1. Signing Wolf
So the Calgary Flames made quick work of further shoring up the team’s contract pool (or, if you prefer, taking away a contract slot from someone else) by signing David Wolf out of Germany. A very Flames-y signing, and an inauspicious way to start the Brad Treliving era.
Wolf is big and seems to be able to contribute a (very) little bit offensively, but he seems to have mainly been acquired for that aforementioned size, and the grit he provides. Having a little more than half a point a game in the German league isn’t great, and having about two-and-a-half penalty minutes per tells you everything. So the question is this: Why sign him? He’s cheap, granted, but he’s not an NHL player and for all we know he might not even be an effective fighter at the NHL level.
But, what the hell. In general, I am a person who’s in favor of this kind of thing. Sign a Bryce van Brabant, or any other college and junior free agent you like. More NHL teams are also starting to look overseas, and this isn’t like the horrible Roman Cervenka experiment, which was always going to end in disaster. They don’t hurt to have around, and maybe they even help a little bit. Wouldn’t that be something?
I’m not holding my breath on a guy who’s not that great in the German league, though.
2. Trading for Spezza?
So apparently the consensus among people who know this kind of thing is that Jason Spezza will almost certainly be traded out of Ottawa this summer, and there have been some rumblings that the Calgary Flames might be interested in his services.
I probably think better of Spezza than a lot of people do, but I’m not sure this is a wise decision. I don’t care about the money or the fact that he’ll make the team better when it should be trying at all costs to bottom out. If I’m the Flames, I care about the cost. For a guy like Spezza, who still has a pretty decent amount of tread on the tires but is turning 31 next month, it’s going to be high. Probably a useful roster player, a prospect, and a pick. The Flames cannot afford to give up any of these things given the state of the team.
Let’s keep in mind, too, that this is also a club which will not sniff the playoffs next year, or probably the year after that. Spezza’s deal is up after this coming season, so he’s going to want to be extended by whichever team trades for him, and that’s something over which he has at least some control (thanks to his 10-team no-trade clause). By the time this team is good enough to even make the playoffs, Spezza will likely be in his mid-30s, and on a new deal that’s going to last for a long time and cost a lot of money.
What would be the point?
3. Trading for Phaneuf?
Likewise, there’s a lot of talk about the Maple Leafs trading Dion Phaneuf, owner of a new seven-year deal worth $49 million, and he too is being talked about as a potential trade target for Calgary.
Also a bad idea. And far less likely to happen.
It has nothing to do, by the way, with Phaneuf having previously played here, or anything like that. Everyone he allegedly clashed with is gone.
The real problem is that while he’s two years younger than Spezza and still a pretty damn good defenseman (playing for Randy Carlyle is destroying his numbers) there’s also the fact that he’s similarly going to cost a lot. Probably at least a first-round pick and a roster player, and you can bet that roster player will have to be a defenseman. The Leafs would probably want TJ Brodie back. That, obviously, isn’t going to happen.
There are the other considerations that apply to Spezza as well (his age when this team is once again effective, etc.), but while the Flames can almost certainly spare a youngish NHL forward to improve up front — if you put a gun to their head and forced them to, I mean — that just isn’t the case on the back end.
Neither of these trades is likely to happen, but they 100 percent should not.
4. Some thoughts on the West
It seems to me like the Flames’ road into the playoffs, by the way, is only going to get harder. The West used to be a mishmash of great teams and decent ones, and then a bunch of bad ones. But the decent ones are now starting to be good, and a few of the bad ones are moving in the right direction too.
I watch these Western Conference playoffs and I see teams like even Colorado and Dallas doing things to make themselves better that the Flames haven’t necessarily been able to do yet. Maybe they will one day, but that’s a while off, and by the time Calgary gets to the point of being competitive the young stars on those clubs will be in their primes. Hell, Edmonton might even figure things out over the next few years.
Maybe a few Western powers will have faded by then. Like Chicago if they have to offload one of Toews or Kane, and maybe San Jose, or Anaheim, when Thornton or Marleau or Perry or Getzlaf just aren’t as effective any more.
It’s a hard road in, though. If this were the East, the Flames wouldn’t be in quite so bad a position, I don’t think. But it’s not, so that’s got to be viewed as a real problem going forward. Do you try to buy your way in like Minnesota and hope like hell your drafting works out? Or do you let the drafting do all the talking and supplement that with more affordable free-agent pickups.
That, I think, is Treliving’s biggest challenge: How do you catch up with all those teams that have so much young talent already?
5. And on the East
With that having been said, I don’t think the Canadiens (and by the way this is being written ahead of last night’s Game 7 so I don’t know what will have happened there) are too bad or unrealistic a model to follow. They’re a team that wasn’t great for a while, and had their struggles with outright badness, and are now starting to get good again.
Admittedly, they’ve gotten lucky in the draft — Carey Price, PK Subban, Alex Galchenyuk, etc. — but just have a generally strong young core that (SURPRISE!) doesn’t rely on size or grit, but rather a lot of skill. Not that Brian Burke will ever let something like that happen, of course, but these are all mid-first and second-round picks are paying off. My god, in 2007 alone they drafted Ryan McDonagh, Max Pacioretty, and PK Subban within the first 43 picks. This is predicated on, “You have to be really lucky,” because if drafting like that were a repeatable skill they’d never lose a Stanley Cup. But still, that’s a team built mostly through the draft; Emelin, Price, D’Agostini, Pacioretty, Subban, Gallagher, Beaulieu, Tinordi, Galchenyuk, Plekanec. All guys drafted by the Habs who are still on the roster and contributing. That’s like a decade of drafting yielding 10 quality NHLers, plus all these guys they traded away or let go (Komisarek, Higgins, the Kostitsyns, Lapierre, Grabovski, Streit, Latendresse, White, Weber).
Other teams should be so lucky.