In case trading the team's captain and its best defenceman wasn't enough of an indication, the Flames are looking toward the future and away from the shortened NHL season that has them sitting in 14th place in the Western conference through 35 games.
Last weekend the Flames signed 2011 second round pick defenceman Tyler Wotherspoon to an entry-level deal. Wotherspoon played for Team Canada at the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championships in Russia. He had a goal and an assist in the tournament, but he scored a career-high 37 points in 61 games in his fourth season with the WHL's Portland Winterhawks and is currently scoring at a point-per-game pace in the playoffs with two goals and six points in six games.
Wotherspoon, who recently turned 20, could return to junior as an overager or he could turn pro next year. If the Flames try to ship out some more contracts this summer like Anton Babchuk and Cory Sarich, I could see Wotherspoon getting a good look at training camp next season, but there's no need to rush him. The Flames have hit some home runs with defencemen in recent years with the likes of Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie, and much like Brodie, Wotherspoon is putting up some impressive point totals for a defenceman in the latter years of his junior career.
The Flames do have cap space, however and I don't think up-and-comers like Wotherspoon should necessarily prevent them from seeking a defenceman to play on the top pairing in an attempt to replace Jay Bouwmeester, but they shouldn't go out and sign a bushel of mediocre defenders and clog up their blueline again to eliminate any chance for defensive prospects to crack the lineup, as was their problem with Brodie really up until this season.
Today, the Flames also announced that they have signed goalie prospect Laurent Brossoit to an entry-level deal. With speculation that Miikka Kiprusoff might retire in the off-season, the Flames are also attempting to get a feel for the development of the prospects in their goaltending stable. Brossoit is turning 20 next month and is likely not close to being NHL ready, but he is also having an impressive season with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL. The Flames' sixth round pick in the 2011 draft was named the CHL Player of the Week on Tuesday after the Oil Kings beat the Kootenay Ice in five games to advance to the second round of the WHL playoffs.
WIth the recent acquisition of Reto Berra and Karri Ramo likely to come over from the KHL once the Flames can negotiate a contract with him (after April 30th), Calgary has some older, more developed netminders ready to either take the reigns or step in to share the load next season depending on the course of action Kiprusoff takes. Ramo will be 27 in July, the same age Kiprusoff was when he became a starter with the Flames, and Berra is 26. This may finally be the year that the Flames cut ties with Leland Irving. Soon to be 25-year-old Irving, who has appeared in only 11 games with the Abbotsford Heat this season, will be an RFA this summer. The Flames also have Danny Taylor (RFA) and Joey MacDonald (UFA) to contend with in the off-season, so either way they will have some decisions to make regarding their future in the crease. It's encouraging to see them taking a proactive stance in addressing the issue now rather than waiting for the final word from Kiprusoff. Lack of a top-flight goalie ready to take over immediately could be a concern, but at the moment I would say it's a small one considering the quality of the players in front of him.
As an aside, the only players in the Flames' 2011 draft class not yet to be signed to an ELC by the organization are John Gaudreau and Markus Granlund. I imagine that will be remedied with regard to Gaudreau relatively soon as the five foot seven forward has been named a finalist for the Hobey Baker award, so that's a little bit of good news for some Flames fans who may be in the depths of despair right now.