When Jay Feaster said his marching orders were "to make the playoffs next year" in a season ending press conference, there were fears the club would go out and splash the cash in an ill-fated attempt to climb back up the Western Conference ladder. Of course, for all we know they tried that are we rebuked by everyone they talked to.
Still, it’s worth wondering what a different, "competitive" Flames roster would look like in an alternate universe. Here’s what I would have done in Feaster’s shoes and Murray Edwards breathing down my neck.
What if? Flames offseason of 2013-14
For the purposes of this discussion, assume the moves feaster did make this summer remain if they aren’t mentioned and that Miikka Kiprusoff is going to retire, which eliminates his $5.83M cap hit for the upcoming season.
1.) Pluck Mikhail Grabovski off of waivers
We’ve discussed why this would be worthwhile previously. Short version: Grabovski is a legitmate top-six forward in terms of offense (when he isn’t being buried like Manny Malhotra), and one of the better possession pivots in the league. His deal wasn’t cheap, but the Flames have cap room to spare and he is a good bet to rebound and provide value even at a pricetag of $5.5M.
There was the option of waiting for the buy-out and then courting the player, but that means trying to convince him to jump aboard a cap-sized ship.
2.) Sign Ilya Bryzgalov
Yeah he’s crazy and yeah his time in Philly was underwhelming, but Bryzgalov has a longer history of being an above average goaltender in the NHL. With interest in him at an all time low and in the wake of his extremely expensive buy-out, the former Coyote should be dirt cheap to sign and would represent a better fall-back position than MacDonald if Karri Ramo proves to be inadequate.
1 year, $1.5M for Bryzgalov.
3.) Don’t sign Brian McGrattan
A needless waste of a roster spot.
4.) Sign Tom Gilbert
The former Oiler’s stock was sunk in Minnesota by an on-ice SV% of 87.7% this past season, which is worse than some goalie’s short-handed save rates. No way that repeats.
His underlying numbers have been decent historically and he would add quality depth to the bottom of the rotation on the back-end.
2 years, $4M for Gilbert.
5.) Sign one of Damien Brunner, Peter Mueller, Brad Boyes or Chad Larose
Three different middle tier wingers with slightly different skill sets and gambles associated with them. Brunner played relatively well in Detroit last year and is smallish with a high skill level. Of course, he only has half a season at the NHL level under his belt and played a ton with Henrik Zetterberg, so his true talent level is uncertain.
Mueller was once a very promising prospect of the Phoenix Coyotes before a string of concussions sidetracked his career. Now 25, last year was the first time he played in 40+ games since 2009-10. He hasn’t scored more than 20 goals since 2007-08.
That said, Mueller’s big at 6’2" and 204 pounds and his underlying numbers in Florida were decent, albeit in rather soft circumstances (lesser competition, lots of o-zone starts). If he can get ever get past his concussion problems, Mueller could become the big, scoring winger he was projected to be when he scored 54 points as a rookie.
Brad Boyes had a decent year skating with Johnn Tavares (10 goals, 35 points), but then most people would. Whatever magic helped him score 43 and 33 goals for the Blues back in 2007-2009 is gone, but he’s a decent top-six fill-in on the right side.
Finally, Chad Larose is one of those under the radar utility wingers who puts up good possession rates year and year after and no one really seems to notice. Larose was the Hurricanes "plug and play" forward for awhile, filling in on the bottom or top six rotation depending on need. Kinda like their version of David Moss.
He’ll probably never put up a lot of points, although he has scored 10+ goals in each of the last five seasons before last year and managed 19 in 2011-12 in just 67 games. Like Gilbert, Larose had terrible luck last year with a 94.7 PDO, so is a good candidate to rebound.
I’d pursue each of these players concurrently and then settle on the guy who agreed to the most attractive contract. We’ll assume Mueller for this discussion, because I’d imagine his injury history and meh counting numbers in Florida means he’ll be most amenable to a "prove it" type of contract from Calgary.
2 years, $3.0M for Peter Mueller.
What if? Flames roster of 2013-14
That leaves us with this hypothetical roster heading into the new season:
- Glencross – Grabovski – Cammalleri
- Baertschi – Backlund – Stempniak
- Hudler – Stajan – Mueller
- Galiardi – Knight – Jones
- Brodie – Wideman
- Giordano – Gilbert
- Russell – O’Brien
It’s not a terrible group. You have three centers who should be able to reliably push the play north, three decent scoring lines and redundancy on the wings should someone underperform or get injured. You have a 4th line that could play 10 mins a night and crush other 4th lines with the added benefit of giving Knight reps with legitimate NHLers without throwing him into the deep end of the pool. The blueline also has more depth is and is stronger at the top of the rotation.
In net, you have two potential starters rather than one, with the option to platoon 1A and 1B if nether guy outperforms the other.
Of course, the above roster probaby pushes the Flames back into 7-10 in the West territory, absent some unforseen miracle (Baertschi suddenly elite, Ramo amazing, etc), which is antithetical to the rebuild in some ways. I’m also assuming guys like Gilbert, Bryzgalov and Mueller would sign in Calgary for this exercise, which might be a stretch even given their low job prospects currently.
Still, it seems at leasts possible to build a not terrible club without chasing whales or trading the farm.
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