Calgary’s Roster Hole



Last off-season, we looked at why the Flames were mediocre in a series of posts. This year, I plan to discuss what significant challenges face them in their bid to stay competitive and not be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the dreaded rebuild.

The title image for the post comes from a study by Gabriel Desjardins, looking at the age at which production tends to peak in professional hockey players. Anyone familiar with the Flames roster should instantly recognize why this is bad news for Calgary heading into the new year.

To make the problem more explicit, I put together the club’s roster from the recent season, including ages, cap hits, point totals and ice time:

As you can see, a large proportion of the team fell outside of the professional peak age. The 28+ year olds (that’s the bad end of the curve) scored 83% of the points, ate up 73% of the cap budget and accounted for more than 70% of the ice time. In contrast, players near or entering peak age accumulated about 19% of the ice time and scored a paltry 14% of total points accounted for.

Unless something major happens in the summer, things aren’t going to change drastically for the club next year. Roman Cervenka may help fill the big hole in the middle of the roster, but the only guys at or within two years of peak pro age are Mikael Backlund, Blake Comeau and Blair Jones (the latter two are both RFA’s and no guarantee to be retained) up front. Of the three, only Backlund has a fair chance to play in the top-6.

On the back-end, the peak agers end with Butler and Smith, with Smith at 27 close to entering the decline phase (and a support player at best anyways).

What it Means

Obviously points-per-game isn’t an exact proxy for player value. There are many highly functional guys who are 28 or older and frankly if the Flames were an elite club, this sort of accounting wouldn’t be all that relevant.

The issue is the Flames most certainly are not elite and one can’t reasonably look at Calgary’s roster and expect significant improvement given the way it’s constructed. Most of the money guys are beyond their peak years (some well beyond). It’s unlikely that group will all suddenly devolve in lock-step, but the good bet is that they will get worse in aggregate. Time waits for no man and all that. And keep in mind, Calgary’s #1 goalie is also 36 years old.

Only a small contingent of the club’s roster is on the good side of the age curve and, unfortunately, many of them are bottom rotation guys at best. Cervenka, Butler and Backlund are the only three current players who might take a real step forward as impact pieces in 2012-13, while guys like TJ Brodie, Lance Bouma, Roman Horak and (likely) Sven Baertschi are youngsters who are probably a few years away from playing really meaningful ice time or producing meaningful results.

It’s a tough situation to be in, with no obvious solutions. Doubtless this is the reason a portion of the fan base wants to clear the decks and rebuild. If Feaster and company don’t want to take that route and still seek to keep the club competitive (or, even more difficult, make real improvements) the challenge they face is to somehow collect more top rotation players who are at or near peak age.

  • RKD

    Can’t disagree, before coming into the past season the Flames were the second oldest team in the NHL. Not sure where they rank now.Even though this past season, they injected more youth in the line up than every before a lot of those players are not elite level.We have some great young players, but not top level status.

    It could be more of the same next season, or worse. There are few things to consider, if Tanguay and Glencross can stay healthy for a whole season they will put up more points. I believe Cammalleri will rebound, he might not score 39 again, but we all know he’s better than a 20 goal scorer.

    All we can hope for is Baertschi and Cervenka to do some of the heavy lifting, I doubt the Flames could land Parise.

  • RexLibris

    I honestly see no realistic workable solution outside of a total rebuild.

    Feaster has done well with getting the bottom 6 younger and faster, but how does one go about acquiring youthful top 6 talent without multiple draft picks or trading vets for prospects?

    The only feasible alternative would be to start doing with 1st round picks what Darryl used to do with 2nd round picks. one or two 1sts and a 2nd or whatever for someone else’s young guy who has top 6 ability, but is for some reason out of favor with his current club. Duschesne and Niederreiter for instance.

    Problem is, I’m not sure getting someone else’s headache or disappointment from several different development systems is any better of an option than a rebuild where you can pick who you want and develop how you want and the players come up together.

    Also, Calgary has seems reluctant to move 1st round picks. They want the best of both worlds and you just can’t do both things.

