Johnny Gaudreau. Image by: Getty Images
Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau suggested the team has a three-year window to compete, but with some careful cap work and strong development, Calgary could contend for even longer.
On a list of off-season winners and losers, the Calgary Flames would have to be at or near the top.
Consider what GM Brad Treliving has done since his team’s season ended. First, he added goaltender Mike Smith, hopefully solidifying what has been a woeful crease in recent years, then brought aboard defenseman Travis Hamonic. Later, he traded for goaltender Eddie Lack, re-signed free agent defenseman Michael Stone and winger Kris Versteeg before free agency opened. And once July 1 came, Treliving added college free agent Spencer Foo and re-signed Micheal Ferland and Curtis Lazar.
But pundits and Flames fans aren’t the only ones who’ve been impressed by Treliving’s off-season moves, as Calgary winger Johnny Gaudreau has high hopes for the team’s future after watching Treliving’s handiwork. In fact, Gaudreau is so sold on it, he went ahead and said the Flames look as though they’ll now have a three-year window in which they can “do something pretty great,” according to NHL.com’s Dan Rosen.
Gaudreau’s estimated window isn’t simply an off the cuff remark, either. He’s obviously taken a look at CapFriendly once or twice. Gaudreau said that a lot of the Flames’ contracts will be coming up in two or three years and that means changes could be coming by that time. He’s bang-on, too, that there are some significant deals that will be expiring in the coming seasons.
After this coming campaign, the Flames will see contracts for Lack, Mikael Backlund, Matt Stajan, Kris Versteeg and Matt Bartkowski expire, with each set for unrestricted free agency. In addition, Freddie Hamilton will be eligible for restricted free agency with a chance to head to salary arbitration. The following off-season, heading into 2019-20, Ferland and Smith will both be eligible to become UFAs, while Curtis Lazar and Matthew Tkachuk will both be up for new deals as RFAs.
More than either of the two coming off-seasons, though, it’s the final year of Gaudreau’s suggested window that’s the one to watch. Heading into the summer ahead of the 2020-21 season, the Flames will see five players, each of whom earns $3.5 million-plus, have a shot at hitting the open market as UFAs. Up front, both Troy Brouwer and Michael Frolik will see their contracts expire, and on the back end, Hamonic, Stone and T.J. Brodie will have their current deals expire. Combined, those five players currently earn upwards of $21.3 million, and you can be sure that retaining all five in 2020-21 would cost far more. For the Flames, paying more than they currently do to retain the services of those five players simply won’t work, either.
But that doesn’t exactly mean the window will be closed in four years’ time.
Let’s start with the contracts in the near future, namely the deal for Backlund that will need to come before he hits the open market next summer. The 28-year-old has grown into a dynamite two-way pivot and an excellent complement to Sean Monahan on the top line. Keeping Backlund around is important and the Flames will almost assuredly work something out to keep him in town. As for Stajan, Versteeg, Bartkowski and Lack, there may be no harm in letting all four walk, especially as young talent begins to develop.
After that, it’s contracts for Ferland, Tkachuk and possibly Smith that will need to be worked out. Retaining Tkachuk, who had a stellar rookie year, will be a must. As for Ferland and Smith, they may both be on the outs by the time the 2019-20 season is set to roll around. Ferland has his merits. Smith, too. But two of the top prospects in Calgary are netminders. Tyler Parsons and Jon Gillies could be manning the crease in 2019-20 and beyond, giving the Flames a cheap, effective goaltending tandem.
And that brings us to 2020-21, the season following the upcoming three-year window. Things will be tricky at this point as contracts for Backlund, Tkachuk, Sam Bennett could be getting quite pricy, but there’s still no reason to believe the Flames can’t get the job done on a new deal for at least one of the three rearguards whose contracts will be up. Brodie, who will be entering his 30s, seems the most likely, and though he may be the most costly of the bunch, he’s proven over the past three seasons that he’s worth every penny. Add Brodie to a blueline that will still include Hamilton and a veteran Mark Giordano and Calgary should still have a stellar top four, and add even if Hamonic and Stone are forced to walk due to the Flames’ potential cap constraints, it doesn’t mean the defense is going to take a step back.
In the pipeline, Calgary has Oliver Kylington, Rasmus Andersson and Adam Fox ready to man the blueline in the future. All four were among the Flames’ top 10 prospects in THN’s 2017 Future Watch on a Calgary squad that had the 17th-best stock of prospects in the league. That’s not to mention rearguard Juuso Valimaki, who the Flames drafted 16th-overall in June. And when it comes to the offensive talents needed to fill holes that have been created by big-money deals for top-tier players, the likes of Foo, Mark Jankowski, Andrew Mangiapane and Hunter Shinkaruk are looking like future NHLers who could, in four years’ time, still be had for relatively cheap.
So, while Gaudreau is right that the next three seasons should see this group in the thick of Stanley Cup contention, Flames fans shouldn’t be worried about it being win in the next three years-or-bust in Calgary. Some of the faces may have changed, but by 2020-21, the Gaudreau-led Flames should still be a threat to chase down a title.
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