Musings on the alternate universe in which the Flames do not acquire Brandon Bollig or Deryk Engelland

One thing we can all pretty much agree on when it comes to Brandon Bollig and Deryk Engelland: they are not what anyone would consider a high end player. Or a player necessary with which to win. Both may have been part of Cup contending teams, but that’s probably more the fault of, like, Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby than their own efforts.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. There is, however, something wrong when you somehow confuse a bad player on a good team for a good player.

And then do things like give a cap-strapped team an asset to take him off their hands at your own expense. Or sign them to a deal virtually every hockey fan and insider alike in existence paused before saying, “… That can’t be right?” Those parts are particularly not good.

It was not a particularly great start to Brad Treliving’s general managing career. The good news is neither move really hurts the Flames long term. The even better news is that Treliving hasn’t done anything like it since July 1, 2014.

The bad news is the Flames are still stuck with both players for another two seasons. The Flames’ team cap hit is so low they shouldn’t interfere with the really important stuff, like re-signing Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, but… they’re still there, you know?

All this leads me to think about what might be different for the Flames had they not acquired Bollig and Engelland. A futile exercise, sure; after all, what’s done is done and both players are on the team, for better or worse. But it can be fun to think about.

On forward

For example: had the Flames not acquired Bollig, Josh Jooris likely would have made the Calgary Flames straight out of camp. He had a training camp performance that impressed pretty much everyone, and while we all waited for him to cool off, he never did. And then he was one of the team’s final cuts, while guys like Devin Setoguchi, Brian McGrattan, and Bollig himself made the team over him.

Okay, so Jooris only missed the first five games of the season before David Jones broke himself and he was recalled. During his recall stint, he pretty much asserted he’d deserved to be in the NHL all along, and was soon enough officially promoted.

But consider this: his recall came at the expense of someone else. And the final forward cut alongside Jooris? Sven Baertschi, a former 13th overall pick the Flames only managed to recoup a second rounder for. 

Or maybe the extra bit of time wouldn’t have done anything for him after all. Maybe the Flames decide they still need a Bollig counterpart, even though they already have Lance Bouma. The good news: Michael Ferland’s right there in the system. So is David Wolf.

No matter what, there have always been options available at a fraction of Bollig’s cost, and not under contract until they’re 30 years old. Options that have already shown more, with the potential to grow yet, that didn’t cost the team a third round pick.

Jooris already took everyone by surprise to take over, and he wasn’t even a big name among the Flames prospects. What do you think are the chances Bollig even finishes his contract in the NHL? If he does, then it’s coming at the expense of someone else, and probably someone who would have been more likely to help the Flames long term.

On defence

That may not be the case for Deryk Engelland, simply because the Flames are lacking in defence prospects. Outside of Tyler Wotherspoon – and while it’s probably too late in this season for him, the way his recalls have been handled all year have been bizarre – there really isn’t a whole lot else.

The decision to target Engelland, though, sure was something. Especially when someone like Raphael Diaz, who the Flames ended up getting anyway, was available. Someone who had a greater career ice time average (and don’t forget Engelland was initially given a top four role before it took Hartley approximately six games to realize it was not going to happen). Or when opportunity strikes, and a David Schlemko randomly appears for free. (Both are better players, by the by.)

And of course, had the Flames not gone after Engelland because he sometimes punches dudes’ faces and also got to call Crosby his teammate for a couple of years, we wouldn’t currently be stuck in this hell in which he is dragging down Calgary’s best defenceman while the team is in the midst of a playoff push. Wotherspoon may have established himself as an NHLer by now while Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell wouldn’t be out of their depth in playing 30 minutes a game.

Whoops

“But the Flames were struggling to meet the cap floor!” Okay, sure: Bollig and Engelland’s inflated salaries helped get the Flames above it. They also could have achieved the exact same results by giving Bouma his fair pay day for an extra couple of seasons (instead of the likely inflated cap hit he’ll be going after this summer thanks to Mikael Backlund and a career high shooting percentage unlikely to repeat itself). Paul Byron, a useful utility player capable of taking over first line duties should the need arise, could have garnered a couple extra years at a higher pay rate. There were better options to get over the cap floor that could have actually been beneficial in the long term.

Treliving, a new general manager – and in his early days, I suspect heavily under the influence of Brian Burke – had no way of knowing what his team would do this season. None of us did. But he also misjudged his prospect base, resulting in far too much being given up for players who, ultimately, only drag the team down. The Flames could be a better team at this exact moment in what has ended up being a key part of both the season and rebuild.

