So the Flames found their goaltender.
Mike Smith was both the oldest and most established guy available on the market. With Marc-Andre Fleury likely being moved to Vegas and Ben Bishop landing in Dallas, Brad Treliving had his choice between a handful of younger or less established netminders like Antti Raanta, Philipp Grubauer, and Calvin Pickard. Instead, he went with the devil he knows in 35-year-old Smith.
Here’s the good news. Despite his age, Smith had an excellent season last year. He played behind a dreadful team, got peppered with quality shots, but still finished with a .924 even strength save percentage (about seven points higher than Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson). Smith is also a proven starter having been Arizona’s number one option for years.
The bad news is obvious: Smith is an aging stopgap measure. There’s real risk that his performance falls off a cliff over the next two seasons and his contract (even with a reduced cap hit) will become a burden if that happens. The only hope for Calgary if that happens is one of their kids steps in and takes over while still playing on a cheap contract.
One thing to remember in analyzing the trade is the market Treliving was operating in is opaque to us. We know, roughly, what goalies were available but not the prices being asked nor the probability of the player coming to Calgary or sticking around if acquired. As such, there’s a chance the Flames options were much more limited than what seemed apparently available on the surface.
With that in mind, we take a closer look at the Smith addition, with some bonus material on Calgary’s options on the blueline.
People keep saying that Smith is a good goalie behind a bad team, is there any truth to that?
— Colin (@DragonsDeck) June 17, 2017
There is. The Coyotes were a lottery team for a reason. They gave up a lot of shots and a lot of quality shots. Dave Tippett has been known to be a defensively capable coach in the past, but he can only work with what he has on the ice.
Here’s Smith’s SAVE Chart, which shows his save rates for low, medium, and high danger shots last year. I have included a comparison to Raanta for context.
As you can see, Smith posted a well above average HD save rate in 2016-17 and much better than average expected goals saved above average (xGSAA/60). At the bottom of the chart, you can also see he faced a higher proportion of HD shots than Raanta (8.45 HD/60 vs 6.25 HD/60).
Reminder: Brian Elliott posted a similarly great season prior to landing in Calgary, albeit on a better team.
Is Mike Smith a #1 goalie?
— Bandwagon Leafs Fan (@hockeyphreak) June 17, 2017
The $4.25M question. Smith had a very good 2016-17, but we need to look deeper to really get a feel for the player. Here’s a set of charts from Cole Anderson (@CrowdScoutSprts) comparing Smith, Elliott, and Johnson over the last three years in terms of expected minus actual goals:
Mike Smith, Chad Johnson, and Brian Elliott last 3 years. cant help but think costly playoffs for Elliott led CGY into a sub-optimal move pic.twitter.com/WcI9YNfT3O
— Cole Anderson (@CrowdScoutSprts) June 17, 2017
This look is less encouraging.
Another thing you hear a lot about Smith is his inconsistency. Close observers of goaltenders note that Smith can be spectacular in short stretches and awful in others. For example:
Mike Smith has his moments of really outstanding. In short samples he can be great. But he's woefully inconsistent. It's just a strange move
— Nick Mercadante (@NMercad) June 17, 2017
Nick is a goalie scout and pioneer in advanced stats based analysis for netminders. He was not at all supportive of the Smith trade because of the player’s age, injury history, and inconsistency. A look at Smith’s career progression supports this assertion:
Big bounces between above average and below average adjusted save percentage. So the big question for the Flames (outside of a possible age-related regression) is: which Mike Smith will they get over the next two seasons?
— Nathan (@nsmigel) June 17, 2017
Attempts have been made to quantify the impact of puckhandling on shots against or save rate, with little success. In 2012, Eric Tulsky of the Carolina Hurricanes found that Martin Brodeur seemed to see less shots against than his backups, suggesting a potential impact of his superior puckhandling skills. However, looking at other puckhandling goalies, including Smith, Tulsky didn’t find any relative impact.
The reason for a muted effect on things like shots or saves is obvious: there are too many other, more important variables to account for, including strength of team, strength of opponent, difficulty of schedule, distribution of powerplays and penalty kills and good ol’ everyday randomness. Of course, the NHL also acted to restrict puckhandling goalies when they added the trapezoid behind the net, further suppressing any potential influence they might have.
