The QMJHL draft is just underway and already there has been a notable trade agreed upon. TVA Sports’ Mikael Lalancette (Twitter link) is among those to report that Flames prospect Jakob Pelletier has been dealt from Moncton to Val-d’Or. RDS’ Stephane Leroux adds (Twitter link) that a pair of first-round picks are among the five picks and a prospect going the other way.
As things stand, the NHL is planning to have games resume at some point over the coming weeks. Assuming the regular season continues (something the league remains hopeful of doing), there will be plenty of things to watch for over the stretch run. Over the weeks ahead, PHR will examine the top stretch run storylines for each team. We continue our look at the Pacific Division with Calgary.
The Flames have had a bit of a tumultuous season. After winning the division last year, Bill Peters was let go early in the season for prior incidents that came to light. Their top five scorers from 2018-19 are all producing at a lower clip this season. They’re allowing more goals than a year ago while scoring less per game. But despite that, they’re still sitting in a playoff spot and are within striking distance for second in the Pacific. Here’s what to watch for from them down the stretch.
Despite underachieving considerably compared to last year, Matthew Tkachuk (61 points) and Johnny Gaudreau (58) are in a tight battle for the team lead in scoring. Both were starting to heat up before the break as well with Gaudreau averaging a point per game over his last 16 contests while Tkachuk had 19 points in that same span. Neither will come close to their mark from a year ago but it should make for an interesting scoring race over the final few weeks.
There is another scoring race to watch for in Calgary between a current winger in Milan Lucic and their former winger in James Neal. As part of the offseason trade, a 2020 third-round pick from the Oilers to the Flames was put in it with some rather unique conditions. For the pick to transfer, Neal has to score at least 21 goals this season and have 10 more tallies than Lucic.
Let’s look at where things stand now. Neal is at 19 goals so he’s two shy of getting the first half. Meanwhile, Lucic has rebounded slightly from his goal total a year ago but he only sits at eight. If Neal picks up a couple over their final stretch, Calgary should net themselves the pick unless Lucic comes back and gets on a hot streak right away.
Rebound From Rittich?
Expectations were high for David Rittich heading into the year. The goaltender was coming off of a strong 2018-19 campaign and was expected to push for even more playing time this season. He got off to a strong start as well, posting a .915 save percentage across his first 35 appearances. That was a little better than a year ago (.911) and it helped him make it to his first All-Star Game when he took the place of Arizona’s Darcy Kuemper.
Things haven’t gone as well since then. In his last 13 games, his save percentage plummeted all the way down to .883. In other words, from about NHL average to below-average backup territory. That’s not the biggest of sample sizes but his struggles and a nagging elbow issue paved the way for Cam Talbot to play more regularly before the pause in the schedule.
Can Rittich rebound after the break or will Talbot, who took a one-year deal last summer to take another run at landing a starting job this coming offseason, continue to cut into his playing time? This is a potential dual-goalie situation which would be ideal for a compressed stretch run but come playoff time, they’ll likely want to stick with one netminder over a platoon.
Juuso Valimaki didn’t look out of place in Calgary last season. The blueliner made the team and held his own early before being sent to the minors. However, he was recalled late in the year and even saw some playoff action. That had him in line to push for a regular spot on the back end until he tore his ACL in early September. He wasn’t expected to play this season but the break in the schedule has made that a legitimate possibility now.
From a short-term standpoint, adding another defenseman would be ideal for a stretch run that will likely be compressed if it gets off the ground. It’d also certainly be beneficial from a development perspective.
But there is another consideration at play. If Valimaki plays in a single game in 2019-20, he would become eligible for selection in next summer’s Seattle expansion draft. But if he doesn’t, he won’t accrue a professional season of service which means he’d fall under the exempt category. By the way, that applies for any AHL playing time either in the unlikely event that their season resumes.
That presents Calgary with a potentially intriguing decision. It’s hard to justify sitting someone that could help in a late-season or playoff game but are a handful of games from someone who has been off so long enough to justify making him required to be protected. Worth noting, Mark Giordano, Noah Hanifin, and Rasmus Andersson will all require protection next summer and teams only have three guaranteed protection slots. It’d be an interesting decision either way.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Calgary Flames have added another top goaltending prospect to their system, signing Dustin Wolf to a three-year entry-level contract. Wolf recently finished his third season in the WHL with the Everett Silvertips, where he dominated once again, posting a .935 save percentage in 46 games.
