I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the direction this franchise needs to go if they want to realistically compete next year.
Of course, “realistically” is the key word here-as much as we all want guys like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the likelihood of either of those two guys signing here is approaching 0%. When you take into consideration the owners reluctance to completely “blow it up” (and to be clear, I agree with them on that), you have to realize that the team the Flames ice next year will probably be quite close to the one that is out there this year.
I think it’s quite clear that this team needs another top-4 defenseman to stabilize the blue line. While Jay Bouwmeester’s a top-15 or maybe even a top-10 defenseman in the league, the talent drops significantly once you move onto the “number 2” guy, Chris Butler. Now, here’s where the weakness of the blueline comes into play: even though Mark Giordano is having a remarkably poor season, I still think he’s better than Butler and a pairing of Giordano and Bouwmeester is going to drive possession and limit chances against. However, there is no way that a pairing of Brodie-Butler is going to be able to handle spot duty against top competition; they’d be killed. Logically, then, you need another top-4 defenseman who can come in and not step into an elevator shaft against top competition.
So, that’s where the UFA-after-this-season Colaiacovo comes in. The consensus with Butler this season is that he’s done pretty well in his role, but is still probably better suited as a 3-4 guy. When you consider his underlying numbers this year, it’s reasonable to think he could be a solid possession driver, even away from Bouwmeester-and that’s something this team desperately needs, considering the combined on-ice Corsi of Flames regulars this year is -42.6 events per 60. This year, Colaiacovo’s played the toughest competition among St. Louis defenders, has a close to even ZS% (50.7%), a Corsi Rel of 3.4 and an on-ice Corsi of 9.03.
Contractually, finding the money is pretty easy. You have at least 4.6 million coming off the books this summer and Colaiacovo made only 2.125 million this year. Moreover, he just turned 29 at the end of January, so he has at least 2 or 3 years of quality hockey left. He can also produce points, averaging 29 the past three seasons and he’s on pace for 22 this year, and since you’re getting him as a free agent, it won’t cost you any assets and likely won’t take away from the development of younger players.
That would then leave you Giordano and Bouwmeester to take on the toughs, Colaiacovo and Butler to play against 2nd and 3rd Liners and that leaves Smith and Brodie in sheltered, point-producing minutes. It also gives you solid defensive depth on both of the power play and penalty killing units-so you won’t have Brodie out there on the PK or Butler out there on the PP.
Why you gotta be so negative, man?
Of course, there’s a couple worries here: first off, Colaiacovo’s Relative Corsi numbers have been all over the place the past few years. Last year, he put up a -0.2 rating while playing the easiest competition and had a 58% ZS-but the year before that, the number was 17.8 in similar circumstances. Thus, it’s really hard to get an accurate read on his true skill level.
However, that’s not even the biggest worry-no, it’s the injuries. While he was in Toronto, it was almost comical how many games he missed-and while it has improved in St. Louis; he’s a guy that’s going to miss 15-20 games every season. While that may be positive in driving his value down, having him out of the lineup just so the same pairing you tried to avoid having has to play anyways is obviously not a good thing.
To me, it comes down to this: will the value you’re getting from the player in the 60 or so games he’s going to play outweigh the negative value you’ll get from his contract and play while he’s out? Personally, I think it will in 2nd pairing minutes, but I’m curious as to what everyone else thinks.