The Flames' long off-season has barely begun, and it's time to step back and evaluate exactly what we have to work with.
Despite missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season, their situation this summer is no different then it has been in years past. With 16 players signed through 2011-12, 15 unrestricted free agents in the organization come July 1st, seven RFAs, and just a potential $6,134,166 in cap space (via Capgeek), constructing a capable roster without moving some salary is going to be difficult. This is further complicated by the fact that the number of players on their current roster with some form of no-movement clauses has reached double digits, leaving their future in their own hands. The majority of these players are those whose movement may actually free up significant salary--enough for the Flames to make a move.
This refrain has become tired--repeated season after season since the salary cap's inception--but again, it rings true. The Flames have been and continue to be a perfectly middling club right up against the cap ceiling, and their situation doesn't look to improve until 2012-13 at the very earliest, when some of the heftier contracts (Cory Sarich, Niklas Hagman, Daymond Langkow) start to come off the books.
For the time being, the organization is in a sort of transition stage--clearing bad contracts and/or waiting for them to expire and (hopefully) not taking on much in the way of significant salary in return. With roster spots opening up, the opportunity is there for young prospects on entry level deals to stake their claim--specifically on defence, where the Flames have four expiring contracts as of July 1, but will management shed its propensity for signing veteran filler players (with additions as recent as trade deadline acquisition Fredrik Modin) in a misguided effort to return to the post-season promise land and give the kids a chance?
I suppose that depends on: a) who fills the general manager's role, and b) how much independence they have from upper management, all of whom have a decision to make pertaining to potentially sacrificing profit in order to build a better hockey team. Are we even at this point yet? Is two years without post-season hockey and a veteran-laden, cap-bloated team 'rock bottom?' Many Flames fans, including myself, sure hope so.
The Flames have the 13th overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft in just over two months' time, and although this year's draft may not be anything to write home about outside of the top five, there's always the possibility of a player falling to within the Flames' reach, and that is as good a place to start as any. Calgary was surprisingly quiet at the draft last summer under Darryl Sutter, who was apparently saving his pennies for free agency, but this year's festivities in Minnesota could provide a prime opportunity for Feaster or whomever else is in charge to move some spare parts for picks before their contracts expire, something many had hoped he would do at the deadline.
The draft is the next real milestone for Flames fans this summer, although the first and most important decision to be made ahead of next season--that of the general manager's position--could come before that, and could potentially alter further developments, not the least of which could be whom the organization chooses to select with their first-round pick and what direction it chooses to go with free agents, younger players, and the coaching staff, which has already shrunk by two members in the first weeks of the off-season. As for now, the vaunted off-season "review" is ongoing.
Once again, this summer should be an interesting one around these parts, and no doubt filled with ups and downs much like the recently concluded season itself. Such is life as a Flames fan. Stay tuned.