Another Flames Option: Flip This Player

Yesterday I jokingly built an all UFA roster as a way to show the sheer amount of decent NHLers who are still looking for work in the late stages of the off-season.The above twitter comment by Oilers fan Speeds made me realize, however, that the guys in question may now be desperate enough to sign a short term "rehab" Calgary given how limited their options are.

This could benefit the team in a couple of ways: more tradable assets or an accelerated improvement curve.

Buy Low, Sell High

The first is the most obvious: by buying low on quality NHLers and signing them to a cheap contract, the team could have more for "sale signs" up when the trade deadline rolls around. Right now we can assume Mike Cammalleri will be auctioned off to the highest bidder come the end of February, with maybe Matt Stajan and Lee Stempniak joining him. Probably only one of those players is getting you a top-30 pick in return, at best.

Now if Calgary were to grab another top-6 forward and top-4 defender from the UFA scratch and dent bin and both have at least a moderate bounce back season then the club has nearly doubled its deadline assets. More significantly, if one or both new (temporary) Flames blows the doors down then Feaster has doubled or tripled his chances of adding more first round picks once he starts liquidating things.Had

This seems unrealistic, but last year Alexander Semin had to wait around for most of the summer until the Hurricanes offered him a one-year "prove it" deal. The ex-Capital was coming off his worst goal total since he arrived in the NHL and was dogged by "character" concerns. He landed in Carolina, placed second on the team in scoring Ha and the club extended him for $35M over five years.Had they instead decided to flip Semin, there’s no question he would have been one of the most sought after deadline rentals on the markets.

Accelerate the Rebuild

The ‘Canes decision to keep Semin rather than flip him demonstrates the other potential benefit for the Flames. If the club signs a guy who meainingfully improves the team, Feaster has the option to keep him and potentially put some rockets on the rebuild.

As I’ve noted in the past, the true challenge when rebuilding isn’t bottoming out – it’s climbing back up the ladder once you’ve collected all those high draft picks. Although Calgary’s implicit goal right now is "be bad, draft high", it’s never a bad idea to collect and retain cheap, established talent. Having quality players in place when guys like Baertschi, Monahan, Brodie, Gaudreau and whoever else mature may shorten the length of painful suckage here in town.



There isn’t a player with Semin’s offensive ceiling still stewing on the market, but Mikhail Grabovski is close. Despite being absolutely buried by Randy Carlyle last year he nevertheless boasts some of the best even strength results over the last three seasons or so. Grabovski is fast, creative, consistently moves the puck in the right direction and scores a top-6 rate at 5on5. He was an intriguing but risky gamble when he was available on waivers at $5.5M year, but now that he could probably be had on a cheap, short-term contract, Grabo is the best buy low, selll high candidate still available. Unless he gets injured or his next coach deploys him as a 4th line checker, Grabovski is a lock to rebound big.

The other player worth betting on from a Flames perspective is Tom Gilbert. The former Oiler fell out of favor in Minny last year after Jonas Brodin stepped into a top-2 role and because his on-ice SV% absolutely cratered (.877!!). Players don’t have much control over that statistic (it’s almost all luck and goaltending), so Gilbert’s results should improve as a matter of regression more than anything. He doesn’t have as a high a ceiling as Grabovski, but he’s been a competent top-4 defender for most of his career.Assuming he becomes that again, he either fleshes out the Flames somewhat think blueline or Calgary flips him at the deadline for a top-60 pick.

The resultant 2013-14 roster would look like this:

  • Glencross – Grabovski – Cammalleri
  • Baertschi – Backlund – Stempniak
  • Jones – Stajan – Hudler
  • Galiardi – Knight – Jackman/Bouma
  • Brodie – Wideman
  • Gilbert – Giordano
  • Russell – O’Brien

Other players of interest include: Damien Brunner, Peter Mueller, Chad Larose, Mason Raymond and Dan Cleary. I didn’t mention these players in depth because there either come with big question marks or have lesser ceilings, which throws off the risk/reward ratio somewhat.

Conclusion: Having options is Good

A rebuild is mostly a lousy time to be a player or a coach, but I think it would be one of the most interesting periods for a GM. It’s probably the only time when a manager can experiment without being concerned about the team’s record. Calgary has zero expectations for success next year and the roster has needs everywhere. The only way a short-term deal for guys like Grabovski and Gilbert could go "bad" is the rebound doesn’t happen and neither of them is worth a damn by the end of the season. Even then, the risk to the team is minimal, because even if they suck well…they’re supposed to suck anyways. The down side is extremely minimal.