  • supra steve

    It all comes down to the drafting record, has been pretty bad.

    In a recent issue of the Hockey News, league wide draft histories for a wide span of years were reviewed showing who was taken vs. who had the best career/should have been taken in the first round. Was a bit of an eye opener; as for the most part, the first 4 or 5 names on the best career list were quite recognizable/impressive. However, by the time you got down to #10-30 the names were not usually all that impressive. I think Sarich was listed in the top 15 talents to come out of his draft year. Guess what I’m trying to get to is…there are probably only a handfull of players that will be drafted this summer who will have meaningfull NHL careers. With these odds, the Flames recent draft record becomes a little more understandable. Don’t get me wrong, I know their draft record has been way below average. I am hoping the tide has turned and we have a string of successful drafts to counter the previous failures (to bring us back to “average”). Good start last summer with Sven, etc.

    Also, I thought the Flame’s “Hole” was the guy who put the Kibosh on the Iggy to LA trade (whoever he might be).

  • RexLibris

    Following up on this, I recall hearing a fact during a Flames game this year – don’t recall it exactly, but it was something like “this is the first game in Jarome Iginla’s career that the Flames game-day roster has as many as five players 25 and younger”. I may be slightly off on detail, but the point remains – the Flames do not have a rosy history of relying on young players and growing a roster together, at least since 1996.

    • Could be. General trends like this don’t necessarily speak to individual performance curves perfectly.

      I really like Brodie, but I’d be surprised if he could step into the top-4 as early as next year. He did well against the bottom-wrung, but that next step is the big one and it takes a lot of guys several years to manage it (if they do at all).

  • Graham

    Historically, even when the Flames have added younger players into the lineup, they have not done a particularly effective job at developing them. Guys like Lombardi, Stillman, and Kobasew come to mind. Backlund may be another example, we seem to crush whatever creativity and offensive flair they started with. The fact that these guys go on to score in other environments is telling.

  • SmellOfVictory

    @Graham: I can’t speak for Stillman, but Lombardi and Kobasew weren’t really any better away from Calgary than they were in it. Lombardi’s numbers only jumped because he went from 3rd line ES minutes and PK specialization to a de facto top-6 (I think even top line) ES minute centre with PP time. Kobasew hasn’t exactly blown me away since he left Calgary, either.

    • I think Graham is suggesting they would have been better players down the road had they been developed better.

      It’s a tough argument to have because either case isn’t provable. Were they just mediocre players or did the Flames do something that inhibited their growth during their formative years?

  • RexLibris

    This seems to bring the conversation back to the inevitable “how are the Flames to acquire a first line center under the age of 27?”

    Early free agency provides at least the possibility.

    Drafting is also at least a possibility, provided the team retain their first round picks and place more emphasis on development and patience.

    Trading for one, while perhaps the most oft-cited path amongst fans, is probably the least likely as the Flames don’t have enough cash in their wallet (roster players) to afford the average ticket price and there is a reluctance to buy it on credit (picks and prospects).

    And thus are Calgary fans introduced to Roman Cervenka as Feaster’s proposed “road less travelled” by which the Flames can procure high-end talent (Feaster’s description) whilst avoiding the delay of development and the price of acquisition.

    I’m just drawing up Calgary’s potential roster for next season and I need to hear from some Flames afficianados: do Stempniak, Jones, Comeau and Kostopoulos get re-signed for a minimal increase?

    • None of those guys will get raises Rex if they are retained. In fact, the only reason Comeau would be re-signed is if the Flames forgo his qualifying offer and then ink him as a UFA for 1.5M or less.

      Stempniak is probably the only guy who might ask for a raise and if so it will be a nominal one.

  • RexLibris


    I kind of figured that they didn’t really deserve raises, but as Clint Eastwood once said “deserve’s got nothing to do with it”.

    So I built a possible roster for the Flames working off of some general assumptions: that they sign Zach Parise for $8 million a season based on earlier articles here on FN to that effect, that Roman Cervenka plays 2nd line center (as per Feaster) behind Parise and ahead of Backlund and Stajan and that Baertschi plays third line LW.

