Sure, the Flames might be in a rebuild – but that doesn’t mean they should suck intentionally. The UFA market looks thin, but for the Flames, there’s quite a bit of meat on the bone. With prospects such as Sven Baertschi, John Gaudreau, Bill Arnold, Max Reinhart and Mark Jankowski developing in their various leagues, there’s some roster room for the Flames over the next couple of years.
I wanted players who could actually play the game, so I went looking for every UFA that makes sense for the Flames to consider this off season. Considering the below search parameters, I came up with 17 possibilities – five have already signed, but there’s still 2 centres, 2 left wingers, 2 right wingers, 2 defensemen and 2 goalies as well as 2 wild-cards to look at. Today, we’ll start with the centres.
- Under the age of 32 on October 5th, 2013 – a player still in their “prime”.
- Not prohibitively expensive nor requiring an overpay – realistically, anything more than 4 million.
- Not a possession sinkhole – generally a good job of outshooting or tough-minutes ability.
- Fills a need – why waste contracts?
There’s 4 ways to maximize value with a contract: seek players who might over perform their cap hit, give an appropriate term to a player ideally ending in their prime years, sign a player with a specific role in mind and lastly do not burden oneself with clauses restricting player movement.
The Moneypuck method really only applies to a certain point on an NHL roster – whereas Moneyball was more about producing runs by getting people on base, Moneyball allows for more basic players than an NHL system would. For a team to be successful in the NHL, there needs to be a higher proportion of elite talent to replacement players than in the MLB. Moneypuck, in my eyes, is made up of four attributes:
- That a team that generates more shots than their opponent will win more often than not;
- That certain players have certain attributes that allow for them to be better at creating shots, whether directly or indirectly;
- That certain players have certain attributes that allow for them to be better at suppressing shots, whether directly or indirectly;
- That a team in the NHL cannot rely solely on the free agent market to be a winner, cannot rely solely on the draft to pick NHL players in every round and is unlikely to leverage positive returns on trades indefinitely.
I don’t think I’m saying anything groundbreaking there, and those aren’t the be-alls, end-alls of building a team. Maybe the manifestations of those four points seem complicated to some, but it’s important to remember that (in my opinion), pretty much every way we can statistically evaluate a player has some roots in those four points. Nowadays, it’s unlikely you’ll find elite talent that won’t cost you a fortune outside of the draft, so the focus of free agency should not be to find a first line forward or a top-pairing defenseman (unless those players are for some reason readily available in a non-inflated market), but rather to find 2nd and 3rd line forwards and bottom 4 defensemen. Ideally, this will leave you with an appropriate salary structure that can allow for a big-bucks UFA.
Yes, the jokes about him being “well-fed” are still overused by anyone with a Dad-type humour complex. The fact is, however, that Wellwood has been a pretty good centreman for a while now. He’s not a true tough-minutes guy, but his page on Behind the Net shows a player that can either outshoot 3rd and 4th liners by a huge margin or play 2nd liners to a draw with a negative zone start ratio. The Flames have one other centreman who fits that bill (Backlund), and good NHL teams need at least three centers of that calibre to compete. He’s also good at faceoffs, if you’re into that sort of thing – he’s at about 53% over his career.
However, he’s always had conditioning issues to some degree and isn’t exactly a threat to score points any more. He can start the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone and still move the puck forward, though, as evidenced by only one season where he did not have a positive Corsi On (08-09, with Vancouver). I’d see him as the 3rd liner who gets buried to create offensive zone starts for the top two lines.
Age: 30 (on 05/10/13)
Assumed Cost: Likely a one or two year deal, at $1.5 million AAV or less.
Most people around here probably don’t know this guy’s name because:
a. he isn’t a flashy player and,
b. he plays in Phoenix.
The fact is though that Boyd Gordon may have been the single best tough-minutes centre in the league this past year. He’s faced first line competition while starting in the defensive zone more than 68% of the time… and somehow his Corsi On and Relative Corsi are both positive. He and David Moss (and their rotating linemates – Rob Klinkhammer, Paul Bissonette and Lauri Korpikoski) have been pushing the play a huge amount this season. He’s also won 59% of the draws he’s taken this season to go along with his career number of 54%.
Gordon’s also chipped in with 4 goals and 9 assists this year, too. This isn’t just a one-off season, either: Gordon has demonstrated an ability to move the puck and play forward over his time in Washington and Phoenix. He doesn’t produce many points, but that’s not his role so it’s hard to dock him because of that. I doubt he actually makes it to free agency, but if he does – this is the guy Feaster has to sign. He’s the perfect fit for a 3rd line that gets buried.
Age: 29 (on 05/10/13)
Assumed Cost: Likely a three year deal with an AAV of $2 million.
Either of these guys would be a positive step towards building a legitimate playoff contender quickly. I prefer Gordon for many reasons, but Wellwood would be a nice get as well.
Talk about these two selections or other centremen you’d like the Flames to target in the comments.