The only other risk is adding enough talent to only marginally improve, meaning they finish both outside the playoff picture and outside of the top-10 in the draft. 

Dreaded purgatory.

Of course, one of the reasons the Flames consistently finished in the 9-11 range prior to last season was their unwillingness to sell aggressively at the trade deadline. So if the club is good/bad enough to be in 9th or 10th come February, Feaster has the optin to clear the decks, gather some picks and sink to the bottom of barrel over the last six weeks of the season.

The potential benefits as listed above an obvious: more assets that can either be sold off for a return or kept around to firm up the roster. When you have nowhere to go but up, "controversial" gambles with small risks but large attendant rewards are worthwhile endeavours.

If guys like Grabvoski and Gilbert are still around at the end of Auagust and amenable to relatively cheap, short-term contracts, the Flames should be calling their agents daily until they are signed. 

Around the Nation

  • jakeryley

    The part you’re overlooking though is the impact that adding Grabovski and Gilbert would have on the drafting position.

    If the end goal is to truly swing for a home run (Sam Reinhart, for example), then Grabovski’s addition would likely ruin that “plan”.

    • Discussed in the conclusion of the article: The only other risk is adding enough talent to only marginally improve, meaning they finish both outside the playoff picture and outside of the top-10 in the draft.

      Dreaded purgatory.

    • Parallex

      This is actually a very intelligent comment!

      Reminds me that if we would have used this tact properly in 2013 we would have drafted between 2-4th overall. Big impact given the quality of the draft! Let’s learn from our mistakes.

  • McRib

    If we can trade Matt Stajan for any value this season I can die a happy man!!! Mike Cammalleri should have solid value as people out east may have forgotten he is no longer very good.

    Personally I would like to thank Adidas for putting Cammalleri in all those awkward ads and building his brand, so he is worth more for us!!! He is as good as gone at the deadline in my books.

  • RexLibris

    I’d highly recommend signing more blueliners than forwards as free-agents if only because defensemen always seem to garner the widest range of interest around the league at deadline time.

    Adding a player like Tom Gilbert would allow the Flames to add defensive depth to the roster, keep someone back in the minors, and then move Gilbert at the deadline for a 2nd round pick.

    It may mean the difference between drafting 4th and 5th because of the improved defense over the course of 60-odd games, but the addition of a 2nd offsets this, in my opinion.

    The only caution is if the GM feels this team is a 30th place roster and the addition of UFAs would mean the difference between drafting 1st overall and 4th. That is a significant drop off and can have a massive impact on the course of a rebuild.

    • McRib

      …”the difference between drafting 1st overall and 4th. That is a significant drop off and can have a massive impact on the course of a rebuild.”

      I would agree if a Connor McDavid was eligible to be drafted this season, but this years Top. 10 is very well rounded.

      Sam Reinhart, William Nylander, Jake Virtanen, Leon Draisaitl, Roland McKeown, Aaron Ekblad, Nick Ritchie, Blake Clarke, Anton Karlsson, Haydn Fleury, Ryan MacInnis are all very close at this point. Outside of the first two there is a very mixed opinion of who’s next. Unless the Flames finish (Bottom 2) picking up another 3-5 is all realitve for me (a McKeown, Ekblad, Draisaitl would be fine).

      As long as we get a Top. 10 pick worst case, I have no problem picking up a Grabovski or Gilbert then moving them at the deadline for a few more assets (2nd rounders) thus proceeding to tank afterward.

  • Colin.S

    Not saying that the lineup you posted there is good, but if the Flames did sign Grabo and then also signed Raymond(putting him 3rd/4th line, sorry Bouma/Jackman), I think we could be competitive anyways.

    You have two monster possession centers as well as a few good possession wingers, and then the bottom 6 IMO could probably hang with most any bottom 6.

    The only problem is that if the Defence isn’t as good as last year that will be a big problem, but if the goaltending is better, hey competitive. Not saying that’s the direction the team needs to go either, but with our Cap Space and some half decent pieces we could be better than a lot of the crap in the Western Conference.