Who knows though, right? That’s the joy of alternate universes: the possibility for endless speculation.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Thanks Ari, I’m enjoying your writing so far.

    As I said in another recent column, I’ve essentially blamed Burke for Engelland, Bollig and Smith. Pure speculation, of course. However, Treliving’s fully entrenched now and the decisions are all his. Hopefully for the better here on out.

    For every Bollig, there’s a Bouma or Jooris to bring up.

    And while I agree that it was better for Wotherspoon to develop on the 1st pairing in the AHL vs the 3rd pairing in the NHL, he and Schlemko are an instant upgrade over Engelland.

    I’m hoping both get moved over the summer, but I can’t see how with the deals they received.

    • SmellOfVictory

      I agree with this, specifically the first two points. 1) good article 2) those two deals smell like Burke to me. How long had Treliving been on the job at that point? Not even two months… I don’t think Mr. “I love draft picks” would’ve given up a 3rd for Bollig without Burke instructing him to do so.

      But who knows…

    • Nick24

      Arii,
      While we can always imagine cotton candy, pixie dust and rainbows in the stead of moves we don’t like, the reality is far more likely so very much different.

      How about this rendition? The Flames go exactly as Arii outlines, no Engelland, no Bollig. Although we seem to be developing some good options now in Ferland and Wolf, to start the season they definitely are not ready so BT is forced to play McGratton continuously. The first two weeks of the season the heavy California teams punish the small Flames forwards, specifically that interesting new kid-Gaudreau and the other small talent-Baertschi. They are crushed several times and finally smarten up, staying the the outside and keeping a primary focus of looking out for danger. The Flames tough guys, Smid, Giordano and McGratton try to fight back but Smid reinjures his neck and after several months and another operation announces his retirement. Giordano, as the only remaining D with any toughness, breaks his hand after 19 games and is out for the season. Complications hamper his recovery and he never regains the form he seemed to be developing. McGratton skates around threateningly but since there are so few fighters around anymore and its beyond the Code to fight regular players he’s ineffective. After two months JH is seriously injured, ending the season with 19 points and a Mom adamant he move on to safer endeavours. The Flames end the season even worse than expected, last in the league but lose the draft to the Oilers. They pick Eichel but since he sees such a pathetic and incompetent management in Calgary he decides to finish 4 years in college and eventually walks for nothing to the Canucks, who also picked up the washed out Baertschi on waivers. Gaudreau goes on to be a color analyst for the next 2 decades on Sportsnet all the while fomenting to bring back the Instigator fighting rule to give the little guys at least an inkling of a chance in the future… The third rounder we got for not trading for Bollig turns out to be Kent Nillson’s son, who bedazzles a new Flames beat writer, Arii, but leaves for Europe after 2 seasons before ever getting established on the Flames, who go on the break the Oilers 15 year out of the playoffs record in 2019…..

  • mattyc

    I haven’t seen any indication that Wotherspoon is ready for the NHL yet, and there certainly wasn’t much indication last summer either. So we needed to get another couple NHL defensemen. Engelland was still probably a worst case scenario bottom pairing D, but there’s still no evidence Wotherspoon is ahead of him.

  • SmellOfVictory

    I like to pretend that Treliving acquired both these two because he expected the Flames to finish as low in the standings as everyone else did, and just wanted to ensure they got a top 3 pick.

    • SmellOfVictory

      Exactly. Same reason all those terrible line combinations last year and the beginning of this season. Everyone was surprised when nobody on the team grasped the tank handle. it soon became impossible to flush.

  • Burnward

    Why does everyone discount the importance of coming from a winning culture?

    You can’t buy the knowledge of what it takes to win. But maybe you can pay for it.

    • SmellOfVictory

      If all those guys can offer is advice and tips because they’ve come from a winning culture, hire them as assistant coaches or advisors or consultants or something. They can help the team in the room, like coaches do, and they don’t have to play the game.

      Win/win no?

    • Nick24

      I feel like you trade/sign guys to be players first and what ever value they can bring from experience second. Bollig and Engllend are not good players.

      Experience can be vital to a teams success, but you shouldn’t be given a spot on experience alone. As brought up in the article, were either of these guys vital to their teams success or were they successful because they had teammates like Towes and Crosby?

    • mattyc

      “knowing how to win” has to be the most stale, cliche ridden concept in professional sports. Every player who’s made the NHL has been on a championship team, and played in ‘high stakes’ games. Sure there’s some element of professionalism, but you don’t somehow acquire that by being the 7th defensemen on a cup team.

