The Flames Blueline

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 14:  Alexei Ponikarovsky #23 and Matt Stajan #14 of the Toronto Maple Leafs wait to tip a shot between Cory Sarich #6 and Jay Bouwmeester #4 of the Calgary Flames in a game on November 14,2009 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario. The Flames won 5-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

The Flames organizational strength in terms of pure depth is the back-end. That’s a source of some comfort this summer, but italso raises a number of questions moving forward into the new season. Once Ian White is re-signed, the club will have 8 NHL defenders on one-way contracts (Bouwmeester, Regehr, Sarich, Staios, Giordano, Pardy, White, Kronwall) as well as at least one hopeful who could probably make the team out of camp (Pelech).

Should White score a $3.5M deal, Calgary will have about $22M committed on the blueline.

Here’s how things stand if nothing major changes between now and training camp –






Jay Bouwmeester – The team’s second most expensive player had a rough season last year. His offensive numbers plunged, in part thanks to a reduction in PP time, in part thanks to the team’s general inability to put the puck in the net and in part thanks to a career low SH% of 2.3%. Given his career average of 5.3%, I think we can assume an uptick in goals next season, even if he gets 2nd billing on the PP behind Giordano and White again.

Bouwmeester’s results weren’t exactly in-line with his pay, but there’s little chance he’ll be moved for cap space. The former Panther is young but has a long enough history of quality performances that it’d be foolish to pull the shute after a single off season.

Robyn Regehr – Reggie visibly struggled for the first half of the season, losing battles he used to win with ease and mis-reading basic plays. Some think it may have been a lack of chemistry with partner Dion Phanuef, while others posit it was a lingering knee issue. Whatever the cause, Regehr also had himself a less than ideal season and has found himself involved in a few trade rumors this off-season. Unless the return is a legit top 3 forward, Regehr obviously isn’t going anywhere.

A strange artifact of having two hard-minute guys on the team last year (who never played on the same pairing) was a parsing of the tough cimcumstances between them. For example, Regehr still faced the bulk of the top-end opposition last season, both with Phaneuf and, later, Ian White. Oddly, however, it was Jay Bouwmeester who got fed the most defensive zone draws on the club (463 – 90 more than Regehr’s 373). That’s precisely the opposite manner in which I would deploy Regehr and Bouwmeester, given their relative strengths and weaknesses. JayBou has a higher ceiling offensively speaking and has played top lines pretty much from day-one. He’s ideally suited for the gig Regehr got last year. On the other hand, Reggie has spent his whole career starting from his own end and excelling at it.

Both of these players will be on the team next year. They’re both still top-end defenders. However, I hope Brent flips the switch and plays each in a manner more in-line with his abilities.

Mark Giordano – One of the few true bright spots of 2009-2010, Giordano was often referred to as "the most improved player in the league" by a number of pundits. He began the season beside Bouwmeester but ended up on the third pairing with Cory Sarich to end the season. That said, his ice-time increased incrementally as the year progressed, including a bump in PP time once Phanuef was shuttled to the Leafs.

Giordano led the Flames blueline in a number of categories, including goals (11), points (30), plus/minus (+17) and corsi (+9.18/60). And while he ended up with pretty soft minutes and has yet to face the big boys consistently in his career, there’s evidence that Jay Bouwmeester’s results were the best with Gio by his side (read the comment section to the end).

Overall, Giordano was probably the best value contract on the team last year. He’s a guy entering his peak and, I think, could capably play in the club’s top 4 without much problem.

Ian White – As Robert Cleave pointed out in the White mock arb, the diminutive defender had a career year last season in terms of points, especially at ES where he placed 5th in the league amongst defenders. That said, keep in mind that White started around 60% of his shifts in the offensive zone in TOR last year, which will goose anyone’s offensive stats.

White looked fairly capable when he arrived, even though he played against the big boys with Reggie. There were times where he struggled a bit against the larger opponents in his own zone, but his mobility, compete level and vision helped him keep his head above water. Personally, I don’t consider him an ideal candidate for the role he played in a Flames jersey, but he’s good enough not to be a major liability should Brent decide to go that route again.

