When Jay Feaster approached Brad Richards in the off-season, he proved the Flames are not against a good whale hunt. Luckily for the team Richards rejected their overtures and spared them a future boat anchor contract. With the Blue Jackets apparently blowing it up at the deadline, though, there are more potential whales and boat anchors to be had.
Calgarys short-term and long-term goals are somewhat contradictory. With five supporting players on the sidelines and the Iginla line shooting lights out, the obvious short-term demand is for depth to get the Flames over the injury hump. Long-term, however, the Flames should be looking to augment and improve their core forwards. As we’ve stated multiple times on this site, Calgary’s greatest deficit is in terms of younger, elite level forwards. The current group including Tanguay and Iginla are on the wrong side of thirty and no longer drive possession.
So not only are Iginla et al closer to their expiration date, they are already a tier below the truly great forwards in the league. This is the primary reason the Flames are perpetually mired in the middle of the Western Conference.
The other issue afflicting the team is it’s lack of core replacements for when a guy like Iginla rides into the sunset. The captain turns 35 years old this summer and while the organization has a some quality supporting players here and there (Glencross for example) there is a vast gulf between 30-somethings like Tanguay, Jokinen and Jarome and the second wave of the roster who would be expected to take the torch from failing hands.
Mikael Backlund is 22-years old and even with his recent struggles is the best of that age class on the club. Recent additions Blake Comeau and Blair Jones are in the mid-20’s, but may not persist past this year and anyways aren’t much more than bottom six options. Guys like Reinhart and Baertschi are intriguing but unknown commodities at the NHL level and are likely 3+ years away from being true impact players even if we assume the best case scenario.
The big gap is the 24-29 age group up front. Calgary’s inability to yield a single top-six quality talent from the draft over the last decade or so has left the team in the position of trying to perpetually build around Iginla – when in fact they should be moving him into a position to mentor and support the club’s next generation of big guns. Imagine, for example, if the Vancouver Canucks didn’t have Kesler and the Sedins to take over from Naslund, Bertuzzi and Morrison when the "West Coast Express" inevitably faltered. That’s essentially what the Flames are facing now.
One of Jeff Carter and/or Rick Nash would obviously go along way to filling the Flames need for a high-end, 20-something forward. It’s rare that such players are made available, rarer still that they aren’t merely "rentals" at the deadline peddled by a squad who can’t hope to re-sign them. Both Carter and Nash could check a major organizational box in their acquisition. But both come with significant risks as well.
Jeff Carter Issues
Carter has battled injury problems this year, but that’s not the primary concern with the erstwhile Flyer. A player who has scored 30+ goals in the previous three seasons while facing other top-six talent, his arrival in Columbus was meant to provide Nash with that "#1 center" he has always needed and finally get the club out of the Western Conference basement.
Instead, Carter was famously distraught with the deal. No one would remember his post-deal hiatus in the summer, of course, except the team’s fortunes went south with his arrival. The combination of Nash and Carter hasn’t resulted in better output for either player either. The latter is now dogged by questions about his motivation and character, with many fans (and perhaps GM’s) wondering if he would rebuff their team in similar fashion should he be dealt again.
On top of all that is a cap hit of $5.273/year which extends until 2020. Carter will be 34 years old when the deal expires, so not outrageously old, but 5+ year contracts always come with cumulative risk that builds up with every additional year. The cap hit is decent for a player of Carter’s ilk, but the contract in it’s totality is unsavory.
Rick Nash Issues
Rich Nash’s contract is probably even worse than Carter’s. Nash is 28, signed until 2018, makes $7.8 million per year and has a NMC to boot. Nash is the 5th highest paid player in the NHL, but it’s an open question whether he’s worth that sort of commitment.
Although the Blue Jackets captain has been a capable sniper since he broke into the league, he has never taken the next step into the truly elite category. Like Iginla these days, Nash plays against other good players, but he doesn’t drive the puck north with aplomb. This year, for example, his corsi is -0.64/60, even with a zone start of 53.8% – one of the easiest on the team. Carter isn’t much better with Columbus, but he has a history of driving play to a greater degree. Nash, in contrast, has been mediocre in terms of possession for at least three years now.
Truly great players in the NHL both outshoot and outscore the bad guys. Nash is paid like a difference maker, but he’s more like a high-end support winger: he needs someone else on his line or on the team to move the puck north. Aside from goaltending, this is one of the reasons the Blue Jackets haven’t been able to rise above the fray in the west – they’re building around a guy who isn’t really a heavy lifter.
Beyond the risks inherent to Carter and Nash as players, there’s also the question of cost of acquisition. The essential contradiction faced by bad teams is they often don’t boast the sort of expendable assets it takes to acquire the sort of players that would help them improve. The catch-22 is that in order to move up the ladder, middling or worse teams need to retain their notable assets while acquiring new, valuable players. It usually takes one to get the other on the trade market though.
In the Flames case, even if they determine that Carter or Nash are of interest despite some red flags, it may cost the organization more than it can reasonably bear to land either guy. First round picks, high-end prospects (Baertschi or, uh…Baertschi) and a worthwhile roster player are the likely starting points for negotiation.
So even though Carter and perhaps Nash to a lesser degree would fill a great, big hole on the roster, it’s probable their acquisition would create fresh ones all over the place, depending on the BJ’s demands. As such, the only way it makes sense to snag either of them is if they don’t cost key pieces to acquire. Unfortunately, the Flames don’t have a lot of non-key players or futures that are valuable enough to dangle.
Were I Jay Feaster, I would inquire about Jeff Carter. As mentioned, guys like him don’t come along very often and I’m guessing Carter’s stock won’t be this low again for a long time. That said, I’d be completely prepared to hang up on Howson without regret.