility in two years, or the Wings could ink him to a four- or five-year deal believing he’ll keep progressing.
Kulfan believes Robby Fabbri has shown enough this season to be part of the Wings’ short-term future. He expects Adam Erne to be re-signed but feels he must take a bigger step forward.
He wouldn’t be surprised if the Wings cut ties with Madison Bowey and Brendan Perlini.
Offseason questions for several Pacific Division teams in today’s NHL rumor mill.
THE SCORE: Sean O’Leary recently posed one offseason question for each NHL Pacific Division team. Among the noteworthy were the following:
What’s the direction for the Anaheim Ducks? O’Leary feels a full rebuild is necessary, but management hasn’t yet shown any desire to go that route.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: If general manager Bob Murray opts for a roster teardown and rebuild, he could consider shopping veterans such as Adam Henrique, Rickard Rakell, Cam Fowler and Josh Manson. All of them surfaced at one point or another in this season’s rumor mill.
Given the Calgary Flames’ salary-cap constraints, O’Leary wondered which of their unrestricted free agent defensemen will be back next season. He pointed out that Flames GM Brad Treliving attempted to ship T.J. Brodie to the Toronto Maple Leafs last year for Nazem Kadri before the latter was shipped to the Colorado Avalanche.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: With over $64.5 million invested in 13 players, the choice could come down to Brodie or Hamonic. I also read suggestions they could let Gustafsson walk in favor of retaining the more-affordable Michael Stone.
O’Leary asked how the Edmonton Oilers can build upon this season’s success. GM Ken Holland made some savvy moves to bolster their roster depth this season, but what else could be done?
He felt they’ll have to rely on finding cheap reinforcements while allowing youngsters like Kailer Yamamoto, Ethan Bear, and Evan Bouchard to develop into NHL players. He also wondered if they’ll re-sign goaltender Mike Smith for another year.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Oilers have over $70 million committed to 15 players, so the options are limited unless they make a salary-dumping move or two. Buying out James Neal has been floated by The Athletic’s Allan Mitchell. Some in the Edmonton media feel Smith’s done enough to earn another one-year deal.
Addressing the goaltending is a question for the San Jose Sharks. Starter Martin Jones has four years left on his contract with an annual average value of $5.75 million, and he’s hurt his trade value with successive poor performances over the last two seasons. O’Leary feels GM Doug Wilson will have to get creative.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: O’Leary mentioned the options of shopping the first-round pick in the 2020 draft they picked up from the Tampa Bay Lightning, but I don’t see Wilson moving that unless he gets an offer too good to refuse.
The Sharks GM has shown the ability to wheel and deal to get his club back on track following a lousy 2014-15 campaign. He could pull it off again.
What does Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom sign for?
SPECTOR’S NOTE: My guess is four years at $6 million annually. Discuss!
O’Leary wondered if the Vegas Golden Knights will re-sign goaltender Robin Lehner. The pending UFA goalie was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks at the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Unless they plan on a giant swerve by trading Marc-Andre Fleury, I don’t see how they can afford Lehner. After two solid seasons, he’ll be seeking a lucrative long-term deal. With over $72 million tied up in 14 players, the Golden Knights lack the cap space.