Five things: Jay Feaster’s just screwing with me at this point

1. Let’s start at the very beginning

A secret of the trade: I usually write this column, for Wednesday mornings, on Tuesday afternoons or nights (and, full disclosure, I’m writing this on Monday night because I’ve got my own stuff going on). I therefore did not know about Jay Feaster’s plans to trade for the rights to Dennis Wideman, and then sign the defenseman to a contract before he hit the open market.

On a perfectly sensible level, I honestly feel as though Dennis Wideman takes a lot of undue crap and is a perfectly fine defenseman. Perfectly fine. With that having been said, you do not give a perfectly fine defenseman — undeserving All-Star nod not withstanding — $5.25 million a year through 2017. It’s a legitimately bad contract, even if it’s for a position of significant need for this team (right-shot defensemen).

Without vitriol, it’s a completely puzzling signing. Doesn’t $5.25 million a season strike anyone in the Flames organization as being too much money, especially when the only person you’re bidding against is yourself? There was not a feeding frenzy of interest in Wideman because the CBA didn’t allow there to be one. You might look at a $5.25 million cap hit for a defenseman coming off what was almost a career year — note: almost — because he was largely a power play specialist and didn’t play especially tough minutes. He was also a third-pairing defenseman on the Capitals in the playoffs. You know, when they played ultra-defensive anti-hockey. So that’s an issue.

Those who would laud the deal point out that the Flames power play last year was painfully average, and boy are they ever right about that. But apart from holding his stick in a way that most defensemen do not, I don’t see where Wideman improves your power play to the tune of earning that deal. Unless he magically makes it jump to about 25 percent. So to summarize: Decent second-pairing defenseman earning better-than-decent first-pairing defenseman money.

Oh, and he has a no-movement clause. Welcome to Calgary.

2. Shall we move on to another bad deal?

Cory Sarich. He is back. Where Wideman is more or less one-dimensional in that he is not a particularly good defender, Sarich is zero-dimensional. He’s slow, he provides no offense whatsoever, he doesn’t defend well against even mediocre competition. He was a often healthy scratch last season. And he’s going to be 34 years old in August.

So why wouldn’t you give him a two-year deal?

There are reasons that a person could reasonably defend extending Dennis Wideman a contract — maybe not THAT contract, but certainly a contract. Could someone please defend this Sarich contract? Jay Feaster, expert that he is, determined that Calgary needed sand paper on its blue line, and apparently Sarich fits that bill better than any other options available.

I don’t see it. And that’s period. One year, two years, doesn’t matter. It’s a bad contract to a player I was shocked to learn was only 34. He looks significantly slower than that. One can’t begin to imagine how bad this deal is going to look when Sarich is 35.

I just don’t get it apart from the whole "We have to be hard to play against" angle. Know what’s hard to play against? Defensemen who can actually do their job.

3. And then there’s Hudler

Frankly, I’m not even mad about the contract Jay Feaster gave Jiri Hudler on Monday. I’m really not. I just don’t get it any more.

The defense is, I think, pretty obvious. He’s a two-time 50-point guy who scored 25 goals last season. That is, on paper, the very definition of a second-line forward, which Feaster has repeatedly stated as a desired target. So, ostensibly, he got that, and with a contract that carries reasonable term for a 28-year-old and — wait for it — a standard deal that allows for movement of the player.

But the bad news is this: There’s no indication that Jiri Hudler can produce on his own, and perhaps the Flames didn’t get the player they thought they were getting. The team release called Hudler a center, which he is decidedly not. Scott Cruickshank pointed out on Twitter that Hudler took a whopping SEVEN draws this year. He lost five of them.

More to the point, though, I’m not sure Jiri Hudler is going to be relied upon to score 25 goals this coming season, or even 20. The reason is that his shooting percentage — in a contract year, mind — was 19.7 percent. Just about one in every five of his 127 shots found the back of the net. Among players who played more than 30 games, that number was fifth in the league, and higher than his career average of 13.6 by nearly half. In a year of typical shooting, Hudler would have had just 16 goals, and Jay Feaster just gave him $4 million a season for the next four years.

This isn’t advanced stat geek stuff. This is "listed in the NHL’s front-page stats line" stuff. It doesn’t even take an understanding of advanced statistics. It takes, in the simplest terms, elite goalscorers to maintain shooting percentages of north of 15 percent over the course of a career. A guy who just set a career high of 25 goals is decidedly not that.

And did I mention Hudler did that playing with Henrik Zetterberg and Valtteri Filppula? He did. I just took a look at a random sampling of the goals he scored, thanks to NHL.com, which, if you’re looking to find goal highlights, is the first place you should go every time. First goal up was, you guessed it, a tap-in on a Zetterberg centering pass. The second was a shot on a wide-open net on a dish from Filppula on the power play. The third was a quick rebound on a Brad Stuart point shot. The fourth was the exact same play on a Zetterberg shot from the slot. The fifth was on a quick rebound on his own shot thanks to a nice dish from behind the net by Filppula.