      Sports are littered with players who ‘don’t know how to win’ until they eventually do.

  • beloch

    Engelland was actually better than Diaz at the start of the season because Diaz was absolutely brutal. Lately Diaz has been much improved and is clearly the better player, for now at least.

    What gets my goat is that Engelland is now tied around Brodie’s waist and dragging him down into the abyss. I’d much rather see Schlemko or Diaz paired with Brodie so Engelland can go back to playing under ten minutes a night.

    At this point I’m a little worried about Wotherspoon. They sent him up and down like a cheap yo-yo and kept him up for long stretches without letting him play a single game. First, there’s probably a reason Hartley didn’t want to play him. Second, Wotherspoon has every right to be pissed off after being treated that way. It’s a good thing he has another year on his contract, because I’d hate to be negotiating an extension with him right now!

  • Burnward

    I don’t think Bollig and Engellend are that bad. Numbers be damned.

    A team is only as tough as their toughest players. Don’t forget, these guys are warriors going to battle each night. Mentality has a lot to do with it.

  • Christian Roatis

    While I understand arguments for playing Bollig on some nights, acquiring him still irks me. A lot.

    Giving up a THIRD ROUND PICK for 5 crappy quality minutes a night is pretty ludicrous. There is considerable value left at that point in the draft, and you can pick up 3 Brandon Bollig’s on waivers weekly. Grr.

  • Derzie

    The red flag on Treliving gets brighter with each passing day. Let’s review, focusing only on talent acquisition:

    The Good: No big fish added, Hiller, Sam Bennett (duh), demoted McGrattan, Glencross move

    The Maybe: Raymond, Shore, Schelmko, Hickey, Smith, Carroll, Diaz

    The Bad: Engelland, Bolland, Setoguchi, McDonald at 34, -Baertschi, Potter, Douglas Murray tryout, Wotherspoon deployment (mostly Hartley though), not drafting D.

    The Ugly: The worst guys for the most years and money when they are available for free

    There are too many things in the bad & ugly for a team with this trajectory and finances.

    • Shooter 5567

      BT took over a team with very few NHL call ups and decided to sign fringe players to see the team through the next two years. Clearly he did not want top line forwards or defencemen so he opted for 4th line wingers and 5/6 d-men to give the youngsters top minutes. We can disagree on the quality of players brought in but clearly Engelland handles the puck like a hand grenada and is a liability in his own end. Having said that, I’m thankful BT didn’t bring in a high priced free agent that took up top minutes. This has allowed youngsters like Monahan, JG and Jooris to play important minutes in every game and we’re seeing the benefits. In the end, the two signings weren’t killers but they’re hardly quality. Having said that, check out a pile of other off season signings, starting with the Oilers. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but in the end, if there was something better on the farm, they’d have replaced Engelland long ago. It likely speaks more to the lack of defence depth in the organization than it does of Engelland’s deficiencies.

      • FlamesRule

        Wotherspoon is better than Engelland right now. However, I agree with the decision that playing top minutes and all situations in the A vs being 3rd pairing in the NHL was better for his development. Wotherspoon has taken a big step this year. Next year, however, is redundant for him to be in the A.

        Also, other options existed over Engelland, it wasn’t a one or the other scenario.

  • mattyc

    Meh,

    Having unproductive or ‘unworthy’ players at the bottom of your lineup is not the end of the world. If Tyler Wotherspoon can’t elevate above Derek Engeland in Hartley’s eyes then it’s time he up his game. That’s how you develop competitors, make them compete.

    Also pointing to the Crosby’s and Toews is really simplistic. Every part of a stanley cup winning team is important. 4th liner to first liner.

  • Burnward

    If you are going to go farther in the musing than I would suggest that signing Del Zotto would have been preferable to signing Engelland. Mobility would have fit in better with the Flames system.

    With the draft pick instead of Boling we could have drafted more defensive depth and picked up Ryan Mantha with the 83rd pick.

    The past is the past.

    Question will be what happens this summer.

    Has Treliving learned from his mistakes last year or does the team make similar mistakes this summer?

  • RedMan

    I just hope we don’t see anymore Burke fingerprints on player selection or drafting.

    Treliving? who knows, time will tell if he can bring in and draft talent, but Burke has really screwed things up in the past and I hope he doesn’t do that here.

    i’m hoping they just brought Burke in for extra help while King services the powers that be in order to get the arena deal he wants.

