Five things: Look who’s back

1. Cammalleri back tonight*

This was some very good news to come out yesterday morning: The Flames’ most tradeable asset is back and ready to go tonight against San Jose.

This is good for a few reasons:

a) It’s always great to see someone recover from a concussion because, damn, those are scary.

b) This once again gives the Flames a chance to showcase him as a means of boosting his asking price; tell Hartley to take it easy on those defensive- and neutral-zone starts, and try to mix in a few matchups against the Sharks’ fourth-line guys (who sadly have better possession numbers than the Flames’ No. 1 guys).

c) It won’t actually improve the Flames’ chances of winning all that much, thus helping to ensure that the team won’t go on any run. Three games in a row is already too many for a team that should — and will soon be — trying to tank as hard as possible.

The offensive explosion of those last three games, by the way, will only be aided by Cammalleri’s return, but you can’t imagine that it does too much to help the defense in any appreciable way. We’re all supposed to be happy about these non-regulation wins, despite the fact that they’re covering up disastrous goaltending performances, right?

*-(Editor’s Note: after coach Hartley announced that Cammalleri would play on Wednesday, he did a 180 and said he wouldn’t play the next day. He’ll likely be back on Saturday now against Minnesota.)

2. To that point…

Obviously Karri Ramo is still going to be with the team next season because he’s signed for it, but the question of what you do with Reto Berra, who has been unequivocally awful this season. The “NHL backup” role is one for which is is simply not suited. An .893 save percentage and he’s still worked 23 appearances out of this season? That says a lot, doesn’t it? Hockey-Reference says a league-average goalie would have allowed about a quarter fewer goals, which is to say 17 fewer.

His contract is up at the end of the year, and you have to wonder if the Flames go goalie shopping this summer to get someone who can actually platoon effectively. Literally any career backup has to be better than this. The more time he gets in the bigs, the worse he seems to look; his save percentage in January (so far) is .845.

On the other hand, if you really are looking to tank, you can do a lot worse than Reto Berra as your No. 1b.

3. Waiving O’Brien

Yeah, more of that kind of thing, please. Of course, the hope is that Brian Burke will have learned something about how size does not always equal quality, but we know that he obviously did not. Gotta have beef.

On the other hand, when you’re sending him down only to call up Chris Breen, well, that is also bad.

4. Backlund on the “All-Hipster” team

I thought it was pretty funny to read our own Nations Network’s All-Hipster team (an examination of players who seem poised, statistically, to break out at some point in the near future), because we at Flames Nation have been banging the drum for Mikael Backlund long and hard, and he was the very first person who came up.

What’s interesting about that, though, is that if he does become a productive player sometime in the next few years, I’m increasingly convinced it won’t be with Calgary. I’ve heard and read way too much in the last few months to think that he’s going to be renewed when his deal expires after next season, even if he is an RFA. I’m far more convinced he’ll go somewhere in a trade. He’s still youngish at 24, but he doesn’t seem like a guy who’s ever going to fit into the plans of Bob Hartley, Brian Burke, or whoever Burke brings in to coach and run the team next season.

It’s frustrating because he’s just so good at driving possession, and you’d think someone in a position to make decisions might have noticed that at some point, this kind of thing — that he gets tough zone starts against some of the best competition on the other team and doesn’t drown — but then this is Flames management we’re talking about.

5. Gillies struggling

It was perhaps inevitable that the best goaltending prospect in perhaps all of amateur hockey would eventually struggle, and so here we are with Jon Gillies.

Let’s be perfectly honest here: There has to be something wrong with him. I was in the building on Saturday night when he gave up five goals on just 19 shots, and generally looked awful doing it; these weren’t shots that should have beaten a goalie of his quality. It led to his being pulled for performance reasons for the first time in his college career (the first two times were in a blowout, and for an injury, the latter of which I’ll get to in a second). But okay, maybe you say it’s an isolated incident. But the fact of the matter is he also gave up four on 29 the night before. And that, too, was against one of the better teams in the country, so you can perhaps write that off as well.

But if you want to go back over the last eight games, his save percentage is .894, and this all seems to date back to when he hurt his groin against UNH on Nov. 22. Prior to that point, his save percentage was .949 and he looked very much the goaltender everyone thought. In the 11 games since, he’s dropped to .927, and won just four times (a silly stat, I know, but illustrative of how reliant upon him Providence truly is). I never in my life thought I would see Gillies give up nine goals in a single weekend, let alone on 38 shots. With the playoffs just over a month away, and a date with BC on Friday, you wonder just how much he’s going to be able to rest. This is a serious point of concern.