    I assumed there were minimal raises for RFAs and some depth UFAs and replaced Karlsson with Irving as Kiprusoff’s backup.

    I also added a depth seventh defenseman, let’s call him Matt Carkner.

    The roster would go like this L to R: Tanguay – Parise – Iginla, Glencross – Cervenka – Cammalleri, Baertschi – Backlund – Kostopoulos (I know, one of these things is not like the other), Comeau – Stajan – Jackman with Blair Jones as an extra skater although it is possible that Jones could see more ice time than Stajan.

    The defense would be Bouwmeester, Giordano, Brodie, Butler, Smith, Babchuk and “Carkner”.

    Goaltending would be split between Kiprusoff and Irving 68-14.

    This would leave the Flames with roughly $2 million in cap space (if my calculations are correct-ish).

    Jackman and Kostopoulos are both 3rd or 4th liners, as far as I know, and putting one or the other with Baertschi and Backlund is a bit of an oddity, but they both play a physical game and may be able to create some space for the two younger forwards.

    Cammalleri could revert to the wing and Baertschi or Backlund could move up to play with Cammalleri if Cervenka or Glencross are struggling.

    The first line would be a good mix of creativity and scoring while the rest of the roster would be playing in a role more suited to their relative experience or ability.

    The defense would be an area in need of improvement, but it isn’t devoid of talent either.

    Okay, fire away. How off-base am I?

      • RexLibris

        Parise has played center and LW. I know he is better suited for the wing but I listed him as a center here based on some of your articles here earlier in the season.

        I re-signed Kostopoulos as a sort of placeholder. He is replaceable, obviously, and I would defer to your insight on that because I don’t follow the team anywhere nearly as closely.

        The idea of signing Parise was also one that was high on the agenda back in October/November. I know that this isn’t in the best interests of the franchise, and I know that it is highly unlikely that Parise chooses Calgary. I was just spitballing what the roster would look like if Feaster actually did sign him.

        No problem, though. I had some time and wanted to play around with capgeek’s depth chart.

        It was a good lesson in the knots that Feaster is going to have to undo in trying to balance that group and improve the available roster while still finding space for youth and staying on budget.

        • Has he? I’ve never seen him played the middle in the NHL.

          I still consider him a target for the Flames. Or, rather, a pipe-dream given the team’s trajectory. convincing any UFA star to consider the club is going to be a tough sell for Jay now.

          As you say, though, your exercise shows how tough the road is ahead.

          • RexLibris

            The Devils moved him to the center earlier this year when Zajac was out injured and elevated Matthias Tedenby on the LW. He has also played center at other times due either to injury or roster rotation.

            Really playing him in the middle isn’t all that different from the Flames playing Cammalleri in the middle. Their playmaking abilities are what draw coaches’ attention.

            I agree that Parise would qualify as a pipe-dream, which is why I slotted him into my capgeek roster as an $8 million cap hit. I think it would require an overpay to lure him West.

          • RexLibris

            Perhaps a more realistic lineup for opening night would be, LW to RW, Tanguay – Cammalleri – Iginla, Glencross – Cervenka – Mikael Samuelsson, Baertschi – Backlund – Moss, Comean – Stajan – Jackman and have Jones as the extra forward.

            I think the addition of Matt Carle to the 2nd defensive pairing with Butler might be a good start and I would trade Kiprusoff in July and try to sign Hedberg or Vokoun to split duties with Irving or Ramo.

            Horak would likely be one of the first call-ups in case of injury.

            If the Flames were to let Moss go and try to re-sign Stempniak as a 3rd line right winger that would give them a much more balanced offensive lineup and might improve their chances at the post-season.

            They still have a glaring hole in the center and their defense is looking suspect, but I wonder if Flames fans would be excited about the prospect of adding more scoring to the lineup.

            The team’s marketing line could be “let it ride”.

