FN Mailbag – Free Agent Frenzy 2016 Edition


The madness started early this week with the Subban and Hall trades, kicking off what will very likely be a fairly mild free agent frenzy by comparison. With Stamkos staying in Tampa Bay, there aren’t very many marquee names in the UFA pool. When Jason Demers is being talked about as the best defender available, you know things probably aren’t going to be that interesting. Absent a few more nutty trades, that is. 

Most of the Flames’ work lies in the in the RFA realm. The team’s cap situation will be unclear until both Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are signed, meaning they are somewhat handicapped when it comes to wooing UFAs. The club also has to make decisions on guys like Joe Colborne, Jakub Nakladal, Joni Ortio and Josh Jooris, who will available to the highest bidder starting tomorrow. 

As of this writing, Calgary also has a big need for RW depth. If Colborne leaves, the club’s depth down the right side is Frolik, Chiasson and Pribyl. So even if the club retains Colborne, they will be in the market for an upgrade there. 

In this edition of the mailbag, we talk about Troy Brouwer, the kids’ payday, Kevin Hayes, potential backups and more.

I’m not terribly keen on Brouwer given his age and the Flames’ window to contend. He’s been a capable enough middle rotation forward for a couple of seasons (think a healthy Curtis Glencross) but I’m not sure how much he has left in the tank. 

Last year he managed 39 points, but had the third worst possession rate on the Blues ahead of only Steve Ott and Ryan Reaves. To be fair, Brouwer played relatively tough minutes, but that’s how it starts with 30+ year olds – they struggle to keep their heads above water in tough sledding and then in just about any circumstance soon after.

Brouwer is a big, seasoned veteran and he had a nice playoff run, so he’ll generate some interest. He also shoots right, which is another check mark for the Flames. That said, he’ll likely need a four year deal at or above his previous ticket of $3.667M per year. I have no interest in paying a support guy that much into his 32-33-34-year-old seasons when there are already warning signs of a slow down.

In fact, Brouwer kind of fails the “Ramo test”. When the club was looking for a starter, the easy rule of thumb was to find a clear upgrade on Ramo, otherwise the team could just retain him. This time, it’s the Colborne test: the club needs to find an upgrade on Joe Colborne (either in terms of upside or at least contract value), otherwise they might as keep Big & Local as the top six winger.

Aside from a RWer, the club will just be looking for flexibility. With a lot of dollars committed to the best (and, ironically, the worst) players on the team this year, Treliving won’t want to be scraping up against the cap ceiling when the action starts again.

Hayes is definitely a player of interest. He is 24 years old, has scored at a pretty good pace at even strength in New York and has good underlying numbers in a sheltered role. He’s a big forward who can play C or RW (though he shoots left) and he wouldn’t be too expensive to sign. The Rags haven’t been terribly impressed with Hayes for whatever reason and are looking to clear cap space this summer, so he might be available for relatively cheap.

As mentioned, it’s not the most impressive UFA pool, but there are a few names of interest if the Flames end up with enough cap space to play with. 

The guys at the top of the list should be Kyle Okposo, Loui Eriksson and Andrew Ladd, with Brett Connolly a bit of a dark horse. Ladd and Eriksson are a bit older and come with a risk of overpaying for previous accomplishments. 

Okposo is everything the Flames need for a top six RWer in terms of age and ability, but will likely be priced out of their range. In order of priority, they would be Okposo, Eriksson and Ladd. There’re also lots of guys to avoid too, though. 

The biggest landmine is probably Mikkel Boedker because he ticks all the traditional boxes: big, can skate and has superficially good scoring numbers. The truth is, Boedker is a mediocre scorer at even strength (he does most of his damage on the PP) and an absolutely lousy two-way possession player (worse than the average fourth liner). He’s essentially a PP specialist.

In the end, the Flames may be better served staying out of the proceedings early on. There’s a chance a good player or two will be left standing when the music stops and will be available at a reasonable rate later in the summer (see: Cody Franson last year). Even if that doesn’t happen, Treliving shouldn’t feel pressure to sign a known player “just because”. Next summer the organization has a lot of bad money coming off the books so they’ll be in a much better position to be on the hunt for upgrades then.

Connolly is a weird case. A former sixth overall pick, he leapt into the NHL with the Lightning as a 19 year old in 2011… and has bounced between the show and the AHL ever since. He’s put up seriously good numbers for the Syracuse Crunch as a youngster (63 points and 57 points in his first two seasons), but can’t seem to establish himself in the NHL. Last year for Boston Connolly managed modest career highs of nine goals and 25 points in 71 games. 