I wouldn’t expect White to repeat the offensive results he managed last year for Calgary and it might be a stretch to expect him to outperform his new salary (depending on what is). Even if he gets $3.5M, the dollars and value won’t be grossly out of line, though.

Cory Sarich – Frequently identified as the first of the club’s major "boat anchors", Sarich was originally signed to play with Regehr against other team’s top lines. It was a defensible move at the time, because Sarich had spent his time in T-bay doing the same thing and doing relatively well. He’s never been able to manage that role in Calgary, however, mostly struggling to keep his head above water whenever he’s seen the tough match-ups. Sarich began the season injured last year and then put up team worst scoring chance numbers when he returned and was skated with Jay Bouwmeester. Things turned aroud for him when he was dropped to the third pairing, especially when Giordano joined him.

Sarich remains a capable NHL defender who cans till lower the boom on guys with their head down now and then. Unfortunately, he’s paid way too much for his current role. While Sarich can be expected to step into the top 4 here and there when the need arises, it appears he’s far more comfortable as a #5 guy at this point in his career.

Adam Pardy – Despite being bumped to the pressbox by Steve Staios after the deadline, Adam Pardy had himself a decent season overall. The sophomore played in the softest minutes available last season (lesser opposition, lots of offensive zone face-offs) and his results were concurrently decent. He led the team in terms of possession (+10.41) and averaged more than 15 minutes per night. That’s all one can really expect out of a near minimum-wage defender playing in his second season.

Pardy doesn’t have a very high ceiling. Already 26, he’ll probably never grow into a top 4 defender. He’s good enough to play on the 3rd pairing and one the PK once in awhile and can provide value for his low cap hit. I thought he might be moved at the draft in order to make room for Matt Pelech, but as of now he remains in the line-up.

Steve Staios – Ostensibly acquired for his leadership at the deadline, the doddering former Oiler had a terrible year in Edmonton and things didn’t exactly turn around for him in Calgary. Baffling paired with Bouwmeester, Staios was in way over his head in the top 4 and ended up adding an extra -8 in the final 18 games to the -19 he arrived with.

Once upon a time, Staios was a capable enough defender, although he’s always been more will and compete than ability. He’ll turn 37 this July and is obviously beyond his best before date. His cap hit of $2.7M is perhaps the worst bet on the club in terms of probability of providing value and it’s an open question whether he’s any better than other options like Pardy or even Mat Pelech. 

There’s little chance the Flames will be able to move Staios’ contract before the season starts. If I had to bet, I’d put money on Steady Steve ending up in Abbotsford come October.

Staffan Kronwall – A ‘tweener acquired to provide depth in both the AHL and NHL, we didn’t see much of Kronwall in the bigs last year. According to a Playfair interview, Kronwall was the farm’s best defender last season and that’s where I expect him to end up again, unless some significant injuries occur.

Matt Pelech – The former first rounder struggled with injuries last year, but did manage to return in time for the playoffs. The big defender has played out his ELC and is currently a restricted free agent. There’s a good chance he’ll be re-signed for a cheap number soon and will battle for a roster spot in training camp. Aiding his quest for an NHL job is the fact he’s no longer waiver exempt (as far as I can tell) and will be subject to to waivers should he be sent down or recalled during the season.

Clearly the Flames have some options and some decisions to make. The bottom end of the rotation is particularly crowded and given the club’s cap issues, one of Sarich and Staios will have to go away by either trade or demotion. Sarich being the superior of the two players, my preference is that Staios gets the boot, although the Flames could probably survive losing both, assuming the dollars go to improve the team elsewhere.

  • Gange

    Well there’s definitely some options and some work to do. i would expect some “dealing from strength” to happen this year if not this summer.

    Just hoping I don’t see a Regehr for (insert underachieving forward here) deal that mirrors the Jokinen – Kotalik deal. History tells me to be nervous though.

  • Wasn’t defense the flames biggest asset last season ? You would rather they keep the defense the way it is then add scoring to teh forward lines ? Calgary got Jokinen and Tanguay. I’m sorry but thats bad. Jokinen was brutal last season for the flames and wasn’t Tanguay a healthy scratch in Tampa ?

