NHL free-agency review: How Calgary Flames stack up in Pacific Division

NHL free-agency review: How Calgary Flames stack up in Pacific Division

Editor’s note: NHL free agency was fast and furious, and the moves that teams did (and did not) make set the tone for next season. All week, we’ll examine the Sharks’ Pacific Division rivals, and whether their free-agency approach put them in better, worse or the same position. Today, we dive into the Calgary Flames.

When it came to competing for bragging rights in the Western Conference last season, the Sharks and the Flames were neck-and-neck. The season series between the two squads was packed with intense games, some bad blood, and one particular hit that sent fans from both sides into a frenzy.

Then Calgary got the boot early in the playoffs by the Avalanche and that regular-season race became forgotten.

But make no mistake, the Flames aren't going to lose their status as a playoff contender anytime in the near future. While they weren't the loudest team on the first day of free agency -- like the Sharks, they have players they want to sign and not a lot of cap room to work with -- they still made some moves. Here's a look at how Calgary did in the opening of free agency.

Players who signed

Calgary made additions to all parts of its lineup when the market opened up, signing center Byron Froese, defenseman Brandon Davidson, and goaltender Cam Talbot. Sharks' fans are probably the most familiar with Talbot, who started for the Edmonton Oilers for a few seasons before being traded last year to the Philadelphia Flyers. Talbot is also, frankly, the most interesting pickup Calgary made.

The Flames got a big boost last season when David Rittich took over starting goaltender duties for Mike Smith, who was incredibly streaky during the regular season -- although Smith did come up big for Calgary when Rittich was sidelined with a lower-body injury. Talbot saw a dip in his numbers last season, but the Flames have expressed they think he'll have a bounce-back season with them.

With Smith not returning to Calgary next season and Rittich -- a restricted free-agent -- still not signed to a contract yet, one has to wonder whether Talbot was acquired as a backup or to compete right out of the gate for the starting job. 

Players who left

In addition to Smith heading to Talbot's old stomping grounds in Edmonton, free agency also brought about the departures of Garnet Hathaway, Curtis Lazar, Oscar Fantenberg, and Dalton Prout -- who, of course, was signed by the Sharks a couple of days after the market opened.

Outside of Hathaway's five game-winning goals -- tied for second-best on the team -- and the grit he brought to the ice, the Flames didn't lose anyone who was a significant contributor. The losses do, however, cut a bit into Calgary's depth. Since they only have $9,473,292 in cap space according to CapFriendly, it would appear the Flames are looking to find depth from within the organization as opposed to going out and signing a free agent.

[RELATED: Sharks might have to trade these players to free cap space]

Better, worse, or the same?

The Flames really haven't come out better or worse after the start of free agency, since the core of their team is still intact. The only major question mark is in goal, and how things pan out between Rittich and Talbot.

The real challenge for the Flames is going to be getting Rittich, Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk signed to deals before the end of the summer with the limited money they have to work with. Without those players, Calgary's depth takes a hit and the grit they've exuded against the Sharks over the last couple of seasons diminishes.

Sharks vow to learn, grow from adversity faced during 2019-20 season

Sharks vow to learn, grow from adversity faced during 2019-20 season

The Sharks aren’t used to losing. Say what you want about the team’s inability to complete a NHL playoff run and hoist a Stanley Cup, but there’s no doubt this team has been an excellent regular-season unit and a perennial contender for more than two decades.

The Sharks last finished the regular season below .500 during 2002-03 season, going on a 15-season run of winning hockey snapped this year. The Sharks were terrible despite plenty of star power, unable to improve on an awful start that got Peter DeBoer fired and left the team languishing in the Pacific Division cellar.

The Sharks didn’t handle it well.

Goalie Martin Jones was honest about that fact in an interview with SportsNet’s Elliott Friedman.

“When it started to spiral, we went our own ways instead of coming together,” Jones said in a column published May 14. “It’s something that will be addressed moving forward.”

Airing dirty laundry, even with a constructive spin, isn’t always welcome in the aftermath of a season gone awry. Jones’ teammates, however, had no issue confirming the fact the Sharks frayed a bit as losses started to mount.

“When you’re losing and things aren't going your way, frustrating builds and it builds quickly,” Sharks captain Logan Couture said. “With us, a lot of guys in our room have never gone through a season like that. Some may have years ago, but not recently. From top to bottom I don’t think anyone handled it the best possible way. I’m obviously in that group. There’s a lot that I think I can learn from.”