What’s interesting is Connolly put up very good underlying possession numbers for Boston. As in, the fourth best relative corsi on the team behind heavy hitters Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Loui Eriksson. What’s more, he didn’t see pillow soft minutes – in fact, his usage was very similar to Bergeron and Marchand, who are the Bruins’ tough sledding top six guys. 

If that sounds suspicious, well, it is… Connolly skated on a line with Bergeron and Marchand for much of the season. So there’s a big risk that his numbers were being propped up by superior linemates. However, if we go back one season when he was playing for Lightning, his possession numbers are still pretty good and there’s no chance of a Bergeron bump that year. 

Connolly with Boston (and Bergeron):

Story 1-5

Connolly in Tampa (without Bergeron):

Story 1-4

Notice the surprisingly good WOWY results in Tampa. 

In the end, Connolly is still mostly an unknown commodity. He’s young, has a good pedigree and enough skill to put up dominant scoring numbers in the AHL as a youngster (only Tyler Johnson scored more than Connolly for Syracuse). His offense hasn’t translated at the NHL level yet and we can’t really be sure if he has a good two-way game (because of his results being skewed by Bergeron last year). However, as a low cost, low risk gamble I think he’s worth a flyer. 

I would expect those to be done sooner rather than later. Treliving needs to understand his cap position in order to conduct other business this summer, so getting those deals and cap numbers nailed down are of upmost importance. I’d be surprised if they aren’t completed within the next seven days.

I have no problem sticking with Joni Ortio for now. He’s probably no more than a mediocre goaltender, but the club doesn’t really need to spend time and money looking for a nominal upgrade. If he washes out completely or if Elliott suffers a long term injury, they can figure out what to do from there. Given how many goaltenders will be looking for work this coming year, there will be no shortage of replacement level guys available if needed. Heck, by then Jon Gillies might be the guy to go with at that point.

The Flames are entering the twilight of their “lowered expectations” phase whether they land a top-line RW or not. All the kids and core pieces will be getting expensive over the next calendar year. If rebuilding clubs don’t get over the hump when that happens, it becomes a lot harder to take meaningful steps forward. That’s when they start looking for answers by cannibalizing their roster in less than optimal ways *cough* Hall for Larsson *cough*.

  • freethe flames

    As much as Brouwer might help this year the cost would be to much and would limit dealing with the other issues.

    With @6-7m to spend at FA BT needs to get the best bang for his money; which probably means no big fish for the Flames and I’m okay with that. I would rather he come away with 4 NHL players that make us better than overpay for someone. Next year when he has cap space he can look at the big contracts.

    If we came away from FA with:
    1 of these 3 defenders signed; Nakladal, Wiercoich(800,000), or Trotman(600) for 2 or 3 years.

    2/3 of these forwards; Marchessault, Smith-Pelly(1.3), B Bennett(725), Connolley(850), Jooris or Pirri again for 2-3 years.

    and a back up goalie: Ortio, Johnson(1.7), Enroth or ???

    I would see this FA as a good one. Also if homegrown Joe signed for @2.2m I would be happy but I suspect he gets a better offer than that.

  • freethe flames

    One thing I forgot to add was if we found a way to add Hayes via trade I would be happy with that as well. Please NYR strike out on signing a high end defender as we have someone who would be a perfect fit.

  • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

    How about Montoya for a backup? He was outstanding in Florida last year. How about a big mean David Backes?
    That would really round out your depth down the middle.

    • everton fc

      Helm is a better all-around player than Colborne. But I think Colborne’s days are numbered here, unless he takes a significant home discount. He said he’d take a home discount in one article I read. What that means – hard to say.

      If we can’t pry Hayes from the Rangers, and don’t sign Colborne (what’s the price, in terms of players/draft picks, would it take to get Hayes?); Jooris – sign. Nakladal – sign. Connolly – sign. Smith-Pelley – consider. Ortio – consider. If no Ortio – sign Johnson. and move Wideman. All we need to do for this summer. Wait until the bad contracts fall off the books…

      Or, if we don’t sign Nakladal, one of the kids (Kulak, Kylington) plays alongside Wotherspoon. Engelland’s #7. Wideman… Move.

  • Flamethrower

    Christmas please come early…somehow sign Reimer, Hayes, lose Wideman, Bouma and Jooris. Resign Colborne if he can be kept to 2mil the same goes for Nak. Juggling cats until we get some bad contracts off the books.
    Time for the Flames to bring a couple of players from Stocton…