The elevator that runs from the press box to the dressing room areas at the Saddledome has a capacity of around 12. It's not unusual, however, for 17 bodies to squeeze in there after a game with team personnel, building staff and media all urgently trying to catch a lift.
When it's overly crowded like that, it's a suffocating and uncomfortable feeling.
Well, welcome to one of the Flames roster conundrums. With the signing of highly sought-after UFA right-winger Michael Frolik on July 1, Calgary is left with 17 forwards that could or at least should be in the NHL this season.
As you know, you can only play 12.
Factor in two extra forwards the team will likely carry on its roster and at this point, you still have three too many forwards for the number of available jobs.
It's a similar situation between the pipes where the re-signing of Karri Ramo has left the team with three goalies at the moment. There's only one net.
With the first day of free agency in the books, it's time to take stock of the Flames roster and see exactly where we're at. Below is a look at how I view the roster as of right now. Obviously, there will be changes to come as I have 28 players listed and a NHL roster can only be 23 players maximum.
Note that age listed is as of October 1, 2015 and dollars are cap hit figures per General Fanager.
2015-16 NHL Salary Cap - $71.4M
- Forwards (17) $33.93M
- Defence (8) $29.61M
- Goalies (3) $8.90M
Now let's drill down further and take a look at each position as it stands today.
Forwards (17) - $33.93M
Raymond 30, $3.1M, Shore 24, $851K
Instead of addition, now it's time for subtraction as they need to whittle down the number of bodies to 14. There are a few different options for doing this:
- Trade - Jiri Hudler and David Jones are both going into the final year of their existing contracts and will be a UFA at season's end. With new contracts and big raises owed in 2016-17 to core pieces Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Mark Giordano, It's hard to envision the club having space to fit either Jones or Hudler and definitely not both of them. Thus, the time to look at a deal for one or both might be right now. In addition, other players could also be traded with Mason Raymond -- two years left at $3.15 million AAV -- being someone that comes to mind given how he was used (or not used) last year.
- Demotion to AHL - While his eligibility to go to the AHL without clearing waivers will expire soon, Markus Granlund may go back down again simply because it's easy to do. Micheal Ferland must clear waivers now so given that and considering his coming-out-party in the playoffs and his one-way deal, it's safe to say he'll be in the NHL and on the opening roster.
- Place on IR - The unknown is a player or two could end up hurt and if so, that helps alleviate the logjam. There's no guarantee of this but it seems inevitable that at least one forward will get nicked up and start the year on injured reserve.
- Place on Waivers - If fans were making the decision, Brandon Bollig would top the list for this option. However, they're not and the guys in charge like Bollig and the character, toughness and playoff experience he brings. Instead, Drew Shore would more likely be the guy to be put on waivers. Let's not forget they only gave up Corban Knight (so essentially a fourth round pick) to get Shore so if he gets claimed, it's not the end of the world.
With the season less than one month away, my guess as of right now on how the Flames get from 17 to 14 is Shore ends up on waivers for the purpose of being assigned to the AHL. One more player TBD will end up on the IR. Lastly, with Bennett shifting to centre, Granlund also ends up being demoted to the minors.
As for Ladislav Smid, I would not be surprised if he starts the season on the IR. I know he's feeling better but two neck surgeries in a span of five years is going to make being cleared for contact a more complicated matter. If Smid opens season on long-term injured list, that would also subtract his pricey cap hit and open up some space.
Meanwhile, everything we've heard the club say about Tyler Wotherspoon needing to win a job tells me that they will bring in some experience to be that No. 7 guy with Wotherspoon destined to begin the season in the AHL again unless he really impresses at camp and can 'earn' his way into the top seven.
That's where Ryan Wilson may come in. If he is healthy, I can see him signing a modest deal with the Flames to try and get his career back on track.
A wildcard is Czech defenceman Jakub Nakladal. He's 27 and is coming off one season in Finland and three seasons in the KHL prior to that. He could surprise at camp and win a job although he's on a two-way deal and has never played in North America before so it would make sense to start him in the AHL to give him time to adjust to the smaller ice surface.
My guess is Smid opens on the IR and they sign Wilson to split the 6/7 role with Engelland. If there's an injury to someone on defence to open the season, Nakladal also makes it with Wotherspoon remaining in Stockton.
Ortio 24, $600K
Re-signing Karri Ramo to a one-year deal came as a bit of a surprise. Also raising some eyebrows was the $3.8 million he received in getting him to sign just two hours prior to when he would have become a free agent. Aggressively pursuing the 29-year-old and offering that type of loot to keep him off the open market strikes me as part of a bigger plan that may already be in the works. My sense at this point is Calgary prefers Ramo and will look for an opportunity to unload Jonas Hiller, who has one year left on a deal that pays him $4.5 million.
What I think is safe to assume is it will be Joni Ortio and one of those two vets moving forward, not both of the vets. Ortio is on a one-way contract deal for 2015-16 and while the $600,000 amount is modest and they'd gladly pay that to him in the minors, he has to clear waivers in order to be sent down and I doubt he would. After grooming Ortio for as long as they have, after he looked so good in that five-game stretch last January and with him just 24 years old, I just cannot see the team risking losing him for nothing.
Goalie situations around the league can change rapidly once training camp and pre-season games begin. Perhaps a team loses their No. 1 goalie to injury or concerns grow about the readiness of a prospect expected to be the back-up. If waiting for a goalie need to develop elsewhere means they carry three goalies into October and maybe even into the regular season, that won't be ideal but it can be tolerated for a short period.
However, I still think it's ultimately Hiller that ends up leaving town although Calgary will likely have to eat some some contract, perhaps up to $1.5 or $2 million.
Busy Summer Wrapping Up
For general manager Brad Treliving, his RFA work is finally done, the Giordano extension is complete and his next moves will likely involve the three veteran skaters (Jones, Hudler, Russell) heading into their UFA seasons, extensions could be in the offing and/or trades could be possible if negotiations don't go well and/or the team may just decide to run a couple of them out to the end and potentially lose them knowing that having them this year gives Calgary the best chance to win.
For a young prospect like 20-year-old right winger Emile Poirier and other prospects looking to make the jump from the AHL, it sure looks like he will be destined for a second season in the minors and that's perfectly fine. Having the luxury to not rush prospects is the type of depth the NHL's best hockey teams have. Calgary finding itself in that situation is a positive sign.
- Flames Keep Getting Better, Expectations Keep Getting Greater - Make no mistake, add $10 million worth of new players to your line-up and expectations change. Calgary is no longer the underdog team hoping to win, they will be a team expected to win and while that comes with added pressure, it's something Brad Treliving embraces.
- Brad Treliving: Kicking Ass and Taking Names at the NHL Draft - Brad Treliving left quite an impression on Florida in which he rolled in and got what he wanted lookin more like a badass crime boss than a young, second-year GM. A playful recap of the weekend.
- Eight From 80 Feet: Eight Angles to the Dougie Hamilton Trade - It was a huge move that was the talk of the NHL Draft on the opening day and for good reason. The Flames landing a 22-year-old first round pick without giving up a roster player is a massive coup.
- Eight From 80 Feet: Eight Thoughts on the Backlund Contract Extension - I take a close look at the three-year contract Mikael Backlund signed on June 20 and explain via eight different and unique slants why it's a great deal for both the player and the team.