[RELATED: What Couture learned from first season as Sharks captain]

The Sharks were tested during a difficult campaign and they didn’t always pass, but the veteran leaders are determined to use it as a teachable moment to handle adversity better in the future.

“It’s easy for guys to be good guys if everything’s going well, but you don’t really grow from that,” defenseman Brent Burns said. “You know what this feels like now. A lot of guys hadn’t been through a lot of that before. It’s not easy. Guys here know it’s hard. They have grown through a culture that has been very successful through a lot of work and a mental edge. It’s important not to lose that mental edge. It was not fun. There aren’t a lot of positives you can take from [season], other than not wanting to go back there. It’s frustrating. There’s nothing great about it.”

[RELATED: Sharks GM Doug Wilson discusses odd end of season, coaching search]

Defenseman Erik Karlsson wasn’t happy about the team’s response to adversity, but he didn’t consider it out of the ordinary or something that frayed relationships that could linger into future seasons. The Sharks’ goal is to contain a bad campaign and make it the outlier their history suggests it could be.

“When things don’t go your way individually and as a team, it’s nothing more than natural that you start thinking in different directions and looking for solutions that might not be there,” Karlsson said. “Overthinking is one of the biggest mistakes you can make but something we all do in tough situations. That’s especially true when you don’t feel like you are doing enough or playing up to your own standards.

“Anything that happened this year was a normal reaction you would’ve gotten on any team in any sport. … I didn’t see anything alarming, and I don’t really judge the things that happened this year. You get to see a lot of different sides of people you hadn’t seen before, and you learn a lot about yourself. This year is something for each individual to learn from when looking at the situation and what they could do differently if a situation like this creeps up again.”

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

Sharks' Logan Couture speaks up on racism, in support of Evander Kane


Sharks' Logan Couture speaks up on racism, in support of Evander Kane

Sharks captain Logan Couture thanked Evander Kane and former NHL player Akim Aliu for speaking out against racism in hockey, tweeting a note Saturday that said the sport and society "are only scraping the surface in what desperately needs fixing."

"Racism exists in society, it also exists in hockey," Couture wrote. "That's a fact. Growing up in this game is a privilege. [At times,] I think most of us have been at fault for turning a blind eye when it comes to racism. It cannot continue."

Kane later tweeted his appreciation of Couture's message.

Kane, who is black, has become increasingly vocal speaking out against racism within -- and beyond -- the sport in the past year. In September, Kane told TSN 1040 in Vancouver that hockey lagged behind other professional sports in diversity and addressing racism after fan told him to "stick to basketball" in an Instagram comment. Kane called a story in "The Players Tribune" earlier this month authored by Aliu, whose revelation that Bill Peters directed racial slurs towards him in the AHL led to the Calgary Flames firing their now-former coach late last year, a must-read for everyone involved in hockey.

George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody Monday outraged Kane, tweeting that video of the incident made his "[f---ing] blood boil." Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, could be heard on video saying "I can't breathe" as former officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee into Floyd's neck while three other officers at the scene looked on. Chauvin and the three officers were fired Tuesday, and Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

[RELATED: Kerr says he, white people have to do more to fight racism]

Kane said Friday in an interview on ESPN's "First Take" that white athletes couldn't leave speaking up against systematic racism to their black peers. While Kane felt supported by his teammates, he told "Writers Bloc" on CJCL in Toronto later that day that hockey's team-first culture often encourages silence on a wide range of issues in the sport and outside of it.

“Is it going to change? I hope," Kane said (H/T Sportsnet's Sonny Sachdeva). "I’m going to try to be a part of the solution and process in creating that change. But … when it comes to social injustices and racism in hockey, it requires change at the top. Because, you know, that’s the only way true change is going to take place. At the top. Because it’s going to have a trickle-down effect.

“And until things change at the top ... until they make the necessary change to condemn these sort of acts and mindsets … and really weed out that type of thought process, we’re going to be stuck in the same position we are today, and that’s unfortunate.”

Sharks owner Hasso Plattner, who doesn't often publicly comment, said in a rare statement Friday that the Sharks applauded Kane's "rational and thoughtful response to the terrible tragedy" of Floyd's death. Defenseman Mario Ferraro retweeted the statement, and Couture's note is the first tweeted by one of Kane's San Jose teammates in support.