If you look at Wolf’s career to date in junior hockey, you might wonder why exactly he fell all the way to the seventh round before the Flames selected him with the 214th pick last year. There’s one simple answer for that—size. Despite being one of the most consistent and outstanding goaltenders in the WHL for three straight seasons, Wolf stands just 6’0″ 165-lbs, numbers that do not inspire confidence at the NHL level.
Still, there’s reason to be excited about Wolf’s future in the professional ranks. His positioning is exquisite and his ability to read the play in front of him and track the puck is nearly unmatched at the junior level. There will obviously be some real challenges in front of him, but at this point all he’s ever done is succeed.
Wolf’s contract will not kick in next season if he plays another year in the WHL, which is almost certain at this point. He is not eligible for the AHL.
Now that the transfer agreements are in place, teams around the NHL are finalizing their contracts with European free agents. The Calgary Flames were one of those teams waiting to get a deal done and have now announced a two-year entry-level contract for Johannes Kinnvall. The team has already announced that Kinnvall will remain in Sweden for the 2020-21 season before joining the Flames organization in North America for 2021-22.
Kinnvall, 22, exploded offensively this season with HV71, scoring 40 points in 51 games. That was good enough for eighth in the entire SHL and four points more than teammate Linus Sandin, who just signed with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Of course, that is all the more impressive given that Kinnvall is a defenseman. He was the second-highest scoring blueliner in the league and will be an interesting option for the Flames should he be able to bring that offensive production to North America.
That won’t be easy, but he’ll have another year to hone his craft before coming over.
The Calgary Flames have signed one of their more interesting prospects, inking Emilio Pettersen to a three-year entry-level contract according to several reports including Frank Seravalli of TSN. Pettersen recently finished his sophomore season at the University of Denver, but will turn pro and join the Flames organization.
The 20-year old forward was originally a sixth-round pick of the Flames in 2018 following two seasons in the USHL. Norwegian-born, he has been playing in North America since 2014 and has improved at every level. This season recorded 35 points in 36 games for DU, leading the program in scoring and earning himself a Hobey Baker nomination as one of the best players in college hockey.
It’s hard to know exactly where Pettersen’s potential will end up taking him, but at this point he looks like a late-round steal for the Flames. The next step will be continuing to produce at the AHL level, in hopes of one day contributing in the NHL.
Earlier today, Flames GM Brad Treliving told reporters, including Sportsnet 960’s Pat Steinberg (Twitter link) that the team was waiting for the finalization of a new transfer agreement before they could confirm the signing of a Swedish free agent. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman relays (via Twitter) that the player that Treliving was referencing was Swedish defenseman Johannes Kinnvall.
The 22-year-old is coming off of a breakout season in the SHL where he finished second in league scoring after collecting 11 goals and 29 assists in 51 games with HV71. He was already on Calgary’s radar before this season though as he attended their development camp last summer.
Kinnvall is already signed for next season which is why the extension of the current transfer agreement between the NHL and the Swedish Federation is required. Friedman notes that there were rumblings earlier in the week about the NHL wanting to do one-year extensions on their current agreements so that will be something to watch for in the days to come.
Assuming a deal eventually is finalized, Kinnvall will receive a two-year, entry-level deal and join a Flames back end that has several youngsters that are already established in the NHL. However, with both Travis Hamonic and T.J. Brodie eligible for unrestricted free agency this offseason, there could be an opening or two on their back end and with the year that Kinnvall just had, he could certainly push for a spot sooner than later.
The season isn’t even over yet, but the St. Louis Blues have been busy adding talent to their future with two signings on defense. The team extended defenseman Marco Scandella, while agreeing to term with collegiate Scott Perunovich on a contract. That leaves quite a bit of depth on the Blues’ blueline and leaves even more questions on whether St. Louis intends to sign pending unrestricted free agent Alex Pietrangelo to a long-term deal.
In his most recent mailbag, The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford (subscription required) writes that he believes the Blues continue to prioritize signing Pietrangelo and believes that his $9MM AAV asking price might now be too high and he might have to accept less or a short-term deal as the NHL deals with the effects of COVID-19. Regardless, the Blues will likely have to unload some contracts to make a deal possible as Rutherford suggests the team is likely going to have to move backup goaltender Jake Allen or buying out forward Alex Steen. Allen, in particular, could have some value after posting a 2.15 GAA and a .927 save percentage in 24 appearances, and could attract some teams looking for help in net as he will have one year remaining next year at $4.35MM.
