Two Out of Three

CALGARY, CANADA - OCTOBER 31: Head Coach Brent Sutter of the Calgary Flames stands behind the bench as Craig Conroy #24 and Eric Nystrom #23 go over the boards for a line change during their game against the Detroit Red Wings on October 31, 2009 at the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The Red Wings defeated the Flames 3-1. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)

No offence to Brian McGrattan and Jamal Mayers, but there were three pending free agent players Flames fans were most interested in when it comes to their future destinations.  Of those three, Craig Conroy, Eric Nystrom and Chris Higgins, only the former remains on the free agent market.  So how will the fits be for Higgins and Nystrom in their new locales?  And where, if anywhere, will Conroy end up?

Eric Nystrom – The former first round draft pick (10th overall, 2002) signed a three year deal with the Minnesota Wild late on July 1st.  The deal ends up being worth $4.2 million overall, with an annual cap hit of $1.4 million.  When previewing the pending UFA players on the Flames, opinion was split on Nystrom.  Do you give him the money his camp was looking for and hope the later season positives we saw become more regular?  Or do let him walk and allocate resources to other targets?  The Flames clearly chose the latter, and that wasn’t really surprsing.

The writing seemed to be etched in stone on the morning of Canada Day…I had been told by someone close to the situation that Darryl Sutter and the Flames camp didn’t tender a formal offer to the Nystrom camp until the final 24-48 hours before free agency opened.  $1.3-$1.8 million seemed to be the range most thought for the 26 year old forward, which I always felt was too steep for a guy with 39 career NHL points.  He was an easy guy to like for the way he played, but there was not enough evidence to suggest his on-ice value was worth a whole lot more than what Calgary had payed him last season.

I really do believe the guy had lots more to offer, and I would have loved to see that proven right in a Flames jersey.  Unfortunately, however, NHL GM’s can’t be paying fairly good sums of money, on a cap-tight team, to a guy they THINK can offer more, but hasn’t on a consistent basis to this point.  All the best in Minnesota to one of the good guys in the game, but from a strictly business standpoint, standing pat was the right move for the Flames.

Chris Higgins – After being acquired by Calgary in the second Olli Jokinen transaction (of which there are now three), Higgins impressed some, while others were more ho-hom on the 26 year old forward.  It was an awful season for Higgins, a year he could not put his finger on.  If there was bad luck to be had, Higgins had a piece of it, and even in his short 12 game stint with the Flames, it was on display.  Whether a stick would break in the slot or a shot would zip high, Higgins couldn’t seem to get his offensive game back to his 20 goal totals with Montreal.

Higgins signed a one year, $1.6 million deal with the Florida Panthers on July 2nd, which I thought was good value for GM Dale Tallon’s team.  In terms of cap hit, Higgins was down from the $2.25 million he counted against the Flames and Rangers cap last season, and that was to be expected with his numbers being down.  But his overall impact was good, as Kent has pointed out numerous times on FN, and that didn’t seem lost on Flames GM Darryl Sutter.

Sutter made overtures to the Higgins camp, and unlike the Nystrom situation, it seemed as if the lines of communication were much more open leading up to July 1st.  But I had the feeling this one wasn’t going to get done as soon as the season finished.  The indications I got on Green Garbage Bag Day in April were that, sure, Higgins would listen to offers from the Flames, but entering his first period of unrestricted free agency, he might try and test the market.  It seemed similar to the tone I got on the same day two seasons ago, when Jordan Leopold was a pending UFA.  As soon as the word from Higgins’s agent was "he’s going to July 1st", once again, the writing was on the wall.

From the standpoint of the player, I don’t think you can really blame the guy.  After two frustrating offensive seasons, I think there might have been a "back to hockey, and just hockey" sentiment from Higgins…and that’s what could potentially get in Florida.  Sure, the distractions of South Beach are there, but notable other things aren’t.  In Montreal, Higgins was playing in the hotest of all hockey hot beds as a former first round pick; in New York, he was playing in his home state in North America’s biggest media market; in Calgary, he had a success starved group of Flames loving fans.  In Florida?  He’s got hockey.  And nice weather.  Maybe that’s the right place to reset and refocus.  Who knows?

