FN Weekend Open Thread – Grade the Flames Offseason

 

I’m finally back from my Eastern sojourn and with me returns the FN Weekend open thread.

With Leland Irving finally back in the fold, it looks like the Flames are done for the summer of 2012. They may yet try to trade a Babchuk or Stajan contract (good luck with that), but otherwise the training camp rosters are in place.

Feaster was fairly busy this offseason, although probably not enough for some. The aging and expensive guys remain – Iginla, Kiprusoff and Bouwmeester – so the overall character of the team is more or less intact. The club lost a few support players, albeit relatively important ones (Moss, Jokinen), signed some guys to replace them (Hudler and Cervenka) and paid a pretty penny to add some offense to the blueline. 

At the draft, Calgary added a second rounder and reached for Mark Jankowski, a move that will either be considered a coup or a flop down the road. The club mostly focused on defenders with their other picks, so Jankowski is Calgary’s only shot in 2012 to add high end offense to the cupboard.

KW’s Summer Report Card
 

Here’s how I would grade the Flames efforts this summer:

– Dennis Wideman deal: C –

Giving term, dollars and a full NMC clause to a moderately capable top-4 defender, with a bulk of the money coming in his 30+ years, strikes me as an overly risky move. Wideman has certainly put up some points with good teams in the Eastern Conference over the last few years, but has consistently been mediocre at the other end of the ice. He’s an upgrade over Hannan, no doubt, but with five years and more than $5M per year as the bet on the table, there’s a lot more ways the Flames can lose this one rather than win.

– Jiri Hudler deal: C

The erstwhile Red Wing adds some much needed depth on the right side and he put up decent numbers in Detroit last year. At $4M/year for four years he’s also only a moderate risk relative to, say, Wideman. On the bad side of things, Hudler has been one of the most sheltered guys on Detroit over the last few years and even in those circumstances he’s never cracked 60-points in the NHL.

The Flames are a sizeable step down from Detroit at this point, so even if he sees more ice time as a Flame, there’s a chance his output will dip owing to the fresh difficulty of those minutes (not to mention the lack of Datsyuk or Zetterberg). Hudler hasn’t been able to drive possession at any point in his NHL career either, which has become the Flames biggest weakness at even strength.

– Blake Comeau deal: A

Nothing not to like about how Calgary handled Blake Comeau – by eschewing his qualifying offer and then re-upping for pennies on the dollar, Calgary gets a capable support winger who should be in line for a bounce back season.

– Mikael Backlund deal: A

There were rumors the Flames were shopping Backlund heading into the draft, but luckily the club instead chose to re-sign him to a $725k contract for one year. It’s contract the Flames can’t lose on: even if Mikael never develops the sort of offense expected of him, his contributions as a guy who can play anyone and move the puck forward should pay for his sub-$1M deal. On the other hand, if the pucks start going in for him at even a middling rate, Calgary has a steal on their hands.

– Roman Cervenka deal: B

Snagging the high scoring KHL center/winger added some more skill to a generally uncreative line-up and another body in the peak 23-27 year old range. Of course, as of now it’s totally unknown whether Cervenka will be able to translate his game on North American ice so there’s a certain amount of risk and opportunity cost associated with grabbing Roman and penciling him in to the team’s top-6. Adding him still strikes me as a worthwhile gamble, however.

– Draft: NA

It’s a fools errand to grade this portion of the summer at this point. The Big Jankowski can really go either way while the rest of the draft contained a few moderately good gambles (Seiloff, Kulak, Gordon) who may or may not turn out to be worthwhile depth guys in 4 or 5 years. My initial take still stands – that Jankowski was a long reach in the first round when some other names were still on the board – but I’m more than willing to give this one the ol’ wait and see.

Overall Grade: C+

Calgary got some nice deals on their pending RFA’s and the Cervenka contract shows they are looking a little beyond the well worn paths for new talent. Their draft maneuvers were ballsy, but the "big additions" to the parent roster indicate the club is still committed to furiously spinning its wheels amongst the West’s middle class for at least another season. 

