Five things: The facts of life

1. A judicious decision

So the Flames, much to my surprise, didn’t make serious runs at any of the league’s big free agents this summer, or at least, didn’t make runs serious enough to actually attract them. That’s not the surprising part. The surprising thing, I guess, is that this team really is committed to tanking hard next season.

It would appear that Feaster is indeed planning to do what’s best for the team and not necessarily his job by going forward with a team on which Lee Stempniak and David Jones are the top two right wings every single night.

I love it.

The money I expected Feaster to spend against the cap didn’t really matter since the team was never going to come near the ceiling this year or next year or maybe ever, ever, ever again.

I said it on Puck Daddy last week but the thing with this kind of free agent class this summer (see also: a bad one) is that even when they’re bad, teams spend like they’re not. David Clarkson, as the "prize" of the class, has exactly one 40-plus point season ever and he’s 29 years old. Is he a good enough NHLer? Of course. Is he worth anything near the contract he got? No. So the question is this: Why do GMs act like he is? There’s not really a good reason for it** except that GMs are not necessarily good at their jobs; if, for example, Dave Nonis had not signed Clarkson, and he did indeed get outbid by Edmonton or whoever (the who doesn’t matter in this scenario) the headlines would have been "Leafs lose out on target Clarkson, sign awful No. 1 center for no reason" instead of "Oilers get Clarkson." Considerations such as these do not lend themselves to judicious GMing.

So for Feaster to stay out of it, to some extent anyway (we’ll never know for sure if he took a run at anyone of note), was something he couldn’t have handled better. Takes a lot of chutzpah to avoid that and enter the season with a roster this bad, but I’m glad to see it.

**(Kent recently attempted to answer this question here).

2. The minor moves he made

Staying out of the free agent market as a whole wasn’t all Feaster got up to, of course. He traded for Kris Russell which is a decent enough defensive deal insofar as one assumes Russell won’t be actively terrible. The terms of that one-year deal, by the way, are perfectly acceptable.

But then again he gave Brian McGrattan two more years for reasons that defy logic. That kind of thing is maddening. I don’t have to explain to you why.

He also made the Karri Ramo and Corban Knight contracts officially official, and I’m not particularly wild about either of them in theory. In actual practice, I feel like both being slight overpayments doesn’t really matter, and if anything people in my position (wanting them to go 0-82-0 next season) should cheer for that kind of thing since it prevents them from adding more expensive pieces. So I guess to that extent I’m fine with it.

And then, as I was writing this, Mikael Backlund got his two-year deal, which came as something of a surprise to me, mainly because I assumed he’d only get one year because this would be his last contract with the team if he doesn’t score like 40 points next season. It might still be, because at some point you have to assume they’re going to cut bait, but I’ll take the term and money both. Good deal for both sides, I think.

3. Get used to the Oilers killing Calgary

So it seems like Craig MacTavish is immediately trying to make a huge impact in Edmonton, and good on him for it. The Oilers are now officially better than the Calgary Flames on paper and probably on the ice as well, and the gap between them is only going to broaden over the next three or four years.

This new playoff format makes things interesting, in that I still don’t think either Albertan team is going to be good enough to muscle their way into the postseason under this format. With that having been said, though, (and Flames fans will hate to hear this) any delusions that you might be holding about winning the Battle of Alberta should be checked at the door. The Oilers roster as currently constituted is going to blow Calgary out of the water. If they can improve their defense in any appreciable way any time soon, they’ll be good enought to be considered a borderline playoff team.

The Flames need to add roughly six thousand players to get to that point; these, though, are the benefits of starting a rebuild several years earlier before Calgary realized it needed the overhaul.

4. Another thing for which I have to praise Feaster to my chagrin

And finally, to that end, I have to bring up the fact that Hockey Prospectus’ Corey Pronman recently ranked the Flames’ organization 10th in the league. This is something unfathomable even a year ago, when Pronman had them in the low 20s or so. They might have been in the mid-to-upper 40s before that. Tough to say.

To that extent I understand the people who say I should cut him some slack on the Jankowski and Poirier picks, given that he’s also pulled or traded for a number of high-quality players from lower rounds. The team’s issue isn’t necessarily that they can’t draft well, or identify talent.

He’s certainly re-stocked the cupboard in a major way, and indeed looks poised to do so again next season when they finish 29th or 30th in the league and take a serious run at a top-flight prospect. This is especially shocking given Feaster’s overall drafting record in the past, but if the Flames are acknowledging that they have a problem in any way, this is a brave new world to begin with.

