Over the past decade, it’s often been tough to be a Calgary Flames supporter.
The 2004 Stanley Cup Final appearance may have indicate to team ownership and management that the team was better than it was. As it stands, Darryl Sutter’s post-lockout chasing of a Stanley Cup stands as an example of almost Shakespearean tragedy – despite the good intentions, there wasn’t a strong plan in place, and the fact that the team found it so hard to sign and retain key players from the outside of the organization speaks to a league-wide perception that the group was tilting at windmills.
In a sense, that’s why the T.J. Brodie signing is such a nice sign for the organization.
Brodie is locked up through the 2019-20 season – which sounds like science fiction in terms of how far away it is, but it’s actually pretty close. If one presumes that “The Plan” is for the Flames to improve over the next two seasons until they’re (hopefully) a playoff bubble team in 2016-17, the players they’ve signed thus far can be seen as their foundation.
Players, Organization-Wide, Signed For 2016-17
(R- RFA after season, U- UFA after season):
- Goalies: Nobody
- Defense: T.J. Brodie, Deryk Engelland (U), Ladislav Smid (U), Dennis Wideman (U), Patrick Sieloff (R), Brett Kulak (R), Ryan Culkin (R)
- Forwards: Mason Raymond (U), Matt Stajan, Brandon Bollig (U), Sam Bennett, Emile Poirier (R)
And presumably we’ll have new deals for the intervening RFAs like Lance Bouma, Mikael Backlund, Paul Byron, Tyler Wotherspoon, Joni Ortio, Sven Baertschi, Bill Arnold, Johnny Gaudreau and some others, as well as a nearly guaranteed new deal for captain Mark Giordano. (And a good chance exists that Jon Gillies and Mark Jankowski will be under pro contracts by then.)
If you look at the players in place, what is there?
A rock-solid top defensive pairing in Brodie and Giordano signed long-term for less than what P.K. Subban makes, as well as Kris Russell as a solid third man. If the team can find a decent right-handed defender to play with him on the second pairing, the defense is solidified for awhile. (Or you can get Noah Hanifin or Oliver Kylington to play the off-side if you draft them in June).
The team currently has two strong goaltenders, along with a few options behind them (in the form of Jon Gillies and Joni Ortio). Theoretically, one of them could develop into something worthwhile. Ideally two, but let’s not ask for too much here.
Up-front, the club has a lot of offensive-minded players with potential (Gaudreau, Baertschi, Bennett) and a few two-way players who have had recent success (Backlund, Colborne, Monahan) and guys who can move between defensive or offensive deployments (Byron, Raymond) and some bodies who have value as penalty kill and energy guys (Bollig, Bouma). Matt Stajan could be the elder statesman of the center group in two years, and he’ll at least be a solid face-off guy.
The plan isn’t airtight. Heck, we’re about two or three moves into its employment, so the potential for management to go off-course is still extremely high. But the Flames have a lot of cap space, even after signing their second or third-best player (right now) to a long-term deal, as well as many contract spots to work with. They have several pieces that are good now, and a bunch of prospects that could develop nicely or be leveraged as assets to fill in gaps throughout the line-up. (And believe me, there are gonna be gaps.) And they don’t have any key internal assets that are likely to be lost as UFAs in the next few years, Ramo and Glencross not-withstanding.
The other key is the cap hit. Brodie’s deal is extremely affordable and gives the team a lot of options moving forward. It also seems to be indicate a kind-of internal salary structure is beginning to formulate. Fourth line guys get fourth line money – indicated by the Lance Bouma deal – and the powers-that-be appear to be erring on the side of signing bubble guys like Paul Byron to short-term, lower-salary deals to incentivize their seasons. As a result, outside of a few inherited bad deals like David Jones’ or Dennis Wideman’s, few of the guys being brought in have deals that violate this internal salary structure – the notable exception is Deryk Engelland, which has been defended on the grounds that he’s the only real physical defender on the team (and a rare right-handed shot). Regardless, when you take a look at who’s being brought in, and their terms and salary and roles, most of these guys make sense.
T.J. Brodie forgoed three years of potential unrestricted free agency to sign in Calgary. As Kent noted, he signed eight months early. His cap value would only escalate as his importance to the Flames became more and more obvious. He likely gave up a lot of money to stay here long-term, and that money will give the Flames flexibility to sign more assets in the future.
To be bluntly honest, it doesn’t matter one bit if Kent or I think the Calgary Flames have a plan for the future or buy into what it is. It primarily matters if the players do, because they’re the ones that the team needs to convince to be the building blocks and carry it out. Based on the evidence presented by the circumstances around the Brodie signing, early indicators are that so far, they do buy in.
But we are still a long way until the plan is fully implemented and there’s a lot of opportunities for things to go sideways.