  • Scary Gary

    Regarding point four I’m not so sure. It seems Hartley has realized MB is quite valueable, reflected in the ice time given and Hartley’s own comments. He’s said as recently as Jan 15 re MB, “Right now, he’s on a mission. He’s playing well,” and “he’s our best player”.

    MB’s going hard to the net and playing more of a Burke style of play as of late.

    • Colin.S

      I to have my doubts he’s around long term as well, he’s playing a lot better as of late, but again should he go into a slump later in the season they will call this stretch getting hot(or luck, or whatever).

      The fact that his name was out there so much earlier in the season as trade bait had me worried as well. With BB at the helm, Backlund just seems to me to be the guy that will be included in the trade package to get the guy BB actually wants.

  • Scary Gary

    2 things on Backlund

    (1) I think he has played his way off the trade block. The only way I see him hitting it is if there is another, long drawn out scoring slump that rattles his confidence.

    (2) If I am wrong, and he is traded, it won’t be until well after Burke has demanded Hartley pumps his trade value. I’m certain it won’t be for another vet, but likely another youngish player in a similar situation, falling out of favor with management. Burke is a lot of things, and I’m not on board with a lot of his moves, but he’s not dumb. He knows the team is under-skilled, so he won’t give away a 24 year old skilled center. I could see him using Backlund as a piece to target a bigger fish (Sean Couturier anyone).

    • Bean-counting cowboy

      My thoughts exactly. You would have to be pretty freaking stupid to not see the progress and value in a player like Backlund. Plus, he still has another year on his contract (for cheap) and is still an RFA. With showing this much improvement, why wouldn’t you at least wait until next year before making any decisions on the player.

      The only thing I could maybe see is like you say to net a bigger fish while also helping you to reach the cap floor next year or something.

  • Colin.S

    Another aside, Lyle Richardson (not sure of his cred), threw out that the Blackhawks were looking for a center, and may be willing to part with Nick Leddy.

    I asked Lyle if Backlund would be of interest to Chicago, and he replied that he thinks Chicago would target a more experienced player.

    With that said, Backs put up 2 goals and was a beast against the Blackhawks. I don’t know where I sit on a Leddy/Backlund (+?) swap, but take it for what it’s worth.

  • redricardo

    Not sure where your getting your intel on Backs, but I would make a bet Sven gets traded before Backs. The Backs trade rumours were back when Feasty was GM & Feasty has never liked Backs who was a Sutter pick. Odd that as soon as Feasty got the bullet Backs ice time went up.

    Gilles is having a bit of a setback in his unbelievable play, most goalies go through that & I’m sure he isn’t 100% & trying to play through the injury which isn’t helping. It may pose an interesting decision with the Flames as to whether they want him to go pro & play in Abbey next year or play 1 more year of college. That may depend what Flames do with Berra. I wouldn’t mind giving Berra another year next year with Ramo. I have liked some of his games & does have potential. It’s a rebuild for crying out loud, we aren’t winning anything anytime soon next year, why waste an asset on a goalie at this stage of the rebuild.

  • mattyc

    Saying that :

    Sharks’ fourth-line guys (who sadly have better possession numbers than the Flames’ No. 1 guys)

    is probably not fair since the Sharks’ 4th liners get to play the Kevin Westgarths of the world, while the Flames’ 1st unit gets the Joe Thorntons.

  • Parallex

    On Point 1: Yes glad he’s back. Both on a humanitarian level (concussion is a brain injury… scary stuff) and on a self-interest level (player with a concussion = not good trade candidate)

    On Point 2: Yes Berra is pretty bad. That being said I don’t think the Flames are going goalie shoppng this off-season. I’d think they’d want to give Ortio a shot first… his numbers have been good in the AHL so far and if there is a time to truly determine what you have in what you have a rebuild is that time.

    On Point 3: O’Brien is/was awful. So awful that there was literally no downside to demoting him. Like you said I doubt his level of suck will have done anything to alter Burke’s psuedo-sexual big/truculent = good bias.

    On Point 4: I actually kind of disagree here. I mean his ice-time, responsibility, counting stats have all been increasing the last few months. Heck, Hartley called him the Flames best player and he got a letter stitched on his jersey. I know that doesn’t automatically mean anything and I’m as critical of Burke as anyone but Burke valued Grabovski and if Burke can value Grabovski I could see him valuing Backlund.

