NHL Scout's Analysis: How the Flames could navigate a complicated off-season

Ryan Leslie and Eric Francis chat about free agent Johnny Gaudreau's future, his legacy with the Flames, and Matthew Tkachuk's love for Calgary.

As the dust settles and emotions subside it’s time to review the season that was for the Calgary Flames.

I personally had the Flames as my Stanley Cup winner in the highly scientific Sportsnet pre-playoff predictions. I even went as far as to suggest Jacob Markstrom would win the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP.

Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers had other ideas.

The Flames have the potential to be a very good team again next season, but Brad Treliving is going to have a busy summer attempting to keep most of this group together. They have some key UFA and RFA contracts that will need to be negotiated and massaged to fit under the $82.5 million dollar salary cap for 2022-23.

The following is an unbiased year-end review of the Calgary Flames roster and potential moves they may need to make before the start of training camp in September:

Hockey Operations

Treliving and his staff assembled a team that fits the style of play their head coach wants to employ: a detailed, competitive, in your face, no easy ice game.

They plugged some key holes on the back end with timely additions of Erik Gudbranson and Nikita Zadorov. Both players require new contracts this off-season, but it’s fair to say the Flames got everything they expected and more from their combined $5.7 million in salaries.

Blake Coleman was signed last summer and contributed in his role.

They gave up a third-round pick to Boston for goalie Dan Vladar and he gave them some solid backup minutes behind Markstrom.

Calle Jarnkrok and Tyler Toffoli were in-season acquisitions, and the former will be a UFA this summer.

The team plays to an identity. They are a heavy squad on the back end who lean on opponents. Up front they have a nice mix of speed, skill, and muscle in the trenches. They came up short in the playoffs, but the front office did a nice job of piecing this team together. The heavy lifting will take place in the coming weeks with contracts due for Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane, Jarnkrok, Gudbranson and Zadorov.

With that in mind, here is the Flames end of season roster report.

2021-22 FLAMES ROSTER ANALYSIS

Goaltending

Jacob Markstrom: He had a strong regular season, is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, and is one of the top goalies in the NHL. His stats (63GP, 2.22GAA, .922SV%) are at the top of the class. He’s signed through 2025-26 with an AAV of $6 million and a full NMC. His playoffs certainly could have been better. He made his share of big saves, but there is no question the team needed him to come up with more timely stops than he delivered against Edmonton. A big body goalie who, in my opinion, was far too active tracking the play against a fast Oilers team. At times he was too deep in his net. In other scenarios his lateral push took him outside the blue paint/posts and he lost his net. The Flames need him to be better next spring.

Dan Vladar: A reliable backup option, Vladar is only 24 years old and has a chance to grow into more of a role and play more games moving forward. A big body at 6-foot-5, he takes up a ton of net and has decent physical tools for a goalie his stature. He’s been on the radar for several years going back to his days in Czechia. For me it has always been a consistency issue when analyzing his game. There are nights he looks like he is capable of being a No. 1, but there are still some nights he loses his focus and lays an egg. Having said that, I do trust him more today than I have in the past, but it’s still a work in progress. He has one more year left on his contract paying $750,000 before becoming an RFA.

via CapFriendly

Defencemen

Noah Hanifin: In time he is going to be paid more than his current contract ($4.95 million AAV). He’s signed through 2023-24 and has a modified, eight-team no-trade clause. Hanifin does it all for the Flames. He is deployed in all situations and plays a responsible game in all three zones. A distributor on the PP, he’s a fantastic skater. In 81 games this past season he contributed 10 goals and 48 points and he's still only 25. The best years of his career could still be on the horizon.

Rasmus Andersson: He logs big minutes in all situations and produced four goals and 50 points in the regular season. When he sees an opening, he isn’t shy about leading the rush offensively. On the PP he leans distributor more than shooter, but it’s a bit misleading. He shoots the puck accurately from distance and could score more goals moving forward. I did feel his detail in the playoffs could have been better. He seemed to follow the play or lose control of his defending space. I expect he will be better next spring. A very competitive player, he’s on a fantastic contract for what he brings ($4.55 million AAV) and is signed through 2025-26.

