Feaster’s Tests and the Flames Free Agents

 

 

It’s been difficult to judge Jay Feaster’s work as the Flames GM so far. Not only because he’s been on the job for a relatively brief period of time (a year and a bit), but he also inherited a situation from Darryl Sutter that was less than ideal: an aging roster packed with NTC’s, long-term deals and lackluster prospects. It was clear at this point last year that 2011-12 would be spent treading water and waiting for a potential overhaul the next off-season.

Featers has much greater opportunity for change going forward. This summer more than $15M comes off the books, including Olli Jokinen and Cory Sarich. Miikka Kiprusoff’s NTC goes away on July 1st and Jarome Iginla enters the final year of his current deal. Jay will also get install his own coaching staff behind the bench. The vestiges of past errors will be limited to Matt Stajan and the lingering lack of capable of mid-20-somethings on the roster. Come October, the Calgary Flames will have – or at least should have been – remade in the new management teams image.

Test For Principles

What he does this year will tell us a lot more about the future of the club as well as Feasters fitness to be its architect. Last year, Feaster earned a passing grade for his Glencross contract and the fact that the Regehr trade is likely to out to be win the long-term (although the inclusion of Ales Kotalik and a 2nd rounder in that deal with Buffalo is still irksome). The Tanguay deal will likely prove a year or two too long down the road, but for now he’s underpaid relative to his abilities and the market as well.

Unfortunately, Feaster also failed a couple of key tests by re-signing both Brendan Morrison and Anton Babchuk. It wasn’t that the contracts in question were overly expensive or particularly crippling; only that they were so clearly and obviously bad bets. Both players had underwhelming underlying numbers and were helped along by the sort of good fortune that was unlikely to continue. That his coach apparently didn’t have any use at all for Babchuk is also a strike against that particular decision (to say nothing of the baffling inclusion of a NTC for the depth defender).

So Jay’s work in his inaugural offseason was a mixed bag. The question is what does he do with his new found freedom this summer? What tests await him come July?

Litmus Paper

Like Morrison and Babchuk last summer, I have established a number of potential moves as litmus tests of Feaster’s operating principles. The primary ones include:

1.) Olli Jokinen

2.) Blake Comeau

3.) Mikael Backlund

While Feaster faces a multitude of other decisions, many of them will only be gradable after the fact based on price, return, duration, etc. The three guys mentioned, however, should be relatively elementary decisions assuming the team is looking at the right information and operating under defensible assumptions. Depending on what he does with Jokinen, Comeau and Backlund this summer, Flames will know with a lot more certainty if Feaster is a guy who will be able to capably navigate the dark waters up ahead.

The Jokinen Test

Word is the 33-year old unrestricted free agent would greatly prefer to remain in Calgary. Stability becomes a lot more important for hockey players after 30-years old, in part because constantly moving around is wearying and in part because they almost always have wives and families to consider.

Unfortunately for Jokinen, he represents a really bad bet for the Calgary Flames. He’s at the age when players results tend to fall off a cliff, his possession numbers last year were terrible (albeit in tough circumstances) and he rode the percentages to 61-point season that will likely inflate his asking price in a relatively shallow free agent market. Anything over a year or two or more than his current price of $3M/year would be predictably regrettable.

The Comeau Test

The erstwhile Islander was had via waivers after he opened the season with a 12-game goose egg. His scoring continued to be paltry in Flames colors, but the other indicators were good – Comeau proved to be a decent third-lin option, generating positive possession and scoring chance ratios. His bad SH% and poor counting numbers represent an opportunity for the Flames to sign an established 26-year old vet with some upside for pennies on the dollar.

There’s an added wrinkle in the Comeau test: as a restricted free agent, the player is due a qualifying offer at least equal to the $2.4M he made last season. That is obviously poor value considering what Comeau would be demanding on the open market given his underwhelming output, so the key to signing him to a better deal is to waive the QO, allow him to become unrestricted, and then to try to sign him to a couple of years at $1.5M or less. 

The Backlund Test

My take on Mikael Backlund is known ’round these parts is well known. The kid’s 2011-12 was a tale of two seasons: on one hand, he finished the year with some of the best underlying numbers of any regular Flames skater and he played in some of the toughest circumstances. On the other hand, his output cratered, due in no small part to  poor luck including a personal SH% of 4.7 (which is about half of what you’d expect out of even a mediocre NHL forward).

Backlund is in line for a rebound in terms of scoring, but his ability to drive play against top-6 players is a big arrow pointing in the right direction for him. Even if he never establishes the kind of offense originally expected of him, if Backlund can outshoot the other team on most nights, he will prove to be a useful player (think Frans Nielsen as a hopeful comparison). As things stand right now, Backlund is the only guy on the Flames under 25 who can play against the other teams better players and not get his head beat in.

