Though the Calgary Flames were recently eliminated from the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs, they can move into the off-season feeling a sense of accomplishment. In the second season of their rebuild, the Flames confounded the experts by not only clinching a playoff berth but also upsetting the veteran-laden Vancouver Canucks in the opening round.
With a roster comprised of rising young talent (Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, T.J. Brodie, Sam Bennett) and skilled veterans (Jiri Hudler, Mark Giordano, Dennis Wideman), Flames GM Brad Treliving has a solid base upon which to continue the rebuild. With over $25 million in salary-cap space, Treliving also has the cash to add some experienced outside talent.
ESPN.com's Craig Custance points out some of that cap space will get used re-signing restricted free agents Michael Backlund, Josh Jooris and Micheal Ferland. Kristen Odland of the Calgary Herald adds rugged forward Lance Bouma to that list. All should be affordable signings.
Custance believes the Flames should surround their young talent with the right veterans by dipping into this summer's UFA market. He recommends Chicago Blackhawks center Antoine Vermette as one option, noting Treliving and the 32-year-old Vermette know each other from their days with the Arizona Coyotes.
Treliving's success at adding draft picks in recent trades prompted Custance to suggest the Flames GM consider moving Hudler or Wideman (as their trade value is probably high right now) if they'll fetch more young talent to build around.
That advice, however, seems contradictory. It makes little sense to consider dealing away two veterans who played key roles in the Flames' recent success for additional draft picks and prospects, only to add veterans via free agency who might not match what Hudler or Wideman brings to the team.
Hudler had tremendous chemistry with Gaudreau and Monahan on the Flames' top line. Wideman shook off a rough start to this season to become a reliable veteran presence on Calgary's blueline. It's doubtful Treliving entertains moving either guy.
Odland notes goaltender Karri Ramo's unrestricted free agent status creates an interesting situation between the pipes. The 28-year-old Ramo did well spelling off struggling starter Jonas Hiller in the post-season. One scenario Odland envisions is the Flames re-signing Ramo, bringing up promising Joni Ortio (whose contract becomes a one-way deal for 2015-16) as his backup and trying to move Hiller this summer.
Despite the 33-year-old Hiller's inconsistency, he backstopped the Flames to 26 wins during the regular season and three of their four opening-round playoff victories over the Canucks. While carrying a $4.5- million cap hit, he only has a year remaining on his contract. Ortio's one-way salary is $600K (hardly a budget buster for the Flames) and he's a restricted free agent in 2016.
Going with Ramo and Ortio as their tandem next season is also risky. Ramo still hasn't fully proven himself as a reliable starter, while the promising Ortio has limited NHL experience. Unless the plan is to replace Hiller with a more reliable starter, Treliving could keep the Hiller-Ramo tandem intact to start next season.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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