Cheap defence UFA options for the Flames

The Flames look pretty full up on defence. In addition to the top three of Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton, there are also the expensive contracts of Dennis Wideman, Ladislav Smid, and Deryk Engelland. Throw in Jyrki Jokipakka, and that’s seven guys already.

But that’s not all. There’s interest in bringing back Jakub Nakladal, so the Flames would have to make room for him. They also just qualified RFA Tyler Wotherspoon, who looks about ready to try out for regular NHL duty. That’s nine guys in all, and not all of them can make it.

So exploring UFA defencemen probably isn’t on the Flames’ list of priorities. Then again, who really knows what’s going on behind the scenes? To that end, let’s take a quick look at some defencemen who could be bargain finds come free agency: because maybe, a spot actually will end up opening up.

Justin Schultz

Age GP-G-A-P ATOI CFrel% ZSrel% Previous Contract
25 63-4-14-18 18:27 -1.67 +0.47 1 yr/$3.9M

Shhh. Stop laughing. That’s Stanley Cup Champion Justin Schultz to you.

For as much as Schultz’s name may have become maligned in Edmonton, he put himself back together in Pittsburgh. He likely isn’t a top pairing guy, and he’s probably not going to see a salary close to $4 million for a while yet, if ever again; however, put Schultz in the right circumstances – decent enough minutes played, respectable zone starts – and he might just be able to provide value in the bottom half of a defence group. After all, he should still be able to get you some points, too – just don’t overwhelm him.

The good news is, the Flames have the man power up front to be able to give him an easier go of things than the Oilers ever could have. This only works if he’s willing to take a drastic pay cut, though. And with so few defencemen out there available, he may not be an option.

Patrick Wiercioch

Age GP-G-A-P ATOI CFrel% ZSrel% Previous Contract
25 52-0-5-5 17:20 +1.39 +3.88 3 yr/$2M AAV

The Flames already picked up one Ottawa castoff; why not another?

Wiercioch may not be a big scorer – although his 13 points the season before, and 23 the season before that, and his 0% shooting percentage this season may disagree. It was a down year for him points-wise, but as far as sheltered bottom pairing defencemen go, Wiercioch can provide value for you. And his down year in offence might just see him come cheaper than he should otherwise.

The Flames definitely have worse depth options than they could find in Wiercioch. And if his point totals rebound to what they were at the start of his contract, they’re laughing.

Jon Merrill

Age GP-G-A-P ATOI CFrel% ZSrel% Previous Contract
24 47-1-4-5 16:54 -0.21 +17.67 3 yr/$900k AAV (ELC)

Merrill doesn’t have a ton to show in his short career thus far. He hasn’t played big minutes, he hasn’t really put up points, he’s heavily sheltered and his relative corsi isn’t that great in context.

All these things are going to make him a rather cheap pickup, though; and with only three years in the league and sitting at just 24 years old, there may still be potential yet for him. Besides, he’s only one year removed from averaging 20 minutes a game and putting up 14 points, with similar corsi and drastically less sheltered starts. There’s hope there yet.

Kevin Connauton

Age GP-G-A-P ATOI CFrel% ZSrel% Previous Contract
26 65-5-12-17 16:44 +0.11 +6.22 3 yr/$683,333 AAV

Connauton only has three years of NHL experience, and he’s already played for three different teams. And at 26, he’s starting to enter that point where it’s time for him to be something.

His points totals were decent, though he required sheltered zone starts to keep his head above water. He doesn’t need to play huge minutes to contribute offensively, though – and at least, for as sheltered as he may be, he’s still keeping his head above water relative to his teammates. That, and he’s seriously not going to cost that much at all; not at his journeyman rate.

David Schlemko

Age GP-G-A-P ATOI CFrel% ZSrel% Previous Contract
29 67-6-13-19 18:39 +3.70 +15.11 1 yr/$625k

It really sucked when the Flames couldn’t bring back Schlemko after his waiver wire pickup. He was instantly awesome to watch (that shootout move out of nowhere!), and he came cheap enough, but the Flames simply couldn’t guarantee him a spot on the NHL roster.

And they likely still can’t, considering the number of bodies. Still, it’s awesome to look at how far he’s come in the year since. This past season was the most he’s ever played, in terms of both games and average ice time, and it’s the most he’s ever scored. As far as sheltered bottom pairing defencemen go, one could do significantly worse than ol’ Schlemmers.

Zach Trotman

Age GP-G-A-P ATOI CFrel% ZSrel% Previous Contract
25 38-2-5-7 18:33 -0.69 -7.12 2 yrs/$625k AAV

Trotman is really only just getting started – but his efforts from 2015-16 are pretty good ones. He was buried, but didn’t suffer too much for it; he didn’t put up too many points, but he comes at an extremely cheap rate, and can play decent minutes.