Craig Conroy – Conroy`s future was largely discussed last month as we previewed July 1st, but there`s no harm in updating things.  However, there`s not a whole lot to update.

Conroy remains an unrestricted free agent, and we really haven`t heard a whole lot of teams linked to the soon-to-be 39 year old fan favorite.  Darryl Sutter said they`re still hoping to have more conversations with him, however this was back on July 2nd, so those talks could be continuing as you read this, or they could have come to a halt in the last ten days.

To me, Conroy seems like the type of free agent we`ll hear signed late this month or sometime during August, even if his 2010-11 team is the Flames.  I imagine NHL GM`s realize he still has some sort of value, but with RFA and other UFA players to be signed and re-signed, Conroy isn`t going to register as a high priority at this point.  As more and more guys start to go, that`s when a team might take a look.  He`s not going to command more than the $1.05 million he counted against the cap last season, so a team won`t have to put a heavy investment into him.

Of course, Conroy`s future with the Flames could very well rest on the future of Daymond Langkow.  If Langkow`s health situation takes care of itself, it`ll be tough to slot him in, regardless of how much Sutter loves veteran players he`s familiar with.  However, if Langkow`s recovery isn`t progressing in time for him to start the season, Conroy can fit on the team now, and his cap hit will be manageable enough to still work Langkow`s $4.5 million back in when he`s healthy.  Very interesting to watch.

  • A little bird told me that Higgins told Sutter he was going to play on the East Coast, and only on the East Coast.

    Sutter made a reference to it with his “want players who want to be here” comment at the last press conference.

    Whatever, I guess it’s dappable that Sutter could waste all that time on the phone with him and still get his other FA work done.

    • Yeah, I’d heard something to the same extent regarding Higgins. East coast guy wants to play on the east cost.

      I believe it was you who made the “play hard to get” reference when talking about Sutter courting Higgins…the Flames certainly made it no secret they wanted him back.

  • dustin642

    Do you think there was any motivation from Nystrom to sign with another NW division team after Darryl said that he wasn’t going to over- pay for a 10 goal scorer? Probably just coincidence, but still. Hope the guy has a great 3 years with Minnesota, playing the flames 18 times in the next 3 years he will have plenty of chances to prove Sutter wrong. But with that said I would have let the guy walk for that much money too.

    • Do you think there was any motivation from Nystrom to sign with another NW division team after Darryl said that he wasn’t going to over- pay for a 10 goal scorer?

      It’s a fair question…I don’t know if there was any added motivation, but you wonder if the Wild came forward with the best deal because of familiarity on their part. Even though it was Chuck Fletcher’s first year as GM last year, others with the organization would be familiar with Nystrom.

  • Bob

    I’d heard about Nystrom wanting that $1.2 – $1.5 Million salary, and while I agree with you it would have been nice to see if he would have progressed as a Flame, he went and got what he wanted and props to him for that.

    I was not overly impressed with Higgins and hopefully he can find his game down in the land of sun and babes.

    There is no doubting Conroy wants to stay here. It’s not just wanting to stay a Flame, his family likes it here and I hear he’d prefer to plant some roots here for when his playing days are done. I think it would be really hard for him to go play for another team, especially when it would only be for one more year. I know most fans would like to see Connie get one more year here or at least be given the chance by the Flames to call it a career and say good-bye on the ice. He may not hold any Flames records but he’s been one of the most popular players we’ve had in the past decade…I hope when he does hang up the skates that the Flames can give him a grand send-off. I think alot of people would like see that.

    • I’d heard about Nystrom wanting that $1.2 – $1.5 Million salary, and while I agree with you it would have been nice to see if he would have progressed as a Flame, he went and got what he wanted and props to him for that.

      Hey, Nystrom wanted to test free agency, he did, and he got a nice three year deal to go along with it. Can’t blame the player at all, but I don’t think you can blame the team either for not signing him to those terms.