Chris Tanev: He’s a warrior and always has been. The team knows what they're getting in Tanev. He’s a two-way “D” who gives the group some secondary offence, but his true identity is that of a strong area defender who bodies up and blocks shots. He has been instrumental in the development of Oliver Kylington as well. He’s signed for two more seasons at a reasonable AAV of $4.5 million and has a Modified NTC (10-team list).

Oliver Kylington: He looks poised to take his game to another level. I observed his confidence rising throughout the season. He’s an elite skater who can lead the rush or join as an extra layer. The team is gaining confidence in his ability to be used in all situations and now he’s due for a raise. His last contract paid him $787,000 this past season and now he’s an RFA with arbitration rights. His new salary has the potential to push one of the veteran UFAs off the roster.

Erik Gudbranson: My friends in the analytics community have him on a poster in their offices as a player their metrics don’t support. The eye test wins out for me with Gudbranson. He contributed the way the team had hoped he would. There is clearly a comfort level with his style of play and the expectations of Darryl Sutter. Whether or not he stays on is going to come down to budget. He was on a team-friendly one-year “prove it” deal this season that paid him $1.95 million. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. He logged heavy/hard minutes and brought value to their D corps. He doesn’t bring much offence, but his decisions moving the play out of his zone and distributing overall were much more reliable this year.

Nikita Zadorov: Zadorov has had a difficult time finding a permanent home in the NHL. With stops in (Buffalo, Colorado, Chicago and Calgary) so far in his career. He’s a giant of a man (6”6 235lbs) who leans 2-way / Defensive “D” and plays a physical brand. At 27 years of age the Flames know what to expect from him if they decide to bring him back. He’s a UFA who made $3.75 million this past season. His salary is too much with raises due for other players on this roster. If he takes a discount, they might be able to fit him in.  

Michael Stone: His career path has been a patient one, but the Flames clearly trust his style of play. Make no mistake, Stone is a depth defender who is likely a No. 7 more than a No. 6 on the depth chart. When he did get a chance in playoffs, he was pretty reliable. He brings size and smarts and at the league minimum salary he still has some miles left on his tires. He also is a UFA.

via CapFriendly

Forwards

Mikael Backlund: Potentially a life-long Flame. Originally drafted in the first round (24th overall) in 2007. If I’m poking holes in his game I would ask for more offence in the regular season. His 12 goals and 39 points in 82 games are solid secondary offensive stats, but the argument could be made that more is expected from a forward being paid $5.35 million. The bottom line, however, is that Backlund can be deployed in a variety of roles offensively and defensively. He plays with pace and he’s involved. In the playoffs this season he scored five goals and eight points while matched up against top opponents. He’s signed through 2023-24 and holds a modified no-trade clause (10-team list).

Elias Lindholm: His regular season was very productive (82GP, 42G, 82PTS) and his playoffs also produced offence (12GP, 5G, 9PTS). He’s signed to a team friendly contract if he can repeat, or come close to repeating, the season he just had, with an AAV of $4.85 million through 2023-24. From the middle of the ice in the offensive zone he possesses the most dangerous quick release/goal scoring option on the team. If Tkachuk and Gaudreau are back it gives the Flames a stable and lethal top scoring line with Lindholm in between.

Blake Coleman: Coleman is a player who can play up and down the lineup, and someone who brought speed and tenacity to the forward group. My feeling is the Flames see him as the kind of contributor that helps the team win games outside of producing pure offence. He’s an excellent penalty killer who also matches up against top opponents. I believe he can produce more than the 16 goals and 33 points he got this season in 81 games. At an AAV of $4.9 million the Flames would certainly welcome a bit more offence from Coleman, but it would be a bonus considering he has never produced more than 36 points in his best season (2018-2019 with New Jersey). He's signed through 2026-27 and holds a NTC through 2022-23.

