Once the Olympics are over all that’s left for the Flames is the trade deadline and then to play out the string. The Buffalo Sabres currently lead the race to the bottom by a near insurmountable margin – they trail the Edmonton Oilers by 9 points and the Flames/Panthers by 13. No one is catching them.
It’s a two horse race for draft position in the West between the Alberta squads. Calgary has two games in hand and four more points than the Oilers. Edmonton has had a decent last 10-game stretch recently, going 5-3-2, but it is mostly a mirage – their possession numbers continue to stink and it has only been 40+ save performances from Ben Scrivens delivering them a few “W’s” recently.
Which is to say it’s unlikely the Flames will be able to fall below the Oilers this year. Which is kind of amazing given where the two teams are in their current team building paths.
– One of the reasons Calgary isn’t yet Oilers bad is their blueline. Specifically Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie. We’ve talked a lot about Mikael Backlund this year, but Brodie has very quietly established himself as a legitimate top-pairing, hard minutes option at just 23-years old.
No Flame plays more minutes at even strength than Brodie (19:57) and no defenseman starts out more often in the defensive zone. Brodie nevertheless boasts the best possession rate for blueliners on the team – ahead of even Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman, both of whom get drastically easier assignments.
Brodie’s legit. And there’s a non-trivial chance he’s going to improve.
– Related: remember the kerfuffle over the summer when I suggested a Roman Josi-like contract for Brodie and some of the mainstream media balked as if the suggestion was insane? I’m guessing that doesn’t see too outlandish to most folks now.Or at least it shouldn’t.
Brodie is likely to finish inside the top-30 year in terms of average ice time and might cap 30-points. By the time his current bridge deal is done (after next season) I’m fairly certain he’ll be the best defender on this team – and trending upwards to boot. My guess is the salary cap will be anywhere from $72M-$75M as well.
Which is to say, he’s going to cost a pretty penny to re-sign. That may not matter to the Flames right away since they are probably going to have to struggle to make the cap floor over the next few years, but it could have implications a few years down the road once the club is ready to compete again.
– Switching gears, it feels a bit like some fans are writing off Sven Baertschi. It’s been a tough season for the 21-year old, but remember we cautioned against the common sky high expectations ’round these parts back during the summer. I figured a very suscessful season for Baertschi would be sticking as a regular in the NHL and nearing 30-points.
That didn’t happen, in part because it seems the decision makers have some issues with Sven’s habits off the ice (there are worse players than Baertschi currently skating on the Flames, which usually means the coach doesn’t think he can be a “pro” yet), but it doesn’t mean it’s time to cut bait with the lad.
Very few guys are NHLers in their 20-21 year old seasons. A lot of good-to-great NHLers go through a few bumps at this stage of their career. Baertschi’s resume prior to this year is sterling and his offensive abilities and instincts are undeniable. Give the kid some time to figure things out.
– Finally, with the trade deadline approaching, we at FlamesNation are preparing to up our coverage of Calgary’s pontetial moves as soon as Canada wins the Gold medal. If I was in the GM seat, the guys I would be putting on the auction block are:
- Mike Cammalleri
- Ladislav Smid
- Chris Butler
- Shane O’Brien (pipe dream)
- Lee Stempniak (if he isn’t going to re-sign)
Smid and Butler probably surprise some people. With Butler near the top of the league in blocks and Smid carrying a reputation as a hard-nosed warrior-type, I think each guy’s trade value might outstrip his actual utility.
Butler has recovered somewhat from his horrendous start to the season, in part because Hartley finally separated his from O’Brien. Butler is functional if he’s paired with someone who can manage the puck, but if he has to be the anchoring guy on a pairing, that partnership sinks rapidly. He’s 27, but doesn’t seem to have meaningfully improved since he arrived in Calgary and doesn’t seem to have much upside beyond “guy who can get in front of a lot of pucks”. If anyone offered me a top-60 pick for Butler, I’d take it.
Incredbily, Smid might be the worse player of the twi. The erstwhile Oiler seems to have gathered himself a lot of fans during his short time here in Calgary, but I’m not one of them. Smid is fearless, can seem to absorb a lot of pain and isn’t afraid to mix it up here and there, but his weaknesses easily overwhelm his strengths. Aside from O’Brien, Smid is the slowest defender on the Flames blueline. He doesn’t have any offensive upside and isn’t very good at moving the puck. If something goes wrong with Smid on the ice – a bad bounce, a poor decision – he can’t recover.
As a result, Smid has the worst possession rate of the Flames regular defenders this year. In addition, his contract stretches for another three seasons at an average of $3.6M per year. My guess is he’s a replacement level defender (at best) by the time his deal terminates in 2016-17, a year in which he’ll be owed $4M in salary.
Smid’s heart is willing, but the actual ability is lacking and he seems to be on a downward spiral. Burke should see if he can pull a Douglas Murray with some team at the deadline desperate for blueline grit and move Smid for whatever he can get.
As for Cammalleri, I know there have been rumors of a potential contract extension with the Flames, but I don’t really see how that makes sense for either party. Cammalleri will be 32 this June and even the most optimistic estimates don’t have the Flames back in the thick of things before he’ll turn 35. This upcoming contract is Cammalleri’s last real shot at both getting paid and playing for a potential winner. Given his age, Calgary has no reason to give him the sort of money and term it should take to convince Cammalleri to stick around either – he’s therefore a much better trade asset than anything else for the club currently.
There’s going to be a lot of teams in the hunt for a playoff spot when the deadline rolls around and pretty much all of them could use a top-6 sniper type to one degree or another. Best thing for both parties is to auction him off.