Flames Goals and the UFA Market

 

 

In a recent post today "The Flames Head to Free Agency", Scott Reynolds had this to say:

 

The Flames are in a tough spot right now. They were a bit worse in 2010-11 than they were in 2009-10, and they figure to be a bit worse than that this year. They were probably a bit unlucky to miss the playoffs in both of those years, but if they did, they would have been lucky to win a round. Several of the team’s best (or at least highest-paid) players are quite old – Iginla, Langkow, Tanguay, Jokinen, Hagman, Sarich, and Kiprusoff are all over 30 – and the team doesn’t have much in the way of good young players, with the recent departure of Tim Erixon doing them no favors. The team’s defense has gone from a strength to a weakness, and yet the club’s forwards haven’t really improved. If the goal here is to win the Stanley Cup, the Flames are in one of the worst positions I can imagine.

 

Whatever you think about the particulars of the analysis, the overarching message is clear and inarguable – the Flames are stuck in a sort of purgatory heading into free agency on Friday. They aren’t good enough to challenge the elite squads in either conference nor are they poised to take a step forward due to their shallow prospect cupboard, a lackluster UFA crop and the advanced age of their best players. 

The organizations goals are somewhat murky. They aren’t good enough to realistically compete for the cup, but aren’t bad enough to burn the thing to the ground. They exist frozen between the best and the worst in the league, with no clear path to escape their abominable stasis. Feaster was able to re-ink Tanguay and Glencross recently, but the overall effect is one of spending more money to essentially run in place. Absent Chris Butler taking a revelatory step forward this season, Calgary’s beck-end got worse in the wake of the Regehr deal, although given the Flames budgetary constraints it’s hard to blame Feaster for dumping salary.

These two courses of action obviously run roughly counter to one another: signing Tanguay and Glencross to extended deals with NTC’s attached signals the Flames willingness to continue to try to compete with the current roster. On the other hand, moving Reggie for cap space and a couple of youngsters seems to suggest the team has an eye on the future rather than the present.

It’s probable that the club’s plan of action is indeed paradoxical. In the near-term, the goal is likely to squeeze as much as possible out of the current roster. We’re talking about a business afterall and as we’ve mentioned in this space previously, teams in the NHL don’t blow things up until they are left with no other option. This is because napalming rosters comes with a number of risks and consequences, ranging from the possibility that the club can’t be re-built into a contender to the difficult task of having to sell future hope rather than present comeptitiveness. "Young Guns" type campaigns cost people their jobs when they stretch too long and/or are summarily rejected by the fanbase. 

It seems inevitable that the Flames will have to enter a severe rebuilding phase at some point in the future, however. When Iginla turns 36-years old in two years, he will be long past his prime and facing free agency besides. Kipper will be 37 and Tanguay 33. There is nothing in the organizational pipeline that can replace players of that caliber, particularly Jarome. Keep in mind, of course, that the Flames aren’t even a playoff club with these guys in the line-up right now. Taking a step forward while the team is tied to these aghing lead horses strikes me as next to impossible – but then a purposeful step back is anathema as well. 

The objective is probably to stay as competitive as possible in the short term while trying to make gradual changes which will improve the long-term forecast. It’s a tricky balancing act and one easily derailed since the opposing goals have to be delicately weighted against one another.

This is something to keep in mind as the Flames head into the free agent market. Of course, the true guiding principle every summer should be to acquire good players on value contracts, but the age of those players, their overall price and the length of their contracts will be moderated by the various factors discussed above.

I don’t envy Feaster his job. It’ll be a tough one this July, and will stretch on indefinitely until the point the team either turns a corner or falls off a cliff.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Order of operations:

    1) Sign Niklas Bergfors at $800,000 for 1 year.

    2) Sign Andy Greene at $1M x 2 years.

    3) Get the heck out of the free agent market and work on dealing some brutal contracts.

  • I can agree with some of this, disagree with other bits. Last years team also managed to beat the “elite teams in the league on several occasions and I believe can contend for a playoff spot and is likely just ad good or better than the 04 team that brought us so close to a cup. We can never forget what chemistry and work ethis can do for a club, as far as losing regehr as much as I loved the guy let’s face it he was heading downhill. Iggy scored over 40 goals again so let’s not count him out either. Look at Selanne go. I’m quite curious to see how this team does this year and don’t think they’ll be as horrible as everyone is so quick to make them out to be. I’d like to see stajan gone if possible and a decent first line center brought in but still, let’s not bury these guys before the season even starts

    • Well, I’ll put it this way…how much of your own money would you bet that the Flames will be a top-3 team in the West this coming season?

