September 22 2014 10:51AM
The long summer is finally at an end and aside from hiring a new GM, the Flames had a relatively quiet off-season. They made some nominal additions via free agency, eschewed the trade market and weren't one of the clubs to dive head first into the analytics craze. Probably the best description of the club's activities is "cautious", which isn't a bad thing given where the team is in its new phase of evolution.
- Calgary entered the summer with a lot of cap space, so there was the opportunity to use it to "accelerate the rebuild". The good news is, Brad Treliving didn't go big whale hunting in the relatively shallow UFA pool. Although we can condemn the Deryk Engelland contract as a bad one (it is), in reality it remains a relatively minor misstep in the grand scheme of things. The Flames enter the 2014-15 season with a ton of budget space and a minimum of toxic assets, which sets things up nicely for the future.
- As mentioned, Calgary didn't go out and make any high profile analytics hires like New Jersey, Edmonton or Toronto. That isn't to say the club hasn't taken notice of the new stats, just that the new regime is somewhat tentative about integrating them into the organization currently. If things go well in Edmonton and Toronto this year, look for Calgary to start doing a bit more on the numbers side.
- Similarly, the Flames have yet to extend any of their higher profile RFA's (TJ Brodie, Mikael Backlund) or UFA's (Curtis Glencross). My guess is Treliving wants some time to personally evaluate the established guys before rushing out and giving them a new long-term deal, which is entirely understandable. That said, I still think the team should sign Brodie and Backlund sooner rather than later if possible.
- We've gone into detail on why re-signing Brodie ASAP is a good bet, but not so much on Backlund. Aside form having a career year last season where he scored 18 goals while playing some of the toughest minutes on the team, we've also learned that the 25-year old center is the best forward on the club at gaining the offensive zone and the Flames best penalty killer.
I don't think we'll ever seen Backlund lead the Flames in scoring, but he frequently leads the forwards in many other meaningful categories. I'm not sure we can say Backlund is a Selke caliber player quite yet, but he has Selke DNA.
- Curtis Glencross is another matter entirely. The speedy veteran's results are far more conflicted over the last couple of seasons and, at 32, he's entering the twilight of his career. Glencross' agent has been vocal about getting his client a big, new extension this summer but the truth is he represents a significant risk on a long-term deal.
On the good side of ledger, Glencross is an efficient goal scorer at even strength. Over the last 3 years, Glencross is 37th in the NHL amongst regular skaters in terms of goals/60 minutes of ice time at 5on5 (0.987/60). To put that in perspective, he's ahead of Jeff Carter (0.980), Jarome Iginla (0.937), Marian Hossa (0.928), Taylor Hall (.923) and Patrick Kane (0.875). This rate is propped up by his personal SH% of about 15%, which is one of the higher ratios in the entire league. That seems suspicious, but Glencross has maintained a 0.15 percentage over 800 career shots, so he's probably just a really good shooter.
The bad news is a player can't just live off of SH% alone. Glencross' two-way play has steadily fallen over the last few seasons to the degree that he was a horrendous liability last year whenever he was in the line-up. Calgary managed a corsi rate of just 42.9% with Glencross on the ice last year and a goal ratio of just 37% at even strength. That means the club was grossly outshot and even more grossly outscored.
The other problem is, even if we grant that Glencross has sniper-like efficiency, he's not really a high volume shooter (62 shots in 38 games last year, for instance) - which means a drop of a percentage or two due to aging or chance would crater his scoring.
The Flames choices in regards to Glencross are: re-sign the veteran and hope he rebounds and maintains a high level of play as he ages; or try to leverage the asset by trading him at some point this year. Choice one is especially concerning given the fact that Glencross is looking for his "retirement deal" this time around; ie the biggest contract of his career.
At this point, I personally lean towards option number two. My suggestion for the Flames would be to either stick Glencross with a high possession player who can make sure he spends more time in the offensive zone (ie; Backlund), or to shelter him outrageously and play him with other offensive players (Hudler). Either way, the goal should be to goose his numbers so he looks like a shiny object when the trade deadline rolls around.
- Of course, the decision to trade Glencross hinges on the development of the kids. Right now players and coaches are saying all the right things about trying to make the playoffs, but the more realistic objective of 2014-15 is to suss out which of the forward prospects between 21-24 are true NHLers. That grouping includes Sven Baertschi, Johnny Gaudreau, Markus Granlund, Max Reinhart, Michael Ferland, Bill Arnold, Corban Knight, Lance Bouma and David Wolf.
That's a lot of names so Treliving won't get a definitive read on all the kids, but ideally at least two guys from the above list will establish themselves as NHL options by April. If at least one of them looks like a top-6 option going forward, it makes moving on from Glencross a lot easier.
- Finally, there are still a few clubs in salary cap jail whom the Flames may be able to take advantage of before the season starts. Boston needs to sign both Reilly Smith and Torey Krug and they are already rubbing up against the ceiling. Marc Savards LTIR isn't enough to re-sign both guys, let alone leave any room for mid-season moves. The Blackhawks are also shopping around guys like Nick Leddy and Kris Versteeg to help ease the pressure.
Naturally, teams are loathe to part with a quality asset for nothing, which is why the Flames haven't been able to make one of these kinds of deals yet. With the clock ticking down, however, they have a better chance of either stealing away a useful player (Johnny Boychuk or Nick Leddy) or accepting a salary dump with a prospect or top 60 pick.