Today is the day. After having no games played since September 28, the NHL is set to return tonight. There are five games on schedule for tonight, but Calgary Flames fans will have to wait one more day to watch their team, as they get set to take on the Winnipeg Jets Thursday night. With the season being so close, teams have had to make some very tough choices on what players to keep on their opening night roster, as well as which ones to send to either their taxi squad or AHL affiliate.
The Flames had some rough decisions of their own to make, many of which came two days ago. Those decisions included placing forwards Derek Ryan and Zac Rinaldo, along with defenceman Oliver Kylington, on waivers. The Kylington move raised some eyebrows as he is a very talented young defenceman who many hoped would make a big jump this season. While he didn’t get claimed, the fact he is now being assigned to the taxi squad likely means his time with the Flames will come to an end after this season.
Placing both Ryan and Rinaldo on waivers shouldn’t come as a major surprise to fans of the team, though. Rinaldo simply isn’t good enough to be one of the teams top-12 forwards, as proven by last season where he suited up for just 19 regular season games. Ryan, on the other hand, is better than one or two players who made the Flames opening night roster, but is not on a very team-friendly contract. The 34-year-old is in the final year of a three-year deal he signed with the Flames during the 2018 offseason. The deal carries a cap hit of $3.125 million.
Cap Space Meant Waivers for Ryan
Again, as mentioned, on a cheaper contract, Ryan would likely be on the Flames roster. Placing him on waivers, and (likely) placing him on the taxi squad, means they can clear $1.075 million of his deal from their cap space. As general manager Brad Treliving explained yesterday, the Flames have to do some ‘Cirque do Soleil’ to work with the salary cap. Had they chosen to keep Ryan, they would have had just $225,000 in cap space, which would leave zero room to work with in terms of future roster tweaks.
While Ryan is on the taxi squad, his $1.075 million cap hit will not be used against the team salary cap, giving them a bit more breathing room. However, they are still slightly below the maximum cap with him on their main roster, which means that if they wanted/needed to, they could activate him and play him in any and all games. Still, it seems more likely that they view him as a replacement forward at this point, meaning he will likely remain on the taxi squad unless there is an injury to one of the Flames 12 forwards who made the opening day roster.
COVID Affects Contracts
It is an unfortunate situation for Ryan, who still has the skillset to be a valuable asset on many NHL teams. He is solid on both the penalty kill, averaging the third most minutes down a man amongst Flames forwards with 1:40 a game, as well as in the faceoff circle, trailing only Sean Monahan last year with a faceoff win percentage of 52.3.
He has also been a nice secondary scorer through his first two seasons in Calgary, with a point per game pace of 0.45. While at times he feels like a forgotten player with the Flames, he has lived up to his end of the contract. In a normal scenario, he would have more than likely been on the Flames roster and played out the final year of his contract with no drama involved. However, as we all know, nothing about this last year has been normal, and the COVID pandemic is unfortunately having a huge impact on Ryan in the final season of his contract.