April 17 2013 08:05AM
pic via Frances Larrede
The year is winding down and so too is the Roman Cervenka experiment. The Flames elder rookie was a guy I frequently included in pre-deadline articles as a body the team should shop, mostly because I can't see the experiment continuing beyond this season.
The biggest reason is Bob Hartley doesn't have much use for Cervenka. Even as the club is auditioning guys like Max Reinhart, Sven Baertschi and Ben Hanowski down the stretch, Cervenka has mostly stayed at the bottom of the rotation, often skating with Steve Begin and Tim Jackman. His highest highest amount of ice time in the last five games was 13:16 versus Vancouver while he dipped to 8:10 and 6:42 against Phoenix and Edmonton respectively. Cervenka is 10th amongst Flames forwards in terms of average ice time this season (13:25) with his usage generally trending down over the course of the season.
Cervenka has 14 points in 35 games this year, which is roughly a 33 point pace over an 82-game season. That's not half bad considering his ice time, but it's hardly the 50-some point, top six forward that was expected (or at least hoped for). Cervenka has shown NHL level offensive skills at times, but his problem isn't in the slot or north of the blueline. Because of his lackluster skating and phsyical game, the former KHL sniper tends to be a liability overall, sporting the 4th worst relative possession rate on the team, ahead of only Blair Jones, Brian McGrattan and Alex Tanguay (youch). Tanguay obviously plays against much tougher opposition, while the other two guys are replacement level 4th liners.
Which is to say, the coaches don't trust Roman and he hasn't given them much reason to. The couple of games where his ice time fell through the floor recently is when the team was protecting a lead for most of the night. It's clear they don't think he can play against anyone of note (quality of competition wise) and don't want him on the ice when the club is winning.
To be fair, it's been a pretty rough ride for Cervenka. He battled a blood clot issue during the lock-out and then came to the Flames limited training camp out of shape as a result. His conditioning and inexperience in the league held him back somewhat and the team itself isn't really built to provide enough shelter for a guy like him to find his legs in the top 9. On top of all of that, the shortened season has meant a truncated audition and acclimation scenario, meaning a denser schedule, but less games overall to get accustomed to the North American game.
Will He Stay or Will he Go?
Those difficult circumstances are probably why the team might be willing to keep Cervenka around on a short, cheap contract; it's possible he has more to give and could improve with a summer of conditioning and 40-odd NHL games under his belt. On the other hand, unless Cervenka has a burning desire to try to make it in the NHL, he'll likely have much better options overseas (from a financial/ice time perspective). He's a known commodity in the KHL and there are teams in Russia who aren't shy about throwing around a few dollars to attract or keep notable names.
So maybe both parties are willing to give this relationship another tr. If I had to put money down, though, my bet would be on Cervenka fleeing back to the welcoming arms of European hockey this summer.