The Flames have expressed interest in Hurricanes center Elias Lindholm, reports Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic (video link). He notes that the talks took place a couple of weeks ago and may not be on the front burner for the time being, however. The 23-year-old has been a consistent secondary producer over the past four years for Carolina, notching between 39 and 45 points each season. While he has mostly played down the middle, he has spent some time on the wing as well and Calgary head coach Bill Peters is certainly familiar with Lindholm’s game having coached him in Carolina until he resigned earlier this offseason.
The Flames are bringing a familiar face back into the organization. Today the team announced that they’ve hired Hakan Loob as their head European scout, giving the IIHF Hall of Fame player another opportunity to contribute to the NHL. Loob had been serving as either General Manager or President of Farjestads in the SHL since 1996, but retired from his position with the team in 2017.
GM Brad Treliving released a statement on the hiring:
We want to grow our presence in Europe. It’s an area we want to expand. Hakan has a great eye for talent, he’s familiar with Europe and he’s a worker. This isn’t just because Hakan was a great Flame. He’s so well connected over there. Hakan Loob walks into a room and he’s well known and well respected.
It’s not just in Europe that Loob should be well respected. Selected in the ninth round by the Flames in 1980, he would become the first Swedish-born player to score 50 goals in an NHL season and was a huge part of the team’s 1989 Stanley Cup victory. After an incredible 429 points in 450 NHL games, he returned to Sweden and continued his career as one of the best players the country has ever seen. After retirement from his playing career, he quickly moved into management and has brought an unparalleled level of success to the franchise.
The Flames have no picks in the first three rounds of the draft this season, but it will be interesting to see if Loob can have any impact on some of their later selections right away. His greatest impact could be felt just in convincing young players to head to North America, allowing Calgary to spend late-round picks on players who might otherwise stay in Europe.
With many teams in the league looking for center help this offseason and seeing few options on the free agent market, the trade market seems to be the best way to fill that heavily in-demand. Just earlier this week, the Montreal Canadiens traded Alex Galchenyuk, who failed to succeed at the center position for the team in previous years, to Arizona. The Coyotes have already stated they intend to move him back to center in hopes that he can make the conversion and fill their No. 2 center hole.
The New York Rangers seem to be in a unique situation. Despite the franchise suddenly finding themselves in rebuilding mode, the one thing the Rangers have plenty of is reliable centers. In fact, the team has eight potential centers currently on the roster, including Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes, Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ryan Spooner, Boo Nieves and Brett Howden. While some of those eight will be forced to move to the wing position, there is also a strong possibility that the team will move at least one of those centers during the offseason, and very possibly, before next week’s draft.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post writes that while the team has a solid combination of Zibanejad, Chytil, Hayes and Andersson currently penciled in as their top four centers next season, that’s a logjam at that position that likely would not aid the development of Chytil and Andersson, two teenagers who need as much playing time as possible at the NHL level. Andersson especially, last year’s No. 7 pick in the 2017 draft, needs time on the ice and a fourth-line role isn’t going to cut it.
The scribe writes that Hayes may be available after quietly putting up a career-high 25 goals while playing center for New York last year. The restricted free agent is in line for a potential five-year deal worth about $4.5MM per year based on his success last season and there is no guarantee that Hayes would earn the No. 2 center spot with all this depth. Regardless, Hayes would be a highly coveted commodity for many teams who are in desperate need for help at that position.
The key for the Rangers is to trade him straight out for help on their blueline, according to Brooks, who adds that New York is unlikely to use Hayes as part of a package to move up in the draft. The team’s biggest need is at defense and there are many teams that could use a center and have defense to trade, including the Calgary Flames who might be ready to move Dougie Hamilton.
