The Entry Level Contract Bunch

Early this year, Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke appeared (as he often does) at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. If that sounds like a weird fit, it kind-of is – Burke has seemingly embraced the role of being the old crank shaking his fist at those punk kids doing analytics on his lawn.

However, his musings about the challenges of a salary capped NHL did lead to him – as other execs in other sports have done – waxing poetic about the importance of getting contributions from players on entry-level contracts.

In recent years, it can be argued that the Flames have done a fairly good job utilizing guys on entry-level deals, though to varying degrees. Arguably the pinnacle has been the T.J. Brodie emergence, as he tested the waters in Year 1 of his ELC and gradually improved, ending his ELC as an NHL regular (and arguably the team’s best non-Giordano blueliner).

Lance Bouma had a similar progression and seemed primed for a post-lockout roster spot last year (during his final ELC season) before his knee injury. Mikael Backlund also emerged during his ELC years. Others didn’t, but in many ways that’s the point – you use the entry-level, waiver-exempt seasons to test guys out at the NHL level when the opportunity arises. If they progress, you get the value of their work below-market as the ELC keeps their pay low. Of course, then you have to pay…

The Flames have 20 players on entry-level deals for the 2014-15 season.

  • F Kenny Agostino
  • F Bill Arnold
  • F Sven Baertschi
  • D Ryan Culkin
  • F Turner Elson
  • F Michael Ferland
  • F Johnny Gaudreau
  • F Markus Granlund
  • F Josh Jooris
  • D Keegan Kanzig**
  • F Morgan Klimchuk**
  • F Corban Knight
  • D Brett Kulak
  • F Sean Monahan
  • F Emile Poirier**
  • D John Ramage
  • F Max Reinhart
  • F Patrick Sieloff
  • F Bryce van Brabant
  • D Tyler Wotherspoon

Noted by the double-asterixes (**), Kanzig, Klimchuk and Poirier are all in the slide year of their deals, meaning that unless they play 10+ NHL games, their deals don’t begin to run. (Patrick Sieloff, injured most of this season, was in a similar situation despite being a pro. Poirier will be in the same spot next year.)

Notable? No goaltenders (right now, at least). Lots of guys basically in their first year of pro hockey (Agostino, Arnold, Gaudreau, Culkin, Ferland, Kulak, Poirer, Sieloff, van Brabant). I feel bad for Ferland, who burned his first year due to the lockout and some off-ice craziness, then got hurt this year after just 25 games and is now onto the third year of his deal. Sven Baertschi, Turner Elson and Max Reinhart are also entering the final year of their deals.

Sean Monahan is the only player on an ELC that is a sure-fire every-day NHLer right now. But I don’t doubt that we’ll see about half of these guys in Calgary next season, with perhaps Wotherspoon, Reinhart, Gaudreau and Knight having the inside track tor regular duty.

    • Bean-counting cowboy

      “with perhaps Wotherspoon, Reinhart, Gaudreau and Knight having the inside track tor regular duty.”

      I would add Granlund to that list, he may bump one of Reinhart or Knight out. I think Granlund has more upside than either of those guys.

      • PrairieStew

        Agree that Granlund has more offense than Knight or Reinhart, but with Monahan, Backlund and Stajan occupying the top 3 centre roles – I’d give Reinhart or Knight the 4th line C ahead of Granlund. Markus can be legit #1C in AHL next year with Street and Jones gone. The tough choice comes the following year if he develops and if top 3 play to potential.

    • Matty Franchise Jr

      So, what’s the right mix for a team in a rebuild? 4-6 ELC guys on the big club at any given time?

      A team that is legitimately competing for a playoff spot and hopefully a Cup run? 3-4 ELC guys?

      • SmellOfVictory

        I’d say, bare minimum, a rebuilding team should ideally have one full forward line and one defensive pairing of vets to take the hardest minutes, as well as no lines/pairings that are 100% ELC players. So that’s at least 6 effective veteran forwards and 4 effective veteran defencemen, leaving up to 8 (+extra skater) roster spots for ELCs in terms of skaters.

