@Kent_Wilson What sort of price point do you think CAL needs to buy UFA’s on 1 yr deals with an eye to trading them at deadline?
— speeds (@hockeysymposium) August 20, 2013
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.
RT @ToddCordell: Grabovski has more 5 vs. 5 goals in the last two seasons than Giroux, Stepan, Kopitar, Carter, Kovalchuk, D. Sedin.
— Kent Wilson (@Kent_Wilson) August 20, 2013
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.
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.