Todd-zilla says ‘Sayonara’

Even if you had good seats at the Saddledome that night, you might have missed it. After all, it happened at a meaningless moment in just another of the 82 marginally meaningful regular-season games. The play had come to a virtual standstill because the puck was in the neutral zone and both teams were making partial changes. Suddenly, the puck squibbed over to Todd Bertuzzi who decided to whip his stick across his body so that he could collect the rubber and dump it into the enemy zone wronghanded. Hockey historians know that guys like Gordie Howe and Chris Chelios occasionally would occasional change hands to shoot the puck on net if the situation called for it, but who in tarnation makes dump-ins wronghanded?

In the end, the move was symbolic of Bertuzzi’s first and almost certainly only season in Flames silks — highly unorthodox, strangely entertaining and of questionable value. It’s the epitome of faint praise when the compliments paid Bertuzzi include such beauty lines as “well, he wasn’t too bad considering what they were paying him” or “I didn’t hate him as much as I thought I would.” On the other hand, his detractors were very forceful in criticizing his Ice Capades-style skating patterns, his ridiculously fancy but not always effective passes and his thoughtless and careless penalties.

Of course, what the braying customers thought of the Old Cannoli Truck hardly matters now because he turned in his No. 7 sweater for keeps Wednesday as the Flames went through that annual sombre ritual known as “Garbage Bag Day.” If there was any doubt left, the quick separation he has created between himself and the team — he referred to the Flames as “they” in his parting comments to reporters — should eliminate it. While some of Bertuzzi’s lukewarm fans suggest they’d consider welcoming Bertuzzi back for the right price, the simple fact is that the big galoot will be turning his circles for a sixth team in five seasons next winter. The Flames will be better off for it too because who doesn’t honestly think Bertuzzi’s 19 minutes a night, including four per contest on the power play, won’t be better spent on the likes of David Moss (13:35 average ice time), Curtis Glencross (14:40), Dustin Boyd (12:52) or Eric Nystrom (9:15)?

Letting Bertuzzi lumber out of town would be the right call under any circumstances, but the Flames’ exceedingly tight monetary situation should remove any threat of what would be a disastrous re-signing. The shortage of nickels and dimes means that Bertuzzi isn’t the only chap on his way out. Some will be allowed to leave reluctantly — thanks for coming out, Michael Cammalleri, we’ll see you, Dave Gagner and Chris Drury when we have Flames One-Season Wonders Night — and other departures will be cause for week-long Tequila parties for some, like that of the club’s top left-shooting Swedish defenceman.

Most everyone falls somewhere in between on the Please Stay-to-Don’t Get Your Whozit Caught in the Revolving Door On the Way Out spectrum. Even beaten-up rearguard Rhett Warrener, who has already been told by doctors not to bother donating his body to science, will be fondly remembered for his hard-nosed contributions to the club even if the fans are not so secretly speculating how they can spend the $2.5 million that went to No. 44 this past season.

In no particular order (OK, so it’s actually in order of 2008-09 salary) here’s a quick rundown of those with expiring contracts and a mostly arbitrary rating of their chances to be a Flame in 2009-10:

  1. D Adrian Aucoin ($4 million in 2008-09): Aucoin is kind of the reverse Bertuzzi. While some apologists excused Bertuzzi’s failings because of his relatively modest salary, some hardliners refused to give Aucoin any credit for his virtues (and he does have some) because he carried such a big ticket. There’s no denying Aucoin has his limits as a blue-liner and he shouldn’t come anywhere near the opposition’s top players without major support from a checking line and a certain Brazilian as his partner, but he’s a decent puck-mover and can work the power play. If he was willing to take a major pay cut (and there’s credible evidence to support that he might just do that) the Flames could do much worse for a third-pairing to guy. Return probability: 20%
  2. C Michael Cammalleri ($3.6 million): Even if the Flames dump a salary or buy out a contract or two, it’s hard to imagine any scenario that would allow them to afford the 39-goal man and ice a team of more than 15 skaters. Cammalleri was always careful to say all the right things about his tenuous situation, but his teammates started saying their goodbyes the second Olli Jokinen was acquired. His poor playoff will make it easier for management to send him out of town on Tanguay-Huselius Scapegoat Airways. Return probability: 1%
  3. D Rhett Warrener ($2.5 million): Cue the old cliche about the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Return probability: Less than 1% (as a player anyway)
  4. LW Todd Bertuzzi ($1.95 million): With hearty apologies to Joey Mullen, who brought more additional distinction to Flames sweater No. 7 — Michel Petit, Bryan Marchment or Bertuzzi? (Please, no write-in votes for Andrei Zyuzin) Return probability: 5%
  5. D Jordan Leopold ($1.5 million): Being paired with the adventurous Dion Phaneuf upon his return to Calgary didn’t help, but there’s no getting around the fact that Leopold struggled mightily in Part II of his Flames career. There’s little reason to believe either side was happy with the arrangement and Leopold certainly wasn’t back long enough to sink any roots here. Expect him to be an ex-ex-Flame by July 2. Return probability: 5%
  6. C Jamie Lundmark ($600,000, NHL portion of a two-way deal): Next question, please.
  7. LW Andre Roy ($550,000): The Flames wouldn’t be a poorer team for his potential loss, but they’d sure be a duller one. Darryl Sutter, who’s not at all keen on frivolity, has tended to operate on a rotating basis with his goons, so he may decide to again go shopping for cheap muscle. Return probability: 10%
  8. D Adam Pardy ($500,000): The lanky rearguard, who rumour has it is from Bonavista, Nfld., reportedly already has an agreement in place to remain. Return probability: 95%
  9. G Curtis McElhinney, Flames: Can anyone help feeling sorry for the guy considering the situations he was placed in? Sure, McElhinney had some struggles, but his pals didn’t help him much on those few nights he got into action. Even if Calgary brass decides none of the kid goalies are ready to serve as a big-league backup, finding a Patrick Lalime/Jocelyn Thibault/Craig Anderson type to play 10 games isn’t a real tough chore. And McElhinney would probably be much better off with a proverbial fresh start. Return probability: 20%
  • RCN

