What if…The Flames had tried to “stay competitive” this summer?



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
  • Jackman/Horak/Bouma
  • Brodie – Wideman
  • Giordano – Gilbert
  • Russell – O’Brien
  • Smith/Cundari
  • Ramo
  • Bryzgalov

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.

Around the Nation


  • Parallex


    Is this really what you would do? I mean if Edwards & King strolled down from their offices and said “Playoffs this year or you’re fired and then we blackball you from the industry”… cause it kind of seems like you’re more half-heartedly tinkering then making an actual attempt. I mean if my guesstimation is correct you’ve probably got something in the neighberhood of 6-7M in cap space being left fallow… IMO teams trying to be competative (absent internal budgetary issues) wouldn’t leave that cap space free.

    • What else would you suggest? There are only limited major free agents available this summer, none of whom are worth the dollars or would sign in Calgary. I can’t imagine any trades being available – the one the Flames were in on was supposedly Seguin and Calgary didn’t have a Loui Eriksson to sweeten the pot.

      In addition, the cap room is more theoretical than actual until Kipper officially retires.

      • Parallex

        For the purposes of fantasy “what if” GM’ing I wouldn’t burdan myself with concepts like “worth the dollars” nor “would come to Calgary” (which isn’t really a known thing anyways) if my principle parameter was “try to stay competative”. There is a lot you could do if you freed yourself of contructs like “longterm implications” and “financial restraint” (beyond the Cap). Ultimately, to me, this doesn’t sound like a Murray Edwards breathing down my neck” response.

        I notice that you didn’t use any compliance buyouts… I have difficulty believing that with the amount of money jettisoned + Kipper retiring + compliance buyouts this is the most competative team you could constuct if the marching orders excluded a rebuild. It’s probably the “best value for dollars, short term contracts” team you could contruct but that’s not the same as most competative.

          • Parallex

            No, I’d give Kent credit to do something smarter then what Mr. Milksy would devise… which I would assume would involve a bunch of overpaid guys filled with #gritchartitude and “leadership” where skill and talent are mostly incidential.

            If Kent were to overpay for guys I’d more likely assume that he acquired actual talent.

        • I think you’re getting a little too hung up on the hypothetical frame I used to present the article, which was really just an excuse to say “here’s what could have happened”. If you want to posit an alternative reality where the Flames bought out Hudler and Wideman and then went out and landed the top 5 free agents, feel free.

  • That team would be run out of too many rinks to contend for anything. Getting rid of all physical/energy players to put more skilled players leaves that lineup with little balance. In a no hit league the theory of interchangeable lines could work but as witnessed in the playoffs, hockey still involves physicality and intimidation

        • flamesburn89

          Jamal Mayers played a whopping grand total of 0 minutes in the Hawks run to the Cup. Employing him wasn’t about employing a “gritty intimidating physical player”, since he didn’t play at all. The only reason he was on the roster was for his leadership, which I can’t personally gauge since I’m not on the team, so I won’t comment on it.

          Carcillo played 4 games in the pre-season. And he’s not an intimidator anyway, he’s a pest. I think that is a fairly sizeable difference.

          Brookbank played 1 playoff for CHI.

          Bollig played 5.

          Shaw is listed at 5’10, 180 lbs on the Hawks website. I agree he adds some physical play, but I don’t think it would be a game-changer. Still, good point by you.

          However, I don’t think Chicago was so successful because they were icing some of those intimidators, because fact is, they weren’t really. Most of those guys were up in the pressbox, or perhaps in the warmup. Can’t do a whole lot of intimidating if you’re not playing.

          • piscera.infada

            I agree with you on the intimidation thing. This has been talked to death on this site for awhile, but I’ve been thinking about for quite some time.

            To put some context into what I’m about to say; I’m a huge NFL fan – a Philadelphia Eagles fan, to be exact (no real reason, just have been since I was young – yes, I expect many down votes for that). One of the biggest things that has been brought to light about them of late, is that they have a notoriously soft defence. I’ve known this for quite some time (since Brian Dawkins was traded, basically). No one tackles, and it’s embarrassing to watch.

            Now, I understand the two sports are hardly comparable, but I’ve been thinking lately about what exactly makes a team “soft”. When I look at the Flames the last few years, I see a bit of a parallel – we have “hard to play against guys” (McGratten, et al. GRITCHART), but we don’t have enough other guys that want to play with team toughness. What do I mean by team toughness? I really don’t know, but it’s somewhere in that yawning chasm between face-punchers and Alex Tanguay.

            That said, I agree with you that it isn’t about “intimidation” per se. But there is a certain mental and physical toughness that I think this Flames lineup is missing (and has been for awhile), much in the same way that my beloved football team has guys that can put opponents on their ass, but for whatever reason don’t play that way. Maybe it’s complacency? Maybe it’s just the way certain guys play? Maybe it’s leadership? I’m not too sure. But I don’t think you have to be 6’4″, 240 to be that guy.

