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On Thursday morning, Sam Bennett rejoined the main group for practice. Later that day, the Calgary Flames summoned Austin Czarnik from the American Hockey League as he completed his conditioning stint.

Both players are currently on the long-term injury reserve. Both are mere days from returning, if not less. When they’re activated from the LTIR, the Flames have a lot of roster and cap shuffling to do.

As of this morning, the Flames are carrying a 23-man roster with a cap hit of roughly $83.556 million. That’s obviously over the $81.5 million salary cap, but because the Flames have Juuso Valimaki, Czarnik and Bennett on LTIR they’re allowed to spend up to $4.694 million over the cap.

But with Czarnik ($1.25 million) and Bennett ($2.55 million) being activated shortly, there are two issues: roster spots and cap space.

Roster spots

This one’s actually pretty simple. The Flames are carrying 23 active players but three forwards are waiver exempt: Matthew Phillips, Dillon Dube and Zac Rinaldo. Phillips and Rinaldo sat in the press box for Thursday’s win over Toronto. They’re the easiest bodies to send down, through a combination of their waiver status and the fact that Dube’s playing top nine minutes right now.

If the Flames decide to keep carrying 23 players, this is a pretty straightforward swap: Czarnik and Bennett for Phillips and Rinaldo.

Cap space

Okay, time to do some math.

With Czarnik and Bennett going active, the amount the Flames are allowed to spend over the cap shrinks to just $894,166 – Valimaki’s cap hit. That shrinks their cap ceiling to $82.394 million. That means to be cap compliant, the Flames will need to trim out $1.162 million of cap hits.

The good news is the roster limit does most of the work for them. If the Flames cut any two bodies – even the two players making league minimum, Rinaldo and Tobias Rieder – they’ll be sending at least $1.4 million of cap hits out no matter which two bodies they choose. If they go with Phillips and Rinaldo, as we project they will, that’s $1.433 million headed back to Stockton.

Now, because the Flames are over the actual salary cap they won’t accrue any cap savings. But for the time being, by virtue of Valimaki being on LTIR, they’re able to carry a full roster.

Cap space and the 23-man problem

Now, the Flames haven’t carried a 23-man roster for much of the season for cap reasons. But they also generally don’t like having three extra bodies bouncing around, as it’s tougher to rotate them into the lineup with regularity.

Right now, with Valimaki on LTIR, the Flames’ “adjusted cap ceiling” is $81.345 million – that’s the cap hit they need to get below to start being able to bank cap space again. If they send anybody down to the farm to get below that cap number – the most likely contenders are Rieder ($700,000) or Dube ($778,333) – they’ll get under that bar and be able to bank cap space again. Not a lot, mind you, but it’ll help.

The Flames have just $19,000 of “regular” cap space accumulated and we’re almost midway through the season. Barring a trade, expect the Flames to try to run lean for awhile to bank whatever they can. There’s a lot of hockey left to be played and they’ll need all the cap space they can get.