    • It’s not so much a matter of people wanting the defence to stay the same (I think it’s pretty much a universal desire for Sarich to be traded and Staios to be put in the minors) as it is a matter of the difficulty of offloading Sarich’s contract.

      Additionally, a lot of talk has been made about Regehr being traded for a top line forward (as mentioned) but if you’re going to trade one of the core players, you need to be reasonably sure you’re getting back the right return. And given the salaries of most top line forwards, more than just Regehr’s ~4 mil cap hit would have to be moved (again, probably him+Sarich) in order to make cap space.

      On Jokinen/Tanguay: Tanguay was apparently misused by the coach in Tampa, and at the salary he’s signed for it’s hard to go wrong; Jokinen was a mild disaster last year because he was making way more money than he should have, but he’s a reasonable 3 million dollar forward.

      • It doesn’t matter what Jokinen makes he is still brutal and was a horrible fit in Calgary. I have often wondered what Tambo has on Sutter to convince the Staios trade.I’d love for the Flames to trade Regehr I hate watching him smash our (Oilers)forwards every game. How much does Sarich make ? He seemed like not a bad dman ( I don’t watch many Flames games ).

        • marty

          Sarich makes 3.6/year. At least a million too much, and given the way the Flames use him, more like 2 million too much. As far as Jokinen, I’d like to see how he does with less pressure on him. He looked nervous all the time when he was playing, and I think at least some of his problems were probably mental.

        • Gange

          My take on the Staios trade was to get more “stability”. It was a desperation move to try and make a cohesive unit from a defence that was struggling badly at the time.

          Even if I keep that in mind the trade didn’t make sense from an on ice perspective.

          Jokinen was not horrible but he certainly wasn’t good. He showed very brief flashes of talent. At $3M/year if he can get a few more goals to get to 20 I’ll be happy.

          Tanguay is basically a win in that his salary is quite affordable and if he helps Jarome get another 5-10 goals through set ups then he’s earned his keep.

          Looking at last year there were many players that had career years, just not in a positive way. My only explanation is that there was adjustment to new coaching and responsibilities. That being said, I’m not fool enough to believe there will be a massive turn around but if they ice the team, as it is right now, I submit that they will probably be marginally better. Maybe they’re a playoff team.

          Maybe not though.

          • I hear that, during the preseason last year I though the Oilers were a playoff team. Sixty injuries later and look we have Hall. I think the future is going to be good in Edmonton I just have no clue how long I will wait. Calgary really needs to start getting some younger talent, Iggy is a wicked forward but getting older with out him the Flames would be pretty bad.

            Don’t get me wrong I’m not bashing the Flames and bragging about the Oil. Does the Oilers future make Flames fans worry ?

          • Bob

            Personally doesn’t make me worry. I’m a Flames fan first, but I appreciate any franchise that puts together a good group of players who are fun to watch. Besides, there will be a season or two before the Oil’s young guys are truly dangerous.

          • Gange

            No the future in Edmonton is actually exciting for me. We’ve had basically 20 years of “meh” hockey between the two teams. I would LOVE to have some of the old battles back. Bring back the Sememko’s and Hunter’s. Bring back the Risebrough (as a player only) shredding a jersey with his skates in the penalty box. During that era whoever won the Campbell generally won the cup. Except for a Patrick Roy that had an unbelievable rookie season but we got our revenge.

            I agree the Flames have to get younger and look to the future if not now, very very soon.

            Good luck with Taylor, I hope he does well. However I also hope that he get caught in the Regehr “Tunnel of Doom” more than once.

            That is if he’s not traded.

          • Bob

            Not that most will admit, but as the Oil stand now I think the answer is yes. The future for the Oilers is looking up, while Flames fans are not sure what the future holds for this team.

            If the Oilers can add some good depth to their defense and get a #1 goalie they could find themselves in the midst of a good play-off run. The question is what they do long term with their prospects and any potential free agents they bring in over the next 2-3 years. If they can be smart with how they progress the young talent and let them mature, you’ll find the quality of free agent talent willing to come and lend support will improve too.

