With Brad Treliving reportedly working the phones (as usual) and the Flames sitting comfortably in a playoff spot, there have been a plethora of names tossed out as potential trade targets for the club. While there is a lot of merit to going the traditional rental route, that can sometimes have complications with older players (such as Claude Giroux) often holding NTC or NMC options on their contract which could prevent a move to Calgary.
Restricted free agents however won’t have this issue as they haven’t played in the league long enough to be eligible for such restrictions. Acquiring a RFA would also give the Flames added ability to retain the player past this season, or potentially qualify the player and then flip them for assets around the draft. If the player carries a high qualifying offer, the Flames could just also let the player walk as a UFA too. It would be a delicate balance between trading away assets for the player at the deadline and trying to weigh what you might get back from them either at the draft or as a qualified RFA.
It might be a smarter route to go all things considered, although you wouldn’t have quite the high end players that the UFA route will have. Here are a number of pending RFA’s that the Flames could consider adding to the forward core:
Lawson Crouse, Arizona
Crouse is a very interesting candidate in that he is a player that a team like Arizona would probably be better off retaining, but the ‘Yotes have sold off so much already that it stands to reason they might keep going. Coyotes beat writer Craig Morgan has recently said it appears the Coyotes will be holding onto Crouse, but if he ends up available he could very possibly pique the Flames interest. He brings a tantalizing mix of size and skill to the table and on paper seems like a great fit for a Darryl Sutter scheme. Standing at 6’4’’ 220 lbs, he would be an imposing force on the ice.
He has 22 points in 46 games this year on a very bad Coyotes team and is the only regular on the team to have an xGF% over 50%, sitting at 52.14%. Crouse also plays a ton of PK minutes, leading all Arizona forwards so far this year. Crouse would carry a required QO of $1.75M to retain him past this year, meaning he wouldn’t break the bank if you wanted to keep him as a depth piece going forward.
Kasperi Kapanen, Pittsburgh
Kapanen is an interesting player that seems to be available as he works his way through an up-and-down season in Pittsburgh. Also pressing matters is that it appears the Pens likely won’t be able to retain him past this season due to pending cap issues with the re-signing of Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.
Despite a relatively solid looking 24 points in 46 games this year, Kapanen has seen his usage decline in recent weeks, originally averaging in the mid-teens in ice time to around 11 minutes in the last few weeks. He might not fit the Sutter mold perfectly, but would provide some extra punch in the middle six while also have a right shot. The thing that is also important to understand with this deal is that Pittsburgh is firmly in a playoff spot and won’t be moving Kapanen for future assets. This would have to be some sort of hockey trade between the sides.
An interesting side note on Kapanen is that with his contract being structured differently, he only had a base salary of $800K this year despite the $3.2M cap hit. That would put his qualifying offer at a measly $840K, meaning that an acquiring team could use him for the playoffs, qualify him, and have all summer to sign him to a better/cheaper deal or move him elsewhere for assets without the risk of him taking the QO.
Patrik Laine, Columbus
This is a big one. We aren’t totally sure if the Blue Jackets are planning to move on already from the Finnish winger, but if they are, he’s worth a look. While Laine will likely never be a strong two-way player, he is an elite scorer in the NHL and would give the Flames a very dangerous right handed shot to utilize in their lineup. Calgary could put him on the third line but elevate him into the PP for his wicked one-timer option.
Obviously with acquiring Laine the Flames are going to have to part with legitimate assets and also acquire him knowing that it wouldn’t make sense to qualify him, instead letting him walk as a UFA. It’s for that reason that Calgary might not be a great fit for Laine, but at the same time Calgary could easily flip his rights to a younger team at the draft before they have to qualify him.
With a $7.5M QO, there’s no way that Calgary can add him to their list of players they need to negotiate with this summer, but if they overpay now (compared to a regular rental), they should comfortably be able to get some of those assets back this summer. Columbus’ willingness to move him is also a big question mark, considering they just acquired him last season from the Jets for Pierre-Luc Dubois and no GM likes to take an L on a big trade like that. It’s a tantalizing option though.
Jared McCann, Seattle
Jared McCann has quietly put together a pair of really strong seasons in back-to-back years now split between the Kraken and Penguins. He has 30 points in 42 games this year and had 32 points in 43 games last year, good for a roughly 60 point pace when averaged out to an 82 game season. He has carried solid possession numbers on a weak Seattle team while fair and away leading the team in goals with 19.
With a capability of playing center or wing and playing up and down the lineup, McCann ‘s versatility would be a very good add to a playoff team that needs a utility that can also provide a lot of offence. Things get tricky though for him in the same way they did for Crouse in that it feels like McCann is the type of player you want to retain if you are Seattle. McCann is likely also to be looking for an extension in the $5M range, so if the Flames were to acquire him, they’d be in a similar situation to Laine where they would probably have to look at moving him back out around the deadline.
Victor Olofsson, Buffalo
After bursting onto the scene as a rookie in 2019-20 with 42 points in 54 games (64 point pace), Victor Olofsson has seen his production fall over the last two years with just 32 points in 56 games last year and 21 in 37 this year. In some ways his decline has mirrored the departure of Jack Eichel from Buffalo who was no doubt a big part of his rookie production.
With Olofsson being a pending RFA and the Sabres still in full rebuild mode, he definitely would be an intriguing target. Olofsson has actually been playing pretty well this year when it comes to generating chances, especially on the powerplay but has been hampered by some bad luck. He is known for his booming slapshot and being able to be a nice scoring piece. Olofsson is a left handed shot but has predominantly played right wing with Buffalo and can flip to either side as needed, giving the Flames some lineup flexibility.
He is 26 years old meaning that he is likely outside of the window that Buffalo is gunning for in terms of players to carry forward, so it isn’t far-fetched all to consider him being moved. He carries a $3.05M cap hit this year which translates to a $3.25M QO. My guess is that barring a big finish to the year on the Sabres or a contender, his new deal probably won’t go much higher than that. If the Flames were to acquire him and he fit in well, there could be some merit to keeping him around and if not, letting him walk as a UFA or qualifying and trading him isn’t a terrible option either. Out of the above players, Olofsson does seem to be the most likely candidate to be a simple rental rather than a possible acquire-and-extend type of player.
Other RFA Options: Dominik Kubalik, Dylan Strome, Pavel Zacha, Artturi Lehkonen
Should the Flames go the RFA route instead of the UFA route? Or maybe they should do both? Do any of these names intrigue you? Whatever the answers are, Brad Treliving is sure to have his hands full over the next month or so.
Which RFA are you most interested in?
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