The Calgary Flames need more organizational depth on their blueline. Not only do you and I know that, but so does General Manager Brad Treliving who admitted as such last week in his season ending news conference. This week’s signing of Czech product Jakub Nakladal has already started to address the issue in what I believe is the proper way. Wax on: low risk moves that have minimal immediate impact on the salary cap. Wax off: making a big splash in unrestricted free agency come July.
First off, I quite like the signing of Nakladal, mostly because there aren’t many reasons to dislike it. There is quite literally no risk to the signing. It’s a one year, two way deal for a player that will not require waivers to be sent to the American Hockey League. Will he be fit for NHL? Maybe, maybe not, but at worst, he’s depth on your farm team. There really is no downside to signings like these, and the fact there could be upside is what makes them tantalizing.
More importantly, though, is the fact the Flames continue to go down this road. Roman Cervenka most certainly did not work out in his one and only year in the NHL. Oh well, try again! Nakladal and Cervenka are different players and different cases. Making moves like this is what you see consistently successful organizations like Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit do all the time. It’s an inexpensive, and sometimes very effective way. to address organizational depth without giving up assets.
The other way to do that is to get in on the free agent party every summer. As we all know, that is the place where immediate impact players are available for an immediate impact on your cap. It makes sense for some teams to get all dressed up and start buying rounds for the house. Those are the teams legitimately a player or two away from challenging for a Stanley Cup. Despite a second round appearance this year, I don’t believe that’s where Calgary is right this instant.
For a team like the Flames looking to address defensive depth, there are some interesting names available in free agency. I agree with our Kent Wilson when he assesses Cody Franson as a good fit for this team next year. Other names like Mike Green or Christian Ehrhoff could certainly help Calgary next season and give them a little more blueline balance. But it doesn’t mean they should go down that road, and there’s a couple reasons why.
A Thin Crop means Thick Prices
The overall free agent crop of 2015 is not what you’d call overly strong. On the back end, the aforementioned Franson, Green, and Ehrhoff will be joined by Zbynek Michalek and Andrej Sekera as the most sought after targets. If past history is any indication, which it most certainly is, than all five of these players are due to hit it way bigger than they probably should.
Do we all remember one year ago? I like Matt Niskanen and all, but a seven year contract with Washington worth $40.25 million still seems a little steep. The Capitals also invested another $27.5 million over five years in then 33-year-old Brooks Orpik. I like both players as much as the next guy, but money like that is never, ever prudent. Mark Fayne to the Oilers for four years at $14.5 million and Deryk Engelland (sorry) to the Flames at $8.7 million over three years don’t look splendid either.
I get how free agency works. You’re not giving up assets to bring a player in, so you have to overpay to add them for “free”. I get why Washington blew all that cash. The Caps felt like they were close to getting over a hump, and hey, they got to game seven of round two and lost in overtime. If a team like St. Louis or Minnesota spends big in July, we’ll totally understand it. Those teams are at a stage where one or two players could actually get them to the promised land.
On the other hand, the Flames are not. Let’s be real: good fortune played a huge part in this year’s dream season. Not only did they defy all the odds during the regular season just to get in, but Calgary then got the easiest possible round one matchup of anyone in the West. Usually when you have the lowest point total in the conference, your playoff matchup is actually difficult. Not in the bizarro world that was the 2014-2015 season, though.
The Flames are going in the right direction, and this year was encouraging for so many reasons. But until they’re truly right there and poised to make a deep run, being a free agent frontrunner doesn’t fit the bill. In two or three years, heck, maybe even next summer things are different. But right now, I think it’s best to take a very, very prudent approach to July 1st.
Take Care of Your Own Business
It would be much easier to stray from my free agent principles if the Flames didn’t have so many important decisions looming in the near future.
This summer Calgary is going to have to commit more money to Mikael Backlund and Lance Bouma, as both are deserving somewhat substantial raises. Despite it still being a steal of a contract, TJ Brodie’s deal goes from a cap of hit of $2.125 million to $4.65 million for the coming season. And then there’s the big ones.
Mark Giordano is going to get paid. Calgary’s 2016-2017 cap will be much heavier when his deal kicks in, because it’s going to be a big one. Sean Monahan could very well be due money in the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins range (7 years, $42 million) or more to start that same season. If Johnny Gaudreau’s sophomore season builds on his rookie campaign, well, you get the picture.
Plain and simple, a lot of money is coming into the picture between now and October of 2016. It’s true, the cap picture won’t be all that much different for the coming season. But if the Flames want to reel in a player like Franson or Sekera, they’re going to have to give them multiyear deals. Those deals would most certainly still exist when all that new in-house money starts to be a factor.
There are always ways to make room if a cap crunch ever becomes a real thing. But now knowing what these pending extensions are going to look like, why give yourself less flexibility? Chicago and Boston have had to jettison players in recent memory to remedy their own ceiling issues, and they’ve actually won Cups in the last five years. Calgary shouldn’t be moving towards that possibility themselves with so little accomplished to this point.
Adding blueline depth to the organization is a process that doesn’t start and finish over one summer. The signing of Jakub Nakladal this week goes to address the target issue, as did the signing of Kenney Morrison late in the season. One day soon, using big bucks in free agency will be the right way to address it too. For me, that day is not now. As Johnny well knows, nothing gold can stay. So if you’re the Flames, don’t lose that lustre before you’ve had a sniff of that silver trophy.