      I was not overly impressed with Higgins and hopefully he can find his game down in the land of sun and babes.

      To steal a term from Kent (which I feel almost qualified to do), Higgins didn’t have great “counting numbers”. But the rest of what he did, in his limited time with the Flames, I felt was good.

      I know most fans would like to see Connie get one more year here or at least be given the chance by the Flames to call it a career and say good-bye on the ice.

      Conroy is close to 1000 games, which is another reason people think Sutter might bring him back. Again, I feel he can help on the ice, especially if the price is right. He may not give you 20 goals, or even ten, but if there’s no Langkow, Conroy is a guy you can count on to play against other top players if you need him to.

      • I agree I’d like to see Conroy back. He can help on the fourth line for part of the season until Langkow comes back. Conroy is sort of like the Blackhawks John Madden just he’s older and doesn’t contribute (offensively of course) quite as much which makes him part time fourth liner. But he is still probly good for those important defensive or offensive zone faceoffs.

        • The other thing about Madden is just how many defensive zone faceoffs he took last season. His offensive zone start rate was at 37.1%…Conroy was at 49.1%, which was 4th lowest on the Flames, but doesn’t even touch how much Madden was utilized in his own end.

          I’m surpised nobody has signed Madden yet, even with this market being what it is. Maybe he wants the same dollar figure as last year ($2.75 million cap hit)?

          • I predict Pittsburgh will pick him up this summer. They’re apparently looking for a 2nd or 3rd line centre so they can move one of their current Cs to the wing. RUMOURS

            It’d be a good fit, especially because you’d imagine Madden would have no problem taking a pay decrease to play for a Cup contender.

  • If we can sign Conroy for league minimum I’d say do it for sure. Dress him maybe half the season/until lanks is ready to come back or whatever. Wouldn’t want to see him dressed all year, it took him like half the year to score a goal. His offensive impact isn’t really something to get excited about.

    • For me, it’s always been about the price for a lot of these guys, Conroy included. For Nystrom, it certainly was, and it’s the same for Conroy…if you can get him for a reasonable cap hit (sub million) and there’s a need for a C to start the season, I think he fits.

    • I think some people lost sight of Conroy’s defense capabilities last year and focused on when he would get that “1st goal.” And then after that the focus was on how little he scored.

      I don’t look too much at statistics to be honest. I like to “watch” and at times I have a pretty good perch to see from and watching Connie on the penalty kill was exciting. It seemed like he knew he was not being counted on for offense and I think relished the idea of getting ice time while on the PK. He and Nystrom brought an enthusiasm and energy when they were out there at those times, they chased the puck yet stayed in position (most times)and caused the opposition some trouble.

      Yeah, for $600,000 (give or take) I say give him one more year and give him 1000 games. He may not get you points but his defensive contributions last year were better than what we got from some of our D-men. And I think he’s still one of our best defensive zone face-off players.

      • You’re bang on when it comes to the faceoffs Bob. On top of what Conroy can do defensively and how you can utilize him in a “4th line” roll, the faceoffs also add another element.

        That’s the one area where Langkow has struggled…last year, if Brent Sutter felt a draw was important against a good opposing line, you had the ability to put Conroy out there, even if Langkow’s line was the best against opposing strength.

  • I didn’t realize how close Conroy was to hitting 1000 games. 9 more games? I’d say it’s worth bringing him back just so he can have that silver stick ceremony in a Flames jersey. It’d be money well spent. Heck, if we miss the playoffs again, that might be the only thing we had to celebrate all year 🙂

    Plus I don’t think we have enough NM clauses on the team yet. $500K and a NMC for Conroy. Done.

  • How many old players do you Flames fans want ? Do wonder Sutter gets away with stupid trades. Even the fans don’t see what the Flames have hasn’t worked, time to get some youth on the team and try again.