            So basically, I wonder – is there a “soft culture” akin to the (oft dreaded) “losing culture”? Is it something you scout for (like the Flames tried to do with Kanzig)? Is it a stylistic thing (coaching, systems, and all that)? Or is it some crazy combination of things in a perfect-storm type scenario?

            I think for me it’s pride, and nothing instills that in a team like success.

            Those are just my scattered thoughts. Sorry if it was a little too “out there” with no real point.

          • flamesburn89

            To me, what you’re describing sounds kind of like a lack of ‘hating to lose’ kind of mentality among the players, which I totally agree with. Too many guys on the team previously seemed like they were only concerned about putting up some points, having fun, and picking up their paycheck. As much as I love Iggy, he seemed like that kind of player. GlenX, on the other hand, seems to me to be the exact opposite. He took a hometown discount to stay here, and he hates to lose. Even if the guy picks up a pair of points and the team loses, he is pissed. A balls to the wall type of player, something I would love to see more of the players on this team show this upcoming season.

          • piscera.infada

            I get it. I just think there has to be a little more to it. It seems to me that successful players often have a bit of an edge to their game (think of vintage Iggy). But I mean, playing with an edge is a bit of a fine line.

            I think Glencross is a good example, although I don’t think he brings it every night – it’s the (very) small gripe I have with his game. Remember when Backlund got into a bit of a tilly towards the end of last season after (I believe it was) Glencross took that knee? We all lauded him for his efforts, even though he was a horrible fighter (obviously not Semin – but that’s saying very little). I can only hope the young guys coming up play with that kind of edge.

            I’m just interested if that’s some sort of innate characteristic some players have, or if it’s more of a team mentality. Don’t get me wrong, I see where you’re coming from on the ‘hating to lose’ thing, but I can’t see a bunch of professional athletes (in any sport) being even the least bit willing to lose. Perhaps I’m just naive.

          • The problem with Iggies legacy is the “Shift” we all want to remember it and pretend that is how he played all the time; unfortunately that was not the case. Imagine if they all played like that every shift; then they would earn their blotted salaries. As far a Glen+ bringing it every shift it is just not possible for players to do so; however in saying that he is one of the few who brings his best most games and most shifts (that is how he has progressed) if he can help the young kids learn this then he will be even a greater asset. Same with Gio. Some of the others not so much. Hopefully Hartley will be able to use all the tools available to him to help players reach their potential and play hard everynight (especially those who have been blessed with great talent)

          • piscera.infada

            Oh, please don’t get me wrong. I love the way Glencross plays most nights. I just don’t see it every night – there are definitely nights where he decides he doesn’t want to back-check, he doesn’t want to play physical, or he wants to take bad penalties at important times. He’s still one of the core vets I want the Flames to keep around. Like I said, I like his game, but if I had a to nit-pick his game, that’s what I’d point out.

            I agree with you on Gio and I also think Wideman brings that to the team with the same (or even more) regularity – I remember a string of games last year where he was so vocal on the bench that the Sportsnet, CBC, and TSN broadcasts brought it up in subsequent nights. My opinion of his contract changed at that time, especially coupled with the impact he seemed to have on Brodie at the beginning of the season when they were playing together regularly.

            That said, I wonder if this team decides to go with 3 assistant captains, and just leave the actual ‘c’ vacant until someone decides to rise up and take it head-on? I know teams have done this in the past – there really isn’t anyone on the Flames that I feel is surefire captain material.

          • piscera.infada

            “That said, I wonder if this team decides to go with 3 assistant captains, and just leave the actual ‘c’ vacant until someone decides to rise up and take it head-on? I know teams have done this in the past – there really isn’t anyone on the Flames that I feel is surefire captain material.”

            That’s my (current) opinion on the matter. I don’t think it really makes sense to name a Captain at this point, with the team in disarray, and anyone deserving of a C (Glencross or Giordano) might not be around much longer.

            It isn’t that I’ll be disappointed if they do name a Captain, just that I don’t really think it’s the right time.

  • Thankfully that was not feaster’s marching orders. The team above may have been more skilled and experienced than the one we are going to ice but I’m not sure it would have faired significantly better than the kids. The kids will be more coachable and will play harder than the injury prone or malcontents listed above. After two years of the rebuild it might be time to think of adding the missing pieces for this team; better to extend the leaders we currently have(if they want to part of the journey)than some malcontents.

  • ScottN

    In that scenario I would bump Horak up to the 4th line and Knight down to Abby where he can build his game in the pros against other pros. (I would probably do that anyhow.) I would also ignore Gilbert and see if any of the incumbents or Wotherspoon can up their game (Ex Oiler D Men remind me of Staios…) Overall though I would prefer that re-tool roster to what we have fishing for a top 3 pick…

  • McRib

    I’m glad the Flames avoided signing the Grabovski, Brunner, Boyes of the world at the start of free agency. But one thing that remains uncertain is the longer UFAs/RFAs statuses loom for these players with teams handcuffed by a lack of cap space it makes me think that maybe the Flames are waiting for a player or team to become desperate before lowballing an offer or trade?!?!

