There’s been plenty of fuss about the Flames’ dabbling in the free agent market, with the return of Olli Jokinen front and center. Darryl Sutter’s recent press availability was the first time that news of Daymond Langkow’s slowish recovery from his neck injury got an airing, and said injury was a reason that the boss used as partial justification for resigning the Finn.
That may or may not be why Olli Jokinen will resume his career in Cowtown, but even with that, the Flames are in an uncertain spot if Langkow can’t go to start the year. The automatic assumption, and it may well be correct, is that Mikael Backlund will simply fill in until Langkow can rejoin the club. That noted, and this is tea-leaf reading stuff on my part, the feeling I got from the Sutter presser was that the club might like Backlund to mature a bit more before they give him a permanent job.
Even if the Flames use their top prospect as a fill-in, the club likely needs a bit more quality than Ryan Stone in the 4C spot, particularly if Langkow is questionable for an extended period. Most teams serve up extra ice time to their 4th center as a PK guy and an extra face-off option in the defensive zone even when everyone is healthy, so that position shouldn’t be handed over to a marginal player. The Hawks used John Madden in the sort of manner I’m referring to during the season and the play-offs if you’re looking for a specific example.
More to the point, anyone paying attention to the Flames should note that the team hasn’t exactly been injury-free the last two seasons. Even if Langkow started the year healthy, that doesn’t mean he or any of the other top-nine forwards are going to stay that way for six months. In 08/09, one of the things I noticed before the Jokinen acquisition was the fact that the club always appeared to have a rolling injury in the top nine. Having a cheap, useful 4C like Dustin Boyd to slot in allowed the club to ice an acceptable three lines all the way through the first 60 games of that season in spite of the nicks. There are only so many guys that you can pay, but I have no problem offering up Glencross money to a 10th forward given the possibility of injury. Having ten guys for your top nine is prudent planning if the dollars work, and there are going to be a few useful NHL vets that are going to get squeezed in the current market. Cheap depth is out there, in other words.
So, who? There are three players that come to mind from outside the Flames organization, and one old hand from within. I picked the three FAs based on potential availability and likely cost (1.5 million or less).
The former Canuck has been a rumored player of interest for the Flames this summer, but there are a lot of red flags based on his 09/10 season. He certainly had pretty boxcars, with 42 points on the year, but they were almost exclusively the result of soft competition, easy ZoneStarts (54 percent) and an unsustainable PDO (105.1). His possession numbers were fairly meh for a player given those sorts of advantages. The Caps as a club are likely to have their numbers drop a bit, and Morrison’s own career was headed straight down before jumping on the Caps’ train of good fortune and talent. Pass, IMO.
The well-traveled 34 year old has seen injuries and age catch him as well, but in fairness to Halpern, he played some pretty tough comp last year, particularly in Tampa before his move to L.A. He also faced some lousy starting positions, with a 43.1 ZoneStart. As well, his PDO was 96.8, which does suggest that he might be in line for a bounce-back. That said, he made 2 million last year, and even if he’s willing to take a major haircut, he’s hardly likely to be better than a guy that the Flames already know and have in their pocket.
Moore is likely too good for the role that Calgary would use him for. He’s actually a decent 3rd C, capable of 30-35 point seasons against third liners, which isn’t terrible. His ZoneStarts last year were punitive at 42.1%, and his Corsi against middling comp wasn’t bad under the circumstances. His primary advantage, in my eyes, would be that he’s still young enough that his production isn’t as likely to hit an age related mine shaft. If Langkow is out for an extended period, Moore would be a handy guy to have around, and if he’d come to Calgary knowing that he could finish the year as the 4th C, he’s good enough on the dot and on the PK that he would fill the needs of a healthy team very nicely. He only made 1.1 million last year, and as I noted earlier, there are some guys that will get squeezed. If the Flames could get him for roughly that number on a one year deal, they should do so.
When it’s all done, nothing would surprise me less than Conroy coming back for one last kick. He can still play in a bottom-six role, especially if it’s as a cheap plug-in for 30-40 games. His underlying numbers weren’t that bad last year, and his poor PDO was pretty much exclusively because he and David Moss couldn’t hit a cow in the ass with a handful of wheat last year. In a 4th line role, Conroy losing his scoring touch isn’t quite so important, and he has good enough wheels to be a useful PKer. If Langkow’s injury is sufficiently healed that we’ll see number 22 at full strength by sometime in October, Conroy will likely be a very cheap option, and the Flames certainly need cheap.
Summing up, if the Flames need a guy to play in the top nine for most of the year, they might take a look at Dominic Moore. If Langkow’s injury doesn’t look to be holding him back this fall, adding Craig Conroy to play a limited role wouldn’t be the worst plan that the club could pursue.