With free agency set to begin tomorrow, the Flames have decided which of their restricted free agents they want to hold on to. The rights of six will be retained by the Flames: Chad Billins, Lance Bouma, Joe Colborne, Mark Cundari, Ben Hanowski, and Joni Ortio. This leaves Paul Byron, TJ Galiardi, David Eddy, James Martin, and Olivier Roy set to hit free agency.
Chad Billins played 10 games for the Flames this past season. He scored three assists and averaged just 12:12 a game. He had a much better year in the AHL, where he spent most of the season, posting 10 goals and 42 points over 62 games for the Heat. Qualifying Billins is odd, since he wasn't getting much of a chance at the NHL level - as far as Heat defencemen callups go, Tyler Wotherspoon ended up playing far more than him - and he just signed a deal to play in the KHL.
Lance Bouma established himself as an NHL regular this season, spending the entire year with the Flames, mostly on the fourth line. The 24-year-old scored five goals and 15 points over 78 games while averaging 12:36 a game, though his ice time increased as the season went on. When injuries struck, Bouma was relied upon to play on more skilled lines, and did reasonably well. He's also, well, truculent, and it's not surprising to see him return to the Flames' bottom six.
Joe Colborne was acquired from the Maple Leafs last season for a fourth rounder. Initially a centre, when the likes of Mikael Backlund, Sean Monahan, and Matt Stajan ahead of him on the depth chart, Bob Hartley converted him to a winger and put him on Monahan's line. The convert to wing greatly benefited Colborne, and it's where he should start next season. Colborne had a good rookie season, scoring 10 goals and 28 points over 80 games, where he averaged 14:16 a game. The Calgary native will look to build on that now that he's an established NHL regular.
Mark Cundari, one of the parts of the Jay Bouwmeester trade, was dealt to the Chicago Wolves in an AHL transaction last January, so it seemed as though he wasn't meant long for the Flames. He's also relatively small at 5'9, but is nearly 200 lbs. The Flames have decided to keep the truculent 24-year-old, though. He scored nine goals and 23 points over 56 AHL games, and played four games for the Flames, but only averaged 10:46 of ice time in them. Cundari may challenge for a job with the Flames next season, but is more likely to start the year in Adirondack - especially since the Flames have apparently decided to keep him.
Ben Hanowski was part of the Jarome Iginla trade, but hasn't shown much. He scored 13 goals and 31 points over 55 games for the Heat, and played 11 games for the Flames, only scoring two assists and averaging just 7:14 of ice time. He'll be 24 when next season starts, and isn't likely to become an NHLer - his skating just isn't good. This one is puzzling, since the regime that traded Iginla is gone so there's no face left to save.
Joni Ortio is currently the Flames' closest goaltending prospect. After finally coming over to North America, he posted a .926 SV% for the Heat and was named to the AHL's all rookie team. He had nine starts for the Flames, posting a SV% of .891, and scoring two assists. He'll likely be Adirondack's starter next season, where he'll get playing time, rather than receiving meagre starts behind Karri Ramo, and is definitely in the organization's plans.
Those let go
The biggest surprises on this list are Paul Byron and TJ Galiardi, two players who spent most of the past season with the Flames.
Byron, who is 5'7 and weighs 153 lbs., seemingly broke into the NHL for good when he was called up in late November and stuck. He ended up playing 47 games for the Flames, scoring seven goals and 21 points, all while being one of the Flames' better possession players (50.4 CF%, and +3.7 CF% rel which was sixth out of all Flames regulars). Byron had arbitration rights as a RFA, which may be the only sensible reason the Flames decided not to qualify him, because there really is no other reason (and even then this reason isn't a good one, because how much salary can someone who has just gotten into the NHL command?). Other than, oh yeah, he's 5'7 and 153 lbs., which is apparently bad now.
Galiardi is less surprising, but I would have kept him: injuries happen and he can play literally anywhere in the lineup, he'd come cheap, and he loves Calgary (maybe a little too much). He was also one of the Flames' better possession players, with a 49.5 CF% (which, sadly, was really good compared to the rest of the Flames - a +2.5 CF% rel, just behind Byron for seventh on the team), and the team's top penalty drawer. That said, he did only score four goals and 17 points over 62 games, but Hartley didn't seem to like him, frequently healthy scratching him and never giving him any powerplay time. He could easily rebound this year - his SH% was only 7.2 - but he does end up taking up a roster spot. (Of course, when those spots are filled by Brian McGrattan and Brandon Bollig...)
As for the other three unqualified RFAs, the only other one who is eyebrow raising is Olivier Roy, who came to Calgary alongside Ladislav Smid in exchange for Roman Horak and Laurent Brossoit. Roy only posted a .902 SV% in the 12 games he played for the Heat, so he isn't exactly a big loss, especially with Ortio expected to start most of the farm team's games.
David Eddy only played 19 pro games last season, 14 of which were in the ECHL, where he was .5 points per game. James Martin spent almost the entire year in the ECHL for the second year in a row.
In addition to the RFA qualifications, the Flames have used one of their two compliance buyouts on Shane O'Brien, whose meagre $2 million salary comes completely off the cap. O'Brien probably would have spent the entire year in the AHL anyway, so it's no loss, except the Flames will need to spend some more money to reach the cap floor. They still have to spend nearly $12 million, and with free agency tomorrow, they should be looking at reaching that.