    Kadri, Franson, Nyquist, Brunner, Stepan, etc. Are all still waiting for offers from respective teams. The longer the off-season goes the more I want the Flames to stick with the current roster, but as these UFA/RFA situations drag on the cheaper these guys become. i.e. Feaster & Co. might jump on something cheap. If that’s the case can we please get one of Franson, Nyquist or Stepan.

  • RKD

    If they tried to remain competitive and signed the above players they would not be a playoff team, I could pretty much guarantee that given the list above.

    You would get the exact same results, overpaid underachieving veterans which means the Flames would probably finish between 9th to 12th place. They would be reaching and grasping to score goals on the road, probably give up an early goal as usual and be behind the eight spot early in the season only to play catch up.

    The only way it could work would be if the Flames were to bring in a Tyler Seguin or a Nathan Horton. This team is very poor at special teams, didn’t they this whole past season without a single short handed goal?

    Though he might be an above average goalie, Bryz to me is on the downside and the last thing we would need is a goalie allowing soft goals during the stretch of an 82 goal season.
    This team doesn’t know how to turn it around a season or two later like an Ottawa or a Montreal.

  • seve927

    I think you’re right Kent, that this would have been about the best we could have done. So there wouldn’t have been much point. I’d like to see Cammalleri and Stajan moved this year because we need to make room for LW and centers (Monahan, Knight, Arnold, Gaudreau, Agostino). I’d like to see Stempniak re-signed, and no one else traded (obviously unless it’s a clear win). Assuming a top 5 pick and some extras added in trade, I’d call the restocking complete, and start filling holes with NHL players next summer that could be around for a few years.

    I’m not saying the rebuild is complete next year, but there is no longer a severe lack of prospects and there’s no point in getting rid of good NHLers.

    I think it’s quite possible that Florida and Tampa could be looking to buy this year, and have a real glut of prospects they could afford to let go (Alex Petrovic, Richard Panik), and I’d really like to get Santini from NJ – they’ve got a glut of D prospects. Get some right handed shots into the system. We’ve actually got enough prospects now that we can deal from a position of strength at C/LW.

  • Greg

    I’m glad they didn’t go that route. I wouldn’t mind seeing another vet signed to help shelter a kid or 2 for development sake, but I’d far rather write this year off then hope for another playoff birth and just miss out on another top 5 pick.

    @Kent how about a “what if” article on “what if the flames had started the rebuild 2 years ago?” That’s actually what I first thought when I saw this. Lol. Say we wind the clock back, take the rumoured Schenn and Hickey for Iginla package and postulate how things would have unfolded from there? I’m guessing “terrible” still, but I wonder how much further along we’d be.

  • beloch

    The biggest reason why trying to be competitive this year would have been disastrous is that it would have forced Feaster to keep the 30+ crowd nailed down for another couple of seasons during which their trade value will sharply decline. That would have removed value from the team’s roster without providing much of a shot at the cup.

    All it would have really accomplished is to set the team up in, optimistically, similar circumstances to what the Oilers are now in. Namely, good rookies backed by an AHL squad and no tradeable assets to bail themselves out with! If the Flames focus on trading their older veterans before their value declines they can hopefully provide their up and coming rookies with a quality supporting cast.

  • Christian Roatis

    I feel your pain Kent, I forgot about Kris Russell once.

    I feel like this roster would just lead to a 12th overall pick and more fan distaste over having Grabo at 5M for a number of years.

  • The Last Big Bear

    My (slightly more aggressive) version:

    Step 1: Claim Grabovski off waivers. Heck yeah!!

    Step 2: Vinnie Lecavalier at $5.25m-ish. Use that cap space baby!!

    Step 3: TOTALLY re-sign McGrattan!!

    Step 4: Offer sheets, offer sheets, and more offer sheets! First stop – Karl Alzner.

    Step 5: Take a bathroom break. Wipe up with an Oilers jersey.

    Step 6: Picks, prospects, and futures for an established big-minute defencemen on a team with cap problems. I’m thinking someone like Colburn from Philly, or one of the good Rangers defenders. Probably means moving Baertschi.

    Step 7: Is only game, why you haff to be mad?

    Step 8: Free to a good home – one Matt Stajan

    The line-up:

    Glencross – Grabovski – Stempniak Hard-minute power vs power line Cammalleri – Lecavalier – Hudler Victimize-some-depth-lines line Galiardi – Backlund – D Jones Some size and some scoring on the 3rd
    McGrattan – Bouma – Who Cares “Are you looking at me funny?”

    Giordano – Colburn AWESOME!!

    Alzner – Wideman. AWESOME!!

    Brodie – Butler. HALF-AWESOME!!

    Bryzgalov – Universe is sooo humongous big!!

    Ramo – Second time’s the charm

    That actually looks like a pretty solid team to me. I would lay money on that team making the playoffs.