During the Flames' rapid ascension from bottom-feeder to playoff contender during the last 12 months, it has become obvious that they won't be able to carry any dead weight salaries, nor players that won't be able to make significant impacts on the team, anymore.
The best teams such as Chicago or Tampa Bay require strong contributions from all 18 skaters every single night, and this means that there are certain players that will have to step their game up this year. The new additions of Michael Frolik and Dougie Hamilton have also erased almost any space the Flames had in their top nine and top four.
This article features five players that will need big seasons this year in order to have futures as Flames:
#1 RW David Jones; 2015-16 Salary: $4.0M; Contract Expires: End of 2015-16 (UFA)
Leading off is the highest paid skater on this list in David Jones. The Flames acquired him in the 2013 offseason from Colorado and while doing so, incurred his rather large $4 million dollar contract. Jones was signed to a four year contract in Colorado following back-to-back seasons of 27 and 20 goals.
Since that contract was signed, Jones' play hasn't reached anywhere near that level. In his 115 regular season games with the Flames, Jones has scored only 23 goals and really hasn't shown the production necessary to keep a spot past this season, especially at $4M a year.
While Jones seemed to find a new physical stride towards the end of this past season and in the playoffs, there doesn't seem to be much opportunity for him to re-sign with the Flames; especially with the expiring contracts of Monahan, Gaudreau, and Hudler on the forward side. Jones will most likely be a third liner this season and he'll need to have a bigger contribution coupled with a large salary reduction in the offseason if he hopes to be back in 2016-17.
#2 LW Mason Raymond; 2015-16 Salary: $3.15M; Contract Expires: End of 2016-17 (UFA)
Next we have Cochrane native Mason Raymond. The Flames signed Raymond last offseason prior to their rocketing up the standings. At the time, with the large amount of cap space the Flames had, and no real aspirations of making any run, the signing was still only somewhat palatable.
At the very worst, Flames fans thought he would be a good roster spot filler until the prospects and young players would be ready to enter their primes. Now, he's a contract that eats up a lot of money with minimal production.
Paying $3.15 million for a player who scored just 23 points and struggled to stay out of the press box at different points during the season is tough to stomach. However, there aren't a lot of good options to try and get rid of him, whether it be by trade or buyout.
Both Raymond and the Flames will be hoping for a big bounce back year, possibly to his 45 point season that he had in Toronto the year before last. Raymond will most likely need to hit the 20 goal plateau this season or he could be gone prior to the start of 2016-17, whether it be to another team or even the AHL.
#3 C Joe Colborne; 2015-16 Salary: $1.275M; Contract Expires: End of 2015-16 (RFA)
Colborne has had a couple of decent seasons here in Calgary since he was acquired from Toronto (lucky kid) prior to the start of the 2013-14. He's one of the Flames' shootout regulars and has played good hockey here in Calgary. The question is with his contract expiring at the end of this season, how much will he want, and will it be worth it to keep him?
Colborne, with his 6'5 frame, has tried to become a strong power forward during the late regular season and playoffs, and at times he looked pretty good doing so. However at other points, he seemed rather obsolete and his name often wasn't heard over the course of the game.
Colborne has scored 28 points in both his seasons here, his only real NHL experience. If he can pick that up this season, maybe reached the mid-to-high teens in goals, then I don't have an issue bringing him back on another short term deal after this season.
If he struggles though, I could see him ending up on another rebuilding team as Calgary's forward lineup has become a lot stronger in the last year and there may not be room for him.
#4 D Deryk Engelland; 2015-16 Salary: $2.916M; Contract Expires: End of 2016-17 (UFA)
From the day the Flames signed him, many fans scoffed at the acquisition of Engelland. After watching him for a season, it has become clear why.
There wasn't a lot of upside to his game and even then, he still didn't quite live up to expectations. With the addition of Dougie Hamilton, Engelland will almost always be playing the 6th or 7th defenceman this year and to pay him close to $3M is tough to stomach.
While there are a few things I like about his game such as his toughness and experience of playing on great teams in Pittsburgh, there is still a lot that needs to be improved upon for this upcoming season.
Engelland won't be seeing a lot of ice time this season, and as long as he can at least be a decent defender and not make me dread having our third pairing on the ice, then I can manage. However, being stuck with this contract now is tougher for the organization than watching his average-to-below average defence.
The fact that Engelland had a 3:22 shift in Game 6 against Vancouver with four icings showed just how much the Flames struggle when he is on the ice. Just be half decent this season and things will hopefully work out.
#5 The Goaltending Trio; 2015-16 Combined Salary: $8.9M; All Contracts Expire: End of 2015-16
With the contracts of Karri Ramo (UFA), Jonas Hiller (UFA), and Joni Ortio (RFA) all expiring at the end of the upcoming season, it will be crucial for one of them to finally win the starting job for good. While the Flames played the 1a-1b system well this past year, it is time for one of the veteran goalies to finally earn the top spot.
It's also very unlikely that the Flames will carry three goaltenders into opening day, so the battle for a spot will be going full force from day one of training camp in September.
Ortio also can't be left out of the starting goaltender mix as he showed very strong flashes of brilliance this past season at both the NHL and AHL levels prior to his essentially-season ending injury. His 36 save shutout against the Canucks gave a glimpse of what type of goalie he could become.
Ortio is definitely one of the goalies of the future here in Calgary and the main question is, is that future now? With Joni Ortio now on a one-way contract (and waiver eligible), and Jon Gillies expected to be pushing hard for a spot a couple of years down the road, either Ramo or Hiller will need to have great performances for the very start of this year if they want to be back with the Flames in the seasons ahead.
Nothing against Ramo, but I think Joni & Jonas would be a great name for a sitcom.