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.