This off-season finding a goaltender is clearly the #1 priority for the Calgary Flames, but an equally important decision awaits the unit that guards the blue line in the Saddledome. Calgary has an open slot with Jakub Nakladal's contract being up and the question becomes: who fills that spot? Do the Flames bring Nakladal back? Does Dennis Wideman just slot right back in? What about Ladislav Smid? Tyler Wotherspoon? Deryk Engelland? Or is there another option out there in FA? Lots of questions and many, many different answers.
Currently, the Flames have a TON of cash tied up in their defence. They have 8 players total under contract and are shelling out a robust $27,804,567 to those 8 players (thanks to Cap Friendly for doing the math). Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and, unfortunately, Dennis Wideman eat a massive chunk of that change. Would you also be surprised to find out that Deryk Engelland makes almost $3 million? Or that Smid is pulling in an asinine $3.5 million? Every team has a few bad contractas, but the Flames have $8.75 million tied up between Wideman and Smid. Read that number again: $8.75 million. I'm fine with what the rest of the defencemen make. TJ Brodie has earned his cash. Deryk Engelland proved to be more valuable to the Flames than any of us could have imagined. In his limited time with the Flames, Jyrki Jokipakka also played very well and he's a steal at $900,000.
The wildcard in this scenario is Nakladal who's contract expired at the end of the 2015-16 season. Nakladal is an UFA and has shown enough that he should be offered a deal, but are there enough spots on the roster for him? As it stands now, no. The Flames would have to move at least one defenceman to make room for the Czech blue liner. Clearly Gio, Brodie, Engelland (although he's intriguing) and Hamilton aren't going anywhere, so that leaves us with Wideman and Smid as possible candidates to be moved. But does anyone really want those pieces? The were rumors that before Dennis Wideman had his "run in" with Don Henderson that the Boston Bruins were interested in trading for Wideman, but that all but dried up with the 19 game suspension. Couple that with him tearing a tricep muscle shortly after coming back from his suspension and he's not exactly the most appealing option. His numbers were SIGNIFICANTLY down from last season. The 32 year old played in 51 games and recorded 19 points (only 2 goals) compared to 2014-15 when he put up a career high 56 points (14 goals). Add in his ridiculous $5.25 million a year salary and I don't see ANYONE knocking down the door to take Dennis WIdeman from the Flames. How about Smid? Ladislav Smid found himself a scratch more often than not this season until the Wideman suspension. Once that happened Smid found himself pressed into duty and while he played well early on, he was exposed the more he played and ultimately got hurt and missed the final 2 months of the season. The 30 year old Czech played in a total of 22 games, didn't register a point and was a -7. He also is in the final year of a contract that pays him $3.5 million. Yuck. That's a pill I can't imagine anyone wanting to swallow.
The one thing that could make Wideman and Smid "appealing" trade options is they are both in the final years of their contracts. Both are UFA's and could be dealt for another expiring bad contract. These scenarios all line up like bad NBA contracts being traded for each other at the trade deadline, but they could be worth it, even if the Flames don't get the best end of the deal. The defence did play well when both Wideman and Smid were out of the lineup. Nakladal and Wotherspoon paired well together and Jokipakka more than earned his keep after being sent to Calgary in the Kris Russell deal. Deryk Engelland could be an interesting conversation piece though. While he does have a decent salary, he did exceed expectations this year. The 34 year old has a contract that is up and had 12 points this season and was a +7. Engelland did everything the Flames asked of him this year, including spending some time as a forward when needed. While dealing Engelland would get you something in return, you create a bigger hole in your lineup if you were to send him packing.
Would I like to see Nakladal return next season, yes, but the way the Flames have their defence structured right now it makes it hard to see it happening. Unless Nakladal takes a deal that sends him back to Stockton or the Flames dump one or two of the above mentioned players, bringing Jakub Nakladal back very hard. Nakladal showed enough that some team looking for a hard hitting defenceman may just sweep him off his feet with a decent deal. I'd have to guess Nakladal will get upwards of over $1 million a season and with the amount of cash already sitting on the Flames blue line is there enough room in the stable for one more? Unfortunately probably not, unless the Flames brass finds a team or two willing to take a couple of under performing players with ugly contracts.