Calgary enters next year with more offensive firepower than last year, but they also face seem to be banking on a lot of question marks: post-35 Iginla and Kipper, an untested Roman Cervenka, Jiri Hudler matching his Detroit output, etc. They also didn’t address the team’s lackluster puck possession abilities – in fact, the Flames lost one of their top players by this metric in David Moss.

As such, in my estimation the Flames didn’t have a bad summer, but Feaster et al didn’t meaningfully take a step forward either. As things stand, Calgary will once again be battling for a playoff spot next season (whenever that may be) and will need a number of things to fall in their favor in order to make it to the dance.

That’s how I see things currently. Please add your own report cards in the comments. Feel free to comment on other aspects of the off-season I may have neglected here as well.

  • Way to stay positive everyone. Reading posts here would have me believe the ’12-’13 season,(if there is a season at all), is a write-off. Let’s wait and see before passing judgement. Legendary and hall of fame broadcaster, Peter Maher, suggests gauging a team on how they perform between games 20 through 40. I’ll go with the pro whom has forgotten more about the game and business of hockey than any of us will ever know. P.S. If you’re not in, you’re in the way, Kent.

  • RexLibris

    I’d go as high as a B. Mostly because I can’t give poor grades on things I know little about. From the limited viewings I’ve had of Wideman, back when he was with Boston, I always liked him. Obviously there must be some reason his deal is so unpopular, but I can’t say it’s a bad deal. He seems to fill a need on this team, so I’m giving it a B. Cervenka – who knows? I think it’s a good signing regardless of whether it works or not, so with no risk, no reason not to give it an A. Sarich. Everybody in the hockey world is scratching his/her head on this one. Maybe Feaster had a deal set up last year which required Sarich/Stajan/Irving for say, Kris Letang. Good deal. I’ll give that one an A (attempt at humour). Can’t really give anything but an F.

    All the other free agent signings, honestly, A, but limited impact. I think the drafting, the hope that a new coaching staff can somehow light a fire under Jarome’s butt, and the tweaking of the roster could have improved results. However, they may be playing in the toughest division next year as opposed to the weakest. That 15-6-3 record against the NW will not happen again.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    C+ Sounds about right.They payed dearly for acquisitions,but shown that they are willing to take gambles in order to improve.Your statement about the team furiously spinning it,s wheels to stay in the middle class for another year is dead on ,accept for the term of one year.Imo this management team has a plan of three years of dropping old contract,s while adding youth.I think it,s more of a business plan than a Team plan.Keeping the value of the franchise high while trying to build a new arena.

    Looking forward to Baertchi gettinga chance to play,and hope Reinhart will see some action before the end of season

  • The odd thing about the Clay Wilson move is how there’s been very little specifics released. Did he sign first and then the Flames termed his contract, or did the Flames cut him? (Wouldn’t they have to go through $152 waivers first?)

    Additionally, with Wilson likely going back to the AHL, it’s likely that his status as an AHL veteran (with over 320 games played) may’ve factored into his decision to leave. The Heat can only dress 5 veteran skaters per game, and they seemingly already have them.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Wiseman: C- (too much money, too long and NTC for a shaky defender)
    Sarrich: F (stupid deal for a bonified 7th defender)
    Hudler: C (I have hope he can be effective on the right side)
    Cervenka: A- (what’s not to like, low risk and potentially high reward)
    Comeau: B+ (good value)
    Backlund: B+ (just grateful he is still in the fold, despite the teams view)

  • NHL93

    I’ll give Feaster and the gang a C+. Hated the Wideman and Sarich deals, loved the draft (but we can’t really grade that yet) and am somewhat ambivalent with the Cervenka/Hudler signings. I am happy to see that we’ve got Comeau and Jones all year this time.