  • mk

    Adding Gilbert really would make the d-core look better, if only by virtue of having 4 players who’ve played in the top-4. Still aren’t going win much with that group (maybe enough to push out of the lottery range) but that’s mostly the point right now. :S

    Edit: Another thing to consider is the effect adding another centre would have on new Flame Monahan. If we were to have Grabovski-Backlund-Stajan-Knight-Horak down the middle, Monahan would really have to knock some socks off to get a spot here. IMO, from an asset management POV, it makes sense that he doesn’t play more than 9 games here even if he dominates.

  • Prospal might be another name to consider, although I’d prefer EDM sign him than CAL.

    If CAL were to sign Grabovski, Brunner, Prospal, and Gilbert to one year contracts (I’m guessing they could fit all 4 under the cap if Kiprusoff retires, once they demote the required players to make roster room, do you agree?), what do you figure they would be manufacturing in terms of draft picks?

    It’s an open question if that would be worth whatever it would cost – let’s say 14M at the high end. Are those additions enough to make CAL a playoff team? Do the draft picks more than compensate for the decline of the 2014 1st, if CAL thinks they miss the playoffs either way? I can see why a team wouldn’t think that’s worth the cost, although there’s nothing saying CAL would have to add all 4 – CAL could pick and choose to find value.

    • Parallex

      What would they would be manufacturing in terms of draft picks?… not a lot I figure. In theory they could get quite a bit but you have to add in our own guys with 1 year left (Cammy, Stajan, Stempniak)…

      Grabovski, Brunner, Prospal, Cammy, Stajan, Stempniak, and Gilbert

      … that’s 7 guys. If you have those 7 guys performing well enough to garner good draft picks along with the balance of the line-up meeting expectations then there stands a good chance that you’re in the playoffs as of the deadline (and no general manager is going to initiate a sell-off when his team is in a playoff position). If they’re not performing well enough then any picks you get won’t be good ones. To say nothing of the diminishing returns on the 7th guy vs. the 1st guy as you increase the supply.

      I like the idea but it’s to ambitious (+ I think Calgary lacks the reserve list slots). Adding four guys is just to much since you’ll be suppressing other peoples stats (and consequently their value) via the ice-time/circumstance limitations. I think Kent’s proposal is workable (two guys with factors that lead to a ability to buy low and sell high) but 4 is just to many.

      Ultimately I don’t think it’s a possibility because I think Murray Edwards has taken the cheque book away. Even if you can get these guys to sign cheap (Grabovski could get a nice cheque from the KHL I imagine) we now have to accept the reality that ownership might not put a $ value on a 2nd round pick (the probable deadline return on these guys) in the million dollar range.

      • Rockmorton65

        My thoughts as well. I think Edwards went rebuild kicking & clawing the whole way trying to avoid rebuilding. I think he is going to be content to run well under the cap until the team has the pieces to become relevant again. Really, why sign guys with the intent to flipping for some 2nd picks & taking ice time away from some players that desperately need the playing time? I would rather see the Flames eat salary on Cammi & Stajan & Wideman get some 1st rounders & decent prospects.

        • Parallex

          That depends on who you consider to “desperately need the playing time”… if you’re talking about guys like Sven and Knight then it doesn’t because they by nessesity would be in Abbotsford getting first line minutes.

          It’d end up being Glencross/Backs/Hudler getting the shorter icetime because the 6 UFA forwards would need the ice-time to re-establish value.

          I was an advocate of taking this kind of tack earlier in the offseason but the Russell & Galiardi trades combined with the lack of activity at the draft and in free agency pretty much says that it’s not going to happen. Russell & Galiardi are what make me think that it’s because of pocketbook issues… if you have plenty of cap and are planning on loading up on moveable assets to convert later into futures then you’re not going to trade late round picks for cost-controlled youngish depth players.

      • Rockmorton65

        Look at what Buffalo got at the deadline for Pomminville and Regehr. There’s been a lot of talk about people paying out the nose to get Vanek or Miller, as well, to say nothing of Tyler Myers. How did they do in the standings? Uh, not great.

  • supra steve

    In terms of damaging the 2014 1st, it really depends what you think is going to happen in goal, IMO.

    I don’t think CAL is as bad as many are projecting, but at the same time the errors bars surrounding the projection are likely a bit higher given the uncertainty in goal.

    If you think CAL finishes last as is, vs. 7th last, there is a big difference in the expected value of the pick, and therefore the expected cost in moving up the standings while still missing the playoffs.