Don’t expect the Calgary Flames to make a selection in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft next Friday and probably don’t expect to see them make a pick too early on Saturday either. The Flames currently sit with just three picks in the 2018 Draft: a fourth-rounder, sixth-rounder, and seventh-rounder. The rest of their selections were used in deals to acquire Travis Hamonic, Mike Smith, and Michael Stone. Speaking with Calgary GM Brad Treliving, beat reporter Kristen Anderson makes it sound as if the team’s philosophy toward the value of draft picks versus prospects will very likely keep them from adding any significant picks this year. Treliving admitted that he has looked at scenarios that would allow his team to trade back in to the first round and has tried to make a deal with other teams, but doesn’t know if they’ll ever reach a point where a trade will actually happen. In fact, he called that possibility very unlikely. Understandably, Treliving is hesitant to trade away young players or promising prospects for picks that will be farther behind in their NHL development and who they only hope will one day reach or exceed the level of the player they move in return, calling it “backwards shuffling”. Treliving also lacks some firepower in terms of future picks with his 2019 second-, sixth-, and seventh-round selections already lost as well. Right now, the asking price for early picks is too high for the Flames to bite on anything just yet. However, don’t underestimate what the anxiety of waiting through three rounds could force them to do next weekend.
- AZSports’ Craig Morgan recently spoke with Anton Thun, the agent for Dave Bolland, about the veteran Arizona Coyotes center’s future. Bolland, 32, has yet to play a game for the Coyotes despite being traded to the team in the off-season prior to the 2016-17 season. A lingering back injury and lower-body concerns forced the Florida Panthers to dump Bolland’s contract in Arizona – a move that also cost them prospect Lawson Crouse – and he has not been cleared to suit up at any time since. Thun reports that Bolland is doing better, but there is still no expectation that he will be able to play next season. Instead, Thun suggests to Morgan that Bolland is likely to be placed on long-term injured reserve yet again in the final year of his contract and will then formally announce his retirement after next season. If this proves true, it will be a disappointing end to the career of a well-respected player who built a career on his reliable defensive play.
- One of the more talented offensive defensemen in the AHL is off to Finland for the next stage of his pro career. Alex Grant, 29, has signed with Jokerit of the KHL, the team reported today. The journeyman defender has made a career of being one of the top scoring blue liners in the minor leagues, jumping from one two-way contract to the next throughout the past nine years. However, in that time he has only been given seven NHL appearances and appears to have decided to make a name for himself at the highest level in Europe rather than continue to play in the AHL. After an impressive 49-point campaign with the Providence Bruins in 2016-17, Grant signed with the Minnesota Wild last summer and was expected to be one of their top depth options on the back end. Instead, he again was not given that chance and will now seize an opportunity with Jokerit. Offensive-minded defensemen who have struggled to find their place in the NHL have often found great success in the KHL. Grant could very well be the next in that line, which has featured the likes of Matt Gilroy, Philip Larsen, and Jakub Nakladal in recent years.
It looks like another team will take a shot at signing prospect Brandon Hickey. The collegiate defenseman has been dealt for the second off-season in a row, this time from the Arizona Coyotes to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for minor league winger Hudson Fasching. Veteran forward and impending unrestricted free agent Mike Sislo will also head to Buffalo in the deal. Both teams have confirmed the trade and seem optimistic about re-signing their new prospects.
Hickey was originally acquired by the Coyotes last summer from the Calgary Flames as part of the Mike Smith trade. The Flames worried that they would not be able to sign the Alberta native, who they had drafted in the third round in 2014 but at the time had already played three seasons in the NCAA and was not yet looking to leave. A year later, the Boston University captain has graduated and apparently was not keen on signing in Arizona either/ He only has to wait until August to become a free agent, but the Sabres clearly hope to get him signed instead. A smart defensive blue liner with leadership qualities, Hickey would add experience and locker room presence to any pipeline and Buffalo could certainly use the blue line boost.
It’s likely that Buffalo was already given permission to have such contract talks with Hickey before this deal was made, otherwise it’s highly unlikely that they would have traded away a player like Fasching. Granted Fasching is an impending restricted free agent and, like Hickey, needs a new contract, the Sabres would have had more team control over Fasching than they do now with Hickey. Fasching also has pro experience, including 22 NHL games with the Sabres over the past three seasons. The 22-year-old American forward has not found the same offensive production in the pros that he exhibited with the University of Minnesota, but appeared to be back on track this season with a career-high 30 points in the AHL. Fasching brings a physical element that the Coyotes have often lacked and could be one of the top minor league options for the team moving forward.
