Five things: Some wiggle room

1. Okay, so they are addressing defense

No sooner had I published last week’s Five Things — in which I speculated that the team might like to add another right wing, or perhaps a defenseman — than Brad Treliving went out and said the latter part was true. The team would indeed like to add another veteran D to shore things up, rather than hope someone like Tyler Wotherspoon or Patrick Sieloff, or a long-time AHLer, was NHL-ready all of a sudden.

Not long after that, it was announced that Sheldon Brookbank would be invited to Calgary on a tryout basis when camp opens in two weeks (ONLY TWO WEEKS!!!!!!), and I would guess those two things are very related.

But my thing is this: That can’t be the only option, right? Brookbank seems to be a decent enough bottom-pairing guy, but playing on Chicago will buoy just about anyone’s numbers. So with that in mind, you have to wonder if — even though this looks like a good move from an analytics standpoint, as well as from the point of view of just making sure there were enough warm, capable bodies on the roster — the team really is done trying to add a defenseman.

2. Who’s still out there?

One thing you have to consider, then, is the fact that most NHL teams have picked the UFA market clean, down to the bone. Of the UFAs still on the market, only three saw more than 19 minutes a night last season, and of that group only one cleared 20.

And most of the guys on this list are guys you’d say to yourself, “Wow, he’s still in the league? Good lord.” Derek Morris and Henrik Tallinder are two of the three guys north of 19 minutes. Sami Salo was next in terms of TOI (a little more than 18 minutes per game). After that it’s a mishmash of guys you’d never want on your team: Joe Corvo, Ryan Whitney, Ed Jovanovski, Radek Martinek, Carlo Colaiacovo, Hal Gill, Douglas Murray, Shane O’Brien, and Mike Komisarek, just to name a few of the grislier options.

In fact, there are only 24 UFA defensemen even available at this point, and I’d say that if the Flames were going to pursue someone besides Brookbank — who I had no idea was 33 years old at this point, and will be turning 34 before the season starts — there’s just one guy on the list any NHL team should actually target.

3. So who is this mystery man?

I am now openly advocating for Calgary, if it does intend to sign another defenseman, to sign apparent Sabres reject Jamie McBain.

The fact that Buffalo chose not to re-up him should raise a few red flags, I understand. He is, however, the most attractive member of all UFA defensemen in certain regards. He’s one of the five remaining UFA d-men who’s not over 30 (he is, in fact, just 26). He logged the biggest minutes of everyone left in the pool at 20:10 a game.

Now, you look up his underlying numbers and you say, “No thanks” because he was minus-3.2 percent relative corsi (though that was better than Brookbank’s minus-4.4 percent). Sure, makes sense to me. He also faced some of the softest competition of any defenseman on the team and got buried at even strength. His zone starts were, however, super-tough (41.8 percent).

But the reason I’d tend to be a little more optimistic about the Flames acquiring him for dirt cheap is that the guy’s been around for 275 NHL games, and when he was with Carolina he had a lot more success than than he did with Buffalo. The last few years, the Sabres have been where even half-decent careers go to become garbage.

He’s also 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds — the Flames love size — and is used to playing heavy-ish minutes. I’d argue the Sabres overused him last year, putting him into 20-a-night situations (which, by the way, how do you play 20-plus a game and still face the worst competition on the team?) when he was clearly not suited for it. I know Buffalo had some injury problems on the blue line last year, but McBain is a guy you want playing 18:30 a night max. Period.

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4. Is it feasible?

In terms of money and stuff, it’s obviously doable. The Flames have cap space for days and money to spend, plus McBain’s salary, at this point in the summer, probably maxes out around $1 million for a year. Wouldn’t be shocked at all if the number were less than that.

There really isn’t a reason in the world this team wouldn’t like to add a size-y, right-shot defenseman on the cheap, especially with this much experience and apparent willingness to “play hard.” If you’re going by the Grit Chart — and you better believe the Flames are — he blocked 113 shots in 69 games. 

But on the other hand, he only threw 34 hits. That alone might be a barrier to entry.

There’s also the perception problem: If a guy’s not good enough for the Sabres, he shouldn’t be good enough for you. That’s probably why a handful of former Sabres (McBain and Tallinder, Ville Leino and Zenon Konopka) remain unsigned while most other teams have had their guys scooped up.

The only other interesting option I can really see out there is Raphael Diaz, a guy the Flames would never take (he’s European AND small), and who likewise might not have the best perception because he was on three teams last season alone. Diaz at least had the positive corsi relative, middling zone starts, and kinda-tough competition. But they’ll never go for it (even if he does block two shots a game), so I dismissed it out of hand. 

