Five things: And now we come to this

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).

  • SmellOfVictory

    Flames might no be too bad off if they held a disperal draft with a lottery similar to the lockout draft. Missing the playoffs 3x in a row has to have some benefit.

  • Vintage Flame

    RE: point 2, you realize “some of the guys we had in Abbotsford” likely means the likes of Raitis Ivanans and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, right? Those guys have all the puck sense of a pair of marshmallows. I would be disappointed if Ward thought Gaudreau’s puck sense had a ways to go to equal those two pylons.

    @FireOnIce

    you realize, too, that Heatley is terrible, right? Of course, he might finally be playing with a superstar again and leeching points off him (Parise).

  • I have to agree Colorado should step up. Goaltending can be the great equalizer however, and the Flames could easily get bounce back seasons from Comeau and Backlund, they may be adding some offense in Cervenka, Baertschi and Wideman, not to mention a potential huge difference in shootout prowess – possibly a rebound year in that department as well. All could add up to a significant number of points in the standings.

    Then again a down year from Kipper and it’s the basement. I really think we need to get a real backup. And this time no excuses. 60 games for Kipper.

    • Yup. If Kipper is mortal, it could be a death blow for Calgary.

      The Flames could be healthier this year, although Glencross is unlikely to repeat his point totals and Jokinen is gone. If Jarome degrades any further, the first line will be a disaster in terms of possession/goal differential as well.

      Flames have as many questions as check marks heading into the season. Everything has to break right in order for them to contend for a playoff spot I’d say.

  • jeremywilhelm

    I am really hoping Backlund breaks out. I will be mighty pissed if he is traded.

    I think it will shake out:
    Van, CGY, Min, Col, Ed

    Min got better, but not much, Colorado still sucks and Edmonton may score goals, but thats it, Schultz is gonna bust!

    • COL was a better possession team than Calgary last year by a bit. Unfortunately for them their goaltending was poor to start the year and Duchene had a down year.

      They added Parenteau, kept Downie and Duchene should rebound. Landeskog and O’Reilly are monsters at moving the puck forward. They also added Zanon on the back-end. And they still have about $17M (!!) in cap space.

      I figure they’ll pass the Flames this year. MIN and CGY will be battling for that final spot probably while Edmonton should still be last, but nearly the push over they were the last few years.

  • Michael

    Backlund – time for the kid to step up and prove himself. The Flames have question marks down the middle, another perfect opportunity for Backlund. Likely his last chance

    Development camp – interesting to see how this pan outs. The Flames need to be more aggressive at prunning contracts for kids not developing or with limited upside.

    CBA – Both the players and owners would be crazy to push things to a stoppage. Revenue and salaries are up, times are good, make a deal.

    Coyotes – folding them almost makes sense, then
    have an expansion team (and expansion fee’s) in the City you want.

    Calgary – Calgary has improved by adding another top 4 d men (wideman), stayed the same in resigning some of our free agents and Hudler replaces Jokinens points. We are potentially pretty weak down the middle, Cervenka and Backlund need to work out.

    Vancouver, Minny. Colorado, Edmonton, Calgary.

    Hate to say it, but sooner or later Edmonton has to break out of the pack.

  • 1. Backlund seems a lot like Michael Frolik to me. They were both good young players with potential 2nd line upside who just can’t seem to connect in the NHL. Both have horrific shooting percentages – Backs = 4.7% this year in 41 games and Frolik 4.3% this year in 63, both good for 537th and up in the NHL.

    Whatever underdemon they sold their soul to really screwed them on the deal.

    2. Good to hear our prospects are some of the best in recent memory. Cultivating a winning culture in the lower league affiliates is definitely a positive thing, especially if you want some of these players to eventually be in the NHL. Build on the Calder run and go deeper in the playoffs next season.

    3. If there’s a lockout, I’m probably going to become a baseball fan. Terrible times indeed.

    4. I bet the dispersal draft would have a similar setup to the draft just after the 04-05 lockout. Teams who have not picked in the top 10 or whatever in the last couple years get 4 balls, teams in the 10-20 get 3, and so on. Somehow, the Flames would end up with the last pick (and take someone like Paul Bissonnette), Edmonton would go first, and Pittsburgh would go second.

    5. My standings would be about the same, maybe swap the Flames and Wild. Signing Parise and Suter is great, they’ll certainly have some awesome potential for high scoring affairs and stalwart defensive play, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen.

    The first time NJ tried Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk, it was a horrible disaster.Who’s to say Parise-Koivu-Heatley is going to be any better? Koivu hasn’t played a full season in a while and Heatley is on the decline. Backstrom and Harding aren’t in the best of condition either, with both having suffered multiple major injuries.