  • prendrefeu

    Great writing skills as always, but the direction in which the topic was taken is difficult to grasp because it’s all just conjecture. We really don’t know, and spending time imagining a present based on something that happened in the past is both futile and, really, a waste of time. Honestly it can be interpreted so many ways, including cccsberg’s imagining of how events would have unfolded. In the end? We don’t know….

    What if the Confederates won the US Civil War? Would slavery still exist today, or would it have still been visually eradicated by 2015? We don’t know. Every moment in life things change and the course of events unfolds in ways that can not be predicted (no matter what stats analysis you are pointing at). That’s the difference between events involving living beings capable of their own thoughts and actions versus events involving inanimate objects – physics of objects can be calculated to death, the actions and consequences of living entities can not be calculated.

    We do know, however, that the Flames are in the thick of tracking down a playoff spot, in the 2nd year of the rebuild, and save for a few key and tragic injuries everything is clicking fairly well. The younger players are excelling beyond what the pundits thought they would produce. The team as a whole is outperforming what the pundits thought. This year’s standings has shown that Advanced Analytics needs to develop further and, actually, get more Advanced (not just in regards to the Flames, but look at how many of the other top teams are doing in their stats, then compare the lower teams and middle teams: Advanced Stats is valuable but in need of further development). Pundits proven wrong again. Which might be the theme of the 2014-2015: the pundits don’t know sh*t.

    Don’t saw sawdust, let the past bury its dead.
    Support your team. Enjoy hockey.

    Like Wolverine:
    http://i.imgur.com/Y6vlYsl.jpg

  • RedMan

    To be fair, the two players you mentioned are 3rd and 4th in hits on our team. If you took them away that would be 200 less hits we’d have up to this point.

  • Shooter 5567

    Two things:

    While I am sure TJ would prefer to have Gio playing beside him, I doubt he goes home after each game, looks at his CORSI and screams out Engelland’s name like Kirk in the “Wrath of Khan”. That only seems to be a concern of some on this site.

    Second, As far as I am concerned, Engelland earned his salary in full with his fight last week with Anahiem’s Patrick Maroon. It turned around the game, and in doing so, gave the Flames two unexpected points that may allow them to creep into the play-offs.

  • Shooter 5567

    The Flames brought in these 2 to add physicality, leadership and experience in a winning culture. They weren’t expected to be Corsi darlings. They have done their roles well. Earlier this year Stajan had his head almost removed by Keith Aulie. The next game was spent running from Bollig. That sent a message to both teams and throughout the league. When Gazdic came out to try and engage Wolf, Engelland let him know that he had to deal with the veteran and not the rookie. Jooris commented last week about the importance of those 2 during the Anaheim game and how they can change the momentum and level of aggression the other team plays with.
    Last year Pittsburgh had 109 points, Chicago had 107. Calgary had 77.
    This year they each have 88 and Calgary has 81. Also, remember that it was the Hawks who signed Bollig for 3 years. They didn’t want to lose him.

    • FlamesRule

      Please tell me you’re not suggesting it’s Engelland and Bollig who are responsible for Calgary’s increase in the standings this year?

      That’s the absolute most laughable thing I’ve ever heard of in my life, starting with the fact that it completely ignores all of the actual factors for having a better team this year.

      • FlamesRule

        They dress and play every game and play the role they were brought in to do. Are they THE reason, no. Are they A reason for improvement? To say they have not helped is the absolute most laughable thing I have heard in my life.

        • FlamesRule

          There are plenty of examples of both of them NOT doing what they were brought in to do, lots of which have been cited after games on these boards in the past.

          Depending on what metrics you choose to use (I choose the ones that show you can actually play hockey and help the team win), the opposite is true.

          Sorry, they may have a moment here or there, but I don’t buy into the goon argument.

          • FlamesRule

            I think that they are convenient scapegoats for the analytic crowd. You say there are numerous occasions that have been talked about here where they haven’t done their role very well. I think that can be said for all players. Did the scorers score last night And, what goon argument are you talking about? I don’t look at either of these players as goons

          • FlamesRule

            The enforcer role being at all effective. Don’t buy it.

            And,yeah, the analytics say they’re both very bad players. Has nothing to do with being scapegoats.

          • FlamesRule

            I wonder why Hartley continues to play these guys? You have ALL the needed stats to prove they are useless. I guess he’s just holding this team back with some terrible coaching decisions.

  • FlamesRule

    “And there’s nothing wrong with that. There is, however, something wrong when you somehow confuse a bad player on a good team for a good player.”

    Arii, you seem to have missed the memo for FN staff that the Flames are a bad team and should always be referred to as such.