As for Sislo, the 30-year-old forward put up good numbers in the AHL, but isn’t much of a threat to make a difference at the next level, whether he signs with the Sabres or another team. He may simply be a throw-in in this deal, given his impending free agency. This deal is primarily about two prospects getting a new opportunity to sign with a different team and filling specific, minor needs for each organization. It also continues a trend for each franchise: the BU-to-Buffalo pipeline for the Sabres and the Coyotes taking on high upside prospects that many others have written off.
The Calgary Flames have dipped into the European free agent market, signing Yasin Ehliz and Marcus Hogstrom to one-year contracts. Ehliz has signed an entry-level contract worth $650K at the NHL level, while Hogstrom has signed a two-way deal worth $700K in the NHL.
Like many of the European signings lately, the 25-year old Ehliz is an undersized forward that has still put up solid point totals for his club team. Playing in the German DEL, the 5’10” 183-lbs winger recorded 31 points in 46 games but perhaps will be better known for his international appearances. Given a chance to play in the Olympics for the first time, Ehliz recorded three points in seven games and helped the German squad take home a silver medal. Even better was his World Championship appearance where he recorded five points in seven games while competing for the fourth time.
Hogstrom, 29, has already had a long career playing in Sweden, Russia and Finland. The left-handed defenseman has good size and recorded another good season for Djurgardens in 2017-18, scoring 23 points in 50 games. Possessing a good amount of skill for a big-bodied defender, he’ll try to show that he can be an NHL player right away for the Flames. If he can’t, there’s a good chance a player of his experience will have a European Assignment Clause built in, meaning he wouldn’t be playing in the minors. If he does want to join the Flames organization and is willing to take an assignment to the AHL, the team has added a good depth piece for very little risk.
With the buyout window opening up on Friday, teams are going to have to make some important decisions in the days to come as to whether or not it’s time to cut bait with some of their underachieving players. One of those is Calgary winger Troy Brouwer.
Two summers ago, Brouwer was one of the better power forwards available on the market. His offensive consistency (he had scored between 17 and 25 goals in seven straight years) made him a safe bet to step in onto someone’s second line and give them a bit of grit with some scoring touch. The Flames eventually won out over several other suitors and gave him a four-year, $18MM contract, a deal that didn’t seem particularly outlandish at the time.
His first season in Calgary saw his output dip to 25 points but that, in theory, could have been the by-product of playing on a new team in a new system. At least, that’s what the Flames were hoping and that he could still rebound for 2017-18. Suffice it to say, that didn’t happen.
The 32-year-old struggled mightily this past season, scoring just six times in 76 games, the lowest goal total in his ten-year career. He also spent most of his time in the bottom six which caused his ice time to dip to just under 14 minutes per game, well off the 17:30 he had averaged over the past six years. As a result, Calgary now has a $4.5MM player that looks to be finished as a top-six winger which isn’t a great spot to be in.
With two years remaining on his contract though, a buyout isn’t necessarily automatic. While that would free up $3MM on their salary cap for the next two seasons, it would also add $1.5MM for both 2020-21 and 2021-22 as they would be paying out $1.5MM for each of the next four years. That’s a tough pill to swallow for a player that they’ve already given $9MM to for a total of 19 goals.
The short-term savings would certainly be beneficial, however. As things stand, Calgary has a little over $62MM committed to 15 players for 2018-19, per CapFriendly. Adding another $3MM to their budget would allow them to be a little more active in free agency or in the trade market as they look to add some scoring help.
Over the next couple of weeks, there are some players where it seems fairly obvious that they will be bought out. Brouwer’s case is a little less certain because of the extra year remaining on his contract. With the buyout window ending on June 30th, it seems likely that Calgary will delay making a call on this situation until late in the month but there’s a pretty good chance Brouwer will be returning to free agency a lot earlier than he expected when he joined Calgary just two years ago.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Free agency is now a little less than a month away from opening up and there are quite a few prominent players set to hit the open market while many teams have key restricted free agents to re-sign. Here is a breakdown of Calgary’s free agent situation.
