Forward Chris Higgins is next up on our profiles of potential unrestricted free agents for the Calgary Flames. He played just 12 games with the Flames, after being acquired from the New York Rangers on February 1st along with Ales Kotalik. His stint with Calgary was cut even shorter, thanks to a foot injury that sidelined him the final 14 games of the regular season.
It was a tough haul for Higgins offensively, and his frustration level following losses last year was visible. He put up career low NHL numbers: 17 points in 67 games, and his time in Calgary seemed at times to be a microcosm of the entire season. Good scoring chances would go wide, or he’d break a stick with a prime opportunity in the offensive end. I remember one game when he was asked about a particular chance and he smirked and said "with the way things have gone this season, nothing surprises me."
Montreal drafted Higgins 14th overall in 2002, and after three consecutive 20 goal seasons, his offensive numbers dipped in 2008-09, thanks in large part to a combination of different injuries (groin and hand). He was able to muster 12 goals and 23 points in 57 games before being traded to the New York Rangers on June 30th of 2009. The New York State native didn’t flourish closer to home, and was again traded; and the question now becomes a tough one to answer. Is Higgins able to regain the form that saw him score 20 goals three straight times?
Because nobody reading this will have the answer to that. All we can do is speculate. I liked Higgins for a lot of what he did in his short time with the Flames. I looked at Kent’s scoring chance data, and only once did I see Higgins being out-chanced at even strength in a game. Part of that comes down to who he was playing with (Langkow), I get that, but I also think Higgins was a pretty good fit with Langkow. A lot of the other stats aren’t going to tell a true story for this past season, as most of it was with a different team in a different conference.
What it will come down to for most is dollars and cents. Higgins would have counted $2.25 million against the cap for a full season this past year. Here’s what I’ve been told: Higgins is one guy Head Coach Brent Sutter wants back, for on-ice reasons as much as off-ice. For a team that had "casual atmosphere" issues, Higgins seems to be a guy who doesn’t fit that mold. If you were to tell me two years at $5 million total on a new contract, I might not be totally against it. For a team that struggled to have very many impact forwards, I think Higgins has the potential to be one.
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