What’s more – considering how little experience Trotman has, he could be more of a competition option than everyone else. Can’t crack it against the other depth options the Flames have? Then go to the minors to work on your game. Except if that’s the deal, would Trotman accept it – or find another team that can guarantee him a spot?

Putting it all together

Via Corsica, here’s how these six compare together:

If I’m the Flames, and I’m actually looking to sign a free agent defenceman – a tough task in and of itself, considering how many bodies are already vying for a spot – then I’m looking at Trotman. He played, by far, the most difficult circumstances of them all, and his relative corsi wasn’t even that bad comparatively. He’s also young and unproven, which means he should come in cheap; it also opens the opportunity to see how well he would fare in more sheltered circumstances.

Wiercioch would be a close second, but since he’s more established, there will probably be more teams lining up for him.

Will the Flames be going after an extra defenceman, with Nakladal still to re-sign and Wotherspoon qualified and pushing for a spot? It’s hard to say – but if they can move somebody out, then there wouldn’t be any harm in creating that extra bit of competition, especially if they can pick someone up for cheap.

  • knappsacked

    No more d bodies plz. We need to clear out the waste and open up spots. Wideman and smid arent getting traded. Buy them out. Or just wideman. Gives u cap to resign nakladal and colborne. Pairings should look like

    Gio-brodie
    Jokkipaka-hamilton
    Wotherspoon- nakaladal
    Engalled/smid

    Or

    Brodie-hamilton
    Gio-nakladal
    Wotherspoon-jokkipaka
    Engallend/smid

  • everton fc

    Looks like we’re letting Nakladal go…. Never hear talk of re-signing him. To me, they chosen to go with Wotherspoon over Nakladal. Anyone else getting that feeling?

    And… the more I read about Colborne… The more I’d rather have Pelly-Smith, or Connolly, or Sceviour, or even Gagner for 1.5mill, if he can play RW…

    • Petzl

      I fear you are correct on Nakladal, too bad it seems management feels they have better options.

      Wotherspoon is a different type of dman than Nak, and Nak has already proved he is better than Wideman, Smid and Engellend. Wotherspoon has been on the bubble and never able to solidify his spot but I guess he’s younger but I don’t think he even has the ceiling of Nakladal. Oh well, I can just keep imagining a bottom pairing of Schlemko and Nak, both can move the puck, both have a good shot, both are decent in their own zone. Instead well get to watch Wideman miss the net or shoot into screens and barely be able to skate and Engellend provide grit.

      • everton fc

        I think, with Nakladal, Colborne… Even Jooris… It comes down to clearing cap space.

        Perhaps Kulak is a better option than Nakladal, in management’s eyes? Or Kylington?? Let’s not forget Kylington….

        Hoping Wideman’s gone by July 1st. Engelland will be retained, and end up in Vegas, where he lives “off-season”.

        • Petzl

          Yea, cap is the issue for sure but I would resign Nak > Colborne. Colborne isn’t good value at this point, Nak would be cheap still and would be good value to fill that 5/6 role. I hope they buy out Wides, it’s just too much money to commit to a mediocre defender.

          • piscera.infada

            I want them to keep Nakladal as well. If they don’t though, it’s likely not a cap issue. It’s because they want flexibility at defence. The Flames will not want to be forced into keeping Wotherspoon, or someone else in the AHL all season.

            They also won’t buy-out Wideman. Save for Stajan, you literally have all those aged, bad-money contracts off the books after this year. It’s prudent to ride that out. As so many say: “they aren’t competing for a cup this year”. So why extend your cap issues even one more year (even if it’s just a small amount)? Once all that cap is off the books, you have a ton of flexibility to address any additional issues you might encounter. There is no reason to bring an additional $1.5 to $2 million into 2017/18 if you don’t have to.

            More to the point on Wideman, if the Flames aren’t competing for a playoff spot (or even if they are), Wideman can still re-coup some trade value at the TDL.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      I think the latest comments I heard was that Treliving was still working on getting Nak-daddy signed. I have heard nothing to suggest otherwise.

  • JMK

    This just makes the fact the flames are stuck with Smid, Engellend and Wideman more annoying. I wouldn’t mind Engellend and Wideman so much if they weren’t paid over $8m combined.

    Really hoping BT can find room for Nakladal and Wotherspoon somehow. Only a day and a half left to buy out someone.

  • Denscafon

    The only one I’d consider is Schlemko as he did well when he played for us and I was sad to see him go. This is only if Wideman is traded and smid is on LTIR/bought out.

    Keep nak!

  • everton fc

    I guess a team can have a lot of depth, but we have a lot of defenders. Gio, Brodie, Hamilton, Jokipaaka, Wideman (at least for today), Engelland, Smid (until LTIR kicks in), Wotherspoon… Someone’s gotta go.

