On the eve of the free agent signing period, Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster said that building a winning team at the AHL level is a priority.
To that end, Flames management has targeted a “core group” of veterans available in free agency who could contribute on the ice with the Abbotsford Heat, mentor the Flames’ young prospects, and hold their own in Calgary if injuries open up recall opportunities.
“I believe that players develop faster in a winning atmosphere,” said Feaster, who was installed as the Flames’ permanent GM in mid-May after holding the position on an interim basis for nearly five months. “Part of that is getting quality veteran players who understand the important role that they have at the American League level. We need to have the right people – good character people.
“The strategy and the master plan will start to unfold in the next couple of weeks.”
Feaster’s makeover of the farm team in Abbotsford began on Monday, when he made a qualifying offer to just one of the Heat’s six restricted free agents – goalie Leland Irving.
The Flames opted not to make qualifying offers to RFA defencemen Matt Pelech, Gord Baldwin and Josh Meyers, and forwards John Armstrong and Hugo Carpentier, essentially cutting ties with those players.
The Flames have 16 players under two-way NHL/AHL contract for next season – 11 forwards, four defencemen and one goalie (full list at bottom of article). That number jumps to 17 if you include Irving, whose return is all but assured now that Calgary has retained his negotiating rights via the qualifying offer.
The biggest area for improvement for the Heat, without question, would be offensive firepower. Abbotsford was the lowest-scoring team in the AHL last season, mustering just 186 goals.
The need for scoring punch could be addressed through free agency, but Feaster said he also expects improvement to come from within.
“Clearly, being a more productive offensive team is one of our objectives,” he said. “I think we’ll be a more productive team offensively based on the way I expect Troy Ward (hired as Heat head coach on Thursday) to coach the club. He is certainly more of a wide-open style of coach than Jimmy (Playfair) was, and I think that will make a difference.”
The list of the Heat’s unrestricted free agents is lengthy, particularly up front, as forwards Matt Keith, Quintin Laing, Ryan Stone, Cam Cunning and Carter Bancks are set to hit the open market.
While declining to speak extensively about his intentions for individual players, Feaster did hint he’s confident that Bancks will be signed in short order. The undrafted rookie forward from Marysville, B.C. was limited to 29 games due to concussion, but he made a major impact when he was in the lineup, scoring 19 points in 29 games with a +4 rating.
“Things are moving along very nicely there,” Feaster said, in reference to the Bancks contract situation.
The Flames are holding their annual development camp in Calgary next week, and Feaster is hopeful that several youngsters in attendance make a strong push for NHL employment in the fall. The Flames GM will be keeping a close eye on the likes of defencemen T.J. Brodie and Chris Breen, and forwards Lance Bouma and Greg Nemisz – all of whom spent the bulk of last season in Abbotsford.
“It’ll be interesting to see,” Feaster said. “We’re not closing the door on any of these guys. And the challenge to Troy is to get them ready and into the National Hockey League, sooner rather than later.”
The following is a list of the contract statuses for players within the Calgary Flames/Abbotsford Heat organization previously on two-way or AHL-only contracts, heading into the July 1 free agent period.
UNDER TWO-WAY CONTRACT FOR 2011-12 (16 players – 11 forwards, four defencemen and one goalie)
RW Greg Nemisz
LW Lance Bouma
C Mitch Wahl
LW Stefan Meyer
C Gaelan Patterson
LW Ryley Grantham
LW Logan MacMillan
RW Bryan Cameron
D T.J. Brodie
D Chris Breen
D John Negrin
D Keith Seabrook
G Joni Ortio
RW Ryan Howse (rookie)
C Roman Horak (rookie)
C Paul Byron (obtained in trade with Buffalo Sabres)
RESTRICTED FREE AGENT (1)
G Leland Irving
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (16)
RW Matt Keith
C Quintin Laing
C Carter Bancks
G J.P. Lamoureux
D Joe Piskula
RW Kris Chucko
C Ryan Stone
LW Cam Cunning
RW Jon Rheault
G Matt Keetley
D Giffen Nyren
* D Matt Pelech
* D Josh Meyers
* D Gord Baldwin
* C John Armstrong
* C Hugo Carpentier
(*Formerly restricted free agents who were not given qualifying offer by June 27 deadline)
EXPIRED PROFESSIONAL TRYOUT CONTRACTS (PTO)
RW Ryan MacMurchy
C Tyler Ruegsegger
EXPIRED AMATEUR TRYOUT CONTRACTS (ATO)
C Justin Dowling
LW Spencer Bennett
C Aaron Marvin