    • Matty Franchise Jr

      I would possibly add Poirier as having a good chance to make the Flames next season. He was one of the last cut this past year, and ada very good start to his pro career in Abby. We are a little light on RW, and he adds necessary grit. Could be a keeper come training camp and pore-season.

      • Not to mention the fact that Poirier plays a brand of Hockey that falls perfectly in line with the philosophy of Burke. He’s a hard nosed $@#t disturber who can score with the best of them at his level. I would look for Poirier to certainly push if not make this team out of camp.

      • Parallex

        Scuttlebutt is that he won’t (sign with Chicago). Of course Chicago has until Aug. 15th to change his mind so who knows.

        As for whether he would sign here in Calgary… I would imagine that should he not sign with Chicago the Flames and Panthers might have the inside tracks due to the existing relationships (his college friends with us & his brother in Florida) and availability of opportunity.

        • King Quong

          Brendan Piri also got moved from Chicago to Florida and is a friend of Kevin. I’d say that they have the best shot at signing him, with the Flames being a close second.

          As for kids on ELC’s that actually have a serious shot at making the big club next year, well I’d have Wotherspoon, Reinhart, Granlund, Poirier and Gaudreau as the front runners along with our #4 pick this year (depending who it is – Ekblad and Draisitl could likely jump in right away, although burke has mentioned he doesn’t do that often).

          That being said, I don’t think all of them make it. Likely just two or three (Reinhart & Granlund IMO… MAYBE Gaudreau if he just dominates). Knight and Baerstchi could also be possibilities, but I believe them along with Poirier & Gaudreau could likely use some seasoning in the AHL. It really doesn’t hurt to rush these kids – just look at how Detroit develops talent. I think it would be wise to emulate their approach, and besides, if Reinhart & Granlund make it, our lineup could look as follows:

          GlenX – Backs – Hudler
          Gaudreau – Mony – Colborne
          Reinhart – Granlund – Byron
          Bouma – Stajan – McG

          It’s really too bad that McG doesn’t have more skill or else we would be able to role FAIRLY even four lines, kinda ALA how CBJ/NYR goes about things (from what I’ve seen of them).

          • piscera.infada

            Byron is a bit of a question mark for me. Also, with Gratts, I would see him as more of a option for 4th instead of a permanent fixture.

            I’m thinking more along the lines of:
            GlenX/Backlund/Hudler Sven/Mony/Colborne Gaudreau/Granlund/Poirier Bouma/Stajan/Reinhart

            GlenX is a good player, but I would consider moving him to make room for a top line LW.

            • King Quong

              Honestly, as much as I love giving the kids a shot, I think its best if we take the cautious side for their development. The whole organizations standpoint has been based on meritocracy, which I believe in. If a kid comes into camp and plays good enough to deserve a spot on the team, then he should definitely have it. Having said that, If management is on the fence at all with a prospect, they should start them in the AHL.

              Look at how Detroit developed Nyquist, Tatar, etc… Its always better to take the more cautious approach, instead of thrusting a prospect into the NHL and having it end up like Sven, who has now had to be sent back to the AHL. He looks like he is finding his game now, but where would he be if he had just been allowed to play in abby all season?

              Your suggested lineup predicts that 5 players will jump up to the big team. Sven, Gaudreau, Granlund, Poirier, and Reinhart. Two of those would be making the jump to pass the AHL immediately. I just don’t think thats very realistic. You didn’t include Jones in the lineup, or Byron, so I’m assuming you’ll also think they’ll be moved?

        • piscera.infada

          I’m just wondering if anyone has any further insight on Hayes. I know he’s deemed to be a pretty good prospect by Hockey Futures et al., but the few (and I mean few) times I’ve watched him I came away very unimpressed with his game. He has a booming shot and size, but not much else. He lacks skating ability and doesn’t seem to have much in the way of hockey sense – however, limited viewings and all…

          Anyone have any more insight? I think if he won’t sign with Chicago, it’s likely a worthwhile experiment. I just wouldn’t get hung-up on draft pedigree.