Tyler Toffoli: In 74 games split between Montreal and Calgary, Toffoli scored 20 goals and 49 points in 2021-22 and then added two goals and five points in 12 playoffs games. He was acquired by the Flames to provide more scoring depth and contribute on the PP. Years ago Toffoli came into the league with the obvious element of being a point producer. There has always been concern about his pace, but he has had a very good career and maintained his element for the most part. However, I personally felt he had a difficult time with the pace of the Edmonton series. He’s signed through 2023-24 at an AAV $4.25 million and does not have trade protection...unless you consider the fact Sutter loves the player.

Dillon Dube: A bit of a conflicting player for me. I appreciate how hard he competes, that he isn’t shy about getting involved in traffic, plays with speed, and adds a secondary scoring element to the Flames forward group. The reason I’m conflicted is he has the look of player who can contribute even more than he does. His last year in the minors before becoming a full time NHL player produced 15 goals and 39 points in 37 games for Stockton in 2018-19. I’m not suggesting the player is going to suddenly become a point per game scorer at the NHL level, but I do think there is potential for more than a 32-point season (what he scored this year) from Dube. He’s signed through 2023-24 with an AAV of $2.3 million. He’s a solid middle of the lineup player for Calgary.

Calle Jarnkrok: I was one of the people who endorsed the addition of Jarnkrok at the deadline. He has a history of being a quick, fast, energetic player who never goes away. He can be like the mosquito on your back deck on a hot summer night. His time in Calgary was average at best, though. He did bring some energy, but I didn’t feel his impact was what it could have been. Having said all of that his playoffs did give some reason to believe he can still bring value. He’s a pending UFA who made $2 million last season. With his offensive numbers on the decline for the past three seasons he will need to sign a team friendly deal if he wants to return to Calgary. The Flames have time to shop before circling back with Jarnkrok.

Milan Lucic: With over $71 million in career earnings, Lucic is a true power forward who has a presence and is loved by coaches, teammates, and the fan base. In his past five seasons he has played 367 games and contributed 44 goals and 118 points for an average of 0.32 points per game. His salary over the same five years adds up to $30 million. I have the utmost respect for Lucic and what he has contributed over the years. I’m positive he will age into retirement with more body pain than most former NHL players. He has earned respect. The issue for me is the Flames face a cap crunch and his contract is far too expensive for the role he plays. Especially when I consider the other notable names that need new contracts and the fact the team might not be able to afford at least one of them (Mangiapane, Tkachuk, Gaudreau, Gudbranson, Zadorov). Lucic's AAV is $6 million and he has a modified NTC-NMC. But a buyout isn’t an option for Lucic with the way his contract is structured. Without going into the long form details the result would only save Calgary $666,000 on the cap. He’s expensive for his role, but the only way they get out from under this deal is if he agrees to a trade to a team he wants to be a part of.

Trevor Lewis: He has been surviving on one year deals the past couple of seasons. He’s 35, but he’s cheap and continues to provide some depth minutes at the NHL level. He played his best hockey in the playoffs, producing two goals and five points in 12 games. The team might circle back with him later on in free agency if they can’t find someone to play at league minimum. Sutter likes Lewis as well and trusts him, but he's a fourth line/13th forward option.

Sean Monahan: His game has fallen off drastically. Before his season came to an end with injury, he produced only eight goals and 23 points in 65 games. He has had hip surgery and by all accounts is on the road to recovery. The Flames find themselves boxed in with his contract. Monahan will be entering the last year of his deal that carries an AAV of $6.375 million. He also has a modified no-trade clause (10-team list). The issue Calgary has is they can’t buy out Monahan while he is injured. Even when he was healthy his market value was minimal in trade scenarios … especially at his salary. The player likely wants to continue on with his career, but if he is too injured to play next season the only relief Calgary has from this scenario is placing Monahan on LTIR for cap relief. It’s a terrible situation for both the player and team. The bottom line in my opinion is, even when healthy, Monahan struggles with the pace of the NHL game and his contract is a massive anchor for the Flames.