5. The Bieber to-do

Not that this is Flames related but everyone is acting like Justin Bieber touching the Stanley Cup or stepping on the Blackhawks logo or having his jersey hung in Jonathan Toews’ locker and that’s been a whole thing. Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Many have pointed out that he touched the Stanley Cup in the past and despite a lot of eye-rolling about it no one cared. But this time he did it dressed like Ice Cube circa 1990 for no readily apparent reason, while standing on the Blackhawks’ logo. Greg Wyshynski made the point — and a very logical one — that if you don’t want people to step on the logo then you don’t put it on the floor, but this being hockey, Tradition wins out over logic.

The reason the logo is on the floor is so that guys have to THINK to avoid it, because it’s some sort of holy relic, or whatever. That, of course, is silly. The Flames’ logo, or the Blackhawks’ or the Jets’ or the Bruins’ or any other team’s is as sacred as any corporate logo, and it stands for something only so far as the guys wearing it are being paid by that team. Think the Blackhawks’ logo is this Important Thing to, say, Ray Emery, who was just playing for them but now signed with the Flyers? I have a guess. That guess is no.

As for the Cup, people have eaten cereal out of the Cup. Babies have pooped in the Cup. I would imagine someone has had sex in or against it more than once in its illustrious existence. It’s a sports trophy. Justin Bieber touching it is probably the sixth-most disgusting thing to happen to it since Jonathan Toews picked it up a few weeks ago.

Around the Nation

  • RexLibris

    With regards to the Flames finishing dead last, I began to wonder about which teams I could expect to be worse than them, based on early roster reports.

    With the new divisional breakdown, it will be difficult to predict how bad some teams will be. At the same time, some teams always manage to surprise (Phildelphia in 2007, Columbus in 2012).

    But based on recent history and a rough guess of improvement/stagnation, I’d say the Flames can expect to be a bottom 1/3rd team alongside Buffalo, Florida, perhaps Carolina and maybe Winnipeg. Add in the possibility that another team or two could fall flat on their face and the chance that the Oilers struggle for another season and the Flames could find themselves drafting fourth overall despite dressing a dog’s breakfast for a roster.

    My advice to fans would be prepare for the worst showing but hope for the best effort. My Flames rebuild series focused on trying to deliver a roster that would deliver effort and at least an underdog’s chance every night. Win or lose, I think Flames fans could be content with that so long as it was part of a rebuilding strategy.

    • piscera.infada

      I agree with everything you said. I just want to see the team compete.

      The big issue for me is that tanking for the sole purpose of getting a high draft pick SHOULD NEVER be the game-plan. Ever.

  • Michael

    This team certainly isn’t going to be a top 10 team, a middle ranking (10-20) is unlikely (even with Kipper, Iggy and gang at their prime we it was hard to break out of this range) leaving us in the bottom ten. I think the question marks (lack of a #1 or #2 center, weakness at RW, loss of JBO, and unknown goaltending, the likely deletion of Cammy and Gio at the deadline)might well push us into the bottom 5. Exactly what this team needs, a shot at another top draft five pick.

  • Scary Gary

    I don’t think we’ll be 30th but it is conceivable that we will win more games in 2013/2014 than in 2014/2015, once we’ve traded away our veteran talent at the trade deadline.

    If I’ve learned anything from watching the oilers the last few years it’s that an 82 game season is not kind to young players, whether it be injury or consistency.

  • Jeff Lebowski

    I can’t remember which NHL exec ( Colorado?) said it but he remarked how if you look at the top scorers in the league (past 5? Seasons) they were almost all top 5 picks.

    That may sound like stating the obvious but it bodes to how Calgary desperately needs to fail short term in order to win long term. It has also been a long time mantra of posters here (like the wolf) who were right.

    Iggy, Kipper, Regher, Bouwmeester were all that was keeping Calgary out of dead last for past few seasons. Since there was no body on the roster immediately better (which may have been the rotten perception – the Iggy name brand only, a Stempniak replacement MIGHT have been an actual improvement – no coach would do it) and ZERO prospects were near ready. The org relied on those guys now gone.

    However, if the hold overs can hold the fort and be good corsi warriors (against the toughest competition every night) it might not be gruesome but still bad. Like an over achieving expansion team.

    Feaster hopefully won’t rush any of his picks, Calgary finishes last, Calgary gets top 5 picks, Feaster’s earlier picks (Jankowski, Gaudreau, Poirier) all push through and arrive ready to play at same time as elite guys. You get top scorers plus really good complementary guys all coming at same time. 3-4 years.

    If Feaster can keep the salaries of these complementary guys reasonable (if they aren’t top scorers – not top 5 picks) they can keep the band together.