    I have one question that hasn’t really been addressed: Is Sven assured a spot on this team? Is that wise? He looked unreal in his 3 games w/ the Flames and is obviously too good to stay in the WHL. Is it unreasonable that I’m thinking he should play some pro-hockey in the minors first? Perhaps giving Alieu or Bouma an early season stint in the ‘show’ first? If Sven can’t crack the top six, does he make sense as a 4th line energy guy? I’m just having memories of Dawes who really should’ve played a more top-six role than what he was given (though Dawes and Sven are two totally different instances)

    Great read as usual! Thanks!

  • ChinookArchYYC

    The moves made this year by the Flames resemble quite closely moves made by the Oilers in a couple different eras.

    Cervenka – in the lowest depths of the Oiler franchise (early 90’s) they dug hard in obscure places in Russia to find “NHL talent”. It did not work out well.

    Hudler – in the early 2000’s, Kevin Lowe looked at Detroit and decided the Oilers needed more “skill” to win. They started jettisoning players like Mike Grier and bringing in guys like Cogliano and Robert Nilsson. The problem was, the Robert Nilsson’s of the world are skilled players, but not “high end” skill, ala Martin St.Louis, Zetterberg, Briere etc.

    These “skill” players aren’t skilled enough to drive the play forward and they end up giving up more than they create, whereas a Mike Grier, or a David Moss are hard to play against.

    Our hallmark has been a tough, gritty team that is hard to play against. This year with guys like Wideman, Hudler, Cervenka, Backlund, and Stajan I fear we will be quite EASY to play against.

  • Franko J

    So true Kent. It is hard to speculate given the consequences. Funny how the Flames made the gutty pick in the draft, but when it came to Feaster hiring a coach he hired someone who he thinks will keep his job, rather than hiring a coach who maybe outside of the “old boys club”.

    I’m just wondering how Hartley is going to motivate the captain of this team? After all he is the proverbial straw that stirs the drink for this team. And after last season, we have seen how that went.

    I remember the day Calgary hired Bob Johnson and many fans at that time said—Bob who?

  • Colin.S

    I give em a B-, with the big knock being the Wideman deal of course, I like the Huddler deal, maybe a bit to much dollars, but he’s a good player with a respectable possession rate. The Wideman deal took it from an A to a B, however the Sarich deal knocks it almost to a C, he’s older and more injured and we just didn’t need him.

    Other than that I don’t really have a problem with what else happened this off season. I didn’t mind the hires for coaching, I thought better could have been had, but Hartley is a fine coach as well. The draft was really good for us, a very big boom or bust draft, but at least we are trying to get skilled players unlike a D. Sutter draft.

    No FN post about the Clay Wilson leaving the Flames? Apparently because he signed his Contract in Europe the Flames were able to just outright Terminate his contract, lowering out 50 contract number.

  • Franko J

    Kent you forgot to grade the new coaching staff. I think like the draft, signing RFA’s and UFA’s hiring a new coaching staff was a pivotal move by Feaster as well. I am just wondering what is your initial grade?

    When the season does start I am more intrigued to see how the compact and tight schedule will have an effect on this team. In my opinion this is another factor that will determine where the Flames will place in the Western Conference.

    • I can’t really speak to the new coaching staff. Hartley hasn’t been in the league for years and Gelinas has never coached.

      I was unimpressed by Sutter by the end of his tenure here, but I wouldn’t mark him as solely responsible for the team’s lack of success either. He was a perfectly middling NHL coach.

      Hartley has been out of the limelight for so long, I can’t really guess what effect he’s going to have. My assumption, based on straight probability, is “not much” given the roster and how rarely coaches make a truly big difference to a club’s outcomes. There are exceptions at both extremes, and maybe Hartley turns out to be Bylsma type hire, but there’s no way to really gauge it at this point.

      On another note, it was somewhat disappointing to me to see the team go the “good buddy, boys on the bus” route when it came to these decisions, but the league is one big ol’ boys club anyways, so it’s a minor quibble.