There are a number of steps to the restricted free agency process. First, you have to decide whether or not to qualify your restricted free agents throughout your organization, both NHL and AHL players. Then, the player has to accept the qualifying offer (which is almost always done). After which, you either get them signed, or they file for arbitration - and then you get them signed.
The Calgary Flames have already signed Mikael Backlund and Dougie Hamilton. That still leaves them with five RFAs that need new contracts. Of these five, Lance Bouma, Paul Byron, and Josh Jooris have elected to file for arbitration.
That leaves Drew Shore and David Wolf as the only two Flames eligible to file for arbitration who did not. It makes sense: both are newcomes to the Flames, with a combined 14 regular season games between them. That doesn't leave much of a leg to stand on in regards to a new contract.
That's not quite the story for the three filers, though.
Bouma, 25, has firmly established himself as an NHLer. The question now is just what kind of player he is. Projected as a fourth liner throughout his junior career, Bouma continued that role through his first few seasons with the Flames. However, halfway through this past year, that all changed.
In late January of this past season, Bouma was placed on Backlund's left wing on the second line. He, Backlund, and David Jones formed one of the Flames' most consistently-used lines from that point onward, and Bouma had an unprecedented scoring year: an unheard of-for-him 16 goals, and 34 points. His career high in junior was 14 goals.
That leaves Bouma - coming off a one-year, $775,000 deal - somewhat of a mystery. He's had a couple of months acting as a top six forward, pitted against several years of being a low-scoring bottom six player. He started primarily in defensive zones, but didn't fare particularly well. He put up a number of points, but had an unrealistically - for him - high shooting percentage in order to do so.
This poses Bouma's next contract as the most potentially problematic of the group. He may want top six money now - or something that indicates he's becoming a top six forward - but one year isn't enough to prove he deserves it. On the other hand, he was severely underpaid this past season, and definitely deserves a raise.
Hopefully the two sides will be able to come to an agreement before the arbitration date is met, because of all the upcoming contracts, this one may be the most complicated.
Byron, 26, has yet to play a full season in the NHL. This has been due to a couple of factors: a slow development curve, seeing him spend more time in the minors; and injuries. That said, Byron is a firmly established NHL player. He made the Flames out of camp this past season, and has looked good when in the lineup, even if he can't score on breakaways.
Coming off of a one-year, $600,000 deal, Byron definitely deserves a raise. His problem is the exact opposite of Bouma's: he's not a big scorer (just six goals, 19 points this past season, over 57 games), but he realistically slots anywhere in the lineup, and plays well. Where Bouma is a poor possession player - even when taking his defensive zone starts into account - Byron is a good one. Not only that, but he makes just about all of his teammates better, giving them a boost when they play on the same line.
Stats like corsi (or SAT, if you go by NHL.com) are still slowly being accepted into the mainstream, so it's unknown just how much weight they would carry in an arbitration hearing. That said, Byron should be a relatively easy re-sign, so it probably won't come to that. If it does, though, his case will be an interesting one.
Jooris, who will soon be 25, is the lone rookie of this group. He had a surprising training camp, which blossomed into the surprising start of an NHL career. Jooris missed five games at the start of the season in the AHL, but was the Flames' first injury recall, and he never looked back. Over 60 games this past season, he scored 12 goals and 24 points for a modest debut.
Jooris played everywhere from the second line to the fourth, centring Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler and having to babysit Brandon Bollig all in the same season. He was a positive possession player, but he was sheltered, starting primarily in the offensive zone.
Jooris' season kind of came out of nowhere, but he's absolutely an NHL player. The question is, just what kind of player is he? As of right now, he looks like he slots somewhere in the bottom six as a positive depth player. But is that actually what he is - and if it is, how much is that worth? He's coming off of a two-year, $925,000 entry level contract, and shouldn't command the raise Bouma and Byron will be getting, if only because he was already being paid a modest amount. A small raise is in order, but it should be settled before his arbitration date.
No need to worry
Players file for arbitration every season, but there are never as many hearings as there are filings. Last season, Joe Colborne was the lone Flame to file, but he was signed before his date came up.
Byron and Jooris should be pretty clear-cut players. Both spent time in the top six this past season, but neither is really a top six player. Both have some scoring talent, but not to the extent the Flames are relying on them for offence. They're assets to the Flames as excellent depth players, and fair deals will likely be reached with both, just as what happened with Colborne.
Bouma, on the other hand, is a whole other story. With 199 NHL games played, he has the most experience of the three. Because he finished his season in the top six, and had a scoring outburst, he may be viewed as that kind of player, and expecting to get paid as such. If the Flames disagree, though - and they should - then things have the potential to get messy.
They probably won't, though. Because they almost never do.