FN Mailbag – April 10, 2015


Playoffs! Guys, the Flames are in the playoffs! Of course, I asked for these questions before the Flames clinched so keep that mind. 

This week we talk about Tyler Wotherspoon, Brandon Bollig and what the Flames future looks like. 

The Flames reluctance to give Tyler Wotherspoon a look at the NHL level has been puzzling this season, especially given the club’s lack of obviously superior options at the bottom end of the roster.

Perhaps part of the problem is hinted at here – it’s difficult to nail down just what Wotherspoon is. He’s got size, but not considered a particularly punishing physical presence. He has okay offensive ability, but isn’t going to control a power play from the blueline and isn’t a particularly adept skater or puck mover like, say, TJ Brodie (though he’s not bad either).

Wotherspoon is a sort of hybrid style defender – an everyman who seems decent at everything, but not great at anything. That’s why that neither of the suggested comparables of Regehr or Seabrook above quite seem to fit – Regehr was bigger, slower and had less offensive acumen, but is way more punishing a defender. Seabrook, on the other hand, was actually a better scorer than Wotherspoon in junior, even though he hasn’t quite ported that over into the NHL. 

Of course, that’s kind of the reason for the Flames to give the kid a look in the show – to get a better sense of what they have. 

This has been a popular question recently as well, due in no small part to the apparent availability of superior options like Drew Shore, Michael Ferland and now Sam Bennett.

Judging from the Flames comments when they acquired Bollig, the club thought they were getting a fighter and a hard minutes type checker. Unfortunately they only got the former. Bollig’s lone advantage over the kids is his experience and role as a veteran. In short, he’s a known professional commodity, which coaches tend to default to in a pinch.  

That said, Bollig has spent more and more time as a healthy scratch as Hartley has grown more comfortable with his other options. That seems to suggest the team is realizing Bollig is expendable. 

This summer, the Flames have to make decisions on David Schlemko, Raphael Diaz and Corey Potter. The year after is far more critical, with Mark Giordano and Kris Russell slated to become free agents. 

None of this off-season’s guys are vital to the organization. I have time for both Schelmko and Diaz as bottom pairing options given their performance in Flames colours this year, so I hope the org retains at least one of them for depth, but they can probably be replaced if not. 

The challenge is potentially re-signing Mark Giordano and Kris Russell. Gio should probably be inked to an extension as soon as possible, but I would caution against jumping on the Kris Russell bandwagon right away. Russell has been fine as a Flame and garnered a lot of acclaim this season after establishing a new NHL record for blocked shots, but he’s the kind of guy you don’t want to romanticize too much and sign to a big, expensive contract as a result.  

Geez, quit the softball questions will you guys. 

Seriously, while there is a temptation to declare the rebuild over and dub the Flames perennial contenders, the truth is the club has real needs all over the roster still and will want to improve their fundamental even strength play moving forward. Many of the issues we identified going into this year remain, including:

– Improve defensive depth. Giordano and Brodie are great, but the Flames need at least one more quality top-4 defender to take a true step forward. If not 2. 

– Improve depth on the wings. Ironically after years of struggling to find pivots, the Flames C-depth is probably in hand with Backlund, Monahan, Bennett, Shore, Stajan, Granlund and Arnold in the fold. 

Things fall off on either wing, however, even if we grant that Lance Bouma and Josh Jooris are better than expected. The team needs to add a few more play pushers to skate with Backlund in a shut down role so they can control possession a bit better and they need a couple more offensive weapons to spell off Hudler and Gaudreau now and then (imagine if either of those guys got injured, for instance). Not to mention the fact that Hudler will be a free agent in the summer of 2016. 

Shorter version: a successful season for Calgary would be finding a legit top-4 defender, one or two legit top-6 scoring wingers and at least 1 more possession driving forward for the top-9. 

