The winds of change are already blowing in Calgary following a disappointing 2017-18 season that saw the team miss the playoffs for the second time in three years.
Glen Gulutzan is out as head coach, replaced by former Carolina Hurricanes bench boss Bill Peters as the team’s first big personnel move of the off-season.
General manager Brad Treliving promised changes this summer as the Flames struggled to score beyond their top two lines and fell victim to inconsistent defensive play and disastrous goaltending after starter Mike Smith went down due to injury.
Calgary’s scoring woes are as bad as I can remember right now.
Four goals in their last six games, including being shutout three times. Goalless drought ended at 167:21 tonight, about 15 minutes off a franchise record. #Flames
— Pat Steinberg (@Fan960Steinberg) March 30, 2018
While it’s possible some names like Matt Stajan, Kris Versteeg, Matt Bartkowski, and Chris Stewart could be on the way out via free agency, the Flames could be buyers this summer.
Ahead of the Stanley Cup Final and operating under this past season’s $75 million salary cap, the Flames have roughly $12.5 million to play with. Some of that money will go towards signing some of their own free agents of course, but Calgary will have some room to make a play for one or two unrestricted free agents.
1. James Van Riemsdyk (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Position: Left wing
Size: 6-foot-3, 217 pounds
If the Flames are willing to open up their pocketbooks this offseason, James Van Riemsdyk would make perfect sense to join a young forward core in Calgary.
Spending the last six seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the former second overall pick has developed into one of the game’s premier power forwards and has been extremely consistent in the process.
Using his big six-foot-three frame to park himself in front of opposing goaltenders, Van Riemsdyk has scored at least 25 goals in four of his last five seasons.
Calgary is in need of some help on the wing and a skilled veteran like JVR could make a lot of sense on the team. Currently, Calgary’s biggest need is on the right side with Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk occupying left wing on the top two lines.
After six years on a wicked $4.25 million AAV contract, Van Riemsdyk is also due for a pay raise – likely $6.5 million or higher – which could be too rich for Treliving’s blood.
2. James Neal (Vegas Golden Knights)
Position: Left wing / right wing
Size: 6-foot-2, 221 pounds
The run on players named James continues with James Neal, who is the only player on this list still battling for a Stanley Cup.
Much like Van Riemsdyk, Neal could bolster Calgary’s wings and provide some excellent support to stars like Gaudreau and Sean Monahan with his combination of skill and grit. While it’s unlikely Neal will ever match his 81-point season in 2011-12, he’s still money in the bank to score at least 20 goals and 40 points.
Earning an even $5 million with the Vegas Golden Knights, it’s expected Neal will command north of $6 million and will likely carry over his modified no-trade clause.
Money could be an issue there for Calgary as well, but the 30-year-old Neal provides plenty of experience in a top-six and has the ability to play on the right side, which is a plus.
The real question will come down to whether he re-signs with the Golden Knights, especially considering what a magical season it’s been for the expansion club.
3. Riley Nash (Boston Bruins)
Position: Centre / right wing
Size: 6-foot-1, 190 pounds
A popular dark horse free agent this summer, Riley Nash’s name has been generating some buzz after a breakout season with the Boston Bruins.
Possessing strong skills at both ends of the ice, Nash flourished this year in Beantown with career highs in both goals (15) and points (41). Nash seemed to enjoy taking a bigger role with the Bruins this season as well, with his play picking up after Patrice Bergeron went down with injury.
Although his primary position is down the middle, Nash does have the prowess to move over to right wing, which is an area that Calgary needs plenty of help with.
Top-line minutes might be too much of an expectation for the 2007 first round pick, but he could slot in either on the second line next to Mikael Backlund or third line alongside Mark Jankowski.
Playing for less than $1 million in Boston, Nash is due for a pay raise but wouldn’t come at a significant cost to the Flames if they want a cheaper option than Van Riemsdyk or Neal.
4. Jonathan Bernier (Colorado Avalanche)
Size: 6-foot-0, 184 pounds
We arrive at our first contender for a backup goalie position, and it’s a man that’s travelled around the league over the last few years in Jonathan Bernier.
This summer’s goaltending market is quite slim when it comes to bonafide backup talent, but Bernier has resurrected his career over the last couple of seasons.
After being run out of Toronto two years ago, Bernier had a respectable 2016-17 season in Anaheim before signing a deal last summer with the Colorado Avalanche.
With Semyon Varlamov missing extended time due to injury, the 29-year-old helped lead the Avalanche to a playoff appearance with an 18-13-2 record, 2.85 goals against average, and .913 save percentage.
Not numbers that jump off the page, but Bernier seems to have found some consistency in his game without the pressure of having to perform 65 nights in a season. David Rittich and Jon Gillies struggled down the stretch with Mike Smith out of the lineup in Calgary, and some stability could be available with Bernier on a cheap contract.
5. Harri Sateri (Florida Panthers)
Size: 6-foot-1, 205 pounds
If the Flames are wanting to go off the board to solve their backup goaltending issues, Florida Panthers castoff Harri Sateri could be a solution.
Toiling in the AHL and KHL over the last decade, Sateri finally made his NHL debut with the Panthers this past season with nine games under his belt.
Sitting third on Florida’s depth chart, Sateri was sent back to the AHL after posting a 4-4 record, 2.92 goals against average, and .911 save percentage. Those numbers aren’t what set the Finnish netminder apart however, as he compiled back-to-back seasons with a .929 save percentage with Vityaz Podolsk in Russia before coming back to North America.
Combine that with a .927 save percentage in 29 games with Springfield in the AHL and a .939 save percentage with Finland at the recent IIHF World Championships, I think Sateri is ready for another shot.
Making just $750,000 on his last contract, the Flames could sign Sateri for pennies on the dollar and come away with a steal in a backup role if he pans out.