Get out the red pens ladies and gentlemen. The Flames roster needs heavy editing.
The Flames have too many bodies at every single position. Almost none of them can slip through waivers unencumbered. All the guys you’d want to demote are expensive. All the guys you could demote are too good.
It’s definitely a conundrum. If a wave of injuries or trades don’t happen during training camp, Calgary will be facing a lot of tough decisions, with the possibility of either losing useful guys on waivers or burying a lot of money in the minors.
Here’s how things look currently. Who would you cut?
Gaudreau – Monahan – Hudler
Bouma – Backlund – Frolik
Raymond – Stajan – Jones
Ferland – Bennett – Jooris
Byron – Shore – Colborne
That’s 16 NHL bodies without any of the kids like Bill Arnold, Markus Granlund or Emile Poirier pressing for a job. Even if the team wants to carry two extra forwards, that means they will have to demote at least two guys come October. Sam Bennett and Johnny Gaudreau are the only two forwards on this list who are waiver exempt, but they’re obviously not going anywhere.
Brandon Bollig and Drew Shore. As regular readers can no doubt guess, I don’t think Bollig has much to offer at this point, having been made redundant by Ferland and Bouma. Shore is an intriguing player, but he hasn’t proven much at the NHL level and might be the one guy most likely to slip through waivers without being picked up.
I considered Mason Raymond as well, but I think he can be rehabilitated to some degree. He has proven in the past that he can be a decent middle rotation winger in the NHL. Bollig can’t and Shore hasn’t proven anything.
If Calgary is sending three guys down, my other choice is Joe Colborne. That’ll be unpopular with many, but I continue to be completely underwhelmed by the erstwhile Leaf. He personally doesn’t generate shots and the team doesn’t generate shots when he’s on the ice. He disappears for weeks at a time. He’s not physical enough to be a grinder. He’s probably never going to a scorer. At 26, I’m not sure we can expect too much more improvement out of him.
Giordano – Hamilton
Brodie – Wideman
Russell – Engelland
Smid (Nakladal? Wilson?)
The blueline only really becomes complicated if one of the hopefuls makes a strong case to stick around. If the Flames decide that Nakladal, Wilson or one of the kids has earned a spot, they will have to demote one of Deryk Engelland or Ladislav Smid to make room (assuming Smid is cleared to play).
With Smid on IR to start the season the Flames will likely be spared this decision for awhile.
If it comes to demoting someone, the choice is an easy one from an on-ice performance perspective. Deryk Engelland is a replacement level player at best. If Smid isn’t 100% (and he hasn’t been for awhile), he’s a good demotion candidate as well.
Here’s where things get strange.
Calgary’s best goalie is Jonas Hiller. By any measure you choose, in terms of both performance last year and career-wise. He’s also the oldest, the most expensive and, apparently, on the outs with the team.
The problems with demoting Hiller are manifest. He’s a $4.5M salary, which is a huge pill for the owners to swallow. It’s also a massive gamble to go with a combination of Ramo (a career back-up in the NHL) and Joni Ortio (an untested rookie).
Although we can assume the Flames will improve in terms of shot suppression this year, they probably still aren’t a club that can afford to go with mediocre or worse goaltending if they’re to make the playoffs again. Having good puckstopping is therefore essential to any aspirations the team might have this year. And Jonas Hiller is the best bet to give the club good goaltending. On top of all that, if you demote Hiller to the AHL to start the season, you essentially sewer the asset and almost guarantee he’ll be untradable for the rest of the season.
On the other hand, the organization just re-signed Ramo, so they won’t be demoting him. And they probably don’t want to risk losing Ortio on waivers.
Demote Joni Ortio. Even if the team doesn’t take advantage of the brief period where they can send someone down without risking waivers before the season starts, I think there’s a good chance that Ortio will make through waivers untouched.
Remember that any team claiming him would have to put him on their active NHL roster, meaning a club would have to be picking up Ortio to be their back-up. Right now I don’t think I see any team who would necessarily make that choice.
It’s the best option out of collection of bad ones. If Brad Treliving deserves any kind of criticism this summer, it might be for the state of Calgary’s goaltending situation right now. The team had a natural succession plan in place with Hiller signed for two years and Ortio tabbed to be his back-up. I’m not sure why the team has turned on Hiller or why they re-signed Ramo without a plan to get rid of him (did a trade or two go south?), but this mess might force them to humiliate a veteran net minder making $4M+ year (and who had the best stats of any Flames goalie last year) or to risk losing one of their better prospects on waivers for nothing.
If nothing changes in the next few weeks, it’s entirely possible the Flames will be stashing more than $6M in salary in the minors. On the hand, they might lose a quality body or two to the waiver process. Or some mix therein.
At the very least, we can expect a couple of forwards and at least one goalie to be playing elsewhere when the season opens.