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Steinberg's Slant: Sitting Pretty

by Pat Steinberg / Calgary Flames

One of the great strengths for the Calgary Flames during their rebuild has been their abundance of cap space. Since the start of the 2013-2014 season, the Flames have been able to go about their business without worrying about nickel-and-diming it to get below the NHL’s salary cap. That’s been a good thing all along the way, but it’s going to prove to be even more crucial and valuable in the very near future.

With more than $13 million of available cap space, it’s understandable why many fans would want Calgary to use it to their advantage to upgrade their team. The Flames could have brought in salary at the Trade Deadline if they wanted to. They’ll also have the capital to go after high profile free agents this summer if they desire.

They’ve already decided against the former, and there’s a good chance the team won’t go too crazy in free agency. When you start to think about the team’s upcoming contract situations, I’m certain they’re going down the right path.

In the next two years, Calgary will be adding substantially to their payroll with contract extensions. Some of those extensions are guaranteed to happen, while others will involve more discussion. The point is clear, however -- the Flames aren’t going to have that comfortable cap cushion for much longer, which is why it’s so important to have now.

Let’s start by looking at what’s on the immediate horizon. TJ Brodie’s contract extension kicks in at the start of next season, adding more than $2 million to Calgary’s cap in the snap of a finger. Make no mistake, Brodie’s contract remains an absolute steal for the Flames, and I still believe it’s going to be downright highway robbery in a few years. But it’s still money added to the cap, regardless of the value.

Two of Calgary’s other "Killer B’s" are in need of new contract this summer, as well. Both Mikael Backlund and Lance Bouma are in line for raises, although how substantial is still unknown. Injuries have limited Backlund’s playing time, but his points-per-game are the highest they’ve ever been, and his two-way importance remains extremely high. Bouma, on the other hand, is shattering career offensive totals and has found himself in a regular top-six role on Backlund’s flank. It’s no stretch to believe their combined raises this summer could add another $3 million or so to Calgary’s cap.

Next summer is when things get really interesting with both potential restricted and unrestricted free agents.

Starting with the latter, there will be three high profile Flames in need of new deals. defencemen Mark Giordano and Kris Russell, along with offensive leader Jiri Hudler will all be entering the final year of their deals next season, and all three of them happen to be enjoying career seasons as we speak. With the trio eligible to sign extensions on Jul. 1, Calgary is going to have some very interesting decisions to make.

Giordano is the logical place to start, as he might have been in line to win the Norris Trophy -- the league’s top blueliner -- had he not suffered a torn biceps tendon earlier this month. His contract has been one of the league’s best bargains for the last two seasons, and will continue to be so in it’s final year. But he’s going to get paid, and the substantial raise he’ll get will be well deserved.

Russell and Hudler are right there with their captain in terms of bargains. Russell’s cap hit of $2.6 million was really good prior to Giordano’s season ending injury. That value has increased since taking over a larger role the last few weeks. Similarly, Hudler will be at or around the 70-point mark with a $4 million cap hit. There’s not very many guys in that echelon making what he makes right now.

Then there's the two brightest beacons of this team’s future. Super sophomore Sean Monahan and rookie phenom Johnny Gaudreau are also entering the final year of their entry level deals next season. Their situations are slightly different, as they’ll be restricted free agents and aren’t eligible to sign extensions until January of 2016. But game planning for their second contracts is rather important.

I’m not sure how general manager Brad Treliving will go about re-signing Monahan and Gaudreau, to be honest. He could try bridge contracts with one or both, which would be understandable. Or, specifically in Monahan’s case, we could be talking about a second contract similar to ones signed by guys like Matt Duchene, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Tyler Seguin. Regardless of what the Flames decide to do, you can be sure both Monahan and Gaudreau are going to be getting rather large raises.

This article is not to point out how difficult Treliving’s job is going to be, nor is it to suggest Calgary is going to have trouble getting all these guys signed. I’m fully confident the team will be able to get their important players signed. Instead, I’m trying to point out why blowing cap space at this past deadline, or this coming summer, doesn’t make a lot of sense.

No one knows if the salary cap is going to go up slightly, stay the same, or possibly go down. That uncertainty is going to be scary for some teams, specifically ones already close to the cap. For the Flames, however, that’s not going to be the case. They’ve had the foresight to give themselves a cushion, which has them sitting pretty right now. They should be sitting even prettier when they use that cushion to solidify their core long term.

Pat Steinberg is the host of Calgary Flames Hockey and The Big Show on Sportsnet 960 The FAN.

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