    It could be really, really good if all things work out…

  • BurningSensation

    I agree with Smell of Victory. I question how much we really lost with the subtraction of Iginla and Tanguay. I think we lost a lot with the removal of Boumeester. He moved the puck ahead and stayed out of the penalty box while doing it.
    Not proclaiming we are playoff material but it is my belief we are not a lottery team yet. Im excited as hell going forward for the first time in years. In past years it was always a hope that the Flames would perform yet would always disappoint.
    Perhaps it is because expectations are lowered that I feel this way.

  • Smudged

    Good article. Very sobering and scary to read for those that don’t like facing the truth. lol

    You might want to tidy up point #4 though. The title seems to be a bit of a mess. Also could use some clarification… for instance:

    “And finally, to that end, I have to bring up the fact that Hockey Prospectus’ Corey Pronman recently ranked the Flames’ organization 10th in the league.”

    Pronman ranked the Flames as 10th in the league for what? I’m assuming draft picks? Pospects? goal song? Maybe their ability to make coffee?

    I’m just saying that you have to make some assumptions when reading that section.

    Like I said to begin with though, good article overall.

    • piscera.infada

      I don’t think anyone should be pooping out daffodils about the state of this team. This article reflects the idea that things are (slowly) moving in the right direction.

      Look, I’m not one who thinks this team is a lock for a first overall draft pick, but I’m under no illusions that we’re suddenly going to be an uber-competitive team.

      All I want is for this team to compete and let the chips fall where they may. If we can pick up one or two more first round draft picks, and finish similar to where we were this past season (which I think is entirely reasonable), without being blown-out night after night, I’ll be happy.

      I do however, want to see this team start to make strides in the 2014/15 season. Sure, they wont be in a playoff dogfight, but I firmly believe that if a team is going to progress, the learning arc needs to start sooner rather than later.

      • RexLibris

        Exactly. This transition is going to give us a lot of roller coaster moments next year. There are going to be guys that we are going to be totally stoked about. We are probably going to give some very good teams fits in games. Chances are we are going to lose a lot of games in the 3rd period & several by 1 goal or 2. During our lowest moments when injuries hit a few of our real bright spots, we are going to get our helmets handed to us. By the trade deadline, we will be sellers for the last year. We will have no doubt a top 10 pick & hopefully an extra few 1st rounders. The following year will have higher but controlled expectations. By our 7th year out of the playoffs, everyone, including Management & Ownership will be thirsting for playoffs. By then we will hopefully have 3-4 young elite players to lead us.

        Well gentleman, that is your tea leaves read, have a great Stampede!!!!

  • Demetric

    Yup, I’m as ecstatic as anyone for the change in direction, I like a lot of the moves, but thinking Calgary is going to be anything but road kill this season is folly. And, frankly, that’s good, because the team still requires more elite pieces and more depth everywhere. there are no shortcuts.

  • Unless Backlund and Brodie are even better than I think, Flames fans should prepare for their team to be bad next year. Potentially very, very bad.

    There’s a good chance Cammalleri will be dealt this summer or at least as early as he can be moved. Stajan will probably go at the deadline as well. Stempniak will probably move as well, unless they somehow convince him to stay.

    No doubt a bunch of rookies and hopefuls are going to get reps in the big league as well. That’s fine and all, but it’s usually not conducive to winning, especially if you can’t shelter them behind a bunch of stars.

    The club might have one or two 50+ players on it (Cammalleri is the only guy to top top 50 historically, aside from Stajan’s career best 55). There isn’t a single truly elite talent anywhere on the roster. The goaltending is such a huge question mark that league average netminding should be considered a win if it happens.

    It’ll be an interesting season, but probably a long one as well. Something drastic and out of the blue would have to happen to turn the Flames into a competitive club (like Ramo pulling a Bobrovsky and winning the Vezina).

    • SmellOfVictory

      It’ll be interesting to see, given that the only real movement has been Iginla/Tanguay/JBo. JBo clearly was an important defensive piece, while the other two seemed to be constantly getting taken to school. The performance of their positional replacements will give a good indication of just what the Flames actually lost when they were traded away.

      • BurningSensation

        I find it very interesting that the guys we insisted weren’t pulling their weight (Iginla, Kiprusoff) anymore are now gone, and yet we expect to do worse than last year.

        The big loss is JBo, and that may be what most does the Flames in next year.

        One thing that the Flames could do to improve their record without spending a ton of money would be to sign Jussi Jokinen to a deal. If the only thing he does is bring his shootout prowess to our post-overtime dance it could result in a wider swing of points in our favour than any other move.