    On Point 5: I hope this is just a nagging injury. Right now vis-a-vie the Flames goaltending future there are a lot of eggs in the Gillies basket.

  • Lordmork

    I’m concerned about Giles, but it sounds like maybe he’s playing through an injury that isn’t entirely healed, maybe in the same way Monahan was not that long ago?

    Also, I saw a rumour going around on twitter that the Leafs had contacted the Flames about Cammalleri. I’m interested in speculation about what might come back in such a trade. Reimer? Gardiner? Someone else, given the Leafs salary situation? Presumably we’d have to retain some salary to make these sorts of trades work, so I guess there’s a question if Burke is more able to convince management to do that than Feaster (presumably) was.

    • Parallex

      I’d more think that Anaheim would be after Cammy… there is just too good a fit.

      1: Burke’s reported asking price is a first + prospect… Anaheim has two firsts (so probably more open to parting with one) and an excellent prospect base.

      2: If Anaheim lacks depth at any forward position it’s LW.

      3: If your grabbing a rental you probably want someone with a good playoff rep… Cammy’s got that.

      4: Burke’s last job was with Anaheim so he’s got the relationships with whom to sell it.

      • mattyc

        You also keep him away from state rival L.A. who is also rumoured to be interested.

        I’d take Emerson Etem and Anaheim’s own 1st for Cammy considering that Ana’s first could very well be 30th.

        The Ducks have an abundance of RW prospects with Etem, Smith-Pelly and Noesen to name a few. RW of course is any area where we need help!

  • Lordmork

    TB might be a good fit for Cammy too. They’re still interested in getting some more scoring.

    I went to the Nashville game; Backs was a monster out there. I don’t think he’s going anywhere now.

  • Parallex

    This is off topic, but a player that may come available this offseason is Callahan. He is a player Burke would LOVE.

    I have no idea what his underlying numbers are. I just know he scores around 20 and is a heart and soul, big hitter.

    He’ll likely get a huge payday if he goes to free agency though.

    • piscera.infada

      I mentioned this a couple weeks back, as it sounds like it’s basically between Girardi or Callahan, unless both are prepared to take massive pay-cuts. While it isn’t very often that the captain of your team is able to just walk away for nothing, I doubt they would trade Callahan while occupying a home playoff spot. It also seems as though Girardi is widely considered the more valuable piece to resign.

      I truly think Callahan to Calgary could very well happen. He’s a decent age (28), he’s a right-wing who can play through the lineup, he’s a “Burke type player” (as you mention), and moreover they have some US Hockey connections. I would be ecstatic if it happened, he’s one of my favorite players, but as you mention (again), it would not be a cheap signing, although I see it as a great signing as he’s the kind of guy you need in a rebuild to help transition young guys.

  • mattyc

    To score multiple points in one game in the NHL, you need to have offensive talent especially on a team like Calgary’s. So it is surprising Backlund has actually gotten better this year and i am guessing he has a chance to be a valuable player. But whether Burke will try to keep him after next year is a guess cause i don’t recall Burke commenting on Backlund one way or another.

    • mattyc

      Im a big Backlund supporter so don’t think im bashing him, but remember that game where Eric Nystrom scored 4 goals in a game? yeah you don’t really need to be a great player to score multiple points in a game.

  • mattyc

    If I’m Burke a few thoughts:
    – Cammy’s value is maxed..time to trade to the highest bidder by the deadline or by June 30th along with 2-3 of Stempniak, Stajan, Butler, D Jones, O’Brien, Wideman, Hudler … all depends on the returns offered.
    – keep throwing Berra in there just enough to allow Edmonton to pass us in the standings, assuring either Ekblad or Reinhart/Bennett.
    – if not able to trade D Jones then buy him out unless you need his salary to get to the cap floor
    – potential blockbuster trade pieces include Hudler, Wideman, Brodie, picks (2nd or later)
    – Backlund and Brodie stay to continue building their value by this time next proven Restricted FAs they would both command a high return…and acquire 1st rounders for the McDavid sweepstakes.
    – bring in 1 overpaid UFA scorer to retain respectability next year when achieving last place (can’t appear to tank)

    Say what you want about Burkie…he’s Harvard-educated, has 25 years experience and relationships across the league..he’s no fool and people listen when he talks.

    I look forward to seeing his strategy unfold..:)

  • redricardo

    I don’t know… With Anaheim being so close this year, looking to go for it, let Selanne retire with a cup, etc. as they “Go for it”… If you can get them into a bidding war with another team, you might be able to get a better prospect out of them than you think.