            There are a lot of people frutrated by the Flames, as it is questionable what direction Darryl is taking this team. Some suggest Darryl thinks long and hard about all decisions, but once they’re made he’ll fight to the death to prove he was right in making it. Others feel Darryl has been a reactionist in recent years and is basically plugging holes in the damn with corks instead of trying to fix the entire structure. Time will tell if Darryl is still this teams saviour or if he’s it’s downfall…and I dare say time is running short.

  • marty

    i think so much lies on what the status of lanks is going to be. i know there are enough centres with backs, olie, staj and stone. but i think what the flames will need is definate 3rd line centre. i would hope that they would move backlund to the wing instead of putting him in a 3rd or 4th line centre roll. im a sarich fan but agree with your take, he is just making too much money if by some miracle the team could get rid of both sarich and staios i would like to see pelech and either and negrin or brodie play for the big club. very good article and agreed with the break down of each dman

  • marty

    if they do move reg though i agree with the take of not getting a older has been forward. i would actually like to see a young up and comer that has some exp. and a contract smaller then reg. ie) fehr, flieschman or someone of that category. then if the team did move reg then demoted staios to the minors they would save some cap room for white and also be able to look at other avenues for forward positions and have the space to bring up some young dmen

  • Bob

    Yes Joker was a bust at $5.25M but at $3M and a NMC, that will be a bust too. GM’s are now putting up that average players make $3M per. There is nothing that proves to me that he will be better. Staios at any salary is a waste, Reggie is getting old and his trade value is high. It would free up cap space. At the end of the season i came up with a way of freeing up to $17M to be used to bolster the forwards. unfortunately Sutter thinks the best way to improve the team (one player away)is to get retreads at cheaper prices, hope a top center will be out for the year, sign some no names and buy out the best bargin on the team. Luckily there is Feaster here now to try to explain Sutter’s moves. Dont think he’ll call us the “unimportant people”.

  • Gange

    purely my opinion, get rid of J Bo and/or Regs. it will free up mountains of cash to address some of our other concerns…..just sayin’ heck we mighta been able to pick up Bufghlin or however you spell it .

    • CitizenFlame

      If Calgary gave up either of Reggie or JBo for Byfuglien I would then definitely join the “Fire Sutter” camp. Sutter needs to get a top 3 forward or a potential top 3 forward for either of those guys; especially Bouwmeester at his age. Otherwise it isn’t worth moving them. Byfuglien is a third line player with potential to be deployed in other situations like a top PP, or to cause havoc in front of the net. That being said, the way he causes Bobby Lou fits I wouldn’t mind seeing him in Calgary.

    • Bob

      It would be nice to have the cap space, but I believe both players have No-Trade clauses. The situation for one or both would have to get pretty bad for them to agree to a trade.

    • Oyo

      Byfuglien will not have another season like he did.
      his worth right now is way above where it rightfully should be.
      yes he can be a holmstrom type player and make a difference but he is not going to do that every night for you. i would never trade reggie for bug buff.

      i think bowman made out like a bandit in the trade with atlanta getting reasoner in return. effing genius move. gave up a potential maybe 2nd liner in buff and a 4th liner in eager and then brent sopel. got rid of his junk for a good player haha loved it.

      i still think that the flames are going to be a playoff team this year i really do beleive that.
      but id i was to trade reggie it would be for a left winger. (if langkow isnt hurt at the start of the season). because i think its obvious tangs is going to be playing with iggy all year long. i like hagman but i think he could do more definate damage on third line with stajan and backlund combo. i would like to see this…

      tangs langkow iggy.

      gagne jokinen bourque

      hagman stajan backlund

      jackman stone xcross

      bouw white

      gio sarich

      (let prospects battle for these spots).

      trade reggie + moss for gagne. + move staios down to minors. hopefully kotalik goes to russia.

      not perfect but i would LOVE to see that happen

  • The Flyers don’t want much money back in return for Gagne because they’re looking for cap relief by dealing him. Thus Regehr alone wouldn’t work for them, let alone Regehr + Moss.

    I’d like to upgrade the forwards further, but I don’t know what options are out there for the Flames. Most teams with top 3 forwards aren’t looking to deal them…and if they are, they don’t want much in the way of salary back.