The fear with Backlund isn’t so much that he won’t be re-signed this summer: merely that his injury problems and poor output will make him seem expendable. Like Comeau, Backlund could be re-signed cheaply and represents a really good bet for high value going forward. Instead, it’s possible the kid will be included in a package deal for a guy with with a heftier contract and flashier counting stats.

The Free Agent List 

Starting this week, FlamesNation will profile all of Calgary’s pending free agents, including the three guys listed above. We will take a closer look at their numbers, both conventional and advanced, and determine if the team should seek to re-sign them and for how much.

RFAs:

  • Mikael Backlund
  • Blake Comeau
  • Blair Jones
  • Leland Irving
  • Paul Byron
  • Akim Aliu

UFA’s:

  • Olli Jokinen
  • Lee Stempniak
  • David Moss
  • Tom Kostopoulos
  • Cory Sarich
  • Scott Hannan

 

  • Robert Cleave

    No problem in resigning all the rfas, with Byron and aliu starting on the farm. All the ufaa outside of stempniak can be turned loose as far as im concerned. We had them for last few years and look how far that got us, time to move on and move forward.

  • Robert Cleave

    Presuming Backlund and his agent are connected to reality, there are plenty of contracts signed in the last few years that should act as comparables. The Turris, Boedker, and Josh Bailey deals all strike me as reasonable targets for a player that hasn’t quite made the leap in terms of boxcars, so somewhere in the 1-1.4M range per on a two year bridge deal seems about right. If he becomes the player that we hope, he’ll get his dough on the next deal.

    Joker? Meh. If he’s really cheap, maybe, but if he goes, he goes. Same with Comeau, unless he’s absolutely no more than your 1.5M target figure, and if they can’t find anyone better over the summer. I like bargains as much as the next person, but the Flames have one actual top 9 RW under contract right now. Unless a full-scale tank is in the cards, that’s a spot that needs a significant upgrade beyond anything Blake Comeau is likely to produce.

  • Robert Cleave

    I kind of like Roberts take on this. I actually wouldnt be opposed to try and parlay Backlunds stumble into an extra year maybe, give him a 3 year deal at 1.5mill per. Otherwise, totally expect a 2 year deal. Comeau shouldnt be any higher than what Moss was paid on his last contract at 1.3mill per. If some other team want to give him more good luck & God bless. The other RFA’s absolutely qualify & resign, especially Aliu, Irving & Jones.

    There is not one player on that UFA list that would break my heart if they went elsewhere. Not that they were bad players, but I am tired of the last 3 years & just want a change. The change my be soiled and still stink but at least it would be a different colour.

    If we were treated to some major treats & see some big trades & see Kipper & Iggy move on, man we would we have cap space to burn & that will create some real interesting scenarios. I would have no problem starting the season with 10mill cap space. Used properly, it can be a tool to fast track a rebuild & score some nice pieces assisting another GM for some bad decisions.

  • Robert Cleave

    On Feaster to date:

    Glencross: A – Great contract on an important player

    Tanguay: B – Too long, but worth it to bring down the cap hit

    Babchuk: D – He avoided a long term contract that will haunt us down the road and the cap hit is reasonable. And he couldn’t have anticipated Smith and Brodie replacing Babchuk in the depth chart. However, a NTC wasn’t necessary and he wasn’t inline with his coach.

    Morrison: C – I didn’t like the signing. But it was a low risk signing and he bailed on it and got the Heat Connolly so it worked out fine in the end.

    Karlsson: C – Can’t blame him for keeping Karlsson. But 2-years is a year to much with Irving knocking at the door.

    Carson: C – Low risk depth signing.

    Mikkelson: C – See above

    Walter: B – Great pick-up for the Heat

    Wilson: B – Another great pick-up for the Heat. A potential NHLer.

    Desbiens: C – Not a big fan if this type of player. But he apparently fit in well.

    Smith: B – Good depth D-man

    Hannan: B – Good veteran D at a value cost and term

    Comeau: B – Sort of a no duh move when Comeau fell to the Flames.

    Kolanos: A – Great pick-up for the Heat

    Modin/7th: F – Low cost and I understand why he did it. But come on. You want this to be your first move as the GM. Sheesh.

    Horak + 2 2nd / Erixon + 5: D – You have to sign Erixon. Impossible perhaps but you still have to get that done so it is marks against. Fortunately Horak, Granlund, and Wotherspoon all look like decent prospects so it wasn’t a complete loss.

    Butler + Byron / Regehr + Kotalik + 2nd: B – He picked the right time to bail on Regehr and Butler and Byron look like a decent return. Giving up a second to lose Kotalik hurts. But putting him in the A may not have been the best thing for the kids and it isn’t my 3-million so it can be forgiven.