  • supra steve

    Perfectly reasonable tactic for the Flames to pursue, as long as it does not cost a good prospect development time in the league. Some players seem to be using this as a tactic to hedge their bet and ensure a slot on a contending team, by signing with a non playoff team and then being dealt at the deadline (eg. Jagr). It could even be good for a player like T-spoon, giving him 2/3 of an AHL season before throwing him to the wolves after the trade deadline.

  • Rockmorton65

    I think the Flames would be flirting with disaster if they signed players only to trade them 6-8 months later. Eventually, any FA worth his salt wouldn’t even think of signing here. It wouldn’t matter how much term/dollars you throw at him. Why buy the sweet talk about how valuable you would be to the team if you know they might ditch you as soon as its beneficial to them? It’s like the grl in the bar, who doesn’t buy the “player”‘s line of a relationship, because she knows he’s gone forever before the alarm goes off.

    It might work short term, but could be a disaster long term. Just food for thought.

    • Rockmorton65

      I like the idea of ‘flipping’ Grabovski, but do it openly. Tell the player we’ll give you opportunity and ice time to prove your worth, and you might be rewarded with ending up on a contender at the deadline. I guess I don’t really know the true dynamic of the relationship between player and management at the NHL level, but it seems to make sense in Grabovski’s case.

      Your right though, wouldn’t make a habit of it.

    • supra steve

      Players are not stupid, at least most of them aren’t. If a UFA signs a one year deal with the Flames this summer, he expects to be shopped at the deadline. Advantage to the player is that they get a dollar figure they can live with and start the season in the NHL, then they get a shot at being shipped to a contender at the deadline. This will not work for all players (married/kids), but for some it may be a really attractive option. And who knows, if the player likes Calgary, he may come back to the Flames the following summer and offer his services again.

      • Rockmorton65

        I agree. A concern that I have with 1 year deals like that it would be difficult keeping your intentions under wraps. If you made a habit of the ol “sign & flip”, other teams will catch on and the return could be lower than expected.

    • T&A4Flames

      I see it potentially working the other way. The player gets another year in the NHL with a chance to prove their worth, and a shot at either another good contract or the playoffs. On a 1 yr deal I think most players and GMs alike would understand what’s happening.

      This is CGY’s best chance at a legit rebuild happening quickly. Its certainly a risk acquiring good talent at low term/cost contracts without bettering the team to the point where we finish in the dreaded 10-14 spot. This was the rare opportunity CGY was presented with these next 2 years having cap space that most teams don’t.

  • Derzie

    What’s with the love for Gilbert. He was miserable in Shelbyville and he is miserable in Minni. No rebound in the cards for him. Grabbo on the other hand is a slam dunk for a 1 year contract. If decent, trade him, if horrible walk away, if great lock him up.

    • SmellOfVictory

      If he’s having trouble currently finding a contender, I don’t see what would stop the Flames from approaching him and saying “we’d like to sign you to a one year deal wherein you will be pencilled in as a top 6 centre (quite likely on the top line) with the intent to trade you to a contender at the deadline.”

      Sure, he’d be involved in a number of losses during the regular season regardless, but post deadline life could get pretty sweet. And he’d get more icetime than on many other teams.

  • beloch

    I saw a chart somewhere that plotted the average number of career NHL games vs draft position. The trend looked exponential. At #30 it was approximately 1/4 what it was at #1. (Somebody please remind me of where I saw it!) Career games played isn’t a perfect metric for player quality, but it does give an indication.

    If the Flames flip a couple of players like Grabovski, I think it would be optimistic to assume they could get a couple of very late picks in the first round. The value of those picks needs to be higher than the change in the Flames draft position.

    Unfortunately, the impact of that change depends greatly on where the team would have finished without them. If Ramo turns out to be great and a few other things roll the right way, the Flames, as they stand, might well be picking in the #10-15 range. A couple of late first rounders is clearly worth dropping a couple of slots in this range. The same cannot be said of dropping a couple slots in the top 5 range!

    Flipping players is a gamble and Ramo is probably the biggest wildcard. If I were Feaster, I’d get Ramo into town ASAP and do anything I could to improve on the data we have from the KHL. If he looks stellar, get flippin’!

  • Parallex

    Apparently it’s the Flames’ corporate goal to get the minor league affiliates with the worst possible locations. They just announced an association with the Alaska Aces.

    Related: how are the Alaska Aces in the East Coast Hockey League? That might be the worst league name/ team location combination in the history of sports.