As a result, I’d like to see their possession results improve to at least league median levels. The Flames won’t be able to depend on half a dozen career seasons and one of the best extra time records in the league forever, after all, which means learning how to control play is critical as the rebuild develops. 

  • mattyc

    re: Bollig and Wotherspoong

    Worrying about you’re 6th D and 12th FWD is the definition of a first world problem. It’s also missing what’s really the weakness of the club (as Kent rightly alludes to at the end). The difference between Shore and Bollig in 7-9 minutes of ice a night is inconsequential compared with having Lance Bouma or Colborne vs. Hossa or Tyffoli as your 2nd line winger for 18 mins a night.

    re: future moves

    I agree, I think. I think if Russell has another top 4 season next year, he’ll be resigned, and is probably not bad value if they get him for around Giordano’s current $4 M/yr. If I were in charge, I’d look at moving Wideman at the draft, and try like hell to find another Nick Leddy type deal (good luck, right).

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Great stuff Kent. I would like to Schlemko resigned. Agree with your assessment of the Giordano and Russell situations. Gio needs to be resigned, the only question is the length of the contract and where does his play start to fall off in relation to years left on his next contract. I like Russell a lot, but I think some of that has to do with the value he represents on his current contract. Treliving would be wise to wait and see how his next season, and the Flames season in general, plays out before offering a new contract.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    So we need 3/4 defenders & top 6 wingers. Pretty much what I’ve thought after watching this year.

    But to put it in perspective… these are the easiest positions to fill via trade and free agency in my opinion. To have a legit 1st pairing D, great center depth and league average goaltending is more than half the battle.

    It is the exact inverse of what the Oil need.

    Look at what the Oil need this offseason which mirrors what the Flames have:
    – League average goaltending (check)
    – Top D pairing (check)
    – Number 2 & 3 centers (check)

    This is why I have faith that Treliving can solidify at least a couple of these needs this offseason for the Flames and why they won’t necessarily take a step back in the standings.

  • everton fc

    I think Russell’s a keeper, a leader, part of the core, whether his minutes come in a top-pairing, or 3/4. He’s proven himself. Rewarding guys for this is the proper thing for our organization to do. Especially since we are “bald” on the backend.

    Diaz is 30. Schlemko 27. Who gives us more depth in a 6/7 role? Who can play 4/5 minutes, if need be?? Or do you punt them both and find other resources?? Time will tell. Schlemko will sign for cheap.

  • SmellOfVictory

    I think a decent stylistic comparison to Wotherspoon would be Hjalmarsson (obviously Hjalmarsson would be a best-case scenario, but they’re both sort of “good at everything, great at nothing” types of defenders).

  • JumpJet

    Hartley has phased out Bollig in favour of Ferland, which is great, and I hope to see the same things happen with Engelland and Wotherspoon (and maybe Morrisson) next season. Hopefully one of those guys will turn out to be a top 4 D.

  • DoubleDIon

    I’d be in on Schlemko and that’s it from our 6/7 types. Unfortunately we have Engelland and Smid. I know everyone is lauding the work Engelland has done since Giordano went down, but to me he looks like an irrigation system pivoting in front of the net while Brodie retrieves pucks on both sides.

    I’d love to see our defense improve, but I don’t see how that happens unless we find a way to move Smid or Engelland. Sure, you could always feed them popcorn, but it’s an expensive thing to do.

    I think it’s easier to find secondary wing scoring, but I wonder if we can address that through just one addition and counting on some internal development? I’d rather sign one premium asset than 2 Mason Raymond comparables.

    If the Jets let Frolik walk I’d be all over that one. Brings functional size, a very strong two way game and 15-20 goals. I think other teams realize it too though, so you’re probably talking 3.5-4 million per for him.

    • everton fc

      I think Smid may be riding out the rest of his contract on LTIR. A bottom rotation of Engelland, Schlemko and Wotherspoon would not be too bad. Engelland may not be as frightening in the 10-12 minute a night range.

