Before the annual NHL tradition of overspending on free agents begins in earnest on July 1, the Calgary Flames have to take care of the business of balancing the budget, setting responsible financial goals and deciding which restricted free agents fit into their future plans.
The Flames have already tied the can to Ales Kotalik, placing the underachieving forward on waivers with the intent of buying out his contract – which still has a whopping $6 million remaining. The club has already informed Vesa Toskala that he will not be tendered a contract offer for the 2010-11 season.
As of this writing, the team has $7.25 million in cap space – on a projected NHL salary cap ceiling of $59.4 million. If the club does the expected and buys out Kotalk – still not a guarantee considering the hefty amount still owed – the team has $10 million and change to play with.
Before we analyze what free agents the team may attempt to sign, let’s examine the eight restricted free agents still on the roster.
Ian White - The team enters the 2010-11 season with six of their seven main defensemen signed, sealed and delivered. Ian White, the blue chip backliner acquired in the Dion Phaneuf deal, is the most important restricted commodity, despite the disappointing numbers (four goals, 12 points in 27 games) he achieved with the club. Calgary has made a qualifying offer of $997,500, an extremely slim raise that is expected to be rejected by the White camp. White is the only restricted free agent with arbitration rights.
Henrik Karlsson – The newest member of the Flames organization, goaltender Karlsson was expected to join Dynamo Riga of the KHL but it appears he was signed in name only. The Sharks surrendered him for a 163rd selection in the 2010 draft so it’s unwise to expect him to be the second coming of Pelle Lindbergh. He was qualified on Monday.
Matt Pelech – Pelech spent the 2009-10 season with Abbostsford collecting 10 points in 42 games. He was qualified on Monday.
Gord Baldwin- The hulking blueliner spent the 2009-10 season with Abbotsford, registering four goals and 24 points in 67 games. He was qualified on Monday.
Brad Cole – Signed as a free agent in 2007, he was not tendered a contract for the 2010-11 season.
Brett Sutter – The Flames remain hopeful the junior Sutter will develop into a useful third line player. He went pointless in 10 games with the NHL club in 2009-10 but did have a productive and inspiring playoff with Abbotsford, notching 11 points in 13 post-season games. He was qualified on Monday.
Kris Chucko – Sidelined for most of the 2009-10 campaign with a concussion suffered in a december game against the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, Chucko is still on the Flames radar. He was qualified on Monday.
J.D. Watt – The pugnacious forward spent the spent the 2009-10 season with Abbotsford, registering eight goals and 267 penalty minutes. His toughness is still appealing to Calgary and he was qualified on Monday.
Matt Keetley – Although he hasn’t made an NHL appearance since 2007-08 and split the 2009-10 season between Abbotsford and Victoria of the ECHL, the Flames remain committed to his development. He was qualified on Monday.