    • Dude, we’re talking about the 4th line here. And we’re talking about Conroy here. You’re making a lot of sweeping, silly, generalizations based on the fanbase’s preferences to have one of our favourite players back in a limited role.

    • As SOV said earlier, we’re talking about one guy here.

      Fact of the matter is, whether fans like it or not, this team isn’t going in a “new direction” and they aren’t dialing things back to focus on 3-5 years down the road.

      So, with that being said…Conroy helps this team right now, which is what the Flames are going for.

  • CitizenFlame

    I think that Connie had an off year last year, not saying that I would expect much better numbers this year but I don’t think that 10-12 goals would be out of his reach. I think that his faceoff abilities and defensive strengths could be beneficial and that he would be effective in 9-15 minute range in a hockey game. I also think that he would offer some flexibility in the sense that if there were injuries he is able to move into a third line role too. He’s lost a half stride, but he’s willing to do anything for the team. He’s popular in the locker room, and with the fan base. As long as the $ value is right I think it makes sense. And I’d like to see him get his silver stick for being a classy player.

    • I also think that he would offer some flexibility in the sense that if there were injuries he is able to move into a third line role too.

      And don’t forget, if the $$ figure is right (which it probably would be), it’s not a huge deal to have a part time guy making less than a mil per. I don’t see a ton of downside in it, to be honest…at worst he gets a thousand games. If he plays the way he did last year, he helps the team.

  • Brothers,
    There’s no way DS brings Conny back. Too many miles and father time is just not on his side. In the fast paced world of the NHL, you can always find players younger, cheaper, bigger, stronger and more skilled to do the job at half the price. What makes the NFL so great is the infusion of youth every year all over the league. Vet’s get kicked aside, bounce around here & there from team to team. The end result is time to move on as you were given a chance to play, make some money and have some great experiences. Glad to see Darryl Sydor retire after 18 seasons and 2 Cups. When will Mike Modano retire? This guy will go to the Hall of Fame some day, but for now it’s time for maybe Scott Glennie to make the team at 19 or 20. I want to see Calgary give Greg Nemisz or Mitch Wahl a good chance to crack the line up. I see above comments like “you don’t need your forth line to score”, or “We need a John Madden type of player”. If you want to win the cup, you need scoring from third and fourth lines. John Madden scored key goals at 37, playing penalty killing/forth line role. He did this his whole career. Conny goes from penalty killer for the Blues to 1st line center for the Flames, then third/fourth line minutes. From past season stats for Flames players, you can always circle the middle to lower listing of players that could have made a difference in your season. I’m pointing out tied for number 10 in scoring Eric Nystrom (19 points) to number 24 Ales Kotalik (5 points). In the middle was Conroy at number 15 (15 points). Sorry gents, but not good enough to take your team to the top. Yes “defence, defence, defence”. My interpretation of that comment is we can’t score so shut them down. The best way to make teams pay the price is to out score their lines against your lines. When will Calgary put together an all rookie line or kid line much like the Oilers had in 89-90? Please Mr. Sutter, give me a glimps of hope into the future, not a blast from the past in Tony Amonte, Owen Nolan, Darren McCarty or Jeff Friesen.

    • CitizenFlame

      You had me right up to the point about the 89-90 kid line, then you lost me. I’d love if there could be a conversation where the Oilers and Flames aren’t compared. It’s apples and oranges.

      What have the kids done for Edmonton over the last few years?
      Anyway, the Oilers haven’t been in full blown rebuild mode, they just haven’t been that good. They have tried brining in the big names and it hasn’t worked for them. Last year they had so many injuries that they ended up last in the league. If Souray, Hemsky, and especially Khabibulin weren’t injured last season where would Edmonton finished in the standings? Probably not last. So the rebuild and youth movement all the oilers fans are bragging about can hardly be claimed to be by design.

      • I was referring to (89-90) line of Adam Graves, Joe Murphy & Martin Gelinas. It’s obvious that you were probably born around that time as you make reference to the Oilers of recent. By the way watch out for the Oilers in three years. The will rise from the ashes again.

