Andrew Mangiapane

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Flames stash Sam Bennett with new deal, cap challenges remain

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All things considered, the Calgary Flames’ new deal with Sam Bennett is well-manicured.

OK, with that mustache humor trimmed away, let’s note that the Flames avoided salary arbitration with Bennett, signing the 23-year-old to a two-year deal that carries a $2.55 million cap hit (so it’s $5.1M total).

Let’s start with the stuff that will push Flames fans from relieved back to possibly unsettled. (No, this isn’t Milan Lucic-related.)

The Flames still have three RFAs to sign: star-agitator Matthew Tkachuk, interesting goalie David Rittich, and hidden gem Andrew Mangiapane, yet Cap Friendly estimates that Calgary only has about $7.4M in cap space remaining.

Now, with 22 roster spots covered in that estimate — including an additional goalie in Jon Gillies — the Flames can make some tweaks to earn some room. Even so, it feels like it’s going to be a tight squeeze, to the point that something has to give. While I wouldn’t be surprised if the Flames used some mix of loyalty pitches and RFA leverage to keep Tkachuk’s price down — especially being that Timo Meier gave the Sharks such a sweet deal at $6M a pop — I really don’t think it would be that outrageous to see Tkachuk pester his way to the $7M range by himself.

The good news is that, all things considered, Bennett’s deal doesn’t put the Flames in too big of a bind. It’s not desirable to the level of the Sharks somehow convincing Kevin Labanc to take just $1M for a year, but … hey, perhaps the Sharks are truly unmatched in this regard.

It’s key to judge Bennett as a $2.55M man, not as the fourth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

This has been a pretty strange ride for Bennett, really. He came into the league drawing some mockery for failing to do a pull-up at the 2014 combine, yet some of Bennett’s greatest moments have come when he’s been a hoss:

And, judging by his mustache, Bennett’s also add some Hostetler to his brand. The hits, workout questions, and fights can be more fun to ponder than his iffy production, although sometimes the hits also go too far.

The 2018-19 season more or less tells you what you need to know about Bennett’s production so far. While he did miss time this year (limited to 71 games played), he scored 27 points, one more than the 26 Bennett generated in both 2016-17 and 2017-18.

His draft pedigree makes you hope for at least a little bit more, and there are certain metrics that indicate that Bennett has been a little unlucky, such as this RAPM chart from Evolving Wild, which shows a mild disparity between his actual offense, and what his expected production could have been in 2018-19:

At $2.55M, the Flames aren’t paying a particularly big fee for Bennett’s pedigree, which is good because money is tight, and expecting too much more from Bennett would likely come down to building up false hopes.

The price is fine, and now the Flames can redirect their attention to the more important (and more challenging) tasks of locking up their remaining RFAs to team-friendly deals, particularly Tkachuk.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flames still face cap challenges after Lucic-Neal trade

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The Calgary Flames faced a cap crunch with James Neal on the books, and they still face potential issues with Milan Lucic being traded in at $500K cheaper.

[More on the contract situations here, and Lucic vs. Neal on ice in this post.]

That’s a lot of money under most circumstances, but $500K goes fast in the modern NHL. In fact, $500K wouldn’t cover the minimum salary of a single player. Every dollar could end up counting for the Flames, so it’s nothing to sneeze at, but things could be tight nonetheless. It may even force someone other than Neal out of the fold.

While the Flames currently boast an estimated $9.973 million in cap space, according to Cap Friendly, that money will dry up quickly. They still need to hammer out deals for RFAs Matthew Tkachuk, David Rittich, Sam Bennett, and Andrew Mangiapane.

Really, would it shock you if Tkachuk and Rittich came in at $10M combined? Such costs are real considerations for the Flames, assuming they can’t convince Tkachuk to take a Kevin Labanc-ian discount.

In Ryan Pike’s breakdown of the cap situation for Flames Nation, he found that Calgary may still have trouble fitting everyone under the cap by his estimations, even if the Flames bought out overpriced defenseman Michael Stone. Buying out Stone seems like a good starting point as we consider some of the calls Treliving might need to make before the Flames’ roster is solidified.

Buying out Stone in August: Stone, 29, has one year left on a deal that carries a $3.5M cap hit and matching salary. If the Flames bought him out, they’d save $2.33M in 2019-20, as Stone’s buyout would register a cap hit of about $1.167M in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

As frustrating as it would be for the Flames to combine dead money in a Stone buyout with Troy Brouwer‘s buyout (remaining $1.5M for the next three seasons), it might just be necessary. Really, it might be the easiest decision of all.

Granted, maybe someone like the Senators would take on Stone’s contract if the Flames bribed them with picks and/or prospects, much like the Hurricanes did in taking Patrick Marleau off of the Maple Leafs’ hands?

Either way, there’s a chance Stone won’t be making $3.5M with the Flames next season.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Trade Sam Bennett’s rights? With things getting really snug, and the forward unlikely to justify being the fourth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, maybe the Flames would be better off moving on by sending Bennett/his RFA rights to another team and filling that roster spot with a cheaper option?

If a team coughed up a decent pick and/or prospect for Bennett, assuming he needs a change of scenery, it could be a win for everyone. The Flames might not be comfortable about that yet with Bennett being 23, but it should at least be discussed.

Trade an expiring contract player? T.J. Brodie ($4.65M), Michael Frolik ($4.3M), and Travis Hamonic ($3.857M) all seem to be signed at reasonable prices, if not mild bargains. All three are only covered through 2019-20, however, making it reasonable to picture them as parts of various trade scenarios. In fact, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that the Flames were working on a potential deal involving Brodie and then-Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri, and Kadri admitted on “31 Thoughts” that he didn’t waive his clause to allow Calgary to trade for him.

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Over the years, including this summer with LaBanc and Timo Meier signing sweet deals for the Sharks, sometimes RFAs take care off cap concerns for their teams. There are scenarios where such constraints actually help the given team land some discounts; it sure felt that way when the Bruins got a deal with Torey Krug back in 2016.

As of this writing, it seems like the Flames might face a tight squeeze in fitting under the cap.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Mike Smith unlikely hero as Flames shutout Avalanche in Game 1

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Mike Smith certainly didn’t start this season on a positive note and while he did improve as the campaign went on, goaltending was still a big question mark for Calgary going into the series. Few would have predicted that Smith would end up being the standout in this battle between two high-powered offenses, but that was the case in the Flames’ 4-0 victory over the Avalanche.

Philipp Grubauer, who also had a poor start to the season before bouncing back, did hold up for most of the game. He couldn’t save the Avalanche Thursday night, but he kept them in this one despite the lopsided final score. It wasn’t until late in the second period that the Flames first solved him.

Continuing with the theme of Game 1 defying expectations, rather than one of the Flames’ many offensive stars netting the goal, it was Andrew Mangiapane, who has just eight career goals and was making his postseason debut. For a moment, he looked like an elite forward, weaving through the Avalanche and outmaneuvering Grubauer before finishing him with a backhand.

Late in the second period, Matthew Tkachuk capitalized on a power-play opportunity to score his first career playoff goal. That 2-0 edge would hold for most of what remained until the floodgates opened late. Mikael Backlund added another power-play goal at 17:01 of the third period then just 14 seconds later, Tkachuk scored again to make it 4-0.

Colorado was the clear underdog going into this series, so from that perspective this outcome wasn’t surprising even if how we got to it did deviate from the script. At the same time, the Avalanche couldn’t be discounted and still shouldn’t be. Any team headlined by Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen has the potential to be very dangerous and the Flames know full well that their work is far from done.

Avalanche-Flames Game 2 from Scotiabank Saddledome will be Saturday night at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.