    Henry / Seabrook: C – Two broken prospects swapped for relocation. Neither did much this season. So move on.

    Leblond / 5: F – Please stop throwing away low picks on useless players. Especially when you already have 2 of the same useless players available in the AHL.

    Stempniak / Langkow: B – I like Langkow, but we couldn’t afford the luxury of his 4.5 million cap hit.

    Jones / Mikkelsson: A – Mikkelson wasn’t going anywhere in Calgary. Jones could be a valuable player going forward. Smart trade.

    Cammalleri + Ramo + 5 / Bourque + Holland + 2: A – Feaster continues his trend of bailing on players before they lose their value. He retained a pick (granted a lower one). He recognized Holland was playing as a 20-year old in the AHL and helped shore up his goalie prospect pool. Great move.

    Connelly / Morrison: B – Connelly was a decent point producer on the Heat. Gave him a mulligan on the Morrison signing.

    Aliu / Negrin: B – Swap of two troubled prospects. Aliu fit in very well. At least until the playoffs.

    Hagman re-entry waivers: C – Can’t blame him for Hagman. After a strong start Hagman became Hagman again in Anaheim.

    Overall: B – Has to be noted that most of us felt Feaster wasn’t going to be able to do anything last season. To much cap, to many bad contracts, and to many NMC. But he managed to clear NMC and Cap with cap dumps on Regehr, Langkow, Kotalik, and Hagman.

    He was smart in free agency avoiding big ugly contracts (other then an understandable attempt on Ricards).

    He has been making strong pick-ups for next season in Cervenka, Eddy, and Lamb.

    He has shown the ability to move players before they lose their value completely (Langkow, Regehr, Bourque).

    His trades have been good value. His contracts have (mostly) been good value as well.

    I also like what he has done with the support staff.

    Not making trades at the deadline is an knock. Jokinen may not have waived but Hannan, Stempniak, Moss, or Sarich would have brought a return. However, I don’t know that any GM sells given the Flames position in the standings.

    To me the big test isn’t which free agents he retains. Though I agree he has to be careful with contracts for players like Jokinen.

    To me the big test is how aggressive Feaster is in making the necessary changes. I will also be measuring him based on coaching selection. Does he put on his big warm fuzzy blanket in Hartley or does he make the smart move.

  • Robert Cleave

    Feaster has been doing pretty well so far in managing this absolute mess. But, the big test comes now. Iggy and Kipper need to be turned into as many good assets as possible moving forward. This won’t be easy and this will be the summer that makes or breaks him. At the very least, it will be an interesting next few months.

  • RKD

    let the ufas all walk, offer ollie a one year deal at 1.5 mill dough. as for backlund, its a make it or break time in his career, his slow development can be used as leverage. jay needs to go to the market and spend wisely. also dont be afraid to pull a deal or two, not only by dangling igglatowski and kipper but by being bold enough to shop jbust and the crazy calabrese gio. this could be a chance at addition by subtraction. the market value for gio and jbo may be at its apex. washington and philly may express some interest.

    • RKD

      It isn’t make it or break it for Backlund.

      I think he has a reasonable chance of breaking out this season. The arrows are pointing in the right direction. Turris , Pacioretty, and Shattenkirk are all guys drafted with Backlund that broke out around this point in their careers.

      But if as long as he doesn’t regress he will be an effective NHLer.

  • RKD

    Without a major revamping of the roster, this team will be fighting for 9th or 10th again.

    IMO Tangs, GlenX, and Cammy need to stay healthy for the whole season for us to make the playoffs.

    I believe Cammy and Backlund will rebound, Cammy had a rough season with the Habs and wasn’t consistent enough down the stretch with the Flames. Backlund had an unfortunate run with injuries.

    This team has too many left handed shooters it seems now: Tangs, Cammy, GlenX, Cervenka, Bartschi, Backlund. In the top six, the only RH shooters are Iggy, Stemps, and Moss.

    If you let Moss, Jokinen, Sarich, Hannan, Stempniak go you could spend some money on some higher end forwards and d-men.

  • Parallex

    RFA’s: Extend Qualifying offers to all of them except Comeau. Sign Backlund to a contract that takes him to his final year of restricted free agency.

    UFA’s: If (and only if) we can get him short-term on the same dollars do we resign Olli Jokinen, I also resign Moss. Everyone else walks.

    Fantasy GM’ing: Also time to get rid of Ol’ Matty Franchise I see if I can deal him to Dallas (Cap Floor team) since his real dollar cost is 1M less then his cap cost. They’ll want to send some real dollars back so I ask for former flame fan favorite Eric Nystrom Back.