        • CitizenFlame

          ooooh a little sensitive. I know who you were referncing, but it worked once. I mentioned the more recent players to highlight Edmontons continued plight to capture long lost glory by trying to copy what worked in the 80’s with little success because a guy like Lowe was a better defenceman than hockey manager but again Edmonton is just an old boys club and will continue to suck until they cut ties with the 80’s players and adapt to the new NHL, not try to recreate 1989.

          • CitizenFlame

            I’m a big believer in recreating DYNASTYS. The Oilers, as much as I hate that team. Got lucky drafting/trading 6 Hall of Famers. Won 5 cups in 7 years. The Flames had some Hall of Famers mostly by trading for them (i.e. McDonald, Mullen). To win a cup you need a formula and a problem defined is half solved, right! The NHL is no different then the NFL, as both leagues are copy cats. The bottem line is wins. When you played hockey as a kid did you ever imatate your heros and say to yourself out loud “coming down the wing its Gretzky, he fakes once, theres the move, he shoots and scores…..yahhhhhhh”. Now try saying that with Tim Hunters name. Doesn’t sound right, does it. My point is people idolize and love the winners. Who cares about that guy who doesn’t score. Edmonton has shed lots of players this past season. Now they give youth a chance at prime time. When will the Shames share this beleif? When was the last time a vetran ladein team every one their first cup together? Answer is never because it doesn’t work. Hockey has been played the same forever and the difference is who has the most talent on the ice.

          • CitizenFlame

            Actually, I grew up a fan of that 80’s Oiler team (although this probably isn’t the place to admit that) as most kids did during that time. And no, I wasn’t an ’04 bandwagon jumper. I converted back in the early 90’s after the last of the great Oilers had moved on to other teams. This is really besides the point but I found it weird that you would reference Gretzky for the Oilers and Tim Hunter for the Flames? I guess it illustrates your point but I think most kids would be imitating McDonald, Mullen, Niewy, Fleury, Gilmour, McInnis, Suter, or even Roberts.

            Anyway, I do agree with you to a point but I don’t like how everyone just thinks that Edmonton is now a shoo-in. Give them 3 years and they’re on their way to the cup! Yes, they have a wonderful opportunity to ice a very young exciting team but there are no guarantee’s that these players emerge as superstars. Maybe they get injured, or maybe they just never piece it together at the pro level. It happens. It’s a lot of pressure to come in with all that hype and try to perform in the best league in the world. Especially in a hockey mad city like Edmonton.

            Another thing, is everyone likes to point out how old Calgary is, but they were a fairly young team when they made the cup run and Sutter started locking up the “core” group. It’s cyclical. Calgary is now aging and more likely than not, will not win a cup with this group. Because of no trade clauses, and a lack of appetite around the league right now for aging, expensive stars, Calgary will probably have to ride out this current group before they start to rebuild in earnest. Now Edmonton is at the very beginning of a cycle, but what happens in 3-5 years when Edmonton thinks that they have the “core” group of players to go all the way and locks them up long term to expensive contracts. Time will only tell whether they’ll be a Calgary, a Pittsburgh or a Chicago.

            It’s the trendy thing right now to build up through the draft because of Pittsburgh, Chicago, Washington. But how many teams have tried going this route and fallen short? Washington hasn’t won anything yet. Chicago has already had to dismantle a good portion of their roster after only their first cup. They just locked up their core group long term to extremely costly contracts too. LA is up and coming, St. Louis is on the fringe. Nashville is midling, as are a host of other teams.

