We’re about a week away from the 2014 Entry Draft and the Flames have 5 picks inside the top-90, including a franchise high 4th overall. It’s not hyperbole to say this summer will be a pivotal one of the Flames road back to respectability. If they pick a future star or two and not stub their toe horribly in free agency, it will give the club a much better chance of making their up the crowded Western Conference standings ladder.
Of course, the other key consideration is how they develop and manage their current crop of players…
– There’s been talk and trade rumors that have included both Mikael Backlund and TJ Brodie recently. It’s impossible to overstate how bad a move it would be to trade either of these players now. Not only are they the only two guys within spitting distance of peak age who are also worth a damn on this roster (23 and 25 respectively), they are also grossly underpaid right now according to the level of their contributions. Oh, and they might even improve.
– Because they have yet to put up noteworthy offensive numbers, some Flames fans and much of the league outside of Calgary don’t quite understand how good these two guys are. This will help put things into perspective: last year, on a bottom 5 NHL team, Backlund and Brodie played 458 even strength minutes together, mostly against other teams top lines.
The Flames owned a 59.4% Corsi rate with them both on the ice through those 458 minutes. They scored 62.5% of the goals as well. Those aren’t merely good ratios, they are elite. For comparison: last season Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews combined for ratios of 60.1% (Corsi) and 61.% (goals). Other pairings in the same ballpark: Patrice Bergeron/Zdeno Chara and Anze Kopitar/Drew Doughty.
So, in short, the only thing the Flames should be doing with Backlund and Brodie is trying to ink them to long-term extensions as soon as possible. They are two of the pillars around which a new roster can be safely built.
– I’ve heard a lot of theories about why the Flames were more competitive than expected last year. Many of settle on the Vancouver fight night or team competitiveness narrative. Brian Burke recently claimed as a function that the acquisition of Kevin Westgarth was a key to turning the Flames around because other teams bad guys were loathe to hit the Flames after he arrived.
The truth of it is, the combination of Backlund, Brodie and Giordano was the primary reason the Flames weren’t Oiler-esque last year. When those guys weren’t on the ice, the Flames mostly got run out of the rink. My hope is the team understands this behind closed doors and covets them appropriately.
– Switching gears, the impending free agent season and the fact the Flames will have to spend a lot of cap space just to get to the floor is both a blessing and a curse.
On the one hand, they have an incredible amount of flexibility which will allow Treliving to get creative should some teams need to shed dollars to make any moves. On the other hand, it opens the club up to potential blunders like overpaying mediocre players or backing up a dump truck full of money for the one or two white whales in the rather thin UFA pool. There will be some opportunities to supplement Calgary’s underwhelming middle rotation depth at both forward and defense, but, like every summer, there are land mines everywhere.
– The best targets on the back-end currently include: Anton Stralman, Matt Niskanen, Mark Fayne and Tom Gilbert. Niskanen will be the most sought after of the bunch so he’s probably out. Stralman probably raised his value with the Rangers playoff run, but neverthless there are indications he’s a kind of TJ Brodie-esque diamond in the rough whose value is overshadowed by meh counting numbers. Check out this article by Tyler Dellow to see just how well Stralman seemed to push the play in New York the last couple of years.
Mark Fayne is another unknown guy with solid underlying numbers. That said, New Jersey is probably the strangest club in the league when it comes to their possession rates – they are regularly really good, yet the club is always mediocre anyways. Players who leave usually see their possession rates plummet too (cough Clarkson cough). I don’t know what’s going in NJ, but it makes me…wary of their middling free agents.
– Stralman should sound familiar to Flames fans. He was briefly Calgary property back in 2009. They acquired him in the Wayne Primeau deal and then quickly flipped him to the Blue Jackets for a 3rd round pick after training camp. At the time the Flames had two “fringe” guys who were waiver eligible in Stralman and Staffan Kronwall. Sutter chose Kronwall who would go on to play 11 NHL games for Calgary before fleeing back to Europe.
– Of course, we know the Flames are likely going to look to beef up the roster a tad, particularly since the club is poised to get even younger going into 2014-15. Which no doubt means names like Matt Green, Clayton Stoner, Brooks Orpik or Willie MItchell on their radar. Greene is a lumbering third pairing guy at best, Mitchell is 37 years old and Orpik has been on the steep decline for a few years. Stoner has been a fringe guy most of his career – he’s 29 and last season was his sophomore year in the NHL. He didn’t exactly blow the doors off either. So there’s not a lot of upside in the coke machine department.
– In case you missed it, word is Calgary has released Chris Butler (another reason they’ll be looking for a body for the back-end). It’s the right decision.
– There are whispers Calgary wants to acquire another first round pick, preferably in the top-10 range. Of course, every team would like another top-10 pick, so that’s not saying much. Assuming this isn’t a complete pipe dream, there are a few potential trading partners worth considering: NY Islanders (5), Nashville Predators (11) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (8).
The Islanders and Predators are both clubs more desperate for on-ice results than another young body. They may be convinced to move their picks for some combination of NHL-ready guys (Glencross, Hudler), one or two of the Flames 2nd rounders and a quality prospect (Grandlund, Baertschi, Reinhart). The Leafs aren’t really close to contention but they think they are and they’re run poorly to boot, so that’s why I included them.
Of course, no doubt when Calgary calls any potential trade partner the other GM is going to ask about Brodie, Backlund, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Mark Giordano first and foremost. Treliving should laugh and hang-up if that happens.
– It will be interesting to see Treliving’s moves in the next couple of weeks. He arrived in town with a decent resume but without a GM track record. Meaning, we have no idea about his habits or preferences. We also don’t know the degree to which Brian Burke with have his hand on the wheel.
As mentioned, this is a fulcrum off-season for the Flames franchise around which the future of the club will pivot for good or ill. The org really needs the new regime to not mess things up.
– Finally, a little reminder to take the scouting reports you hear about draft prospects with a healthy dose of salt heading into next weekend. If you ever have time on your hands and want a good laugh, go back to draft coverage that is 5 years old and check out the superlatives and comparisons that are heaped on kids that never amounted to anything.
Scouting is a tough gig since only about 15% of prospects ever make the show (and only a small percentage of them actually become difference makers), so this is not necessarily meant to disparage scouts in general or any pundit in particular. Still, it’s a stark reminder that this time of year is mostly guess work and reading tea leaves.