This is, of course, by no means scientific and indeed, the Flames could probably use a guy with a little bit of jam around the net. Ryan Smyth and Tomas Holmstrom made their entire moderately-noteworthy careers doing exactly that. But who on this roster fits a Zetterberg or Filppula role? Alex Tanguay, who likely won’t get much time with him, maybe?

It’s a deal that I don’t fully get for a guy who Red Wings fans were glad to see leave and at some point, you have to wonder what, exactly, this team’s plan is.

4. So an someone explain any of this?

Feaster is, I’ve been told, building this team for two or three years down the line, or at least so that its potential core players — in order of increasingly speculative: Sven Baertschi, Mikael Backlund?, Chris Butler??, TJ Brodie???, Max Reinhart???? — are coming into their primes.

But that does little to explain why Feaster is giving out long-term contracts to guys who seem fit to make minimal impacts for maximum payouts. I’ve heard it said that the Flames are better today than they were on July 4 last year, and that’s probably true. Whether it’s good enough to make the playoffs, which is the team’s ridiculous goal right now, seems less certain. Unless Roman Cervenka and Jiri Hudler perform at high levels, and Mike Cammalleri starts playing like the Mike Cammalleri that Flames fans remember, I don’t know where the goals come from next season. I certainly don’t know who prevents them from going past Miikka Kiprusoff, particularly if Jay Bouwmeester is dealt for scrap, which it seems as though he almost certainly will be.

The Calgary Flames now have the second-highest payroll against the cap in the National Hockey League, and we’re sitting here wondering if maybe they squeak into the playoffs. In what universe is that acceptable for a team that hasn’t appeared in the postseason for three years?

5. Here’s Iggy

  • T&A4Flames

    @ Kent

    The org has at least been consistent in it’s message – we’re going to continue to go for it, we’re not rebuilding, etc. So at least they aren’t hypocrites

    Sorry kent, I have to disagree with you as it pertains to Feaster. Was he not the one of the infamous, “Fool me once” speech and yet has kept the majority of this team intact? At the end of the season Jay was preaching about change…so far Jokinen and Moss out, Cervenka, Wideman & Hudler in. Everyone else has stayed the same.

    I mostly support Ryan’s comments…especially how can anyone validate Sarich being given another contract. The scouting report on Cory is well known. If in your own end just chip the puck past Sarich and then race past him for the puck. Possible break away.

    And obviously something has to give as at this moment we are carrying a full load and we’re only on July 4th. So unless they plan to have Stajan and his $3.5 mil and Sarich $2 mil sitting in the press box all season, I expect to see some people moved out…but maybe that’s not Feaster’s plan!

  • Parallex

    “So to summarize: Decent second-pairing defenseman earning better-than-decent first-pairing defenseman money.”

    Is it though? I don’t think it is. The cap is 70.2M, Wideman makes 5.25M. Quick and easy primary grade school math says that’s 7.5% of the cap… 7.5% seems pretty reasonable (albeit not exceptional) for a 2nd pairing defenseman and not at all better-then-decent for a 1st pairing d-man.

    Especially since his addition has a positive effect on the rest of the defense core (allowing Butler to play on the 2nd pairing where he plays up more then on the first, allows Sarich to play on the 3rd pairing where he’ll play up as opposed to the 2nd pairing).

    His addition improves the team, hell the only defenseman “freely” available that would improve the team more would be Suter (and maybe Carle) and Suter (if he were even a possibility, which is itself a doubtful proposition) will cost you an arm a leg and your first born child (in real dollars + term if not cap hit).

  • xis10ce

    One thing about Hudler I don’t think I’ve read anyone comment about is his history and how it’ll help Cervenka adjust to the NHL.

    This is just a theory but Hudler was probably brought in not only to be a solid top6’er but also help Roman given he is also Czech, has played in the KHL and made the transition to the NHL.

    Or you know we could have paid 4.55mil for Jagr to help Cervenka out…

  • Michael

    1. Wideman – I’m not really sure what the Flames have in Wideman. He does add some offense to a ‘offensively’ challenged blue line, but he doesnt seem that great in his own end. Overpaid for sure, the fourth and fifth years of this contract are going to kill us.

    2. Sarich, The Flames are flush with bottom end d men. Yes, Sarich can hit, but their must be better options for $2 million.

    3. Hudler, Not a terrible ‘free agent’ deal on paper, we added a second line forward without giving up assets. But, see #4, not sure that we needed another small forward.

    4. Look at the top 9 forwards (Cammy, Tanquay, Iggy, Glencross, Cervenka, Hudler, Comeau, Backlund and Stempniak). More skill, yes, but these guys are going to play 50+ minutes per night, who exactly is going to hard to play against? Most teams know to leave Iggy alone (if you hit him he wakes up physically), Glencross adds some grit, but the rest of them are small, soft and don’t naturally hit. A repeat of the Montreal experiment (small skilled forwards), this team will get crushed against bigger opposition. Didn’t Montreal just add grit and then more grit.