        • King Quong

          I think it’s also worth mentioning that Hayes sent out a tweet that was something along the lines of Congratulations to Gaudreau and Arnold for signing with the flames and ended the tweet with ” #Trio “

      • SoCalFlamesFan

        I still like the: Cammi’s rights for Hayes rights trade.

        As long as both teams have assurances that the players will sign with them, it makes sense for both teams.

        WW

    • PrairieStew

      Thanks Parallex!

      Can we please send the private jet on August 15th to Kevin Hayes house with Conroy, Gaudreau, and Arnold. 6’4″ 210 = Burkey Player. Or we trade one of our draft picks to Chicago for his rights and than we send the plane! 😉

    • Skuehler

      IMO Gaudreau will never see the AHL. This kid is really gifted and will prove it in the preseason games. I also think the other surprise in training camp will be Poirier. His size, speed and skill will be prominent in camp and his RW positioning will be a positive factor for him.

      If Ferland is healthy he may also surprise given his size and tenacity. I watched this kid in the Penticton tourney last year and he is special with a mean streak and soft hands.

      That leaves Granlund, Knight and Reinhart. The Flames have been bottom 3 in face-off percentage the last 3 years and has really hurt the team. I think who can demonstrate proficiency on face-offs in pre-season will secure the 4th line centre position! Dare I suggest Billy Arnold? He has the size and is very strong on face offs!

      • Byron Bader

        Knight is also very strong at face-offs. He has the reach while Arnold has the beefy weight. I think it’ll be one of those two in the 4th center role for sure come October.

    • Byron Bader

      Keep 5 hard working vets who can teach the kids strong work ethic and how to play in this league get rid of the rest and welcome all 1 and 2nd year players.

      No shot blocking, that’s the goalies job and never shoot away the puck. Keep possession always!

      Boom

    • ChinookArchYYC

      @ Ryan Pike

      “I feel bad for Ferland, who burned his first year due to the lockout and some off-ice craziness, then got hurt this year after just 25 games and is now onto the third year of his deal.”

      In Ferland’s case, I don’t feel bad at all. He’s has a ton of talent, a good amount of speed and is already NHL sized. If he wanted it, he could have been regular NHL’r already. Michael lacked in maturity going into last season, and he has himself to blame for not taking God-given talent and making the best of it, before he got hurt. He looked as if he had turned a corner, before his injury and I hope that’s the case.

    • loudogYYC

      Speaking of efficient contracts, Philadelphia will is gonna be royally f*cked next season with the cap and the Flames can offer a solution to this problem while also addressing their own.

      Philly has an abundance of expensive D, 2 of which would fit in the Flames second pairing, namely Luke Schenn or Nick Grossmann. On RW, they have Wayne Simmonds and Jake Voracek, players who they probably wouldn’t want to trade but if they’re offered Glencross, or Hudler + at 50% retained salary, they will be able to open up $5M+ of cap space needed to re-sign Brayden Schenn and fill other holes.

      I dunno how you all feel about Luke Schenn, but I think he would fit just fine behind Gio & Brodie. Voracek would be a upgrade to any RW on the current roster and he’s a bigger player too.

      • Byron Bader

        I would take Voracek in a heartbeat, but I think he is one of the untradeables. Maybe Homer has one last bonehead trade before he gets the boot.

        How about GlenX + Wideman (retain some salary) for Voracek + Grossman.

      • mk

        Not huge on Schenn or his contract. He’s being paid $3.6M/year and is the Flyers 5th most used d-man. It’s not the worst idea, but just because he’s young doesn’t mean he’ll develop into his contract. It seems like most signs point to him being a 3rd pairing guy.