    Trotman’s a right-handed shot, but doesn’t seem to be able to put together a full season of games. Schultz is another right-handed shot, but is he even a better 5/6 option than what we have? Wiercioch would be cheap, but not necessary, as we have Jokipaaka, Wotherspoon, even Kulak ready in the wings. Connauton never put up the offence he did in junior. Maybe he still can?

    No one mentions Jared Cowen. I haven’t either. Will anyone give him another chance?

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    Based solely on the stats provided, that’s a big ol’ NO on Shcultz. Same for Merrill. The others, in order of preference, are: Connauton, Trotman, Schlemko, Weircioch.

    Connauton put up the same points as Schlemmers, but with significantly less friendly zone starts.

    Trots didn’t score as much as Schlemmy, but pushed the puck the right way despite much harsher deployment.

    Weircioch seems pretty meh. Not good enough to be in my top 3 of those listed, but not bad enough to be in Schultz/Merrill territory.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    #1: Gio/Brodie/Dougie (pick 2)

    #2: Gio/Brodie/Dougie (pick 1) + young guy

    #3: Wideman + young guy

    Extra: Engelland

    If you put Jyrki in one of the “young guy” spots, that only leaves room on the big club for 1 of Nakladal and TSpoon.

    If Tre can magically make 1 of Wideman or Engelland disappear, then you can have both Nak and TSpoon.

    If Tre can sell BOTH Wides and DE, then you can have Nak, TSpoon, plus a rotation of young guys from the Heat, or a FA like Connauton.

    • Bananaberg

      Engelland is untradeable (sp?). Even with just a year left, no one needs to add him as a #8-9 dman. I’ve been hating on him for quite some time…and with reason. If he were included on the Corsica chart above, he’d be firmly tucked way down in the bottom left corner with a tiny bright red dot (look it up).

      Great article, @Ari. Wiercioch is my favorite of the group, though I’d rather grab Schlemmer for cheaper ($1/year) for the #7 slot. That of course is contingent on: trading Wideman and buying out Engelland and/or Smid. Engelland and Smid have absolutely no reason to be on our NHL roster.

      Raymond buyout was just announced. Good start for us. Bollig will likely be buried in the AHL next year, so we won’t have his full hit.

      Projected Flames D: Brodie, Gior, Hamilton, Nakladal, Jokipakka, Wotherspoon, Schlemko/Wiercioch/Trotman (pick 1)

      Andersson and Kylington will get lots of minutes in AHL and likely get a few (less than 10) NHL games.

    • Bananaberg

      Smart deal by Jarmo. I really wanted to see some other idiot GM come out of the weeds and throw a huge offer sheet at Jones, thereby forcing one of the two GMs to pay $7-8 per year in AAV.

      Would’ve really set a strong precedent in the defence market for Lindholm, Trouba, etc. that would’ve cap squeezed all the teams who don’t have Gio, Brodie, and Hamilton signed for under $7/year!

      Maybe hoping for others to blunder is bad karma…

      Long hair, don’t care.

    • RealMcHockeyReturns

      Awesome, little Cam Atkinson can play here as scoring RW, and they can have Joe after we sign him at 2.5 x 2 years….saves them money and they get bigger while we get scoring on reasonable contract

  • RKD

    Shultz is brutal we don’t need Oiler castoffs. Wiercioch is 25, half his points came on the pp which is where we need points he also got size at 6’5 and 202lbs. Merrill is a career -32, last season a -15 with a lower sh% than Wiercioch and his pp ability is limited. Connauton would be decent, I like Schlemko he was a great fit here plus that one shootout move was sick. The Flames should bring back Nak. Ideally, they have to get rid of Widemans contract buyout or trade him. Smid retires and they also need to get rid of Engelland’s contract. If the Flames eat half of Wideman’s contract he will be moved. There was a deal in place before he got suspended. There are teams out there who will take Dennis, c’mon BT we know you can get it done!

  • jakethesnail

    Schultz??? ROFLMAO!

    At Pittsburgh he was the 7th D-man and was used only because of an injury and then he averaged 10-11 minutes per game in low stress situations. He would be a 6th or 7th pairing D-man for the Flames.

    Let Tre and GG work their magic with the D-men we already have….

    Well written Ari but not excited about the list of cheap D-men.

  • freethe flames

    Like many here my preference would be to sign Nakdaddy and find a way to trade Wideman. IMO Nakdaddy given a full year could produce as much O as Wideman did last year, is far better defensively and is not afraid of being physical. He is also more mobile than Engs, much better offensively, loses fewer puck battles than Engs as well. Quite frankly a better all round defender than either of the other 2.

    Wiercoich could be a good reclamation project at a low cost; especially if Smid is LTIR. That does not mean we should give up on Spoon or Kulak who both are NHL ready.