  • Colin.S

    @Everton

    I really don’t get this obsession with size, especially the bottom 6, we don’t need McGratton and Goddard mitt chuckers. Having a little more skill in the bottom six isn’t a bad thing, especially if they can beat up on other teams still employing bottom pairings of goons and mitt chuckers.

    And if you are not drafting it for the top 6 then trying to acquire it vye trade or UFA is going to cost HUGE.

    • everton fc

      Colin:

      Find one comment I’ve made here where I’ve talked about us signing guys like McGrattan and Godard.

      Not one.

      And I’m talking size/speed/skill/grit in both the top and bottom 6, as well as on the backend.

      This should be the direction of our rebuild.

  • Colin.S

    Le sigh. Like so much of the Flames, it isn’t that these mistakes are gargantuan Wade Redden-esque monstrosities. It is just a series of mediocre miscalculations that results in 9th place finishes year after year.

    While the big deals are easier to focus on, I look at the Jones, Comeau, Stempniak re-signings, assume a Backlund signing is coming and then look at what should be our near NHL ready group of Horak, Byron, Nemisz, Bouma. These guys should at least be stepping into the 3rd or 4th lines at this point, saving cap space by providing useful minutes on ELC deals. Instead, we have Comeau, Jones and human punch line Matt Stajan filling those roles at a higher price.

    When looking at the spending situation, I think it is also worthwhile to realize that from an internal budgeting situation, the Flames will likely be spending no more than $70.2 million on actual salary. They continue to have a host of sub-cap actual salaries on the books. I think that explains some of the spending we are seeing. I have the Flames with a total cap-hit above salary of about $5 million. So even though they will be capped out, they will not be spending as much as they have in prior years.

  • Tenbrucelees

    Given that Feaster is almost certainly under instruction to try everything to get into the playoffs, I would be interested in knowing what you think Feaster should have done differently? (I’ll give you probably not signing Sarich ….which is a head scratcher)

  • Phoenix makes the playoffs every year, well under cap, with no superstars…

    They do this for a number of reasons. One is Tippett of course. Two is they have received above average goaltending the last few seasons. But number three is the also-rans they collect are almost always at least good at even strength. By which I mean at possession.

    Martin Hanzel doesn’t score a lot, but he moves the puck in the right direction. That’s sort of the hallmark of the club the last couple years. Because the team can’t afford offense (which is so expensive to obtain on the open market) they pick up the Langkows and Mosses of the world so the puck spends more time at the good end of the ice.

    • Tenbrucelees

      That makes a lot on sense, if you could pair two guys that can drive possession with 1 that can score at very least you have a chance.

      how long do you honestly believe Feaster will last in Calgary at this rate Kent?

      With that question being asked Feaster may have done the only two things that the club is interested in, keeping it interesting and making sure there are same “Names” on the team to keep the tickets a flowing.

  • The org has at least been consistent in it’s message – we’re going to continue to go for it, we’re not rebuilding, etc. So at least they aren’t hypocrites.

    That said, the “it” continues to shrink in stature. At this point, the goal seems to be to run in place as much as possible.

  • RE: Sarich. The scariest thing about his contract, to me, is that it suggests he’s going to play. If you look at the depth chart on defense for Calgary, I think we can all agree Sarich slots in at anywhere between 7-9. 7-9! But you give the guy 2 years at 2 million, you’re almost obliged to play him.

    And that’s brutal.

  • everton fc

    When I write “negative” commentary like this above, I get blasted here. Well, sometimes. Well done, Ryan! You have at least one ally here…

    I’d add we have zero size and grit outside Jackman, which doesn’t help matters… And I mean size and grit of the Paul Gaustad/David Clarkson calibre. I know, “it’s hard to find these types of players…” But other teams are. Via draft, or trade…

    This is being overlooked or dismissed by many here. Read this yesterday in the National Post. I agree with the synopsis.

    http://sports.nationalpost.com/2012/07/03/flames-coming-up-short-with-jiri-hudler/

    Love these lines:

    “Right now, the Flames look as soft as a baby’s bum up front. As is, they might have to hire a cut man, a la Angelo Dundee, to work poor Tim Jackman’s corner.”

    Check out some of Feaster’s responses to the criticisms in this article. I found them scary.

    I agree with you, Ryan; “What is the plan here?”. Even the Red Wings play-by-play announcer doubts Hudler will duplicate his third line production, with the Flames. And he’s not a good skater, though he is known to have some “grit” in his 5’10″/180lb frame. Another NMC for Wideman, who played third-line minutes for the Caps in the playoffs (good point, Ryan; and overlooked by many)

    Feaster did the same thing in Tampa – ridiculous contracts that hamstrung the organization. We should have seen this coming, with what was offered to Richards…

    Still, for some oddball reason, I feel a bit optimistic, but only because of Hartley. I think he will light a fire under some bums here, and in a far more relevant, tactical way than, say, Mr. Keenan.

    That’s my hope…My only hope, really.

    Phoenix makes the playoffs every year, well under cap, with no superstars… So if Hartley’s a good coach, he should be able to do something with this second addition of Feaster’s “Also-Rans”.

    Time will tell. Trying to be positive.