        That and league average goaltending by Ramo, could prevent us from having our heads bashed in by Edmonton as the reset continues.

        • Scary Gary

          What’s so “interesting” about it? The players that “replaced” Iginla and Kipper will be worse or at best equivalent in Kipper’s case.

          I mean, people aren’t actually expecting Ramo to have a .920 SV%, are they?

          • SmellOfVictory

            Just to add to what’s been said (since I kind of started this ball rolling): Kipper was hot garbage last season, straight up. I absolutely expect Ramo to be better than him. Even MacDonald, a career backup, was better than Kipper last season.

            Iginla/Tanguay are less straightforward. They’re both still good scoring forwards, but their differentials were not good. It’s not unreasonable to think that whoever replaces them may not put up gaudy numbers, but may have at least a similar (possibly better) differential, which is generally the more important thing in terms of winning games. That’s why you get teams like Nashville and Phoenix making the playoffs on a regular basis with no star players on the front end, while teams like Tampa Bay do no better, despite having high octane guys like Stamkos and St Louis.

            The team, last season, had a Fenwick close ratio that was just inside the bottom 10 I believe. Nowhere near a top 5 pick. The only thing that got them as low as they did was Kiprusoff.

          • BurningSensation

            Iginla was having the river pushed against him the last few years. He’s still a contributor on the PP, but otherwise he isn’t an average scoring forward anymore.

            Kipper was, literally, the worst goaltender in the league last year. Ramo could go to prison and get traded for a pack of ciggarettes and still not suck as bad as Kipper did last year.

          • RexLibris

            Good grief, it’s not like Iggy and Tanguay weren’t getting points last year with the team.

            So who’s going to replace those points?

            Ah yeah, I’m not putting too much stock into either goalie. The NHL is a goalie meat grinder.

            Throw in a few injuries here and there and this team will easily finish in the top 8 for drafting again.

            I’m curious. Where did you think the Flames were going to finish in the lockout shortened season?

          • piscera.infada

            I think they’re expecting Ramo to be better than Kipper’s .882 last year – not exactly out of the realm of possibilities.

            It’s not about replacing Kipper from 3 years ago… Same with Iggy/Tangs.

            Obviously the “replacement” for Iggy wont win the Richard trophy. But he may (and this is a novel idea) not be the entire focal point of the offense (thus detracting from people around him – as in the last few years), or may just decide to back-check on occasion.

    • Gange

      Again, not going to be “good”, but not going to be that bad.

      I under no impression that this team will challenge for a playoff spot but 29-30 seems extreme. We’ll see though.

      The wild card is really how the new divisions will impact the standings.

      Also if you can improve your shootout record a team can improve their standings greatly and it should be treated as such.

  • Gange

    I think we will be better than some think next year. I realize that the opening night roster won’t have as many “Good” players on it as previous years, but it may well be a better “Team” than we’ve had for awhile.

    It seems to me that everyone in the front office is pulling in the same direction. I have certainly been a harsh critic of Jay Feaster and his posse in hockey ops, but I have been impressed with his moves, or lack there of, since the season ended.

    Everybody is busy warning us fans that it will be a long, lonely ride for this team. Maybe it will. But the ride we have been on these last few years hasn’t been a hell of a lot of fun, either. I think the majority of true fans believe we are now heading in a direction which ‘could’ eventually allow us to once again be a powerful hockey team.

  • Gange

    I’m not convinced the gap between the Oilers and Flames will be that large. I’m under no illusions that his is a “good” team but I don’t think it’s a bad as everyone believes it will be.

    Just sayin.

  • Gange

    Karri Ramo and Corban Knights contracts are pretty standard. Corban Knight recieved the standard entry level deal with bonus’ much like Cervenkas deal last year. Ramo has massive offers in the KHL he is leaving on the table, you have to give him a reasonable deal.

    This mentality that ideally the team will go 0-82-0 next season is just plain stupid.

    I wish everyone would forget about this idea of drafting in the top 2 over the next two years is whats best for this team.

    Competing for a playoff spot will be much better for the young players development than finishing last in the league.

    Besides if goaltending is good next year, we have no chance of finishing last.

  • icedawg_42

    Oilers fans are going to be as insufferable as Canucks fans for the next several seasons. Brace yourselves.

    The big thing about Bieber, is that he’s a useless douchebag. So: Stanley Cup, Blackhawks logo, chunk of dog poop, I get offended seeing pictures of him touching anything.

    I think Backlund is going to get a lot more PP time this season, in the absence of many other choices. This should boost his numbers – I think he’ll have a career season. I dont think 40 pts is going to be a stretch by any means.