Key Restricted Free Agents: F Mark Jankowski – Heading into the 2017-18 season, there’s no question that fans were frustrated with waiting for Jankowski. He had just turned 23 and was more than five years from being drafted with just a single NHL game under his belt. Sure, he’d impressed in his first full season in the AHL but after waiting so long Flames fans wanted impact, and they wanted it now.
After starting in the minor leagues once again he was given a chance with the NHL club and didn’t look back, recording 17 goals and 25 points in 72 games. Those numbers were inflated some by the four-goal game he had at the very end of the season, but regardless Jankowski has found a full-time roll on the club going forward. The question is how much is that role worth, as the first-round pick heads into free agency for the first time. With less than a full season of games under his belt there isn’t a ton of leverage from his side, but they may not want to lock him into a long-term deal before really showing what he’s capable of. It seems like a one or two-year bridge deal is in order here, limiting the risk on both sides.
G Jon Gillies/David Rittich – The Flames have to make a decision on who their backup goaltender is going to be next season, and it might as well be one of Gillies or Rittich. Both were inconsistent when given the chance to help out at the NHL level, and have Tyler Parsons and other goaltending prospects chasing them down from behind. With Mike Smith set to come back as the starter, we’ll get a good indication of who will be behind him from the contracts that Gillies and Rittich receive. Both would become Group VI unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2019 if not given an NHL opportunity this year.
Key Unrestricted Free Agents: F Kris Versteeg – The Flames lucked out when Versteeg decided to sign with them in the fall of 2016 despite being in training camp with the Edmonton Oilers, and were rewarded with a 37-point season. That earned the journeyman forward another contract for the most recent season worth $1.75MM, but he was unfortunately limited to just 24 games because of injury.
Even if Versteeg were willing to come back for a reduced price, it’s not clear if the Flames have room for him any longer. With the emergence of young players like Jankowski, Hathaway and Curtis Lazar, there might not be any reason to re-sign the 32-year old winger. Still, depending on what happens this summer they may bring him back as a veteran option to fill out their top-nine and give them a little more secondary scoring, provided he’s healthy enough to contribute.
F Matt Stajan – It’s amazing that Stajan is still just 34, despite seeming to have been in the league for two decades. The veteran pivot celebrated his 1,000th game in the NHL this season, but is clearly slowing down as he enters his mid-thirties. With just 12 points in 68 games, Stajan put up the worst offensive numbers of his career and saw the ice for fewer than 11 minutes a night. Though he’s still a positive veteran presence on a team that needs a bounce-back season, there likely isn’t much room on the roster going forward.
Whether Stajan gets another shot elsewhere in the NHL is still very much in doubt. Unfortunately he’s just slightly too young to qualify for a contract that includes performance bonuses, meaning he’ll likely be looking at offers near the league minimum. If that’s acceptable, perhaps he continues his career as a part-time fourth-line center for a contender. If it’s the end, he’ll have a long successful career to look back on even if he didn’t get to the playoffs very often.
Projected Cap Space: The Flames project to have around $17MM in cap space this summer, depending on where the upper limit lands, and without any premiere restricted free agents could go after some big fish on the free agent market. They do have to worry about extensions for Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk past this season, but still should have some room to play with if they want to add.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the team let all of their unrestricted free agents go, as none of them figure to be long-term contributors to the Flames success. Even if they do sign some of the minor ones, the biggest impact this summer will likely come through trade or big ticket shopping. Calgary struggled this season and doesn’t have a pick in the first three rounds of the upcoming draft. Things have to change, and they have to change fast for them to see any success in the near future.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
Given the last-place finish of the Buffalo Sabres and the comments made by veteran leader Ryan O’Reilly at the end of the season, it would come as no surprise if the team was to trade away their best player not named Jack Eichel in an effort to build around Eichel and his fellow promising young players. Earlier today, TSN’s Darren Dreger spoke on the extensive demands that Buffalo GM Jason Botterill has for any return in an O’Reilly deal and, while he admitted that a deal is beginning to seem more likely, felt that it would take a lot of work for any team to make a fair offer in Botterill’s eyes. Dreger’s TSN colleague and The Athletic reporter Pierre LeBrun seems slightly more optimistic about the likelihood of a deal. LeBrun admits that O’Reilly likely wouldn’t mind returning to Buffalo, what with Casey Mittelstadt and Rasmus Dahlin likely in the fold next year and beyond, and the Sabres may not mind keeping him. However, LeBrun opines that if John Tavares re-signs with the New York Islanders prior to the NHL Draft, the top center on the free agent market will be Paul Stastny and many teams would prefer to search the trade market instead, where O’Reilly appears to be the top prize down the middle. Given the Sabres’ desire to add young pieces – picks and prospects – to develop alongside their new, young core, the draft would be the ideal time to strike on an O’Reilly trade. LeBrun goes so far as to say that the Montreal Canadiens have already discussed such a deal.