  • I appreciate the creative approach, and discussion this article has generated, but I think its pretty much the worst idea there is…. But that’s based on my deep conviction that a top 1-3 draft pick is worth WAY WAY WAY more than volume lower in the 1st round.

    Getting more UFAs in order to trade them away helps us grab more picks in the 20-30 range and logically pushes our own pick down. Not worth it.

    I know some people value volume over quality in the draft, but I strongly disagree with the first round, especially the top 3. You’d think this year would have taught us the difference a few games and few draft spots can make. I’d trade 3 middling/late 1st rounders for a shot at a top 3 pick every single time…

    If we are gonna suck, lets do this right. 1st overall baby. The absolute worst thing we can do now is start sitting on the fence with this rebuild. Thats what the Islanders did for ohhh 20 years or so.

  • Just throwing it out there that Paul Gaustad got traded to the Predators for a first round pick. Paul. Freakin’. Gaustad.

    There may be a sucker team out there willing to throw down a 1st for someone like Mike Cammalleri or Lee Stempniak if they think it will help push them into the playoffs. It will be a mid to low 1st though bc the trade partner will likely be a contender or bubble team.

    In other words, no need to go out, overpay players, and then hope you can just trade them away if need be at the deadline.

      • Oh, they all go together.

        PG1 – NSH overpaid for Paul Gaustad (low 1st rounder).

        PG2 – There may be someone desperate enough to trade a low 1st for Cammy or Stempniak (a la Gaustad).

        Conclusion – No need to get more assets, because the Flames already have some to dish out.

        IMO, I think it looks flaky when a team signs + trades a player. Flames are already on shaky ground with attracting new talent, so I would prefer they trade the assets they do have over bringing some aboard just to trade them.

        And besides, if teams haven’t urgently signed Grabo and Gilbert now, who’s to say they will trade anything of note for them in March? That assumes a lot. Feaster doesn’t have the best trade record and I would fear that he’d take on a terrible contract just to get a 1st.

        • Parallex

          But your conclusion doesn’t make sense to me…

          PG1 – NSH overpaid for Paul Gaustad (low 1st rounder).

          PG2 – There may be someone desperate enough to trade a low 1st for Cammy or Stempniak (a la Gaustad).

          … why wouldn’t I still want to get those guys so that I can peddle them for same as well? It’s not like there is a limit to the number of transactions you can make before the deadline. PG1 & PG2 don’t invalidate the premise if anything they strength it.

  • Burnward


    Have you all forgotten how horrible Gilbert is at playing defense? Every time I read that we should sign this guy, I cringe at the thought.


  • Franko J

    Excellent article and great fantasy speculations and predictions.

    I think Feaster and Flames management are pretty content with the players they have on the roster. Besides I hope the Flames stick their “plan” and play the younger guys on their roster and see how they develop. Currently I like the direction the team is heading and the focus and approach of drafting and developing players rather than trying to put a team on the ice with a “band-aid” notion of making the playoffs.

    Far too long this team chased and chased for talent to augment the lineup. In the end, chasing the talent has placed this team in the position it is today. Going after Grabovski and Gilbert would revert this team back to their old habits.

    I would rather have this team start developing talented players and have the other 29 teams chasing the Flames for once in a long time.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    I agree with some earlier commenters’ view that this strategy might be equivalent to picking up more quantity and cost the Flames quality early draft picks. Realistically, 1 or 2 players will not move the overall results of this team significantly in terms of standings. I agree with Beloch and would add that only a Vezina like performance by Ramo would move the Flames up the standings. The Flames line up after adding any of the players mentioned would be a very marginal improvement.

    Dallas did well flipping Jäger last season at the deadline. It’s a good low risk and potentially high reward strategy.

  • Rockmorton65

    you would think that Calgary would be a destination most UFA’s considering this route would be interested in.

    1) Calgary isn’t some craphole, so living here for a few months isn’t the end of the world.

    2) We have a weak top end, so for decent players there is all the opportunity in the world to shine and earn their next big contract.

    3) Calgary is in a rebuilt meaning it’s fairly understood they will be trade bait to a contender come deadline.

    4) Shot at a cup as a rental player

  • NHL93

    You see the flip used all the time in baseball.. odd how it is rarely employed in the NHL. Probably due to the fact that there are just more players in MLB.. more pitchers coming back from surgery, and more guys that need to re-vitalize their careers.