5. Will it happen?

Probably not. I think the Brookbank move is just about the only one they’re likely to make before training camp starts. Maybe they figure Brookbank isn’t a good fit when camp breaks and look at what options might remain, but they might just cut bait after that.

They might, obviously, also try to work a trade or two here at some point, but giving up assets for NHL players seems like it’s not a very good idea overall.

  • piscera.infada

    No quibble with the problem but I don’t agree with the proposed solution. Wouldn’t it make more sense to try and trade for promising young defenseman from a salary cap strapped team (like the Bruins). For the right player, I’d even throw in a young forward prospect that isn’t part of our young core going forward.

    • I don’t agree with the team giving up any assets for a player at this juncture. The only guy from that blue line Boston seems likely to give up is Bartkowski, and I don’t rate him as being significantly better than McBain; he’s just on a better team.

      • Matty Franchise Jr

        The simple fact is we don’t have any top pairing defense prospects in the pipeline. Defensemen generally take longer to develop than forwards. For the right young defense prospect, we are going to have to give up something even if we are offering cap relief. I’d rather given up a non core prospect than a high draft pick.

        • piscera.infada

          The problem is, if we take your above points regarding defensemen as fact, teams aren’t selling their young potential 2-3 defensemen, and if they are it’s going to be a lot more expensive than a Max Reinhart or even a Markus Granlund. While I agree, something needs to be done to upgrade the defensive pipeline, it’s not a deal that’s easily done. Even a decent defensive prospect who’s fallen out of favour with their current team is of premium value, and you just don’t see those kinds of moves made very often.

          In short, who are the ‘periphery pieces’ you’d move?

          • RealMcHockeyReturns

            I wouldn’t be opposed to going after Krug. Why not? Bruins just resigned Krieci to big bucks, they have even bigger problems next year with the Cap. We take salary, Kelly or whoever they want to dump, we take Krug & we give them Sven, 2015 2nd + someone else like Agostini or eat a chunk of GlenX salary. They need cheap NHL players & players on ELC’s to ship down until they get Savard on LTIR.

        • Matty Franchise Jr

          I think this might go hand in hand with the idea that if you’re not good enough for the Sabres, you’re not good enough for us.

          If you’re not in the Flames’ plans going forward, why would Boston want you at all, especially for a young D? An old D for cap relief, maybe.

          Edit: Yeah, what piscera.infada said.

  • piscera.infada

    I woulkd rather see Tyler Wotherspoon play in the bigs and make rookies mistakes than watch a marginal older D-man make rookie mistakes! AND why did the Flames drop the towering Chris Breen?

    • McRib

      Uggghhhhh, I do not agree at all. Watching Jamie Oleksiak play Calgary live last season he looked downright awful. Dude got turnstiled wide every second shift, when a team as slow as the Flames were exposing his very sloppy pivot I couldn’t imagine what the quick teams were doing to him last year. That kid really needs to work on his footwork if he ever plans on sticking in the NHL.

  • McRib

    Jamie McBain was looking like he was going to become a legitimate 2-3 defender in Carolina (until Justin Faulk showed up) and then he was shipped to Buffalo (we can’t blame the kid for last season).

    If Mr. Treliving starts making moves like picking up a McBain on the cheap I might start to warm up to him (very middling performance so far), lets face it trading for Brandon Bollig instead of drafting another defender (Alexis Vanier, Aaron Irving, Dysin Mayo, etc) and then signing Deryk Engelland…

    It’s interesting I wounder if the Flames were hoping to draft Jake Walman (who went right before that traded Bollig pick). They ditched the pick right afterward and he was a good value upside tier two defender like Brandon Hickey. I actually think I would have drafted Walman ahead of Hickey to be honest (not to mention Jack Glover), but regardless don’t hate the Hickey pick.

  • KiLLKiND

    What about signing Joni Pitkanen to a short term 1-2 year deal he didn’t play at all last year but seems like he could be a good signing if he doesn’t plan on retiring he is 30 though

  • RealMcHockeyReturns

    I am unsure adding another experienced D-man via trade is a good idea as we may want to give chances to Wotherspoon and Seiloff in Calgary soon-ish, but if we got a sub-26 year old with at least potential to be top 2 D-man then I would like it. What if we gave up a Russell and redundant forward prospect like Baertschi (and perhaps more or less depending on guy we get) for an unsigned RFA D who is young a la Tyson Barrie, Torey Krug, Brendan Dillon, John Moore (NYR) or Eric Gelinas?

    • piscera.infada

      From the standpoint of managing risk, I’m not trading Baertschi until I’m absolutely sure Gaudreau is going to pan out. If Gaudreau doesn’t work, is Baertschi really redundant?

      I’m not saying Gaudreau won’t work out, but better to be safe than sorry in my books.

