The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the world into disarray. While it’s not even close to the most important thing that has been impacted, the NHL will undoubtedly see major changes coming as early as a few months from now.
The NHL is facing a lot of uncertainty on if they’ll get an opportunity to finish their season, with many proposals being tabled and discussed at length. It seems to be a guarantee at this point that even if hockey does come back, there won’t be fans in the stands. Heck, at this point even by next fall we don’t know if all teams will be able to have fans back at the games depending on their location.
With that being the case, it isn’t a stretch to expect a massive revenue shortfall this year from lost tickets, merchandise, television potentially, and many other sources being clawed back. When this happens, the players often end up taking the brunt of it as well, and that seems to be the case as the salary cap projections have been drastically altered from what we even saw a few months ago.
At certain points during the 2019-20 season, we were hearing of projections of the cap being anywhere up to $88M. Now, it sounds very likely that it remains at $81.5M, and it could even fall depending on how the next few months go and if hockey actually gets played.
The salary cap has risen steadily by about 2-4M on average per year since the last lockout, and it’s safe to assume GM’s were planning for at least that raise next year, if not more. Last summer when the cap raise was smaller than expected, it threw a few cap-strapped teams into disarray, now it could get really tight again.
While the Flames aren’t in a position where they’ll have to rid themselves of contracts, they are going to be in a tough position. The Flames would have only 16.9M to use if the cap stays flat, with only 9F 3D and 1G currently on the books according to Capfriendly. Notable pending free agents include Andrew Mangiapane, T.J. Brodie, Erik Gustafsson, Travis Hamonic, and Cam Talbot.
There are going to be tough decisions, but here are four players who could get a better shot next year, thanks to the lower salary cap and the value of their low cap hit.
While he’s a pending RFA right now, his qualifying offer would only come in at 787k according to Capfriendly. Gawdin had 47 points in 53 games this year with Stockton, earning a callup to the Flames but not playing in any games. Gawdin was named to the AHL All-Star showcase for the Pacific team.
With the Flames potentially moving on from Mark Jankowski this summer depending on what kind of money he wants to return, the Flames will have a C opening in the bottom six, or you could place him on a wing spot. Chances were that he was going to get a good shot to crack the lineup in 2020-21 anyways, but with a reduced cap and his low cap number, his odds just went up.
The situation for Phillips is very similar to Gawdin in that he had a great sophomore season in the AHL this past year and was probably already in the conversation to crack the Flames roster next fall.
While his size has always been a question mark for some, he’s shown the ability to excel at every level he’s played at so far. He had 33 points in 38 games this year and was also named to the AHL All-Star Game but was forced to miss due to injury. Phillips will be on the final year of his ELC next year at a cap hit of 733k, with no performance bonus potential as far as I can tell. Phillips would slot well into the bottom six and bring some speed and skill to the unit.
A lot of his potential opportunity in 2020-21 will come down to how the Flames choose to move forward with this defence core entering free agency. With Brodie, Hamonic, and Gustafsson all expecting raises, not all can stay. The Flames system is pretty lacking on the right side outside of them, so an opportunity may be there for Yelesin to at least start earning regular NHL minutes on his 925k contract.
Yelesin got into four games this year with the Flames and dressed for 38 in Stockton. He is definitely a more defensively focused defenceman and with Hamonic being the least likely to re-sign in my opinion, there may be a role for Yelesin to fill as a 6/7 dman.
Jon Gillies or Artyom Zagidullin
I really hope the Flames find a way to bring back Cam Talbot, but for an organization who seems to really be putting their eggs in the David Rittich basket, it might not be smart to put in at least $2.5M on a goalie that won’t be your starter when cash is tight.
That could open the gates for Gillies or Zagidullin to at least make some noise in training camp. Personally I thought Gillies would be done in the organization before all this as he’s a UFA but perhaps the team gives him one last crack, he did perform better in 2019-20.
As for Zagidullin, he’s a very intriguing prospect that the Flames have invested some assets in as they experienced a Russian Renaissance in the organization. He had a solid year record-wise in Stockton after a hot start, but his numbers dropped towards the end of the year despite still getting results. He seems to have had a very similar trajectory to David Rittich, and for someone who will likely sign below 900k, perhaps it’s worth giving him a look and then finding a similar priced backup if he really struggles.
One thing is entirely clear heading into the 2020-21 offseason (whenever that may be) and that is that there will be a lot of unknown. These four players may be able to parlay their low cap hits into a significant NHL opportunity simply because the Flames may not be able to afford to pay people much more. It’s probably not ideal, especially in the crease, but the alternatives aren’t any more appealing if you’re trying to save some money. Might as well stick within the organization with guys you’ve developed for some time.