    TLP wrote:

    Whoa whoa whoa. Pardy’s from WHERE!?
    Why was I not informed?

    That face after the Eager fight shoulda rung the memory bell of a caricature " sunday after church in newfoundland". It is a bit tough to recognize without the skreetch barrel background but it was there buddy.

  • RCN

    The odd thing about Aucoin is he scored most of his points at ES. His PP efficiency rate this year was 1.64 PPP/60. To put that in perspective, Giordano was at 2.22 and Phaneuf – who had his worst season on the PP yet – was at 2.62. Heck, Cory Sarich clocked in at 1.06. As a rule of thumb, most capable PP defensemen come in at around 4 points per hour with the extra man.

    The real issue with re-signing Aucoin though is the risk of diminishing returns. Dude turns 36 in July and he's got a lot of miles on a banged up frame.

  • RCN

    @ Kent:

    Yeah, a weird stat on Aucoin's PP rate this past season for sure. For comparison's sake, he was at 3.6/60 the year before and 3.0 (in a small sample size) the year before that. Just one of those things or a sign of that deterioration and wear and tear you suggested? It may not matter much because the Flames should only be interested in bringing back for one more year until Negrin or someone else can step in and Aucoin will probably want a multi-year deal.

  • RCN

    I'm not sure if you frequent CalgaryPuck, Jean, but you will find all manner of persons there who describe Bertuzzi as "clutch". Never in the time that I have followed hockey at this level, have I heard a misnomer of such epic proportions placed upon a player so undeserving.

  • RCN

    "In the end, the move was symbolic of Bertuzzi’s first and almost certainly only season in Flames silks — highly unorthodox, strangely entertaining and of questionable value."

    The best description of Bert yet – all three of those phrases ring true, even the 'strangely entertaining'.

    As for Aucoin/Leopold, I'm not sure that Sutter is capable of signing a reasonably priced depth defenseman (seems like the starting price has to be $2M). But I'd probably take one of those two back (on very short term contract), play Pardy regularly, and keep Pelech or someone like him in the Pardy role next year.

  • RCN

    Just watched Flames TV and Aucoin is pretty adamant on wanting to stay. It might be a cynical viewpoint, but usually impending UFAs don't say what he said, as emphatically as he said it, unless they actually mean it.

  • RCN

    @ Lefebvre:

    I guess it could also be a reflection of the PP's struggles as a whole, since no single Flames blueliner managed 3/60 or above.

    That said, I would grade Aucoin's ability on the PP as "moderate" at best. He has a big shot, but isn't very mobile and tends to hit a lot of shinpads when he shoots.

    Great article BTW – I agree completely agree with the Bertuzzi assessment.

  • RCN

    Bert was surprisingly effective pre injury, far from clutch but dare I say decent value for the money, even factoring in the intermittent nature of his relative effectiveness. Post injury……. well why would he be any different than the rest of them at that portion of the year.

    His large frame, good hands and great willingness to handle the puck are sadly undermined by his cranial area. (my attempt at a scouting report)

  • RCN

    As a Flames fan, Jamie Lundmark is probably the only guy I’d expect back. And he isn’t a lock obviously, but is a decent depth guy thats familiar there. Cammalleri is pretty much a goner… I’m fine with that, I guess. Not too interested in bringing Aucoin, Leopold or Eriksson back. Bertuzzi’s interesting because if he were to take the same type of $, he’s probably worth it. However, he has a target on his back. How many bad penalties did he take AND how many bad calls were made against him. He doesn’t get many breaks (some would argue he doesn’t deserve any), so I gotta think I’d rather look elsewhere for a replacement.

    They had luck with the 3rd tier (?) signings last year – Bourque & Glencross as well as bringing Giordano back from Russia. Can’t see them doing much better in the free agent market this summer (not a lot of cap room). Get a freakin backup goalie that the coach can trust!

    I’d like to take a look at some Red Wing UFA’s if I were the Flames. Ty Conklin & Mikael Samuelsson would both interest me a bit. Samuelsson could add some depth and support for a guy like Backlund if he makes the jump. And a winning attitude, especially if the Wings repeat. I’m sure he’ll have some interest accross the league tho. And perhaps a guy like D Johnny Oduya out of Jersey on the back-end. (How about Brian Gionta to replace Cammalleri??)