June 27 2011 10:11PM
This afternoon was the deadline to qualify NHL RFAs, and a few names of note were advised by their teams that they would be set free. I'm going to look at three players in particular, with consideration given to their merits as players and whether it behooves the Flames to examine the possibility of signing them.
First, it seems fairly clear that at least a few of the gents let go today weren't offered QOs because they would have been eligible for arbitration. While a club can decline an arbitration award and render a player an UFA, going through that divisive process isn't for every team and every player. Still, if a team thinks a player is still in their plans, it's likely a wiser path to qualify a player, negotiate while you can, and go to arbitration if need be.
With that established, let's look at the best known of the players that got the heave-ho this afternoon:
Niclas Bergfors, Florida:
Bergfors was traded twice in just over a year before Dale Tallon chose not to qualify him on behalf of the Panthers. There's clearly something afoot, and the Panthers intimated to George Richards that they expected him to want too much money. One might think that a team that willingly took on Brian Campbell's unconscionable salary might not be quite so picky about who they paid, but here we are. At any rate, after a 21 goal campaign in 09/10, Bergfors' goal total fell off to 12 last season. Of course, shooting 1.9% in 20 games with Florida likely masks his true level of ability, which is a tweener second/third line forward.
I don't doubt he's a flawed product, but as Cam Charron covered quite thoroughly earlier today, this is a player that a) faced decent comp both in Atlanta and Florida last season, b) outshot it pretty handily, and c) wasn't gifted with particularly easy ZS numbers. He's not an elite player by any means, but he's not J.F. Jacques or Kris Chucko either, and given that he only made 900K last year, he should be the type of player that could be signed by a good team looking to add depth.
If anything, that shooting slump might depress his value, which does make me wonder why the Panthers didn't roll the dice in arbitration. Of course, we are talking about a GM that has had problems even getting those QOs out on time in the past, so maybe we shouldn't be surprised that he might have missed the boat on a nuance.
Bergfors might fit Calgary's payroll if they could get him for the 1.5-1.75M range or less. He's a right shooter, and the Flames do have Bourque, Iginla and Moss on that side, but Bourque is playing his off-wing, so they do have potential flexibility. There are certainly better players available, which means that he shouldn't be a high priority signing, but he's someone Calgary should at least think about as a plan B.
Anton Stralman, Columbus:
To be blunt, this is a player that shouldn't have been moved by Calgary. Darryl Sutter opted to keep the untalented Staffan Kronwall over Stralman in the fall of 2009, with Stralman subsequently being dealt to Columbus. He's become an acceptable third pairing defender at EV while also providing a decent right handed shot on the PP since his brief sojourn in Cowtown. Columbus signed him for last season at 1.95M, and the Swede's offensive numbers slid in an injury plagued year wher he shot 1.9% (there's that number again) in 51 games.
I'm not entirely sure why Columbus didn't qualify him, although a valid argument could be made that they simply didn't want to have him accept that offer and then be compelled to pay him another 1.95M this year. The progress of Grant Clitsome also might well have made Stralman surplus to requirements in Columbus' view.
In fairness to Scott Howson, his performance wasn't particularly overwhelming when one reviews his underlying numbers, with Stralman posting the same sort of decent performance against third liners as Chris Butler. His numbers at EV are certainly better than Anton Babchuk's, though, and Stralman had a ZS number of 52.8%, which isn't hard, but again, not in the ballpark with Babchuk's soft treatment.
With Butler, Carson and potentially Brodie on the roster this year, I think Calgary has likely filled enough spots in the bottom part of the defensive roster that they should give him a pass unless he's really, really cheap. If the Flames decide to spend 1.5-2.0M on another bottom pairing defenceman, I guess I'd say better him than Babchuk. Signing neither would probably be best of all at this point, though.
Tyler Kennedy, Pittsburgh:
The decision not to qualify Kennedy is an odd one on the surface. He made 725K last year, so his QO would have been around 800k, and the Pens would have retained his rights until an arbitration hearing at the least. Dave Molinari's piece suggests that the two sides are still talking, and if I were to guess, the Pens likely feared that any breakdown in negotiations would simply result in Kennedy filing for arbitration. He might have received a Clarke MacArthur-esque award at worst, and with the Pens pretty much capped already, that sort of salary for him would likely mean they'd have to walk away or unload another good player.
The fear of a significant salary award is fairly rational in my view, because he'd certainly have a pretty healthy case for an arbiter to chew on. Kennedy had a career year in terms of scoring, with 21 goals, 14 coming at EV, and only shot 9%, so he wasn't the beneficiary of a pile of bounces. The Penguins saw players falling to injury in bunches all season, but through it all Kennedy was the one forward to be productive from start to finish, and given that he did it working largely with players like Matt Cooke and Mark Letestu, it's fair to say he wasn't coat-tail riding.
Beyond the boxcars, though, lies a player with the sort of ability to drive possession against middling competition that any team should covet if the price isn't outrageous. His 10/11 season showed him playing second line opposition with middling ZoneStarts, and kicking the absolute crap out of it. He's a player in the Glencross-Moss mold, someone adept at getting the rock moving in the right direction and keeping it there. Those players, in my view, have serious value.
It's within the realm of possibility that Kennedy will command a paycheque in the 2.5-3M range if he doesn't take a haircut to stay in Pittsburgh, so the Flames might consider that a bit rich for a player exhibiting his past performance level, and at the very least they would have to be certain that they were going to dispense with Nik Hagman before even considering him. It should also be noted that Kennedy's another right shooter, although he and a resurgent Langkow might be just the players needed to shake Rene Bourque from his funk and create another solid line for Calgary. As an extra bonus, he can also play center, and Calgary will have openings at that very spot after this season.
Kennedy's almost certainly a better player than Bergfors, and to be honest he's probably a better player than a significant number of more famous gents that will be inked this weekend. Again, any team would need to be cautious in not over-paying a player who's ceiling is a second/third liner, but I'd say this much; it's a near-certainty that he'd be highly effective aginst middling comp, and that's a commodity that's rarer than one might think.
I don't doubt that Calgary should be looking for a player that's a natural left winger with top-six pedigree along the lines of Brooks Laich or Simon Gagne, but those players might not be available or interested. Tyler Kennedy isn't a super star, but he is an adept NHL forward at age 24, which isn't something to look down your nose at. I wouldn't say sign him at any cost, but he's a useful young player, and my perusal of their lineup leads me to believe that the Flames could use one or five of those sorts. If he was available for a number that Calgary could manage, he'd make the club better, and I'm fairly sure that's what this exercise is supposed to be all about.