- Another player who LeBrun feels is primed to be dealt during or around the upcoming draft is Ottawa Senators forward Mike Hoffman. Hoffman was a frequent member of the rumor mill through the most recent NHL Trade Deadline, but remained in Ottawa, at least for the time being. LeBrun says that those rumors are back in full swing and that he feels Hoffman will be traded at the draft. The Senators are not trending in the right direction and could benefit from both the multi-piece return that Hoffman would command and a reprieve from his $5.18MM salary over the next two seasons. LeBrun notes that the Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames were the top suitors for Hoffman at the deadline, but the St. Louis Blues and Florida Panthers were also among a plethora of teams pursuing a player who has flirted with 30 goals and 60 points for three years in a row.
- The Carolina Hurricanes and Vancouver Canucks have already been rumored to be listening on offers for their top ten picks in the upcoming draft; add the Arizona Coyotes to that list as well. LeBrun states that the team has contemplated offers and would consider moving up or down on draft day, depending on how the picks fall. LeBrun believes that GM John Chayka has already spoken with the Montreal Canadiens about a swap involving picks #3 and #5, in case the Habs feel they can get the top center in the draft, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, later on and if the ’Yotes have a preferred choice between potential second overall picks Andrei Svechnikov and Filip Zadina. He also feels that there is a strong chance that they could trade down, given the depth of defensemen in the first round versus the desire of other teams to move up for top forwards. Look for Arizona to be busy on the draft floor later this month.
- Another team that could be making moves on draft day are the Toronto Maple Leafs. In a mailbag for The Athletic, Jame Mirtle says to expect new GM Kyle Dubas to trade down, perhaps even multiple times, during the draft. When Dubas ran the draft for the Leafs in 2015 he employed this strategy, seen far more often in the NFL than NHL. Dubas traded down twice in order to collect multiple picks in later rounds. In a draft that many feel has a significant drop-off in talent after the first 20-odd picks to a tier that encompasses the next 60 or so picks, if Toronto feels that they don’t have a surefire option at 25th overall, they could swap with a team who has a specific player in mind and potentially grab multiple player of similar caliber later on.
The Kansas City Mavericks announced that they have extended their affiliation with the Calgary Flames and the Stockton Heat of the AHL through the 2018-19 season. This will be the Mavericks’ fifth season in the ECHL and their second with Calgary as an affiliate. Mavericks President and GM Brent Thiessen issued the following statement:
“We’re thrilled to continue building our relationship with the Flames and Heat. Partnering with the Flames’ organization allows us to maintain our momentum within the affiliation and work with a top-notch franchise with a build-from-the-bottom philosophy. The Mavericks and I look forward to year two of what we believe will be one of the premier partnerships in all of professional hockey.”
Not all NHL teams actively utilize their ECHL affiliates but that wasn’t the case in for Calgary as they had six different players suit up in both the AHL and ECHL in 2017-18 headlined by goaltending prospects Tyler Parsons and Mason MacDonald. With one of David Rittich or Jon Gillies expected to be back in the AHL next season, at least one of those two netminders is likely earmarked to spend a lot of time in Kansas City again in 2018-19.