- Speaking of goalies, Calgary Flames veteran Cam Talbot, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, told Sportsnet’s Eric Francis, that he is looking for one more chance to be a starting goaltender again and that will be his basis for signing with a team. “I wouldn’t rule out coming back, but, obviously, my goal coming here was to show the rest of the League that I still have it in me to be a starting goalie and I think I accomplished that,” Talbot said. The 32-year-old had a bounce-back season in Calgary after signing a one-year deal with the Flames with a 2.63 GAA and a .919 save percentage in 26 appearances as the backup to David Rittich.
- In his most recent mailbag, Sportsnet’s Mark Spector suggests that there is a strong likelihood that the Edmonton Oilers will re-sign fourth-line center Sam Gagner to another short-term deal. He believes that Edmonton general manager Ken Holland looks at Gagner as a future member of his front office in the same way he looked at Dan Cleary, Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby when he was with the Detroit Red Wings. On top of that, Gagner is likely looking for a one-year deal at under $1MM, a contract that a team like Edmonton would value considering how top-heavy the team is in expensive contracts. Edmonton is also Gagner’s family’s home, suggesting that is where he would prefer to stay.
Some teams are using this pause in the schedule to take care of some contracts but the Flames won’t be among those. After speaking with GM Brad Treliving, TSN’s Jermain Franklin reports (video link) that Calgary won’t be making any decisions with regards on their pending unrestricted free agents (highlighted by defensemen T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic) as well as whether or not to remove the interim tag from Geoff Ward until the league presents a clear path on when and how the season will resume. At this stage, it’s hard to see a concrete timeline put in place anytime soon so this may linger for a while yet.
- From the same video, Franklin notes that Flames goalie David Rittich was dealing with an elbow injury during the second half of the season and had treatment on it before returning home. It’s reasonable to suggest that the issue affected his performance as from February 1st to the suspension of the schedule, he had just a .885 SV% in 11 games after posting a .913 mark before that point.
Just like Toronto earlier this week, the city of Calgary has announced a shutdown of all public events until June 30. Unlike Toronto however, who said its ban would not affect the Maple Leafs, Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi explicitly said that the Flames will not be allowed to “hold gatherings” during that time, according to Danny Austin of Postmedia.
While the NHL already seemed more likely to be holding whatever remaining 2019-20 games they play in July and August (if at all), this guarantees no action will be held in Calgary for the next three months. The Flames currently sit third in the Pacific Division but would drop to the second wildcard position if the league decided to use points percentage to determine seeding. Either way, it seems like they would be included in this year’s playoffs, meaning this ruling and others like it only complicate things moving forward.
- One Flames prospect that won’t be taking part in any Calgary games for a while is Filip Sveningsson, who has signed with MODO of the Swedish Allsvenskan (second league) for next season. A seventh-round pick from 2017, Sveningsson played most of his season in the SHL this year but will move back down a level and try to help MODO get back up to the top league. The Flames hold his exclusive draft rights until June 1, 2021.
- Bill Peters, the former head coach of the Flames who resigned from his position following the investigation of past events brought up by Akim Aliu, is potentially heading overseas for his next job. Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal tweets that Peters’ name has come up in Russia as a possible candidate for a coaching job with Yekaterinburg in the KHL. Pavel Datsyuk, who played under Peters when he was an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings, spent this season with Yekaterinburg.
As the current Coronavirus crisis wears on, it seems more and more likely that the NHL will not return to action soon and when play resumes, it will almost certainly not be the full remaining regular season schedule. That lost revenue is expected to impact the 2020-21 salary cap, perhaps even keeping the current $81.5MM upper limit in place. Given that teams expected an increase, initially projected to be between $84-88.2MM, this stagnation could have a harsh impact on a number of clubs’ cap situations. As such, many expect that compliance buyouts will return in some form or fashion to ease that pain. These buyouts, which do not count against the salary cap, would allow for teams to open up space that they otherwise expected from a cap increase.