      Anything can happen and as I mentioned the Flames certainly aren’t terrible by any stretch. There’s also no reason to think they’re going to take a big step forward either. The decision makers must be mindful of these realities as they move forward. Darryl Sutter’s blind allegiance to the idea that the team is poised to “win now” is what painted the organization into the corner it’s currently in.

  • Captain Ron

    Also bury hagman and stajan in the minors if u can’t dump em. Resign morrison for the 3rd or forth line cheap, offer stamkos 12 mil for one season then renogiate him a reasonable long term deal in january. Then you’ve given your self a new young franchise superstart to lead the team when iggy retires in 5 or 6 years

    • joey joe joe jr shabadoo

      uhh, sign stamkos for a one year 12 million dollar deal??

      wow, you certainly have a wild imagination. the Milwaukee Admirals have a better chance of winning the stanley cup next year than the Flames do of signing Steve Stamkos.

  • RexLibris

    Iginla “long” past his prime in 2 years? Jesus, what does the guy have to do to stop being dumped on every off season as old and soon to be washed up?

    Two things lacking in this argument.

    1) the intangibles. Not everything is black and white in hockey. Giordano has gotten better every season since he returned from Russia. Moss was at another level prior to injury. Mikael Backlund was coming on so convincingly at the end of last season, management doesn’t even seem to be questioning their #1 center position for the first time in years. And with Brodie, Seabrook, and Negrin pushing to make the blue line and Bouma, Byron, & Nemisz pushing to stay with the big club, there are some definitely positive developments that could occur. Afterall, the Flames can’t be the only team in this damned league to not have some young players exceed expectations. It’s bound to happen eventually. So factor in that possibility with the fact that this is almost the same roster that became one of the best teams in the league in the 2nd half; I’m not willing to give up on the team 3 months before the season even starts.

    2) the room for improvement: the Flames in a “down year” were near the top of the league in 20 goal scorers. And that is with a number of players, including Bourque, Tanguay, Jokinen, Backlund, & Bouwmeester admitting that they could have had more consistent seasons. Meanwhile guys like Stajan (due to poor play) and Langkow & Moss (due to injury) have nowhere to go but up offensively. Now pretend the disastrous first three months of the season never happened, and we could be addressing a whole other team.

    Excuse my Darryl Sutter level of optimism/naivety, but there are some very good working parts on this team. I have simply had enough of all the doom and gloom. If Darryl was the cause of this team’s mounting problems, made worse every year by some hair brained “big move”, then maybe we should take this year’s modesty as a sign of growth and stability within the organization. Something that, quite frankly, has been sorely lacking.

    • PrairieStew

      I agree that there is some room for improvement. Backlund on the first line all season. Langkow as the number 2 centre taking tough minutes instead of Jokinen, which will improve Olli’s numbers on the third line – hopefully as a winger with Stajan. Frankly if Moss and Langkow stay healthy the forwards look pretty good.

      I thought Karlsson made progress and perhaps he can be relied on more frequently and assist Kiprusoff’s performance. There is at least one more piece to add to the back end. If Wisnewski is out of range and SJ has acquired Burns – might we see the return of Ian White ?

    • SmellOfVictory

      Well he’s already been past his prime for about 2 seasons. Just because Iginla past his prime is still better than 90% of the NHL doesn’t mean he’s not at that stage in his career. It’s entirely possible that he may have a high late career plateau and be impressively good until his retirement, but it’s unrealistic to say that he is as good now, or will be as good in the future, as he was in the early/mid-00’s.

  • PrairieStew

    Hard to be in the top three when your in vancouvers division. Still Boston showed us that grit and determination will beat skill 9 times out of 10. I’ll bet u tix to the first playoff game there in the top 4-5 in the west

    • Cool Beans

      i think Boston showed us that grit and determination and unreal goaltending will beat injured skill 4 out of 7 times. not quite the same strong conclusion.

      honestly, this would be a great season to have a hiccup like Philly 07 (where they got #3 and JVR) or Colorado 09 (#2 Duchene) or to just flat luck into trading for a high pick like Boston (Seguin). great top end coming up in 2012.

