The Flames performed a bloodletting when it came to their restricted free agents. They only kept four, two of whom were obvious (Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau), one of whom was probable (Tyler Wotherspoon), and one of whom probably could have gone either way (Freddie Hamilton).
It took them a while to re-sign Hamilton, but when the Flames finally did, the contract was surprising: a one-way, two-year deal. Now he’s played in two preseason games to date, and while everything preseason must come with a grain of salt, he has scored two goals so far.
Even more so, though, is that there are forward spots to earn on the Flames. Maybe 10 are guaranteed, which leaves another three or four up for grabs. And it sure looks like Hamilton wants one of them – and might just get it.
The elder Hamilton isn’t a particularly impressive player, but he isn’t a bad one, either. He adds more to a lineup than Brandon Bollig, for example; he doesn’t sink possession, and he scores at a higher rate (or at least, he did in the AHL; if he gets to play another 200 games to come close to Bollig’s totals I’m sure he’d have more than 23 career points, though).
Here’s the really important thing, though: he’s substantially cheaper.
Let’s talk cap
Hamilton’s $612,500 cap hit is the cheapest out of every player the Flames have signed. (For that matter, Tyler Wotherspoon’s $625,000 is the third cheapest; Nick Schneider falls in between the two, but he’s already been sent back to Medicine Hat.) For a team that’s going to be cap-strapped no matter what, a depth forward with potential at that price is definitely going to be of some use.
Say the Flames stop screwing around already and re-sign Gaudreau for $8 million. We’re going with the high end estimate here for the purposes of safety; the Flames are going to have to tread cautiously for the time being.
If they do that, then a 22-man roster – one that includes Matthew Tkachuk and Linden Vey, but sees Hunter Shinkaruk start the season in the AHL, for the record – sees the Flames over the cap by almost $100k. (Remember this includes Ladislav Smid’s $3.5 million, which counts until after he can be put on LTIR.) That can’t happen; the Flames have to be cap compliant to start the season.
Say the Flames have Bollig ($1.25 million) start the season in the AHL. If they then call up Hamilton in his stead, then they have roughly $240k in cap space (and probably upgrade their roster, while they’re at it).
And that’s without having to send Sam Bennett to the AHL on a paper transaction. (Though if the Flames are afraid of losing Wotherspoon to waivers, then they could do that to keep him up.)
Even with the overage penalties, Gaudreau’s ask is affordable to the Flames. It pushes the Flames right up against the cap, but not over; then, once Smid is put on LTIR for the year, the Flames have all the room they need to play with call-ups.
The Flames clearly see something in Hamilton. They could have probably easily signed him to a one-year, “show me” deal like Wotherspoon, but they didn’t: they elected to give him two.
Daniel Pribyl is the only other player the Flames signed to a two-year deal over this offseason: another young kid with potential who hasn’t had the chance to show anything, really, at the NHL level. A certain amount of faith goes into a contact like that, and it would appear Hamilton has the faith of the Flames.
The early preseason success certainly helps matters, too. But as things go right now – taking into account the Flames’ financial situation, the contract they re-signed Hamilton to, and how he’s doing right now – I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hamilton make the Flames’ opening night roster.
And if not then, then maybe a call-up won’t be too far behind.