While the fans sat back watching the first round of the draft go on, waiting patiently for the 14th pick overall to be announced by their beloved yet maligned Flames, the sound of 1.2 million jaws collectively hitting the floor quickly drowned out Gary Bettman before he could finish, “We have a trade to announce.”
While the Flames opting to trade down in the draft because they could still select Mark Jankowski with the 21st pick, and re-quire their 2nd round pick, may have drawn the ire of fans and hockey people all over Flamesland, the reality is we will not know the success or the detriment of the selection for at least 3 or 4 years.
What we will be able to scrutinize and evaluate is the moves made after the draft. The choices Jay Feaster and his new ensemble have made in regards to free agency are of the “here and now”. The moves are a clear statement to the players and the fanbase that the organization is still committed to the win now philosophy.
Are they any closer now than they were one year ago at this same time?
OUT WITH THE OLD…
Of the plentiful list of unrestricted free agents the Flames had, almost everyone knew that only a select few would be re-signed. The easiest way for an organization to immediately move in a different direction is to shed UFA’s and look elsewhere. For the most part, Feaster did just that, and with little surprise… Little surprise, but there were still some.
The departure of Mosser will come with disappointment to some, but surprised very few. I had mentioned back when FlamesNation did our UFA profile on the 30 year old, that Moss was going to be one of those fence decisions. He was a great player for driving the play, but that effectiveness was seeing fewer results for the club due to high injury tendencies. Add to the fact that he was now a 30 year old on a team desperate to get younger and the cons started to pile up. The final nail in the coffin most likely being the re-signing of Lee Stempniak, a player that is a year younger, less injury prone and has a higher offensive potential; another issue the Flames were struggling to resolve.
It sure didn’t take long for Moss to land on his feet. Curiously enough, it would be with the former team of the man that took his job here in Calgary. David signed a two year deal, worth $2.1 Million per season, with the Phoenix Coyotes. The deal re-unites Moss with Jim Playfair, something that David took into consideration when he accepted the deal, from the first team his camp talked to.
”I know him really well. I think lot of the guys who I played with in Calgary that had gone there had really liked it, and had good things to say.”
Joker was another player that the fans were prepared to see leave the Flames and apparently so was the organization.
Though it may have been a slam dunk for management to let the ‘Photoshop Friendly Finn’ walk, there were still many that believed Olli still had purpose with the team, and that they should re-sign him. There were a few problems though that I believe countered that notion, and resulted in the parting of ways.
As the issue with many of the UFA’s, Olli’s age had to be a dominant factor in not re-signing him. The soon to be 34 Center, was going to be looking for his most likely last meaningful contract; something many anticipated to be in the neighborhood of 4-5 million and a term of about 5 years. This just wasn’t feasible for the Flames and would have been completely counter-productive for a team trying to subtly rebuild without their fanbase noticing. Imagine the surprise to many, when Jokinen ended up signing with the Winnipeg Jets, for $4.5 million, but a term of only 2 years. Those were numbers being thrown around by many of the Calgary fans advocating for the Flames to re-sing him, if the terms were “reasonable”.
Regardless of how it played out in the end, it was still the right move for Calgary and Jokinen to part ways. Even though he signed what seemed to be that “reasonable contract” elsewhere, the other factor that led to his release was the earlier signing of Roman Cervenka. The acquisition from the KHL is younger, new blood. It’s a big gamble for Feaster and the Flames to take the gamble with a 26 year old player that has never skated on NHL ice before, but as we saw from the draft, Jay is all about rolling the dice this season.
The third factor that led to Jokinen’s departure most likely had to do with the player he was shaped into by two men that are not with the organization any more. It was the faith of Darryl Sutter in Jokinen that brought him back here, and it was the tutelage of Brent Sutter that turned him into the defensive shut-down type center that he is today. With the club bringing in the highly offensive minded regime of Hartley, Cloutier and Gelinas to run the show, it seemed like Olli’s services were no longer warranted, since he was no longer that kind of player… How’s that for irony?
He may be old… but he is not one of the UFA’s on his way out. Instead the Flames decided to re-sign Sarich last Friday to a two year deal, at $2 million per season. This has to be one of the surprise moves by the franchise to the fans, as it was widely seen that Cory would be an obvious casualty for a club looking towards a youth movement.
However, this seemed not to be the case as the management insists that, despite his advanced age and general one-dimensional nature, Sarich contributes something far more intangible to the team; namely leadership skills and true ‘grit’. Both of these qualities are something the Flames need despite their change in philosophy and as it seems today, both Feaster and Sarich on the same page when it comes to that aspect of the team’s re-development.
