With free agency set to open on July 1, the wheels are in motion for an off-season makeover of the Abbotsford Heat.
Jay Feaster, general manager of the NHL parent Calgary Flames, announced on Monday that Heat starting goalie Leland Irving has been extended a qualifying offer. The move ensures the Flames will retain the rights to the restricted free agent (RFA), who turned in a terrific campaign with an AHL-leading eight shutouts, 30 wins, a 2.30 goals against average, and a .913 save percentage.
The Flames did not make qualifying offers to RFA defencemen Matt Pelech, Gord Baldwin and Josh Meyers, and forwards John Armstrong and Hugo Carpentier, effectively cutting ties with those players.
Additionally, former Heat forward Ales Kotalik was on the move on Saturday, as Calgary traded him to the Buffalo Sabres in a multi-player deal.
Kotalik and Flames defenceman Robyn Regehr headed east along with a second-round pick, in exchange for defenceman Chris Butler and centre Paul Byron.
Kotalik has one more year remaining on a one-way NHL contract that pays $3 million annually, but he spent the bulk of the second half of last season with the Heat after falling out of favour in Calgary. His presence in the lineup was a huge boon to the scoring-challenged Abbotsford squad, and he posted 22 points in 25 games.
Of the two players obtained by the Flames in the deal, Byron is the more likely candidate to play in Abbotsford, though it’s expected he’ll challenge for an NHL roster spot. The speedy 5’9″ centre is coming off a breakout season for the Portland Pirates, the Sabres’ AHL affiliate, posting 53 points in 67 games.