        • piscera.infada

          How many have the skill that Baertschi do? How many have put up close to .5 ppg (in their young) NHL careers? How many have the very solid NHLe in their draft and draft +1 years that Baertschi had?

          I’m not saying don’t trade Baertschi, and I agree if the right deal comes across, it’s good asset management. However, when I look at a possible depth chart, there are two guys that have that mouth-watering mix of skill, creativity, and goal-scoring prowess – Gaudreau and Baertschi. Don’t get me wrong, I like Klimchuk more than most on this site, and I believe he will turn into a player. Yet, I also know the standard attrition rate among NHL prospects is nothing to slough-off. If you trade Baertschi for magic beans you’re hitching your wagon to Gaudreau for the forseeable future, and considering he’s played all of one(!) NHL game, it may be prudent to at least see how he performs in the AHL/NHL over a reasonable time period. Depth charts look awesome when going purely off draft pedigree/junior league scoring, but we know it’s not always a prudent course of action.

          So that brings up issue number 2. What do you trade him for? Yes, a young NHL ready prospect with top-3 potential. Sounds easy, but is it? When was the last time that kind of a player was included in a trade? Those are among the most difficult assets to trade for – their cost is so high it approaches prohibitive. Let’s assume for a minute the Flames are bottom-3 bad this year. That’s the third overall pick, and number 33 in the second round. Is a young, NHL ready prospect (who’s likely proven little in the NHL to this point) really worth Baertschi, the #33 overall pick, and some sort of Hudler/Glencross/Wideman (with retained salary)? That’s likely what it would take.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    I have come to believe that everything that every move the Flames have put together is culminating toward a 2014/15 season tank. Aside from improving the goaltending tandem, the team is worse than the 2012/13.
    Forwards:
    Cammelleri and Stempniak out, with Raymond and Setaguchi in as replacements in (verdict: worse). Westgarth out, Bollig in (verdict: better in a marginal 4th line position).
    Defense:
    Smith and O’Brien out and Engelland + Cundari/Wotherspoon/Brookbank in. (Verdict: push [and I’m being kind]).

    I’m not optimistic. This team looks destined for 14 or 15 in the West.

    If I’m right, then the answer that everyone is asking “why not play the kids and let them develop this year”. They can develop in the AHL, while the Flames uses 1-2 year contracted guys to slug out 45+ losses this season.

    On the bright side, they’ll be in a great place to draft Connor McJesus.

    • Nick24

      Agreed. The conference is stronger than it was last year and even the non-trivial improvement in goal will not overcome that unless Johnny Gaudreau becomes elite in his first year. Which only takes us to 11th or 12th.

    • Burnward

      EXACTLY!
      I’ve been saying that all along. Better to look like they have a plan that’s bad, look like mis-managers and tank with the kids growing up on the farm. Then next summer, ditch the dead weight bring in the kids and roll four lines. Then it’s one more year developing, looking like a better destination for FA’s and voila! Playoffs here we come!

    • Burnward

      Love your comment…as I can only hope BT/BB are sly enough to dress up the team with a new coat of paint for the public to view while inside removing the best timbers and temporarily using them in another structure.

      And then be willing to take a public lashing when the wheels start coming off the bus as planned.

      Full marks if this is the case.

      Cause if recruiting and playing retreads while hiding prospects and not giving them any NHL development time (during a year when they are expected to do poorly) is BT?BB’s idea of a good development regime…then fans are being played for fools and the Oiler rebuild will look absolutely awesome to Flames fans.

      • PrairieStew

        Goaltending gentlemen. Goaltending. .899 sv % last year – .911 when Ramo was in, which was also what Hiller was last year – and is his career average.

        On 2145 shots allowed last year – .911 gets you 209 goals against – a 29 goal improvement. So instead of being -36 -you are -7 if the offense stays the same. Raymond and Cammy had identical points; Seto more than Galiardi, so all you need is someone to match Stemp’s 34 points – or have those points made up by healthy Glencross and Jones. Did anyone other than Gio overachieve offensively last year ?

        Can’t see them in the lottery sweepstakes.

        • T&A4Flames

          And the rest of the west got better and teams are not likely to take us as lightly this season. We will also cycle through rookies etc which will disrupt chemistry. Lottery pick? I think so.

          • RealMcHockeyReturns

            Do you actually think teams took Calgary lightly after the midway point of the season? Over the last month when teams pushing for points to make the playoffs did teams take them lightly? We may indeed be near the bottom and may end up last but to assume professional athletes and coaches take another team lightly is rather a weak argument.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    If I were BT, I would bring in McBain. He’s got some size at 6-2 200lbs, he gives you offense, a RH shot and is only 26. I would like to see this:
    Gio-Brodie, Russell-Wideman Smid/Wotherspoon-McBain that would be better than any combination of Engelland or Brookbank in there.