    Theoretical Forward Line-up:

    Tanguay – Cammalleri – Iginla

    Baertschi – Jokinen – Cervenka

    Glencross – Backlund – Moss

    Nystrom – Jones – Jackman

    Bouma

  • I find it really hard to judge any of Mikael Backlund’s play this season, given that he only played half of it, and missed the last 26 games when we needed it the most.

    In regards to the Comeau situation with his high QO, just be glad it isn’t Mike Green. Dude’s an RFA this summer and his QO is going to be like $5M. If the Caps didn’t qualify him and let him go to free agency, I could bet he’d be offered a fatty contract from a better team.

  • Oyo

    dont sign jokinen. personally i dont know how difficult it is switching from the left wing to the right wing but i can feaster going after a prominant left winger thatyou may not expect…

    Alex Semin

    Only 28 and looks to be on the open market. now everyone and their dog is going to want Parise, and given the “attitude” rumors surronding semin he may not be in as high demand as he should be.
    i say offeer him 6 mill over 4 years. Nothing crazy but for the talent and entertainment he brings, i think the flames could do worse.

    so lines would be ( depending on the fact they dont trade anyone )

    Tangs Cervenka Iggy (60%+ ZS)
    Semin Backs Cammy
    Glenx Stajan Baertschi
    Comaeu Jones Jackman

    Bouw Garrison
    Gio Butler
    Brodie Smith

    kipper / irving

    now i know the semin backs cammilleri line isnt exactly the optimum shut down line, i do think they would force play the right direction. i also think that 3rd line would put up some decent numbers and fourth line contributing.

    not optimum at all but i think a good start to a competitive team with some skill,excitment, and a little facelift.

    i would trade kipper in hopes to get a very decent shutdown centerman / right winger.

    think Berglund or even Bolland

    • A line of Cammy/Backs/Semin would be pretty good I think. Don’t use them as a shutdown line, since Cammy is pretty soft and Backlund/Semin don’t necessarily seem to have good defensive instincts.

      I could see that line putting up some pretty good numbers. Backlund wouldn’t be counted on to score and would be dishing the puck to two pretty talented snipers.

      However, I don’t think Semin would sign for $6M over 4 years. He made $4.2M, $5M, $6M, and $6.7M the last 4 seasons. I doubt he signs for less than $4M per year – he may have “attitude” and “laziness” issues, but he loves money.

      • Oyo

        What? you think Backlund doesn’t have defensive instincts? Isn’t the problem with him that ALL his instincts are defensive? Next season, he should probably be used as the shut-down center regardless of what linemates he has.

        • What you’re saying is correct. Was sort of spouting off the cuff when I wrote that. Mostly, Semin is a huge defensive liability and takes an extraordinary share of stupid penalties at inopportune times. Reminds me of Bourque in that way.

          My biggest point was that if you have a line with Semin/Cammalleri, you’re doing pretty good as long as you have a center than can actually make plays. Perhaps, if this happens, the Flames will need two 1C – one for Iginla, and one for that line.

    • Truculence

      You know what, I really like your suggestion of adding Garrison. Now, the Panthers may shell out the dough to retain him, giving him a hefty raise, but he may be too pricey for their budget and ripe for the plucking. Wouldn`t mind seeing him play alongside JBO.

      However, he is a leftie and we got too many of them.

      Intriguing, though.

  • Primo

    RFA’s…sign them all but be careful with Comeau and Backlund. Both should be signed at bargain low price but with long term incentive. Both of these guys have talent and may be late bloomers.

    Irving would be a critical signing in my view. We have invested big time in this 1st rounder. He is nicely developing. Time to play him potentially 35 games plus.

    UFA’s..let them all walk except Stempniak. Consider Jolinen 2 yrs max same dollars as his last contract.

  • loudogYYC

    I honestly don’t see talent when I watch Comeau play. Decent speed and good underlying numbers are important, it helps that he’s a bigger body too, but he’s just a dumb player. Shean Donovan 2012, without the goals.

  • Greg

    “The Tanguay deal will likely prove a year or two too long down the road, but for now he’s underpaid relative to his abilities and the market as well.”

    This is going to really irk me in the last few years if people complain about this being a bad contract. We all know he won’t be earning the money in the last couple years, but he was also underpaid the first couple which balances out and makes it a good contract.

    Also, the Semin scenario wouldn’t surprise me a bit… I think Feaster will take a swing at Parise and lose out, and then go for Semin because “we have to do something”. I wouldn’t even mind it all that much except that it’ll cement our position as being a few years behind the Oilers, chasing the free agent left overs (Nylander anyone?).

    For me, Feaster can do whatever he wants this offseason. The real litmus test is whether he can continue with improved drafting and not lock in any terrible contracts that will really hurt the future in the meantime.