  • supra steve

    @Rex: God I hope you are no where close. I think every post of Kent’s leads me to the same conclusion time after time. There is only 2 players that will help us get some hopeful type of young NHL ready prospects and decent draft picks & that is Kipper & Iggy. To see them on your roster makes me want to see the team tank coming out of the gate so both would be traded at the trade deadline. This isnt about being competitive anymore. This is about knowing you are falling & are going to hit the floor hard & try to position yourself to bounce back as quickly & high(competitive) as possible. Just give me that tablespoon of Buckleys already & lets get on with healing. Lets hope we get some excitement, potential & future from some of the returns from the trades & we’ll supplement that with a top 5 pick next year. Who knows, maybe the hickey Gods will shine on us once & we can win the lottery & get Mackinnon. If we dont do anything with Iggy & he winds up signing with another team & we get zip, I will call for the heads of Feaster & King on July 2/2013.

  • You’re a bit off with your assumptions in center-ice. I agree Jokinen shouldn’t be re-signed, but I expect the Flames to try and trade him for at least a 3rd round pick, to give his rights to somebody, at least get something out of him!! But Parise will never come to Calgary, he’ll most likely opt to re-sign with New Jersey. They could win the Cup! If we don’t find a suitable replacement for Jokinen, Backlund will take the #1 slot so center ice would be 1. Backlund 2. Cervenka 3. Jones 4. Stajan. Stajan and Jones could switch back and forth, as well as Backlund and Cervenka.

    I don’t want Stempniak or Kostopoulos coming back, so I see them being replaced with Bouma and Aliu. Only re-sign Moss if it is for the same price. No more than 2M$.

    On defense, I don’t really want to see Sarich or Hannan back. But I think we could keep Sarich if it was for a reasonable pricce. No signing Matt Carkner I don’t like his style of play.

    I agree with your goalie scenario. All in all pretty good synopsis of the Flames off season.

  • RexLibris

    Without a head coach in place and roughly six weeks until the draft, player personnel and gaping roster holes should be taking a back seat, right now.
    Hopefully, behind the scenes, the coach has been selected. And the entire management team is working, feverishly, on what direction and style this organization is going to adopt.

  • RexLibris

    I think the reason the organization is waiting is because they are also taking a look at Mike Johnson. Portland isn’t out of the playoffs yet by any means and I think that they’re seriously considering him as a head coach.
    Something that might speed up the decision is the fact that the Heat were eliminated. The org is just being polite to the Winterhawk’s franchise by not negotiating with Johnson during their Memorial Cup run.

    • I don’t think that it is either/or really. Nemisz isn’t even a 4th line player in the NHL yet. Comeau, for all his faults, is an established 26 year old forward who has played regularly in the top-9 rotation.

      If Nemisz bumps anyone, it’ll be a guy like Kostopolous or fellow youngster Roman Horak.

  • MC Hockey

    @Graham – Agree, the DSutter + others coaching, especially BSutter did squash creativity of players, certainly Lombardi. Always focussing on defense in practice makes you forget how to dipsy-doodle and as you get older (even 24+) you just cannot do that stuf as well in many cases. I think many players are most agile up to about 25 which sorts of agrees with Kent’s graph above. DOn’t stifle creativity in young players or they may lost it…darn it!!!

  • RexLibris

    The issue I see is if the Flames want a player like Parise(most unlikely chance) vs. Semin (more likely) there will be a huge glut of left wingers. Our strongest position is left wing these days. Not sure where the flames go from here. They will have to make a trade of some kind. Cammi is a keeper, Tanguay is skilled but 4 yrs is waaaay too long. Glennx is gritty and we want him. Sven is the next big left winger, and unlike Kent think he’ll make a big impact. We are verrrrrry weak at centre. It would be my priority to go after a big scoring center like jordan staal. I’d be willing to sign backlund and send one of our left wingers and a pick. right wing isnt much better. nemizs is not that great, aliu isnt anything yet and that leaves us with iggy and jacko. d is fine but a free agent signing is a sure thing.