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.
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.
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.
“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.