        Voracek: yes please. A consistent 40-50 point player (better pace the past 2 years too) on a fair contract. Right wing, 24 years old.

        • loudogYYC

          I’d be fine with Brayden Schenn too, the thing about the Flyers is they have too many bloated contracts and still have holes to fill. I can see them being ok with trading one of Grossmann or L. Schenn, they may not be ok with trading one of their $4M+ forwards but they may not have much of a choice. That’s the best way to take advantage of Glencross’ low cap hit IMO.

          @coachedpotatoe

          I can see the team regressing next season, this season was a ‘win’ by rebuilding standards, but next season will have higher expectations and likely as many or more rookies as this past one. Top 3 pick next year is my guess.

    • Bean-counting cowboy

      Mark Sunday, May 18 on your calendar. Canada plays Sweden at the Worlds. Couple of good Flames centers going at each other! 7:30 AM mountain time on TSN

    • SoCalFlamesFan

      If you wouldn’t trade a 2nd + for Hayes because you don’t think he’s worth more than those assets, that’s one thing. But if you wouldn’t do that trade just because the word is he won’t sign with his draft team and therefore can be had for less than he’s worth, you’d be making a mistake. Keep in mind the GM can still play his colleagues against one another, and that you might be forced to give something close to market value up just because it’s a sellers market and there’s an asset that everyone else wants.

      Relatedly, Feaster deserves credit for driving the value of a “dead asset” up in just this way with our old buddy Erixon–just maybe not as much credit as he gets for seemingly swindling Sather.

    • Bean-counting cowboy

      Wspoon looked ok. Steady. Would be better if he had a year or two more for seasoning in the A. Would rather see him on spot duty than to make the team outright.

    • loudogYYC

      I look at this list and I see a level of potential offensive talent that we have not seen here in a long time. Highly skilled small guys in Johnny, Sven and Granlund(who is closer to average than small. A group of solid two way forwards with some up side offensively Agostino, Arnold,Jooris,Rhino, Knight and Klimchuk. Some forwards with phyisical presence and a various levels of skill Ferland,vanBrandt and although not on an entry level Bouma and Colborne. Finally two guys with above average skill and have some size in Monahan and Poirier. So if you keep this group around for a couple of years there may be something special. The question is will Burke and the new gm have the patience. The pressure to speed up the rebuild may mean not allowing all of them to develop here and some may be moved before we know hat they are and of course some may never pan out. Some may become redundant in this years draft.

      As an organization will this coming year see a regression from this year(injuries, bad luck, poor goaltending), roughly standing still, mild progression but not really in the paly off hunt or significant progression and really be in the hunt. The moves Burke makes over the next few months will help clarify what will be done. It will be interesting. Personally I hope he doesn’t tinker to much with the prospects up front. Not a lot of the young guys mentioned on D, by the way Sieloff plays D and is not a forward, also those talking about Rhino as a center he has spent most of the season on the wing.

    • aloudoun

      I am of the opinion we are more than ok in the forward ranks for next year, especially if Sven, Emile, Johnny or others make the team.
      Defence is something I would say should be the focus. Sign a free agent like Niskanen, Diaz or Stralman.
      I would also think that a backup goaltender… Halak, Elliot, Griess, Montoya, Hutton are a few names that come to mind.

      Trade candidates would be Wideman, Smid, Jones

      • I’d love to have Niskanen on the Flames… but he’s probably the only prime UFA candidate on D. He’ll have lots of suitors (take Ottawa as an example–they need D help more than the Flames do).

        • King Quong

          The thing is we have a lot of cap room and he would not cost us asset. I really think if we are looking to upgrade our defence this might be the year to go after the top 3/4 UFA’s and let out assets up front develop.

    • Niskanen is the guy that stands out re: UFA D. Only problem is he’ll come with a big price tag come July.

      We need a RW. Not really anything interesting on the upcoming Free Agent market. Burke stated he doesn’t address positional needs at the draft. Which means we’ll likely see a couple moves at the draft/through the off season.