If the Calgary Flames are going to make a splash in the coming hours, days and weeks, it will be likely be a big trade rather than a big signing. Unless, of course, GM Craig Conroy finally convinces Elias Lindholm to sign the hefty extension sitting with his agent.
But there’s a reason the Flames are having trouble signing their own big-ticket looming restricted free agents to extensions. It has little to do with the lack of a modern facility to play in. Apparently the firing of former head coach Darryl Sutter didn’t move the needle quite as much as anticipated, either.
It’s all about the on-ice product and the in-room chemistry. And neither of them are guaranteed.
Conroy granted veteran winger Tyler Toffoli his trade wish, sending him to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a third-round pick and young project Yegor Sharangovich. Defenceman Noah Hanifin has also expressed his desire to explore the market after this season, which means a trade is likely this summer or by the NHL trade deadline this season. Mikael Backlund and Lindholm seem to be taking the same approach, staying non-committal to the Calgary Flames and wanting to make sure the team is competitive before committing beyond these next 11 months or so.
It’s a tough spot for the Flames GM to be in. He’s got nothing in the way of salary cap flexibility at this point, and said he wants to have kids competing for spots in training camp. So as of now, the projected $2.4 million in cap space covers 10 forwards (including rookie Matthew Coronato), seven defencemen (including Dennis Gilbert) and goaltenders Jakob Markstrom and Dan Vladar.
Without a great return for Hanifin that includes an NHL player or two who are cost-effective, there’s no wiggle room. The holes at forward can be filled by Walker Duehr and Jakob Pelletier, but bringing them up leaves about $711K to spare for a 13th forward — less than the league minimum.
Happy shopping, Mr. Conroy. Although there are plenty of cheaper free agents available in a year that fewer RFAs were qualified than ever before, the Flames just can’t afford more than one or two as things stand.
Of course, you can go over the cap in the off-season, allowing for some competition for, say, the spot Coronato occupies in this cap exercise. But the Calgary Flames’ entire future seems to following a road of stacked dominoes.
Fans will have to wait until some trade calls are made and the toppling begins before they can build again.