Flames will dive into free-agent market mindful of contracts that make sense
Calgary has the cap space and plenty of targets but GM Jay Feaster vows not to overpay for anybody
Cap space? Check. Blank cheques? Check. Suitable targets? Check.
Now, with the National Hockey League’s free-agent market opening Friday, all Jay Feaster has to do is convince established players to pack up and come to Calgary. He must somehow get across the point that, despite the organization’s ongoing overhaul, it is worth dedicating a chunk of a short career to the Flames’ cause.
Word is, it’s a tough pitch these days.
“I don’t agree with that concept,” says the Flames general manager. “I know that it’s a popular narrative, but I don’t think we have anything to take a back seat on here. It’s a tremendous city. If you’re a married player . . . it’s a great place to raise a family.
“I think any time you have a building that is full every night the way the Saddledome is, any time you’re in that kind of a hockey market — a market where the game matters — I think it’s an easy sell. I really do.”
Time will tell exactly how easy.
At the very least, the Flames are expected to announce Friday the signings of goalie Karri Ramo and centre Corban Knight.
Beyond that, they are in the running for a variety of roster upgrades — up the middle, on defence. They need the big. They need the scrappy.
Feaster does allow that the Flames can sometimes be a victim of geography.
“We’ve seen this in the past . . . we saw it with Brad Richards (when) he wanted to be in the east,” Feaster says of his July 2011 bid for the veteran centreman. “That’s the one thing I can’t do anything about — I can’t take Calgary and move it to an eastern location. But other than that sort of thing — a player saying the travel is hard in the west or ‘I really want to be in the east because of family’ — that’s the only kind of resistance I’ve ever encountered.”
Besides, Feaster is eager to point out, the Flames are not spinning their wheels.
An about-face can happen quickly, even for a team that’s missed the playoffs for four straight years. So landing in Calgary may mean catching a club on its upswing, according the general manager.
“There’s no question that we’re selling opportunity,” says Feaster. “Yes, we’ve acknowledged that we’re in a rebuild — but the rebuild doesn’t have to take forever when you get a group of guys that are committed to the program. I thought it was interesting, (when newcomer) T.J. Galiardi talked about the fact that a couple of years ago in Colorado, there was no expectation on that team (because) they were rebuilding. A young team playing the system, doing what the coach asked them to do, doing it with honesty and integrity and energy — and they make the playoffs.
“So, again, it is about opportunity, about ‘Do you want to be here? Is it a fit for us? Is it a fit for you?’ ”
Feaster pointed out that while centremen top his list of needs — “Having said that, it also doesn’t mean that we’re prepared to overpay” — that void can be filled via trades, too. Not just through costly bidding wars.
“Any time you go into the free-agent market — they don’t call it free-agent frenzy for nothing — that always happens, the term starts to run up, the dollars start to run up,” says Feaster. “We’ll be very mindful about how far out we’re willing to go, and how much money.”
Per the new world order, the Flames, like all NHL teams, were permitted to chat with pending free agents Wednesday and Thursday.
So, already, they’ve been pitching woo.
“We’ve established in our own minds what we think the dollar ranges should be in everyone we’re interested in,” Feaster says. “Basically, you just have those conversations and continue those right through July 5. We’ve had conversations already . . . talking to agents and getting a sense of the players that we’ve targeted, exactly where they are. Are they thinking about re-signing with their old teams? Are they going to look at other offers? And, if so, what kind of a term are they thinking about? Talk a little bit about what they think the dollar range will be.”
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