  • Grimerica

    @smellofvoctory. Jarome has only scored more goals then this last season twice in his carreer. 02-52 and 08-50. This last season was also within 11 points of his best and 5 th best of all. Doesn’t seem unrealistic to me

  • Captain Ron

    I agree. Not many UFAs out there. Use the kids. See what you have. As for signing Morrison, last year was a risk, and it worked fine. But he’s a year older, and banged up. I’d thank him and let him go elsewhere. Get younger. No more of these NTC/NMC. Feaster said he wouldnt make those, well he’s 2 for 2. If they needed one to stay, i’d walk. Set a organizational policy, no more than 2 at one time. Give them the courtesy of that you want to move them.

  • RexLibris

    I’ll start by declaring, I’m an Oilers fan.
    That aside, I think the best thing the Flames could do right now that would offer some improvement in the not-too-distant future would be to improve the amateur and professional scouting. You don’t have to draft in the top 5 to improve a team, just if you’re rebuilding it. So if the Flames were to become a playoff bubble team for the next two years, move some expiring UFAs for later round picks and improve the draft record it could help to restock the system and eventually provide some cap relief. On the pro-scouting side of things the best to hope for is an astute signing of some depth players (in the Joel Ward, Sean Bergenheim style) who can help out and then just pray that at some point your GM can fleece another on a trade. It isn’t flashy or an immediate fix, but it is one that could help provide some direction and stability and help maximize the years Iginla has left. Maybe he can sign another contract at a lower cap hit and retire a Flame provided he has some support in the second and third lines.
    Personally I don’t think there’s a single method for success, other than drafting wisely, but each organization has to figure out the best path for their circumstances.

    Just a thought.

  • I want some of what Grimerica is smoking.

    This team is not getting better any time soon. The core is a year older, there are no prospects ready to step into the core any time within the next 3-4 years, improving through free agency is not an option, and Kipper is now decidedly average most of the time.

    The January/February “run of 2011” was an aberration. Sure, we’ll go on a few runs in 2011/2012, maybe we could even sneak into 8th place in the west if everything goes our way (I’m not putting any of my money on it).

    Howeer, it is becoming pretty clear that a rebuild is in order. Sooner than later. Iggy and Tanguay will look nice on a geriatric 2nd or 3rd line in a couple of years. We need a new core to develop, and they aren’t coming via free agency.

  • Great article Kent. You nailed it.

    You should see the Brad Richards thread over at CP. There is a group of folks that are convinced that signing Richards will put us into the top 4-5 in the west. Wow.

  • Grimerica

    The Flames are currently committed to only 6F, 4D, and 2G beyond next season.

    Tanguay-Backlund-Iginla
    Glencross-Stajan-Bourque

    Bouwmeester-Giordano
    Butler-Carson

    Kipper-Karlson

    Signing Tanguay made sense. He is a value contract that can play first or second line. Iggy will probably sign for value once his contract is up. The rest are young.

    They may be trying to clear Stajan. Its even possible Bouwmeester or Bourque are moved.

    Feaster must not have seen value in Regher long term. Based on his style of play and the fact he has been slowing down I can’t entirely disagree.

    Outside of that Feaster will focus on players that he can add to the above core.

    Next season he will have 21 million or so in cap space (depending on further moves) and 3 or 4 kids he can add to the roster.

    The Flames aren’t in great shape. But make no mistake, the rebuild has already begun.

    • Good points.

      There may be $21M in cap space next summer, but that has to sign 11 players in order to fill a 23 man roster.

      They REALLY need a bunch of entry level contracts to crack the lineup next year, otherwise they won’t have much money to spend in free agency.

      Unfortunately, I don’t see any of those prospects playing in the top 6 forwards, or the top 4 forwards. That means more expensive UFA signings, in an era where UFA prices are crazy due to the $48M cap floor. Ideally, you use free agency to fill out your 3rd and 4th lines and depth defenseman (if at all).

      Our draft record needs to improve dramatically, and we need to fast track some prospects, otherwise this could became a long and ugly rebuild.

      • Captain Ron

        We definitively aren’t in good shape just because we have salary space. We won’t have enough top prospects to round up a solid roster, the 2012 FA class looks pretty weak, and we don’t have the assets to go after big trades (and the few we have are part of the rebuilt).

        I am just saying the rebuild has started. If Feaster is competent we will see a few names added to the list above that will be part of the new Flames.

        He should also pick up every possible prospect he can (within reason) in hopes that some of them mature to competent NHL players.

  • RKD

    The Flames are at a crossroads. If they could only play consistent right from the start of last season they would have made the playoffs.

    Whether they would have made it past the first round is another story. Pre-season was a debacle, sure they went 7-0 but they had dressed a veteran squad.

