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?
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.
- Mikael Backlund
- Blake Comeau
- Blair Jones
- Leland Irving
- Paul Byron
- Akim Aliu
- Olli Jokinen
- Lee Stempniak
- David Moss
- Tom Kostopoulos
- Cory Sarich
- Scott Hannan