“I think you need grit in your lineup. You can’t go with just 20 guys who are comfortable players. You need some guys that are not afraid to go into the corners. That’s my job. I’m not afraid to get out there and muck things up.”
While fans may agree with the message but not the messenger, Jay Feaster had no qualms about acknowledging the search for a replacement for Sarich was futile.
“From our perspective, as we look at the free-agent market, we don’t see a better guy to fit that role than the guy that was in our own room,” said Feaster. “So getting him signed . . . we’re obviously very, very pleased to have him back on board.”
I’m not personally fond of the signing, but I can see some merit in the decision. The Flames are likely two years away from seeing enough development in their younger prospects to allow them to step in and be effective everyday blue-liners. Signing Sarich for two years gives them that window of experience without having their younger guys get just eaten alive. TJ Brodie was able to do it relatively seamlessly, but you won’t have that with the majority of the other guys.
That being said, it creates a logjam behind the blueline, as the Flames now have nine D-men on one way deals, and just Brodie on a two way contract. Needless to say something has to give, probably via trades and the exile of Babchuk to Europe, but one of the guys I would have liked to have seen given a good shot in training camp is Brady Lamb. The current congestion of one way deals makes that unlikely.
… IN WITH THE NEW
When the Flames came calling, Jiri Hudler was listening; though it took some assistance from both a current (Roman Cervenka) and a former Flame (Todd Bertuzzi) to probably convince the Czech Center/RW to commit. Many will see the acquisition of Hudler as a compliment and a way to ease Roman Cervenka into the NHL fold, but the Flames were quick to dispel that idea.
“I can tell you very, very honestly that . . . we don’t look at nationality, we don’t look at country of origin — we look for the best hockey players that we can find,” said Feaster. “It’s just happenstance that both players are Czechs.”
With the Flames not being the only team interested in Hudler, Feaster went for it big time to land him. $4 million per season over four years is nothing to cough at, but it’s likely right around what other teams would have paid to get him as well.
In the end I think it’s a good signing for Calgary. Whether it was intentional or not, Hudler will be a comforting factor for Cervenka, and when you are relying on a guy who has never played a single NHL game is going to be an impact player in his first year on your team, you need whatever help you can muster.
“He was asking me about the NHL,” recalled Hudler. “He was really excited and he had some questions. Coincidence that we end up on the same team. (The NHL) is going to be a little tougher for him than usual, but he’s been around hockey for a long time. Obviously, he’s got a lot of skill. He’s a smart player. He can score goals. But it’s going to be something new for him. I’m all there for him.”
Hudler will be a guy that will help the Flames on the power play and even strength. He is especially going to be noticed at even strength: of his 25 goals scored last year, only two of them came on the PP. Many will give the majority of the credit to his linemates, Zetterberg and Fillpula, but in Calgary he is going to be given more time on ice and increased responsibility. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he remains a 50 pt guy for the Flames, especially if he winds up playing with Cervenka and the two can establish early chemistry.
Another boost to the PP will be the signing of Dennis Wideman. On the surface, it was a great trade for Calgary, as they gave up Jordan Henry and a 5th round pick in the 2013 draft
The signing showed that the Flames definitely want to generate a lot more shot towards the net with the man advantage. The gamble comes in that they forked out $5.25 million per year for 5 years. Wideman who is now 29, isn’t known for his defensive acumen or his skating speed, but generating those shots is a big thing, and so is his ability to block a lot of shots at his own net.
Two things of note on Wideman. Back in 2004, Dennis was actually in Calgary attending a prospects camp for the Flames. Hours before his physical, he was signed by the St. Louis Blues. That’s how close he was to being a Flame eight years ago; now that he has been traded to the Flames, it’s like his career has come full circle.
”When I was there during the camp, I liked the city," Wideman said. "When I would play games in Calgary, I thought I would have liked to play there," Wideman said. "It’s a great hockey town. From talking with my agent, and talking to them about the style of game they want to play with Bob Hartley as a coach, it fits the way I play. I think it’ll be a good opportunity."
The other thing of note is the JayBo factor. Does the signing of Wideman spell the end of Jay Bouwmeester as a Flame? It may, but it doesn’t have to. The contract doesn’t put the Flames or Feaster in any cap situation, other than once again the organization is spending near its limits.
That’s nothing new.
If Calgary is done making their splash after signing Hudler, and finally re-signing Mikael Backlund, then there is not the necessity to deal Bouwmeester. It may still happen, and we all hope not, but if a deal is in the making then it will most likely financially benefit the team, but not rescue them.