1. Further D-velopments
So in the last week, the picture for the Calgary Flames on defense has either changed a lot, or not really very much at all, depending upon how you choose to look at it.
In this space last week I took a look at what Sheldon Brookbank could potentially provide to the team on the basis of his receiving a camp tryout contract with the club as well as what another defenseman (Jamie McBain) might be able to provide instead of, or in addition to, the former Blackhawk. The team has since gone out and added to more defensemen to the mix, one on a two-way deal and the other on another tryout basis.
(What’s interesting about the two tryouts is that Brad Treliving was asked this week whether there were any more such deals in the offing, and his answer was basically, “Not right now.” Which isn’t to say the team is done, but that it’s potentially considering more options. Or, put another way, more players might be considering such an offer from Calgary.)
Needless to say, this has the potential to change things considerably for the team, because that’s as many as three veteran D being added to the club in one capacity or another, at least for the remainder of camp.
2. The Potter contract
Of the three moves to address the blue line, the decision to give Corey Potter a two-way, for-sure deal is maybe the one that makes the least sense.
With all the remaining free agents almost entirely getting tryout offers from clubs these days (I think Steve Eminger signing a two-way with Boston is the only other exception), it’s difficult to imagine why Calgary moved to lock up Potter — whose numbers last year were not good basically across the board — is strange.
He had no goals and five assists in just 19 games played for Edmonton and Boston, and only averaged 13:46 a night. That means he’s a bottom-pairing, no offense defenseman, playing some pretty easy minutes. With Edmonton he faced some of the weakest competition the team could find him, and got the easiest zone starts of anyone on the team.
I’m not sure, therefore, why that’s worthy of an actual contract of any kind, even if it’s a two-way deal. Potter might be valuable on the farm in terms of providing “veteran leadership,” or other whatever hokum you can come up with, but in terms of helping the club as a No. 6 or 7 defenseman, you have to think there are much better options out there. The guy has just 111 games of experience at the NHL level despite being 30 years old, and is hurt kind of a lot (TSN lists him as having missed 24 games last season alone with separate groin, neck, and back injuries). That doesn’t include four other injuries of varying severity over the last four years — and potentially more because TSN can’t track AHL injuries — that caused him to miss time.
Since 2006-07, he’s racked up 327 AHL games, though, and has 140 points in those. There’s AHL value here, plus the cover when in need of a call-up, but not much else.
3. The Diaz invite
This is a different kettle of fish entirely. Last week, in talking about McBain potentially coming aboard, I threw out the idea that they’d actually invite Diaz instead because I figured he wasn’t a fit. He’s generously listed at 5-foot-11, and I’d bet that 200 or so pounds probably isn’t totally accurate either.
Because of his size, he also doesn’t play what most people would call purely physical hockey, which is what I’d have thought the Flames would want from their bottom-pairing defenseman. I say bottom-pairing not because that’s what I think Diaz necessarily is, but because the Flames’ blue line actually isn’t that bad, and that’s what he’d probably end up being on this club.
He doesn’t supplant the TJ Brodies, Mark Giordanos, or Dennis Widemans of the world, and Kris Russell’s role as the No. 4 is probably pretty safe as well. You further don’t bring in prospective second-pairing guys on tryout deals; you just sign them. That’s not to say this can’t or shouldn’t happen, because Florida ended up getting a No. 2 D-man when Edmonton let Tom Gilbert walk, and they were probably very happy with that result. That’s not, however, what’s going to happen here.
I’m of the opinion that most teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season could use a Diaz-type player, who moves the puck, excels at entering the zone, and can put up points when used in the proper situations. Like Potter, Diaz didn’t face the toughest competition last season, but unlike Potter, he was actually pretty good at bossing them around. That’s what you want out of a No. 6 guy, is it not?
This is a move that’s basically unassailable.
4. The potential fallout
But what all this means for the team is very strange.
That’s three veterans brought in to compete for the No. 6 and 7 spots — assuming the top four I mentioned earlier aren’t going anywhere, and that the newly signed Deryk Engelland is under no threat of losing his position —along with Ladislav Smid (whose contract is likely too big to be buried in the minors, both because of the cost and the benefit he serves the team’s getting to the cap floor with his huge hit) and Tyler Wotherspoon.
In general, I’d err on the side of the “if we’re accepting the team being really bad this year, why not give the kids a run-out?” argument in this case, which is why I’d tell Brookbank to take a hike after camp and keep Potter stashed in the minors until Wideman gets hurt again. But when you consider Diaz is a relatively young guy and can serve as a stopgap until Wotherspoon or perhaps Patrick Sieloff can get to the bigs and actually be ready for it, I don’t see the harm in that. If nothing else, that means Wotherspoon gets more prime minutes in the AHL, playing guys who can actually put the puck in the net; I’m not sure there’s much difference between the average fourth-line NHL guy and the prime AHL scorers, except for the roles they play. So if you can get a bunch of minutes against players that are more or less equivalent, that’s better for development. Stands to reason.
So if we think Wotherspoon is out of the picture for a role with the big club — and I’d say two tryouts and an AHL deal to NHL veterans indicate that’s exactly what he is — then that’s four guys fighting for two spots. The two they end up picking between Smid, Diaz, Brookbank, and Potter is going to tell us what this team really values in its bottom-pairing defensemen, and potentially its organizational philosophy overall.
5. Two quick questions
I got the email this morning so I figured now is as good a time as any to ask here: What do you want to know about the Flames prospects playing in Hockey East this season (Mark Jankowski, Jon Gillies, and John Gilmour at Providence College, and Brandon Hickey at Boston University) from the upcoming media day availability on Sept. 19? If your questions are any good I will try to remember to ask them of both the players and their coaches.
Along the same lines, how much coverage of Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin, who are also going to be playing college hockey in Boston this year (at BU and Boston College, respectively), and are likely to be very high picks in this coming season’s draft? Figured I’d inquire about the interest among readers, just because the Flames are going to be awful this season, and these are two potential draft targets for the club.