Last year they danced, this year it’s bound to get more serious.
And the most logical target will be a man they quietly courted last June: Ben Bishop.
“I thought it was close but I guess it wasn’t that close,” last year’s Vezina Trophy finalist confirmed during the World Cup last fall of a possible move west.
“It wasn’t a case of Calgary and I not coming to terms. It was more of a familiarity thing. We never got down to the nuts and bolts of it. I was kind of not in the loop as I thought we were moving forward and then they went and got Elliott – so it had nothing to do with contracts or anything like that.”
Obviously the interest is there, as is the vacancy in net. Again.
Bishop is the best available and now he’s an unrestricted free agent.
Last summer the Flames were given permission by Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman to discuss a possible contract extension for the 6-foot-7 Vezina Trophy finalist with an eye on a possible trade. However, while Bishop was in the midst of calling everyone he knew who played in Calgary as reference checks, he saw news Elliott was traded while watching the draft.
Flames GM Brad Treliving, who will very soon ink a new contract of his own, is once again heading into the summer with goaltending as his number one priority. It was the club’s biggest issue the first half of the year and the last half of their four-game sweep by Anaheim.
Had it been better early on the Flames might not have drawn their kryptonite – Anaheim – in the first round.
As recently as a week ago it appeared likely the Flames would enter serious talks to sign the 32-year-old Elliott to a long-term deal. That is until the unrestricted free agent coughed up a three-goal lead to lose Game 3 in overtime, followed by a beer league goal five minutes into Game 4 that saw him pulled for the last time as a Flame.
Expect Treliving to publicly disagree Friday, but no way that relationship can be revisited, especially long-term. Constant questions would swirl around him to the point of being a major distraction.
Fans wouldn’t stand for it.
Although the team has a lengthy list of solid goaltending prospects like Tyler Parsons, David Rittich and Jon Gillies (an RFA) the favourite to return as the backup is hometown hero, Chad Johnson.
It should be an interesting summer for the Flames on a number of fronts.
Linesman Don Henderson launched a $10.25 million lawsuit against Dennis Wideman and the Flames Thursday, the same day Buffalo cleaned house, sparking rumours Treliving or even Brian Burke might be considered for the GM job.
Garbage bag day Friday will be an interesting one.
Once exit interviews are finished Treliving will get to work on protecting his next goalie, by augmenting the core trio of Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton.
Unrestricted free agent Michael Stone was an admirable rental down the stretch and was certainly a solid second-pair addition the team would love to re-sign if the price is right.
Deryk Engelland is also on the open market and could very likely be re-signed by the Flames after the Vegas expansion draft for less than the $2.9 million he made in Calgary as its toughest hombre and wildly popular teammate.
Wideman and his $6 million salary are gone.
Up front the Flames will have to re-sign restricted free agents Micheal Ferland, Sam Bennett and Curtis Lazar as all three will be protected in the Vegas expansion draft.
Ferland and Bennett will be looking for more than the $2.2 million fourth-line winger Lance Bouma is making, while Lazar will be easier to sign as a reclamation project.
Troy Brouwer ($4.5 million for three more years) will be exposed in the Vegas draft, as will Matt Stajan (one year at $3.25 million), with the very real possibility neither is snagged.
Treliving did a great job insulating his club from Vegas, ensuring no one of significance is lost as Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik will all be shielded.
Kris Versteeg ended up being a stellar signing last fall at $950,000 and would be very interested in returning given how well he fit in. The feeling could be mutual if the price is right.
It’s unlikely RFA Alex Chiasson is looked at the same way.
With a solid core intact, a significant goaltender and a top-four defenceman top the team’s wish list.
A relatively straight-forward off-season indeed for a club that saw the summer come far too quickly.