          • CitizenFlame

            I could have written Dave Semenko instead of Hunter. Of course Otto, Killer, Mullen, Nieuwy, Fleury, Big Mac, Roberts and Makarov. I’m glad you see my point. Personally I like my meat heads that can score (i.e. Krzysztof Oliwa, the late great Bob Probert).
            I feel that the real core group are your 3rd and 4th lines. These are the guys that score goals and change the momentum of the game when your first two lines are shut down. I think Chicago made terrible judgement calls when they traded Byfulein, Fraser, Eager, Ladd, Verstegg, Sopal and most likely Sharp in the future. I see that Dale Tallon was the brains behind that team. Stan Bowman will eventually be exposed for the fraud he is. If it was me would let Niklas Hjalmarsson walk to San Jose for a 1st and 3rd Draft pick. They’re paying Hjalmarsson what Robyn Regehr makes and probably stupid enough to give him a no trade close. I don’t get Regehr; he has a great wrist/slap shot. How can this guy only score 2 goals in 09-10 and zero in 08-09? Oh yah, the media says he’s the best shut down defensemen in the game today. Still no Scott Stevens who could score, fight and make that game changing hit. That sounds a lot like another captain that plays in TO(#3).
            Okay so I was saying before Calgary has the same problem with 3rd and 4th lines. Evidently Sutter locked up the wrong core group of players, but pointing out they never had guys like Chicago had because DS sees no value in players like that or even goalies for that matter. Calgary still goes with the cheap unproven netminder. What do they really think is going to happen, Antti Niemi? Good luck with that, as history tells a different story. I just don’t see Moss, Kotalik, Stone, Ivanans, Chucko and Armstrong filling those important needs. I feel good about Jackman, Sutter and Glencross, but I would add love to add Sean Bergenheim. I watched him score a hat trick 2 years ago against the Rangers. Three seconds on the clock and he picked the corner from the most impossible angle. Nystrom leaving sucks, too. He was a young versatile player with some upside, but they would rather have what they have.

          • CitizenFlame

            Furthermore, I was looking at Calgary’s 88-89 line up and what an amazing line up that it was. I truly believe in my heart they would have destroyed the Edmonton Oilers dynasty, even without trading the Great Gretzky. First line was Mullen, Gilmour, Patterson. Second was Loob, Nieuwendyk, Roberts. Third line Peplinski, Otto, Maclellan. Forth line Fleury/McDonald, Hrdina, Mark/Tim Hunter. Can anyone out there tell me if the Flames have players this upcoming season that compare to 88-89’s 3rd and 4th lines?

  • @Sean Elekes

    We’re talking about a guy playing for league minimum, skating between Ivanans and Jackman most nights. There aren’t any kids for “half that price” and offense is certainly a moot issue when it comes to the Flames 4th line center. It may end up being Ryan Stone and there’s a chance the difference between the 2 is negligible.

    The Flames aren’t going to get scoring from their 4th line. Full stop. Sutter decided that when he bought out Dawes (speaking of cheap young players who can score) and then brought in the two goons. The only kid in the Flames org who might be NHL ready up front is Backlund and paying him 1.27M to skate with a grinder and enforcer for 5 mins a night makes zero sense.

  • Oyo

    once i again i must admit i doubt very much ivanans will be more then 13th forward playing 2-3 mins and sitting near the end of the season in the playoff battles.

    jackman sounds like he is a hard worker and could bash away fairly effectively which i am all for.
    you put him with stone and maybe even throw connie in with league minimum and i dont think thats a bad fourth line at all.

    needless to say i dont know why sutter got ivanans .

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    “needless to say i dont know why sutter got ivanans .”

    Because he’s the same guy who traded what was left of Joker’s $5.25M salary ($1.75M) for Kotalik’s salary ($7M: 1/3 of last season plus the next two seasons).

    • Oyo

      it always amazes me how fast people can change their opinion.
      cuz before this season started i didnt hear a whole lot of complaining.

      i mean the guy has gotten us to the play offs in how many straight years??
      i know its not exactly the best result ever but people were not throwing the team under the bus.

      he has made some bonehead moves recently yes and i dont think anyone outside the org. will ever know why. lets face it, there are most likely things at work that we all have NO IDEA about. hes also done some very smart things that are so easily forgotten about.

      i disagree with lots of moves this past year. but im not going to sit here and pout and bitch and moan, might as well hope that the players do turn it around and joker shuts all the doubters, up.

      i sincerely hope that happens. (i realize the track record is awful with him)