Brett Ritchie: He’s a “nice to have” not a “need to have”. Ritchie is only 28 years old and he skates well enough to keep up at the NHL level. A big body forward who can wear on opponents down low in the offensive zone. He brings a physical presence, but very little offence and is set to become a UFA. At $900,000 the team should be able to find more bang for the buck in free agency or from within the organization.

Andrew Mangiapane: Things start to get really interesting here with Mangiapane. He’s a pending RFA with arbitration rights coming off a 35-goal, 55-point season in 82 games. His 2021-22 AAV was $2.425 million. Consider his first contract was his entry-level deal carrying an $800,000 AAV and his next contract was a one-year, $715,000 deal before jumping up to the referenced $2.425 million. I don’t see any scenario where he signs a long-term deal with the Flames this off-season. He will have to bet on himself to a degree, but the payout could be enormous if he walks to UFA after next season. I’m anticipating his one-year deal this summer to pay around $5 million. If he scores 35 goals again next season he'll walk to UFA and will fetch well above that number on a long-term deal. It is what it is. Enjoy him for one more year Flames fans. He will be motivated and play a significant role for Calgary in 2022-23.

Matthew Tkachuk: I have to be realistic about this scenario. Tkachuk is coming off a season that he produced 42 goals and 104 points in 82 games and then added four goals and 10 points in 12 playoff games. He’s an RFA coming off a contract with a cap hit of $7 million, but which was structured in a way to actually pay him $9 million in salary this past season.

On a long-term deal I believe Tkachuk and his representatives are going to value his services in the same category as the following players (based on AAV):

Artemi Panarin, NYR: $11.6 million
Mitch Marner, TOR: $10.9 million
Nikita Kucherov, TB: $9.5 million
Mark Stone, VGK: $9.5 million
Mikko Rantanen, COL: $9.2 million

If we take the average of these five examples, we end up with a salary of $10.14 million per year.

I believe this is what the Flames are staring at when discussing a long-term deal with Tkachuk. It’s my opinion that he will sign a one-year deal this summer that will take him through next season at an AAV around $9 million. It’s not likely that Calgary fans will see him in a Flames uniform beyond next year unless he is willing to take a hometown discount to make it happen. Never say never -- he has already earned north of $23 million in his career after all and he might be happy where he is, but I’m not holding my breath.

Johnny Gaudreau: We know he is a UFA. We also know he is getting paid. Will he be cashing checks in Calgary or somewhere else next season? It feels like the team and the player are going to find a way to get a deal done, but Gaudreau won’t come cheap. When you are coming off a season that produced 40 goals and 115 points in 82 games played, and then followed it with three goals and 14 points in 12 playoff games, you get paid. Gaudreau has been a career-long Flame who is part of their leadership group in addition to being their most dangerous player offensively. Sutter has challenged him to be a better player in all three zones and Gaudreau has responded. He can sign for eight years in Calgary, which may give them something of an advantage. I feel like he’s looking at a deal that pays him $10 million per year over the term. He has a chance to cement his legacy as a Calgary Flame and he’s worth the investment.

via CapFriendly

END OF SEASON ROSTER

LW

C

RW

Johnny Gaudreau (LW)

Elias Lindholm

Matthew Tkachuk (RFA)

Andrew Mangiapane (RFA)

Mikael Backlund

Blake Coleman

Dillon Dube

Calle Jarnkrok (UFA)

Tyler Toffoli

Milan Lucic

Sean Monahan (Inj/LTIR)

Trevor Lewis (UFA)

Brett Ritchie (UFA)

POTENTIAL 2022-23 ROSTER

LW

C

RW

Johnny Gaudreau (10M)

Elias Lindholm (4.85M)

Matthew Tkachuk (9M/1YR)

Andrew Mangiapane (5M/1YR)

Mikael Backlund (5.35M)

Blake Coleman (4.9M)

Jakob Pelletier (863K)

Dillon Dube (2.3M)

Tyler Toffoli (4.25M)

Milan Lucic (5.25M)

Noel Acciari (900K)

Trevor Lewis (800K)

NOTE: With this roster build, Sean Monahan's $6.375 million cap hit remains on LTIR.

