1. The Backlund deal
As you all know I have been hyper-critical of the Flames’ contract decisions in this offseason — Wideman, enough said — and while I would love to continue to be outraged over this kind of stuff, frankly, the Backlund deal is very, very good.
We’ve all been expecting a breakout season for the kid and you have to think that at some point, it’s going to come. The reason why: His career shooting percentage is in the toilet. He had a very, very bad season shooting last year. He took 85 shots in just 41 games, not a bad number. Only four of them went in. A shooting percentage of 4.7. Which is bad. And almost as bad as his career shooting percentage of just 5.4.
At some point, logically, the pucks have to start going into the net for this kid. Since the 2000-01 season, just three players have had three seasons with shooting percentages of less than 6 percent, and they’re Jody Shelley, Craig Adams and Sami Pahlsson. Theoretically, at least, Backlund is a better offensive player than them, and he certainly has a tendency to drive possession.
The other issue, obviously, is whether he can stay healthy. He sure hasn’t done it yet in his career, and it would be nice to see him actually succeed at it.
But mainly, the reason I’m glad it’s a one-year deal for real short money is that it gives him something to prove. Guys playing for a contract generally perform pretty well (though the obvious counterargument is, y’know, last year with him), and all indications are that he’s very much viewing this as a "Show Me" type year. That could translate to big things. Or, I guess, it could translate to him being shipped to the first team looking for a young reclamation project.
2. Some development camp stuff
I think something that’s often overlooked about development camp is that while it’s a great chance to teams to get a look at kids they’ve drafted, and assess some free agents that have caught their scouts’ eyes over the years, it’s also important in helping to fill out rosters for AHL squads and assess how close older prospects are to being a legitimate professional hockey player.
This was addressed in a Calgary Herald piece earlier this week, but it featured a quote that I didn’t exactly find inspiring.
"There are some of the younger guys out there, the (John) Gaudreaus, for example, whose spatial awareness on the ice and skill level is ahead of some of the guys that have been in Abbotsford."
The person who said that would know; it was Troy Ward, who coached Abbotsford and all that. I like Johnny Gaudreau as a hockey player. I saw him probably a dozen times this season. He is not close to being pro-ready, even if he does have some above-average-for-his-age understanding of the way all the moving pieces on the ice fit together. It’s not that he’s too small and too easily bumped off the puck by adults, it’s that he isn’t where you’d like him to be in most aspects of his game. And if he’s better than what the team has in Abbotsford in that regard, well, that’s bad.
The good news, I guess, is that the reports here at FlamesNation indicate this is perhaps the best group of prospects the Flames have had at development camp in a long time, and also who cares if the AHL team is any good? Granted, this is damning the team with faint praise, but they’ve really improved their crop of young players over the past two years.
3. CBA talks and what they mean
I know we’re all supposed to live in fear that there will be another work stoppage but the closer we get to the CBA expiring, the more I doubt that such a thing would happen. Not that this is based on anything or I’ve talked to anyone who would even remotely know what goes on in the negotiations but the facts are pretty simple, in my estimation.
First, the league is making money like it never has before and the salary cap has skyrocketed, meaning everyone has benefited. Maybe not as much as they could have, in either side’s view, but the simple fact is that no one is hurting like they were in 2004.
Second, can you imagine this league going through another work stoppage of any length at all? It just seems really stupid given all the goodwill it’s engendered with fans in the last six years.
Third, you’re starting to hear more and more rumblings of the Players’ Association signing off on extending the current salary cap another year. That seems like a deal that would be palatable to both sides. Say what you want about Gary Bettman, but one thing he definitely is not is an idiot. He wouldn’t let the owners lock out the players again so soon after the last stoppage, even if he technically works for them.
I have tickets to go see Teemu Selanne play his last game ever in Boston in late October, and am fully expecting to be there, crying my stupid eyes out that I’ll never my favorite player again.
4. Coyotes and a dispersal draft?
This was a really great thing I read last week: The league might just fold the Coyotes instead of letting them be moved who-knows-where, and would then pass around its players in a dispersal draft. Oh man would that ever be great. Not that Calgary would be picking even in the top-10 (sound familiar?!) but it would be a really great and exciting way to liven up late August.
So, just for fun, let’s run think about what your theoretical draft board would look like based solely on Best Player Available, and discounting guys the Coyotes don’t have under contract. Obviously guys like Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle go 1-2, but who do you think would be around at 14? Seems to me the Coyotes prospect pool is pretty deep when you get to defensemen, no?
5. Where does Calgary stand?
So I think we can all agree that maybe every team in the Northwest has improved itself so far this summer, apart from Vancouver (which I consider to have largely stayed the same, or maybe improved slightly). But let’s just spitball something: Where do the Flames finish?
Obviously Vancouver is the team to beat, given the chasm between it and second-place Calgary. But I have to think the Flames haven’t improved enough to hold off Colorado for the second-place spot, and the Wild should now be right there as well. Edmonton still has a long way to go, but it won’t quite be a pushover any more either.
Apart from Vancouver as the consensus No.1, how do you see the division shaping up?
(For reference, I have it Vancouver, Colorado, Minnesota, Calgary, Edmonton).