Every move that Darryl Sutter has made in his recent whirlwind of desperation has been defensible to one degree or another. Even the Jokinen for Kotalik and Higgins trade, although one has to squint to find the silver lining on that one. The Phaneuf trade shifted money from the back-end to the front, added a couple of capable players and shored up the Flames offensive depth. The Bourque and Stajan signings were at about market value and both will be top 6 contributors to the team going forward.
The Steve Staio acquisition, though, is senseless. It’s bad from just about every conceivable angle.
Let me first establish that I’ve heard nothing but good things about Steve Staios as a person since the trade went down. Oilers fans swear up-and-down that Steve is a tireless worker and a selfless warrior on the ice. I assume that these are the reasons he was coveted by Sutter. I guess he’s trying to replace Rhett Warrener, who was of the same ilk (and who, not coincidentally, spent his last few years as a Flame being paid far too much for what he brought on the ice).
The truth is, however, that those same Oiler fans were positively thrilled by the trade yesterday, and not because they received Aaron Johnson in return. Steve Staios, even with all his leadership and work ethic, was a liability to the Oilers organization. His cap hit of $2.7M was grossly out of line with his contributions as an aging, third pairing defender and the shedding of his contract, regardless of return, was a major boon for the franchise.
As you can probably guess, all the reasons that losing Staios is good for Edmonton are the reasons adding him is bad for Calgary. Since moving Phanuef’s S6.5M cap hit, Sutter has spent about $12.53M in future cap dollars on Bourque (3.33M), Stajan (3.5M), Kotalik (3M) and now Staios (2.7M). That leaves the Flames committed to some $56.8M next season to 17 players while needing to replace or re-sign Craig Conroy, Eric Nystrom, Jamal Mayers, Chris Higgins, Ian White and a back-up goalie. Sutter has taken the measure of flexibility he garnered through the Phanef deal and effectively reversed it in the space of about 3 weeks. The team is effectively carved in stone, absent some Vandermeer-like salary dumps. That would be okay if the Flames weren’t scratching and clawing for 8th in the conference.
The apparent rationale offered by defenders of the trade and Sutter himself is Staios’ "leadership and character". To be true, this would mean that:
1.) A team boasting Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr, Daymond Langkow and Cory Sarich (and coach Brent Sutter) is somehow notably deficient in that area.
2.) That, somehow, Steve Staios is going to walk into the dressing room and appreciably alter it’s culture for the better.
Both presumptions strike me as rather absurd. Many of us have operated in poorly run or rudderless organizations in the past and can probably therefore envision how having poor leadership in a dressing room could effect a club’s performance and morale. Good leadership can enhance cohesion and dispel dissension, I think, which is why it’s potentially valuble. However, leadership doesn’t strike me as an additive commodity – ie, it’s important only when you lack it completely. It’s a binary propositiion: either you have good leadership, or you don’t. The apparent gains of piling "experienced leader" upon "experienced leader" in a dressing must be rather limited. To put it another way: how many "leaders" does a hockey team need?
The other rationale offered for the Staios acquisition is the fact that he adds to the Flames defensive depth. To consider this a valuable addition, however, one has to rate Steve Staios’ potential value (with cap hit firmly in mind) above both guys inside the organization and available UFA replacements. In Calgary, the only guy Staios potentially usurps is Adam Pardy, who is a third pairing sophomore earning 700k. It’s arguable as to whether Staios is superior player to Pardy these days (none of the stats support that view, nor do my viewings of Oilers games), but it’s basically guaranteed that his contribubtions won’t outstrip Pardy’s to the tune of $2M. Especially going forward, given the difference in age between the two: Pardy may yet improve. Staios is a lock to get worse.
In addition, one has to assume that 2.7M, 37 year old Steve Staios is going to be a better option for the Flames next year over anyone available on the free agent market. Here is a sampling of guys who are scheduled to be UFA’s this summer:
Nevermind that paying $2.7M for a third pairing defender is ridiculous (even if he’s the most popular guy in the world) and nevermind that the Flames now have $6.3M committed to Cory Sarich and Steve Staios next season. With the Staios addition, a number of obviously superior options are out the window (Hamhuis, Michalek, Volchenkov). That’s even granting the assumption that the Flames need to add to their defensive depth from outside of their organization, which I don’t.
In fact, in the face of the Flames offensive struggles this year, it’s clear that cap dollars would be better spent on acquiring difference makers up front going forward. To that end, I was personally hoping Sutter would swap Cory Sarich for a cheaper option at the deadline in order to free up money for forwards in the off-season. Instead, he added another Cory Sarich.
The Staios deal is a mess. Whatever "intangibles" he adds to the roster are likely to fall well short of his relatively expensive contract. Unless he regains the sort of on-ice form he showed years ago, Staios is a bad bet to provide value for his contract and is a toxic asset – one which was happily expunged by the rather hapless organization up north.
It’s a move that smacks of a man either lost in the past or completely out of ideas.