LD

RD

Noah Hanifin (4.95M)

Rasmus Andersson (4.55M)

Oliver Kylington (4M)

Chris Tanev (4.5M)

Connor Mackey (912K)

Erik Gudbranson (1.75M)

Juuso Valimaki (1.5M)

NOTE: I have included both Mackey and Valimaki on the NHL roster to start the season. One of these two players are internal candidates to make the roster out of training camp.

G

Jacob Markstrom (6M)

Dan Vladar (750K)

Minor League Recall Candidates

Adam Ruzicka, FWD (875K)
Juuso Valimaki, D (1.5M)
Connor Mackey, D (912K)
Dustin Wolf, G (813K)

CONCLUSION

The roster as presented would come in just under the cap at $82,375,000

Subtractions:

Nikita Zadorov: He is likely to find a deal that pays him close to, and maybe above his salary from last season ($3.75 million) and the Flames cannot afford the contract.

Calle Jarnkrok: He made $2 million last season. If he is willing to discuss the salary I have used in my model for Noel Acciari ($900k) then he becomes a potential fourth line option on a new deal. His numbers have been on the decline offensively. He’s not likely to get the $2 million he made this year when he goes to market, but the question is will he drop below $1 million?

Brett Ritchie: He’s a role player who doesn’t provide full time minutes throughout the season. The team can have the same heavy look at the bottom of the lineup with the addition of Acciari.

Sean Monahan: What happens with Monahan will have massive influence on building out the rest of the 2022-23 edition of the Calgary Flames.

Here are a few scenarios to consider for Monahan:

1. The first buyout window is set for July 1 – 12. Since Monahan has recently had surgery and is in process of rehabbing, he is not likely to be eligible for a buyout in this window.

2. The second buyout window for the Flames is a moving target that revolves around arbitration. Teams that have arbitration cases are extended a second buyout period that lasts 48 hours, a window that begins three days after the final arbitration case is awarded or settled. In scenarios where arbitration cases are settled before the hearing date, the signing stands as the official start of the 48-hour window.

If Monahan was deemed healthy and passed a physical, he would qualify for a buyout in the second window. The likelihood of him being healthy during this window is remote at best

3. Which brings us to the obvious. If Monahan is not healthy enough to play next season, and unable to pass his physical, he is then eligible for LTIR.

Additions:

Noel Acciari, F: Hard-nosed depth centreman who battled some injuries this past season, but played with a presence in the playoffs for Florida. It’s unlikely he will produce much offence, but he is an aggressive player who finishes his checks and blocks shots.

Jakob Pelletier, F: He’s only 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, but he isn’t shy. Pelletier brings an element of offence and his entry-level salary fits. The Flames' first round pick from 2019 (26th overall) is coming off a fantastic year in Stockton (27G, 35A, 62PTS).

Connor Mackey, D: He’s entering the last year of his deal ($912,500) and Calgary will need to give him a look to see if there is a fit not only for next year, but years to come. Mackey had a nice year in Stockton last year as well, producing five goals and 36 points. He can be deployed on the second PP unit and has developed more push back to his game.

Juuso Valimaki, D: Is he part of their plans? The only way to find out is to give him a chance in the last year of his contract ($1.55 million AAV). The Flames' first-round pick from 2017 (16th overall) is a two-way “D” who won’t bring the offence that Mackey can potentially provide.

Waiting On Deck:

I have built the roster with one extra “D”, but if the Flames elect to go the other way and break camp with one extra forward (or potentially neither to save a few extra dollars) Adam Ruzicka slides into the roster as an extra.

Goalie Dustin Wolf has a chance to compete for the backup role at training camp, but he is best suited in the minors playing games instead of watching in the NHL at 21 years old. His time will come and the Flames have time on his entry-level contract to make decisions on Wolf. There is no need to rush Wolf to the NHL.

Elephant in the room:

The Mangiapane and Tkachuk one-year contracts will lead them to UFA status after next season. The team looks like they are in a “window to win” and it’s an unfortunate reality of building teams in a salary cap league. One year at a time is how I’m looking at the Calgary Flames roster heading into 2022-23.

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