The Right Way and the Wrong Way (For Now)

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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.

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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.

  • prendrefeu

    Even with Bouma/Backlund/Brodie raises kicking in, isn’t it looking like Flames are still barely going to be at the cap floor? I don’t mind the thought of overpaying for a defenseman as long as the deal is short. No five, six year deals. Maybe not even three. If that restriction means you can’t land your guy, oh well. You hope Nakladal and Morrison can give you something you didn’t have this year, and that Smid can perhaps make a full recovery.

  • prendrefeu

    One thing I find totally hilarious when looking at the Flames Roster and the listed positions for the forwards:

    11 Centers
    4 LW
    1 RW

    I know guys can play other positions but man,that looks just so wrong..lol

    • Avalain

      The part that looks wrong with that is how we still seem to have so much trouble on the faceoff dot. You’d think with so many centers at least one or two could be good at faceoffs, right?

      • beloch

        lol…so true. I think Monahan is going to be alright in the dot.Badger Bennett might be a pleasant surprise..he seems like the type to work extra hard if it means possession of the puck,something he really enjoys as demonstrated so far by his forechecking drive.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    If Treliving does go to free agency and is looking for a big fish, it’s very likely to be for big (read too much) money and or term. That said, I see Franson as a bigger and younger Wideman.

    I don’t mind signing Franson, if Wideman is subsequently traded, especially in light of the fact that Wideman may not be more valuable after his last season. Good counting stats in a top 4 role. This of course depends on the return that the Flames can garner for him.

    • everton fc

      I think we can move some spare parts, and perhaps Hiller in a package deal (perhaps with someone like Shore or Granlund, dump enough salary and get a guy like Franson whilst keeping Wideman, who again was a main component to our playoff push last season.

      We shall see.

      Perhaps Franson will stay put. Again, we shall see.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    I appreciate the article Pat! Not much to disagree with here. the Flames appear to be doing things the proper way. Adding through the draft and cheap free agent signings. I would be happy to see them resign schlemko. I also look to them to add more prospects at the Draft.

  • beloch

    I think the Flames are exceptionally well positioned to make a respectable UFA signing this off season. The Nakladal signing shows that the Flames are a desirable club to play for now, much more so than last year. Also, if the Cap doesn’t go up by much (it probably won’t) then the usual summer bidding war for UFA’s might be somewhat restrained this year.

    That being said, getting a #3D UFA signed to a contract that isn’t ridiculous might be too much to hope for. Defenders, especially anything above a third pairing defender, are like gold. Treliving may need to trade for that #3D. I just hope he doesn’t do anything stupid like trading a first line winger for a second pairing defender, as some have suggested.

  • Greg

    I was thinking defencemen is the one position this free agency period that actually has decent supply. Franson, Petry, Green, Sekera, Erhoff, Michalek, etc… Certainly more feasible options than at forward.

    Demand may still outstrip it, but if you can add a top 4 guy this year without overpaying or screwing up next offseason’ cap position, it’s an opportunity you can’t pass up.

    • loudogYYC

      The thing about that is how many of those available defensemen can actually play top 4 minutes effectively? Green and Franson would likely turn out to be expensive 3rd pairing dmen on long term contracts so we’re probably better off sticking with Widemans $5.25M for 2 more years.

      I’d say offer a $4M x3y to Michalek to play on the 2nd pair with Russell while Wideman plays on the 3rd pair with one of Nakladal, Wotherspoon or Morrisson. Engelland becomes the 7th or 8th dman or very expensive trade bait. Michalek and Wideman become placeholders for up and coming kids by 2016-17.

  • RU63

    I hope they don’t go nuts for a free agent.
    D looks decent on Paper.

    Gio Brodie
    Wideman Russell
    Engelland Shlemko (they better resign him)

    7th/Depth
    Smid, Nakladal, Wortherspoon, Morrison

    K, we need one more guy.

  • T&A4Flames

    Skip them all i say. Too much risk adding a Franson without knowing how he actually fits on your team. And if he wants 5+ years…. too much.

    Cgy should be looking at signing Reilly out of CLUB as soon as he hits free agency. We are still rebuilding despite our incredible year.