Michael Frolik

Getty Images

Flames still face cap challenges after Lucic-Neal trade

1 Comment

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.

***

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.

Devils’ Mueller stretched off after scary crash into end boards

4 Comments

Yikes.

New Jersey Devils defenseman Mirco Mueller had to be stretched off the ice just over a minute into the third period of Wednesday’s game against the Calgary Flames after a nasty crash rendered him motionless for some time.

Mueller was trying to get to a cross-ice pass from Travis Zajac, but whiffed on the shot attempt. The puck went behind Flames netminder David Rittich, with Mueller and Flames forward Michael Frolik chasing it down.

Mueller’s right foot appeared to pick into the ice, sending Mueller awkwardly into the end boards and Frolik crashing down on top of him through the collision.

Medical attention was immediately summoned, with the Devils’ doctor and training staff from both teams attending. A stretcher was rolled out as players nervously watched on, many stunned.

Mueller appeared conscious as he was getting loaded onto the stretcher and was able to give the crowd a thumbs up as he was rolled across the center line, which drew a nice roar from the home crowd.

The Devils had good news following the game, reporting through their official Twitter account that Mueller had “full feeling and movement in his extremities.” The Devils said he alert oriented and conscious and was taken to local hospital for further evaluation.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

It’s Winnipeg Jets day at PHT

5 Comments

Using the term “close sweep” might start a brawl at the wrong Winnipeg bar, yet it feels like a reasonable depiction of the Jets’ first-round exit.

Whether you agree or disagree about their margin of defeat against the Anaheim Ducks, the bottom line is that if you trace the Jets’ history back to the Thrashers era, the franchise remains at zero playoff wins all-time.

Yes, as in they haven’t ever won a playoff game not a series.

Despite that doom and gloom, Jets were a popular dark horse candidate heading into the 2015 postseason for a reason. They were an impressive possession team by most metrics.

Winnipeg combined an increasingly deep defense corps with its underrated high-end forwards to scare at least a few Western Conference observers. Hey, they even occasionally received competent goaltending, albeit from an uneven mix of Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec.

(There was some poetic justice in Pavelec playing out of his mind down the stretch to get them into the playoffs.)

It all feels empty thanks to the sweep, but the Jets zoomed up a level or two in 2014-15. As wild card berths go, Winnipeg can point to some positives.

Off-season recap

The biggest change technically happened during the season, yet the Evander Kane swap is significant enough to at least get a quick mention.

It’s relevant enough to the summer anyway, as Drew Stafford played well enough to gain a two-year deal that carries a $4.35 million cap hit. Stafford is sticking around, while a surprise return is in store for Alex Burmistrov, who went on a two-year KHL sojourn.

Michael Frolik headlines a group of departing players who helped move the needle a bit depth-wise, also including Lee Stempniak, Jiri Tlusty and T.J. Galiardi.

Maybe the most significant off-season storyline is what Winnipeg did not do: Dustin Byfuglien and captain Andrew Ladd are currently entering the final season of their respective contracts.

Report: Prospect Ehlers mulling Swiss league if he doesn’t make Jets

5 Comments

Nikolaj Ehlers will be one to watch at Winnipeg’s training camp this fall.

Ehlers, the Jets’ first-round pick (ninth overall) at the 2014 draft, is reportedly open to playing in the Swiss league should he not make the Jets roster out of the preseason, per news agency Sportinformation.

More (courtesy Swiss Hockey News):

“I honestly do not think about this now,” the 19-year-old Dane says to the Sportinformation. “But Switzerland is at the top of my list if I’m not going to play in the NHL in the upcoming season.”

As Ehlers is still too young for the AHL and another year in the QMJHL would not make any sense for him, playing in Europe would be the best solution.

Ehlers is coming off a dominant Quebec League campaign — 101 points in just 51 games — but isn’t big (5-foot-11, 176 pounds) and will be in tough to crack a Jets team with good depth up front. While the forwards Michael Frolik, Lee Stempniak and Jiri Tlusty are all gone, Alex Burmistrov is back from Russia and some other youngsters, along with Ehlers, will push for just a handful of spots.

“It’s going to be tough coming back here and trying to get that spot on the team,” Ehlers told NHL.com this summer, during Winnipeg’s prospects camp. “There is a lot of excitement, and I think that on the ice there are a lot of things I can improve on, and I’m going to try to do that this summer.”

It makes sense that Ehlers would target Switzerland in the event he doesn’t make the Jets. Aside from having little to prove at the junior level, he has experience playing in the Swiss National League A — during the ’12-13 campaign, he appeared in 11 games for HC Biel.

Calgary Flames ’15-16 Outlook

4 Comments

For the most part, there should be optimism in Cowtown.

After a great ’14-15 campaign in which they exceeded all expectations, the Flames had themselves an equally successful summer. GM Brad Treliving struck the perfect chord of adding to his upstart team without sacrificing youth or prospects; Dougie Hamilton came aboard at the expense of three draft picks while Michael Frolik joined in free agency, much like Karri Ramo, who was brought back to recreate last year’s successful goalie tandem with Jonas Hiller.

The Flames didn’t lose much, either.

Spare veteran parts like Raphael Diaz, David Schlemko and Brian McGrattan walked in free agency, and with good reason; the postseason emergence of youngsters like Micheal Ferland, Sam Bennett and Tyler Wotherspoon made the older guys expendable.

The real excitement in Calgary, though, is the prospect of putting everything together. Up front, the dynamic trio of Johnny Gaudreau-Sean Monahan-Jiri Hudler will be back for another go-round, only this time they’ll have depth behind them: Frolik, a full season of Bennett, a full season of Mikael Backlund (remember, he missed 30 games last season) and a real wildcard in Ferland, who showed flashes of being a havoc-wreaking power forward in the playoffs.

On defense? Imagine if that all comes together too. Adding Hamilton, getting Giordano back, building off the excellent playoffs from T.J. Brodie, Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell — the Flames could have one of the better bluelines in the Western Conference.

So yes, Calgary certainly has momentum heading into ’15-16, but momentum can be a fickle thing. Especially when you’re trying to carry it from one year to the next.

What the Flames won’t have going for them is the element of surprise. It’s fair to say they snuck up on some few opponents last year, especially during their 17-8-2 start, but that’s unlikely to happen again. They’re a tough out, and the rest of the NHL now knows it. Upon being introduced to the Calgary media in July, Frolik, the former Winnipeg Jet, acknowledged part of his reason for signing in Calgary was recognizing how good the team was — and will be.

“With me and Dougie, I think that [expectations are] just going to be higher and higher,” he explained, per the Herald. “With what the guys did last year, the goal is for sure to make the playoffs.”

Calgary will also likely need to improve on its puck possession and shot-based metrics — we touched on that earlier today — but those improvements have a good chance of happening thanks to the new roster additions, and the maturation of incumbent youngsters.

Put it all together, and it’s easy to see why the organization’s already thinking about another boisterous postseason in front of the Sea of Red.

“Players want to be in a good situation, they want to have a chance to win,” Treliving said. “In the playoffs, seeing the atmosphere in the building, seeing this city come alive, seeing the support and the passion that our fans have, makes players excited.”