Here is a rundown of the top compliance buyout candidates for the first third of NHL teams:
Anaheim Ducks: Adam Henrique
– The first team on the list is a tough call. Henrique has had a good season and the Ducks are not in significant cap trouble. However, with a long list of promising forward prospects and a defense that needs work, the team could opt to move on from the veteran forward and to create roster space and cap flexibility. Henrique, 30, is signed for four more years at $5.825MM.
Arizona Coyotes: Phil Kessel
– The Coyotes are in one of the worst positions in the league in terms of cap space, so the team would have to use a compliance buyout if the opportunity is offered to them. Kessel has been a relative bust in his first season with the ‘Yotes and is signed for two more years at $6.8MM. He has the potential to improve in year two, but Arizona may not have the luxury of taking the chance. The added cap space would be a major relief for the team.
Boston Bruins: John Moore
– Given the Bruins’ depth on defense in both veteran assets and budding prospects as well as Moore’s relegation to a backup role on the Boston blue line, he has become an expendable asset, especially if both Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug are back next season. Moore is signed longer than any current Bruins defenseman with three years and $8.25MM remaining, but the team’s commitment to him seems less than any of his fellow blue liners.
Buffalo Sabres: Kyle Okposo
– Unfortunately for the Sabres, the Okposo signing in 2016 has never panned out. His production dropped from 64 points with the New York Islanders in 2015-16 to just 45 points in his first year in Buffalo and that total has gone down in every year since. Okposo was on pace for just 24 points this year and may not even reach that mark. The Sabres would be quick to part ways with Okposo, who has three years at $6MM annually left on his contract, taking up valuable cap space that the team needs to use to improve the rest of their roster.
Calgary Flames: Milan Lucic
– Even with the salary being retained by the Edmonton Oilers on Lucic’s contract, his $5.25MM cap hit is still a pain for the Flames. The veteran power forward is not going to score 20+ goals or 50+ points in a season ever again and Calgary could do more with the added cap space over the next three years.
Carolina Hurricanes: Jake Gardiner
– For whatever reason, the Gardiner signing simply has not worked out as the Hurricanes had hoped. Gardiner, who was signed late last summer at a relative discount, has been a fine addition, but hasn’t been the point producer and power play ace that Carolina had hoped for. Following the deadline addition of Brady Skjei to arguably the deepest blue line in the NHL already, Gardiner and his remaining three years and $12.15MM are expendable.
Chicago Blackhawks: Brent Seabrook
– One of the more obvious choices on this list, Seabrook’s contract may the worst in the NHL right now. The 34-year-old has four years left at $6.875MM AAV on an eight-year, $55MM deal signed back in 2015. Over the term of the contract, Seabrook has declined rapidly and is a shell of his former self, regardless of health. The cap-strapped Blackhawks would not think twice about moving on.
Colorado Avalanche: Erik Johnson
– Johnson is a well-liked and well-respected long-time member of the Avalanche. However, as time has gone on the team has surrounded him with better, younger, and more affordable blue line options. As valuable as Johnson’s experience and leadership may be, he is an expendable piece without a clear future role. Signed through 2022-23 at a $6MM cap hit, Johnson is an expensive piece to keep around just for the intangibles and the Avs could look to use this opportunity to clear some space for some anticipated big game hunting this off-season.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Alexander Wennberg
– Blue Jackets fans have been calling for Wennberg’s head for years now and may finally get their wish. The once-promising young forward turned a 59-point 2016-17 season into a six-year, $29.4MM contract and then proceeded to regress immensely over the past few seasons instead of continuing to improve as expected. With another three years left at $4.9MM per, Wennberg doesn’t seem likely to get back to a level of play that would warrant his current cap hit and Columbus could move on, even from a 25-year-old homegrown product.
Dallas Stars: Andrew Cogliano
– The Stars are a team with numerous big names and long contracts, but their most inefficient name might just be Cogliano. Rather than using a buyout to move a heavy cap hit, Dallas could opt to trim the fat by removing a player that hasn’t been a good fit. Cogliano has showed that his six points in 32 games last season with the Stars following a trade from Anaheim was not a fluke; he followed it up with 14 points through 68 games this year. Expecting Cogliano to get back to 30+ point form in 2020-21 in his final year at $3.25MM seems hopeful at best and Dallas could use that space elsewhere with some lineup holes to fill this summer.
Stay tuned for Part II coming soon.