      • DoubleDIon

        Agreed, I hate that bottom end a lot less. It actually gives us a bit of room to sign a 3/4 guy. There isn’t a lot I’m interested in up front this year, but I wouldn’t mind adding a guy like Michalek on the back end. It gives us more depth in the event of top 4 injuries and flexibility if Wideman or Russell regress.

    • RedMan

      If you ask me, Engelland’s one big weakness is his foot speed. he’s not a bad skater otherwise, and has some good points, but when it comes to foot speed he gets beat a lot

  • Parallex

    #1 priority should be a legit middle pairing defender to push Russell or Wideman down to the bottom pairing. Preferably Wideman since you can still utilize him as part of your 1st unit PP and get some more minutes out of him (and fresher minutes out of someone else).

    I don’t think the Flames really need to go hunting for forwards although if we could trade Bollig/Colborne/Raymond and get a possession driving guy to play with Backs that would be nice.

  • zachg

    Call me crazy, but I believe Engel land has done as well as a job as anyone could have filling in for giordano. Giving him the nod for 5\6 d man next year should be the given for where the team is noW in April. Everyone said the flames were done after giordano went down but that big goon from Pittsburgh has filled in quite admirably. 2 goal game, big minutes and big shot block\stick checks have been important. So I just wanna give Derick frigging engeland big props and love

  • beloch

    Re: Wotherspoon

    Given how improbable the Oilers beating the Canucks on Saturday is and how little being on the road has mattered to the Flames, I suspect the Flames may simply cede the Canucks home ice advantage and treat tomorrow’s game as a chance to experiment.

    That means we’ll likely see a few new faces playing tomorrow afternoon against the Jets. Bennett and Wotherspoon could be immediate upgrades for the Flames, and tomorrow is the last chance to test that out in a game that doesn’t matter. It’s also not a bad idea to give some of the more banged-up veterans a rest before the (hopefully) long slog of the playoffs.

    Re: The Defence

    Russel and Wideman have had a great season, but they’ve been more sheltered than the average second pair thanks to the awesomeness of Brodano and still haven’t driven play in the right direction. Wideman has had a fantastic season in terms of counting stats, so the smart thing may be to move him while his value is high. A second pair composed of Russel and a defender with superior possession skills to Wideman might not score as much, but also might give up fewer goals and play against tougher competition, thereby freeing up Brodano to do some damage. Trading an offensive defender for a more defensive minded defender should be achievable.

    Schlemko and the late-season version of Diaz would make a serviceable third pair. The early-season version of Diaz must never show his face in Calgary again. I hope that’s made painfully clear to Diaz this summer. He is easily the Flames most improved blueliner this season. Whatever debauchery he was up to last summer, he must not do this summer! Smid is also still under contract, but it’s anyone’s guess if he’ll ever play again. Neck injuries can be seriously bad stuff. Potter should probably be allowed to walk. He’s a warm body, but a very slow one!

    • SydScout

      Imagine how awesome these four especially Ramage and Kulak are feeling right now! Go lads go!

      Great development opportunity- will be fun to watch. The kid energy has served us well

    • Canrock 78

      Black Aces all! Forget about seeing any playoff action for these boys! Not when we have Wotherspoon, Bennett, seeing no action and Drew Shore hardly any…Good learning experience through practises and mjeetings though!

      Welcome to the squad!

  • Canrock 78

    So the Flames called up four guys on an emergency basis……. what’s the emergency?

    Did four players just suddenly get injured all at the same time as soon as the Flames clinched a playoff spot?

  • mk

    Interesting situation if you look at the scoring stats for the Flames. The list goes something like this:

    #1-3: Top Line (Hudreauahan)
    #4-7: Top 4 D (Wide/Russ, Gio/Brodie)
    #8 on: Everyone else

    That group of 7 players really has been a MASSIVE part of the success the team has had this year. The Flames do have some okay depth, but are being driven by the play at the top: the top line & the top 4 D.