The Flames are in an interesting position this summer, in that they have a lot of bad contracts coming off the books. Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland accounted for almost $9 million in cap space these past 3 seasons, but their contracts have finally come to a conclusion. With the Salary Cap remaining flat, the Flames have about $22 million to spend. Although they need to spend some of that money signing RFAs like Sam Bennett, Micheal Ferland, Curt Lazar and Alex Chiasson, there will still some money leftover.
However, as we constantly see throughout the entire NHL, having money to spend can be a very dangerous proposition. We saw a great example of this in Calgary the past offseason, where the Flames overpaid significantly for an aging and overrated veteran in Troy Brouwer. One season into a four-year contract and the deal already looks like a mistake.
Sometimes it is better to save the money for something better, rather than just spend for the sake of spending. Here are a few players that the Flames should avoid acquiring this off-season, for one reason or another.
T.J. Oshie (68 GP, 33 G, 23 A, 36 PIM, 50.9% CF)
2016-17 Cap Hit: $4.175 M
I am going to start off with the hottest commodity on this year’s free agent market and a very popular suggestion among the fanbase for someone that the Flames should target. It is easy to see why people would want the Flames to acquire T.J. Oshie. He has good size, is willing to crash the net and is coming off a very productive season with the Washington Capitals. The Flames also have an open vacancy for a right-shot winger to play with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Oshie is a very compelling fit.
However, T.J. Oshie is not the right choice for the Calgary Flames at this point in time. First of all, he is the most productive and biggest name on the free agency market this year. He is going to be paid long-term with a big cap hit, as this is his last and best chance at a very lucrative contract. Secondly, he is already 30. He is around the age where players tend to exit their prime and will be on the decline throughout the deal. I’m sure he will be productive for a while, but it is hard to imagine you would be getting what you pay for a few years into the deal. Finally, his shoting percentage this year was sky high at 23.1%, way above his career average of 13.4% . It has been shown in many studies that this is not something that can be expected to be replicated, so while he will still be an offensive producer, it is not logical to bank on him scoring at this rate in the future. Plus, he is coming off this season playing for the offensive powerhouse Capitals.
If the salary cap did not exist, I would be all over T.J. Oshie. But, it does so let another team pay up for him.
Karl Alzner (82 GP, 3 G, 10 A, 28 PIM, 46.3% CF)
2016-17 Cap Hit: $2.8 M
Oshie’s teammate is another big name heading to the free agent market this year and he has a Calgary connection. He is a left handed shot which could push Brodie back to the right side which he has looked more comfortable with at times. He also fits a role that includes true stay-at-home sort of qualities that the Flames do not necessarily have in their top-4.
But, do the Flames really need a stay-at-home type in their top-4? Puck moving defensemen are where the NHL is these days. Nashville really showed that this post-season. Alzner has been shown to be a drag on possession on a strong Washington team. While he is a really solid player and would be a good addition to any NHL team, the Flames could probably get a player who could do a very similar job to Alzner for a lot less money, even if they did not have the “brand name” that Alzner carries with him.
Mike Smith (55 GP, 19-26-9, .914 SV%, 2.92 GAA)
2016-17 Cap Hits: $5.67 M
Mike Smith has been mentioned in trade rumours as a goaltender that the Flames have inquired about this offseason. Smith has been the starting goaltender for the Coyotes for many years and had a pretty good season for a bad Arizona team.
Is he the answer for the Flames though? I think Calgary is best suited to be looking elsewhere. He is 35, has quite the injury history and has had some pretty bad seasons in recent years. He also has a pretty high cap hit for the next couple years and the Coyotes likely value him more than he is worth, so the acquisition cost would probably be pretty high. He is also quite the hotheaded goaltender, which is not really something the Flames need to add into their organization considering the level of play he provides.
Michael Stone (With Arizona: 45 GP, 1G, 8A, 12 PIM, 42.6% CF, With Calgary: 19 GP, 2G, 4A, 20 PIM, 45.5% CF)
2016-17 Cap Hit: $4 M
Michael Stone was acquired a little bit before the trade deadline and played out the season with T.J. Brodie. Stone’s acquisition meant that Brodie no longer had to play with Dennis Wideman, a huge cause for celebration all across the fanbase. The Flames went on a huge win streak following Stone’s acquisition and Stone looked fairly good with Brodie. Is he worth bringing back though?
It really depends on how much money he wants. If he were willing to sign a cheap, short-term contract, it would not hurt to bring him back. The thing is, Stone is not a top-4 defenseman. The numbers show a long history of him playing with good partners (Ekman-Larsson, Brodie) and still putting up poor possession numbers. He has good qualities to his game, but a team can do much better than having him in a top-4 role.
If he is willing to take an affordable contract, he would be a good player to have on the third-pair and penalty-kill, that could be bumped up the lineup when needed. But, considering he made $4 million this past season, he would likely want to test the free agent market before committing to the Flames for a lower rate.
Kris Russell (68 GP, 1G, 12A, 23 PIM, 46.5% CF)
2016-17 Cap Hit: $3.1 M
We have been there, we have done that. Russell is fine in some regards and not good at all in others. There is just no need to go back to him, it would be better to let some of our prospects have a chance rather than dish out money to him. Let the Oilers re-sign him.
Marc-Andre Fleury (38 GP, 18-10-7, .909 SV%, 3.02 GAA)
2016-17 Cap Hit: $5.75 M
I am torn on whether Fleury is the goaltender the Flames should go after. There is a lot to like about him: he has been a part of 3 Stanley Cup teams, seems like a very good person to have on your team and has put up some very good seasons throughout his career. He also has just 2 years remaining on his contract at a reasonable cap hit and is only 32.
On the other hand, he has been plagued by inconsistency throughout his career. Perhaps the Flames would be better served to go after a younger goalie that has shown very well as a backup and may be ready for a starting role, kind of like how the Oilers acquired Cam Talbot or the Sharks acquired Martin Jones. There are a few players out there that could fit the archetype: Anttii Raanta, Phillip Grubauer, Jonas Korpisalo or Calvin Pickard. There is more risk there for sure, but they would all come in with much lower cap hits and they have the potential to be a long-term solution for the Flames until when and if one of the Flames’ goaltending prospects is ready to be an NHL starter.
I think it all comes down to the cost it would take to acquire Fleury. If it was just a mid-round pick or a “B-level” prospect, there is not a lot of reason to say no. But if the Penguins (or Vegas) are asking for a lot more for him, I don’t really see why the Flames should spend a lot on him when Brian Elliott or Steve Mason are just as good and could be had for only cash.
The Flames are in a pretty good spot financially. They have a lot of their core (Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Michael Frolik, Dougie Hamilton and T.J. Brodie) under contract at reasonable rates for at least 3 seasons. Bennett, Ferland and Lazar should not cost a lot to sign this summer. Mikael Backlund is the only key player who will need a new contract next off-season, but by then, Lance Bouma and Matt Stajan’s contracts will also be off the books.
However, they need to use the money they have available to them in an intelligent manner. No overpaying in money or term for aging veterans or players whose reputation is bigger than their actual skillset. In a salary cap world, financial flexibility is a massive asset than can be utilized to take advantage of teams that do not have such a luxury. A lot of the players listed above have value, but it is hard to see how they would fit into the financial structure of the organization in such a way that the benefit would outweigh the cost or risk. The Flames are entering the win phase of their building period, maintaining flexibility to be able to put them over the top in the future is imperative