June 12 2015 10:13AM
The Calgary Flames really only have four decisions to make in unrestricted free agency. One of them we'll touch on next week in net, while the other three reside on the blueline. In David Schlemko, Rapha Diaz, and Corey Potter, the Flames have three depth defencemen all in need of new contracts. Knowing their situation on D, however, it really only makes sense to bring back one of this trio.
Calgary's most glaring need organizationally is definitely on the back end, but that doesn't mean the team needs a glut of six and seven defencemen. The trio we're about to profile all fill that particular role, so being very judicious here is the way to go.
2014-2015 stats: 44 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 4 PTS, 12 PIM, +1
2014-2015 cap hit: $1.1875 million
For a guy claimed on waivers, the Flames got fairly decent value in Schlemko in the 19 regular season games he played. Other than his shootout winner in Boston, Schlemko didn't provide the team any offence, but he did continue to do what he's always done: be an effective depth defenceman at the highest level. That's why I think he leads the pack in terms of being re-signed.
From a possession standpoint, Schlemko has always been decent at the very least. His first two years with the Coyotes were middle-of-the-road, but his last two seasons have been strong when you consider the role he's been used in.
In 48 games with Phoenix during the 2013-2014 season, Schlemko was the team's top possession defenceman with a Corsi for rating of 53.45%. Among regulars (41 games or more), that ranked him second on the team in any position. And, his 2014-2015 season might be a little more telling.
Schlemko bounced from team to team to team during this past campaign, finally landing with the Flames just before the trade deadline. He started by splitting time with Arizona and the Portland Pirates of the AHL before being claimed on waivers by the Stars. He played just five games with Dallas before riding the waiver train to Calgary, where he also managed to get into all 11 playoff games.
Despite being an involuntary nomad, Schlemko kept his possession numbers above water over the course of 44 games with three different teams. That's three different situations and three different coaches, which I think is pretty impressive. In 19 games with the Flames, he had a 52.99% possession rate and followed that up with an even better 54.09% in the playoffs. It's important to point out as well that this was done without a heavily skewed offensive zone start.
He passed the eye test as well. Playing limited minutes that gradually increased, Schlemko was reliable defensively and kept up with a quick, skating team. Nothing he does is spectacular, but that's okay for a third pairing defenceman who you're hoping plays 14 minute a night. If you don't get scored on and spend more time at the right end of the ice when you're playing against the bottom of the opposition depth charts, you're doing your job.
Schlemko is the only one of this trio I'd sign to a new contract. As outlined, he has a solid track record of being an effective depth d-man. On top of that, he's going to be inexpensive due to his lack of counting numbers and his nomadic existence this past season. A one year deal at less than $1.5 million seems extremely realistic for Schelmko, and if so, would very likely be good value.
2014-2015 stats: 56 GP, 2 G, 2 A, 4 PTS, 10 PIM, -3
2014-2015 cap hit: $700,000
We were all very excited when Diaz was finally healthy enough to return to action in the postseason. After all, he was more capable than some of the other third pairing guys Calgary was forced to rely on. That in and of itself, however, isn't a reason to offer Diaz another contract.
I don't dislike Diaz as a player and I don't think it would be totally egregious for the Flames to bring him back. My biggest problem is I don't see a natural fit for him. As such, I don't think he needs to be a high priority when free agency opens in July. If he's still kicking around into August and Calgary needs some insurance, sure, let's revisit the topic. For now, though, the Flames have to be prepared for him to enter free agency and potentially go elsewhere.
Calgary will enter next season with what we think is a fairly set top four, which realistically leaves three spots open on the active roster. If we factor in David Schlemko and Deryk Engelland as well, which I think is likely realistic but not universally loved, then we're down to one spot. Now there's one spot left and the team has Tyler Wotherspoon, newly signed Jakub Nakladal, and maybe even Ladislav Smid to think about as the team's number seven. Oh, and there's a general feeling that the Flames might look to upgrade their second pairing this summer. So where exactly does Diaz fit?
Diaz didn't have a bad season at all. The problem is, he didn't have an overly good season either. Obviously his offensive totals don't jump off the page at you, with two goals and four points in more than half a season. His underlying numbers were okay, though, finishing with a 45.99% possession rate. Among Calgary defencemen, that was actually third best behind Schlemko and Mark Giordano. However, knowing that Diaz was a third pairing guy, you can't really compare him to the top four.
I see Diaz as a capable swing defenceman on a good team. Is he a bona fide regular on any NHL team? No, but I do think he's an okay option as a six or seven. Let's not forget that he's got the Head Coach in his corner, too, as Bob Hartley clearly showed he trusts Diaz and wouldn't hesitate to put him in the lineup. Will that be enough to get him another contract though? That I'm not convinced of.
Verdict: I don't hate the idea of bringing Diaz back, necessarily. The problem is, the Flames might have to wait a little while to do it, and by that time he might have signed elsewhere. If it does come down to Schlemko or Diaz, I choose the former every single time. He's younger, has more upside, and has a better track record of moving the play the right way. If Diaz is still kicking around in August and Calgary has the ability to sign him as an insurance policy, then by all means. Otherwise, they can let him walk without losing any sleep.
2014-2015 stats: 6 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS, 0 PIM, -1
This one is the most cut and dried case of the three. It would be tough to come up with reasons to bring Potter back under most circumstances. Under the conditions we just outlined with Diaz, that sell becomes even more difficult. If I'm hedging on whether to bring back a generally effective Diaz, the writing is pretty much on the wall for Potter. I would imagine that writing is very much the same behind closed doors for the organization.
The Flames signed Potter in September to add to their organizational depth at the position. A veteran of eight professional seasons, Potter could at the very least give you a reliable veteran at the American League level. I don't think the team made a mistake by signing him, because the reasoning was very sound. He did his job the best he could, but it's time for Calgary to move on.
Because of his age and experience level, Potter was the guy tabbed to be the obligatory extra body at practice this season. Because of that, and because of recovery from offseason shoulder surgery, he only played 31 games total. He put up ten points in 25 games with Adirondack and was just fine down there, but was resoundingly ineffective in his six NHL regular season appearances. The same held true for his two postseason appearances.
Again, that doesn't mean Potter was bad. First off, he barely played. Second, and more importantly, he just didn't do anything of note to justify a contract being used on him. At the age of 31, he's still got pro hockey left in him. Will it be at the NHL level? Maybe, but just not with Calgary.
Verdict: If Potter was a 25-year-old restricted free agent, this might be a different story. But he's 31 and has never really proven to be an effective NHL regular. The Flames have better options and probably need the space under the cap of 50 contracts.