This past summer, Jamie Lundmark agreed to a contract with the Calgary Flames, doubtlessly the only NHL team that had any interest in his services. It was a two-way deal, with him set to make a bare-bones 100k/annum rate while toiling in the AHL. The minimal dollar amount was a calculated risk on Lundmark’s part: it allowed him to avoid re-entry waivers due to a wrinkle in the current CBA. That meant, the Flames would have no barriers to calling him up if they needed him during the year. It also meant that if he floundered in the AHL or if the Flames decided not to summon him to the big leagues, he’d be making a relatively piddly amount on probably his last NA pro hockey contract. For Jamie, it was the equivalent of going all in before being blinded-out.
The gamble paid off, however. The former 9th overall draft pick was dominant on a very mediocre QC Flames squad, scoring 52 points in 54 games played. That production earned him the call when Bourque/Bertuzzi went down for the count and he’s been full value ever since with 13 points in 17 games. He has never looked out of place on the Flames this season, even when playing amongst the team’s top 6 with guys like Daymond Langkow and Mike Cammalleri. He’s making Sutter look like a genius for re-signing him this summer, no doubt.
Long-term, questions about whether Lundmark can sustain this production and possibly be re-signed as a potential “Daniel Cleary” type project loom. In the short-term, however, there remains the question of what happens to Lundmark when Bertuzzi fully recovers and re-joins the team – because it can be argued that the former has been the superior player so far this year.
Lundmark has better underlying stats across the board. Slightly better PPG pace (0.75 vs 0.76), better corsi rate (+8.4 vs +5.8) and better ES efficiency (3.21 vs 1.84) relative to Bert. And that’s playing roughly equivalent roles, although Bertuzzi has likely had the better linemates in aggregate since Jamie has played anywhere from the 2nd to 4th line.
Of course, Lundmark’s results are sullied by small sample size – 17 games is hardly enough data to hang one’s hat on, and his ESP/60 rate is clearly inflated (3.21 is amongst the leagues elite – obviously it’s bound to go down over time). In addition, he’s had the benefit of the bounces thus far, whereas Bertuzzi has been unlucky by comparison. Still, I like Lundmark’s game more than Bertuzzi’s; the big guy is clearly the more skilled of the two and his size gives him the sort of advantage that Lundmark can’t match physically. But Bertuzzi is, for lack of a better word, a dumber player. He’s lackasdaisical in his own end of the rink and he constantly makes bad bets when it comes to executing in the neutral and offensive zones. He’s the king of the needless and easily intercepted back-hand pass. He hates making the “standard” play, even when the situation calls for it, so he’s prone to turning over the puck in bad areas – especially at the oppositions blueline. That’s why, despite his size, soft hands, accurate shot and lots of time with the best linmates, Bertuzzi has one of the lowest corsi rates amongst any of the Flames forwards; the puck frequently goes the wrong way with him on the ice. His decision making and effort levels are dubious, at best. If Bertuzzi wasn’t one of the team leaders in terms of ES and PP ice-time (due to Keenan’s ongoing infatuation with him) his point totals would likely be fairly nominal.
Lundmark, on the other hand, is skilled enough to be effective, but also has the sort of motivation and will to work his bag off. He’s impressed me during this renaissance not only because of his output, but also because he’s fighting to be useful all over the ice: from the slot to the boards to his own end of the rink. He doesn’t make stupid back-hand passes. He does dump the puck in when it’s appropriate.
Bertuzzi, for his part, is extremely effective in a very narrow fashion: he’s good down low in the offensive zone, against soft opponents and in certain situations (break-aways, shoot-outs). He’s basically the hockey equivalent of a designated hitter. If I could sub him in now and then without exposing him to the very risks he engenders, then I’d like him a lot more than Lundmark. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works in hockey, so Bert’s good and bad are at constant war when he’s in the line-up. Which is why, in my view, Lundmark would be the preferable choice to remain in the Flames top 6 when Bertuzzi returns.
Of course, this is all moot. The decision obviously isn’t a contentious one in Keenan’s mind…