    Pre-season led to injuries of Stajan, Pardy, Jokinen, Kotalik and I think one more. No wonder those guys struggled from the get go.

    • Past his prime? Maybe not. But the end is in sight. Maybe he can keep it up for a few more years, but the end is in sight. He is much closer to “past his prime” than he was 5 years ago.

  • 4 things:

    1) People who think the Flames can win at the same clip as they did during that hot streak are dreaming. We still lost when it mattered at the end and couldn’t beat the top teams in the league all year.

    2) Philadelphia has twice now demonstrated that you can rebuild on the fly if you make shrewd moves and choose the timing of your rebuild before you’re forced into a complete overhaul. First when they drafted Carter and Richards and again when they traded them and got younger again.

    Calgary completely missed the boat by not moving Iginla and Regehr for assets at the trade deadline.

    3) Iginla can probably score for a few more years, but as pointed out on FN on several occassions, our top line is already playing sheltered minutes and Iginla plays a compltely one-dimensional offensive game.

    4) Intangibles – works both ways. With fat new contracts will Glencross and Tanguay be as motivated as last year? Can Calgary continue to avoid injuries (with the exception of Langkow) as compared to what other clubs have gone through? Etc., etc.

  • The wrath in the responses to Kent’s article is the biggest reason that the Flames owners wont let management start a rebuilding program on the fly. Too many fans are stuck remembering Iginla from the past and are unwilling to look at the present with any degree of realism. Iginla is an aging start player that plays a one dimensional game. When Regehr was calling out top line players for not coming back and playing defense, who do you think he was talking to? Iginla! Iginla fills a great goal scoring role on the wing, but even in his prime the Flames were unable to win with him, so why should we think that as he gets older he will somehow manage to perform that miracle.

    Calgary has too many veterans tied up to long term, big money contracts to be able to change the course of direction on a short notice. Darryl was firmly in the win now and screw the future at any and all costs type of strategy. He has hamstrung and crippled the franchise with some of his moves. They are unable to completely offload these pieces and start rebuilding. To do so without getting back packages of picks and prospects would leave the organization in a deep dark hole. If you are unwilling to trade Iginla, you will never have a package available to bring in and start that rebuild.

    The owners for the Flames are about making money, and the easiest money right now is to make sure you keep the seats full and the beer flowing by marketing a team that is competative. If you keep repeating the mantra “all we need to do is qualify to have as much a chance as anybody”, then that is what the majority of fans will believe. 60% of all fan bases believe in what their club is selling and go forward on blind faith, lack of hockey sense, and irrational anger towards those that question. These are the fans that will keep the Dome full; and a full dome only comes with a team competing. Ideally competing for a Cup, but in the Flames case, competing for the playoffs.

    The Flames needed to shed salary so that they could compete for the playoffs. They are not trying to win the cup, they are trying to make the playoffs so that the first round covers losses during the year, and the owners can break even.

    Which team are we going to see in 2011-12? The team from the first three months that were the worst in the league? The team from the middle two months that had the second or third best record during the dog days of the season when most teams are just not playing competative enough? Or the team from the last month and a half that barely played .500 hockey when competition picked up and every team was playing its best?

    My guess is that we see a Flames team that shows signs of all three again, but that ends up in the 10-12 spot. Close enough to market BS and say they are only a couple of pieces away from competing. Far enough away from drafting a true game breaking superstar to start a proper rebuilding program around.

    Unless Calgary gets lucky and has drafted a superstar (2-3 years away from knowing) or they buck up and trade Iginla for a package that might only be half of what Philadelphia got for Richards and Carter they are going to have to remain a tweener team that is settling for mediocrity, blind allegence from its fans, and a series of spring disappointments.

  • MC Hockey

    Kent – good article and lots of opinions on Flames direction re UFAs, etc. I will avoid that topic and just ask: Are you planning an imminent article by tomorrow on “Will Flames try the RFA market?”. I ask because while Doughty and Stamkos and every current RFA who made over $1M last year is out of reach (due to draft-pick compensation we must give up), there are cheaper RFA guys who (perhaps) could help Flames with relatively low compensation given up like: Artem Anisimov / James Sheppard / TJ Galiardi / Nick Spaling / Nick Bonino / Brett McLean / Nicklas Berfors / Matt Halischuk / Viktor Stalberg / Brad Richardson

    And here is a copy of the RFA Offer Sheet Compensation chart if you sign an RFA – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Offer_sheet