The most glaring hole for the Calgary Flames to fill in the next few months is the vacancy on the second defensive pairing.
The one on the right side of Noah Hanifin, left vacant by the imminent departure of his former partner Travis Hamonic and four other unrestricted free agents from the Flames blue line.
The most pressing need for GM Brad Treliving is to acquire a significant veteran or two to round out a back end that is in desperate need of right-handed shooters.
Of the five departures, four played the right side in Calgary, including T.J. Brodie, Erik Gustafsson, Michael Stone and Hamonic. (Derek Forbort played the left side.)
If the season started tomorrow, the Flames' left side would include Mark Giordano, Hanifin, Juuso Valimaki, Oliver Kylington, Connor Mackey, Colton Poolman and Carl-Johan Lerby.
Rasmus Andersson tops the depth chart on the left side, followed by two players who have combined for four games of NHL experience: AHLer Alex Yelesin and free-agent signing Johannes Kinnvall, a 23-year-old who has committed to playing another season in Sweden.
It’s a stunning deficiency the Flames are sure to focus on at the upcoming draft and free-agent frenzy. So, who fits the bill?
Lefties need not apply, unless they can play the right side like Brodie and Gustafsson did.
The smooth-skating Brodie remains the most likely returnee, due to his flexibility and proficiency alongside Giordano.
Gustafsson is a close second on the team’s wish-list given his ability to replace Giordano as the team’s top power-play quarterback for the playoffs.
Both would be costly adds, as is often the case with signing proven veterans on the open market.
Treliving said Thursday he’s spoken to agents of all five of his unrestricted defencemen and reiterates he still has time to sign some of them before they hit free agency Oct. 9.
He’s also been working the phones to see what else is out there via trade.
It’s pretty safe to say any potential trade for Johnny Gaudreau -- should Treliving decide to move him -- could include a return that includes a right-shooting defender.
Mackey, a college hotshot signing during the pause, took part in the Flames’ September camp and has a legitimate shot to start the season with the big club. Treliving said the 24-year-old has played a bit on the right side.
He also pointed out that Vegas -- just like his club - had five lefties and one righty in the lineup for the playoffs, keeping the door open for any number of his current players to try their off side next year.
That said, the most likely place for Treliving to spend a good chunk of his $17 million in cap space is on a right-handed UFA defenceman or two.
Treliving’s cap space gives him a leg up on most GMs as he really only needs to sign a goalie (roughly $3.5 million), Andrew Mangiapane (roughly $2.75 million) and a few depth forwards, leaving significant coin to add to his blue line.
Some of the more notable candidates:
Alex Pietrangelo, 30
2019-20 Stats: 70 GP, 16 G, 36 A
Last year’s cap hit: $6.5 million
Let’s address the big fish first. Every team in the league would like to add the captain of last year’s Cup winner, but the price tag is a non-starter for the large majority. The Flames can afford him, but many would question the logic of meeting his $8–9-million ask.
Treliving is not afraid to make a big splash, and the 30-year-old righty would give the team its power-play anchor for many years to come. It would also give the Flames a top six that would be one of the league’s best.
The man who led all UFAs by averaging over 24 minutes a night won’t come at a discount though, making it hard to swallow.
Torey Krug, 29
2019-20 Stats: 61 GP, 9 G, 40 A
Last year’s cap hit: $5.25 million
Yes, we know he’s a lefty, but he’s second only to Pietrangelo in terms of skill level, and the Flames were comfortable playing with five lefties in the playoffs. The Bruins veteran is a power-play whiz who would also come at a hefty price.
Tyson Barrie, 28
2019-20 Stats: 70 GP, 5 G, 34 A
Last year’s cap hit: $5.5 million
His dreams of chasing Pietrangelo-type money fizzled through the season as he struggled in Toronto to regain past form. The Flames saw what a talented power play director he was for many years in Colorado, which is appealing. Sure, his stock is lower these days, but he’s still a talented puck mover.
T.J. Brodie, 30
2019-20 Stats: 64 GP, 4 G, 15 A
Last year’s cap hit: $4.65 million
You have to include him on the list as he’s comfortable in Calgary, can play on either side (even though he’s a lefty) and is coming off a tremendous year in which he was solid at both ends of the rink. The Flames know what they’d be getting in Brodie.
Erik Gustafsson, 28
2019-20 Stats: 66 GP, 6 G, 23 A
Last year’s cap hit: $1.2 million
The Flames would love to bring back the man they rented at season’s end to run their power play, but they are likely not willing to pay the type of price his recent 60-point season might dictate. Another lefty who could play the right side, Gustafsson made a solid impact on the Flames during the playoffs.
Dustin Byfuglien, 35
2019-20 Stats: Did not play last year
Last year’s cap hit: $7.6 million
Okay, we’re having a bit of fun here, which is exactly what his signing would be if the big man decided to return to the game and could prove his heart was in it.
He’s a gamble and would therefore come at a significant discount. He would add some of the intangibles the Flames have long been looking to add for playoff success, as well as being a difference-maker offensively.