CALGARY – Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster expects players to fly off the shelves when unrestricted free agency opens Friday.
As part of the new collective bargaining agreement, NHL general managers were able to enter into talks with players Wednesday instead of having to wait until noon ET on Friday when the bell rings to open the UFA market.
With cap space and a desperate need for centres, Calgary could be one of those teams out of the gates quickly Friday.
“I think that’s the effect here of this 48-hour period,” Feaster said Wednesday. “Some guys will have agreements in principle here over the next day or two. Once you’re able to sign and register the contract on the fifth, it will happen very quickly.
“We’ve had conversations already. It’s been a busy day in terms of first thing this morning starting to talk with agents and getting a sense of players we’ve targeted. Are they thinking of re-signing with their old teams, or are they going to look at other offers and if so, what kind of a term are they thinking about? You just have those conversations and keep having them right through July 5.”
Feaster introduced new Flames acquired via recent trades. Winger David Jones and defenceman Shane O’Brien were obtained from Colorado in exchange for winger Alex Tanguay and defenceman Cory Sarich.
Forward T.J. Galiardi came from San Jose for a fourth-round draft pick in 2015. The Flames dealt a fourth-round pick to Florida prior to this year’s draft for centre Corbin Knight.
Calgary hasn’t made the playoffs in four seasons. The Flames are re-building.
Calgary had three picks in the first round of Sunday’s NHL draft in Newark, N.J. Two of them came from trading captain Jarome Iginla to Pittsburgh and defenceman Jay Bouwmeester to St. Louis this past season.
“We’ve acknowledged we’re in a re-build, but the re-build doesn’t have to take forever when you get a group of guys who are committed to the program,” Feaster said.
“Any time you have a building that is full every night the way the Saddledome is, any time you have an ownership group that is willing to commit the money and spend to the salary cap, any time you’re in that kind of hockey market and a market where the game matters, I think it’s an easy sell.”
As a group, the four new Flames players represent Feaster’s goal of making the Flames younger and bigger.
“It’s a direction we want to go,” the GM said.
Jones and O’Brien help Feaster address the need for a shooting winger and more bulk on his third defensive pairing, but Calgary’s most pressing need is at centre on the first, second and third lines.
“It also doesn’t mean that we’re prepared to overpay whether it’s term on a contract or dollars on a contract,” Feaster cautioned. “I think any time you go to the free agency market, they don’t call it free-agency frenzy for nothing. The terms starts to run up and the dollars start to run up.
“We have our list of centres we’ve identified and we’ve started that process and the ones we want to have conversations with. We also think there are still some opportunities to acquire centres by trade.”
Stephen Weiss, Mike Ribeiro, Derek Roy, Valtteri Filppula, Patrik Elias, Damien Brunner, Tyler Bozak and Dan Briere are among the centres scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency Friday.
Teams up against a salary cap that will drop from $70.2 million to $64.3 million next season will need to shift bodies. According to capgeek.com, the Flames currently have almost $17.5 million in cap space to work with for 2013-14.
That doesn’t count the $5.8 million goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff would count against the cap. The Flames await a decision from the 36-year-old Finn on whether he’ll retire or return to the NHL for the final year of his contract.
Either scenario is beneficial for Calgary, so they’re not pressing him for a decision. The Flames either get the extra cap space or they get an asset they can trade and cap room.
Kiprusoff spent the last nine seasons with the Flames and helped them reach the Stanley Cup final in 2004. He won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender in 2006.
But Kiprusoff’s return to the Flames seems unlikely with Joey MacDonald and Swiss netminder Reto Berra already under contract. Feaster said he expects to announce the signing of Finnish goaltender Karri Ramo on Friday.