Short version: there is probably a positive effect, but it gets swamped by other factors.
what is the Flames position of strength avail for trades? Cap, prospect depth, expansion goalie protection?
— Irreverent (@ChinookArchYYC) June 16, 2017
There’s maybe two areas in the org that are relative strengths: defensive and goalie prospect depth.
At the NHL level, the Flames are lackluster at both of these positions, but beneath the surface, they have more than a few assets. In goal, Calgary has David Rittich, Jon Gillies, and Tyler Parsons. Rittich’s turn as the better AHL goaltender for Stockton last season puts him in this conversation, while Parsons’ second straight year as one of the best junior goalies in the world places him as the club’s best prospect in net.
Gillies is still a quality prospect, but things are starting to getting crowded. If one of the hopefuls doesn’t make the leap to at least a backup in the show this year, the Flames will have to somehow manage to get pro starts for Rittich, Gillies, Parsons, Tom McCollum, and Mason MacDonald (Nick Schneider is returning to junior).
On the blueline the Flames are desperate for quality depth for positions four through six. In the AHL and beyond, however, they have a pretty good collection of talent. Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, Brett Kulak,
Brandon Hickey, Tyler Wotherspoon (if they re-sign him), Adam Ollas-Mattsson, Stepan Falkovsky and Adam Fox give the org more than a few guys who could turn into everyday NHLers one day.
Calgary’s defensive prospects are more staggered than their goalies so there’s less concern about crowding. Still, if the Flames have to dip into the prospect pool to engineer a deal this summer, it’s likely they’ll be drawing from their defensive well.
Simon Depres, a bunch of praise before the injuries, should the flames take a shot see if he can overcome them?
— Colin (@DragonsDeck) June 16, 2017
Simon Despres is an interesting case because he was definitely a quality top four defender before his injury problems. The question is just how bad those issues are and if he can still be a functional NHL player. Sometimes guys can come back from serious concussion challenges, but sometimes their career is forever altered.
The problem here is Despres isn’t suffering from just one incident, but three major head injuries over the course of just 18 months. He has only appeared in 33 NHL since 2015-16 as a result. In fact, Despres missed all but one game of the 2016-17 season and never really appeared close to a return, even though the Ducks lasted well into the playoffs.
Which means it’s an open question of whether Despres will ever play hockey again at this point.
It’s worth calling Despres’ agent just in case, but leaping back into the NHL as a top four defender seems unlikely right now.
Nikita nesterov becomes a ufa. If kulak gets claimed, could he be a xesirable 3rd pairing dman with andersson?
— daniel knapp (@danielknappkins) June 16, 2017
Nikita Nesterov is a more realistic target than Despres. He has put up pretty good even strength scoring rates in the NHL in a support role through 132 games and is just 24 years old. Of course, he’s also just 5’11”, 191 pounds and renowned for being defensively suspect as well.
Meaning he’s more likely to bump a guy like Matt Bartkowski from the lineup than anything else. Might be a good insurance signing if Kulak gets scooped by Vegas, however.
Who are we trading for brodin?
— honest abe (@rocktown_9) June 16, 2017
I believe Jonas Brodin is only available thanks to the impending expansion draft, so probably nothing. That said, even if Vegas takes the player and puts him on the market, I’m not sure I’d be very interested in him.
Brodin has had a very strange start to his career. He seemed to leap fully formed as a top pairing defender into the show in 2012-13, putting up way above average underlying numbers in his first 45 NHL games.
It’s been a pretty steady downhill slide since. You can see it in the player’s progression graph here:
As you can see, Brodin is a below average offensive contributor from every angle: goals, assists and shot generation. He’s a decent shot suppression player, but his overall shot impact remains underwhelming.
Brodin makes about $4.2M for the next four years, which is pricey for a guy who seems to be settling into “just okay defensive defenseman” territory.
What are the odds we get hjarlmarson and franson?
— daniel knapp (@danielknappkins) June 16, 2017
Very unlikely. I don’t know why Niklas Hjalmarsson’s name is popping up in rumours, but I don’t think the Flames have what it takes to acquire him from Chicago. He is definitely one of the league’s premier shutdown defenders, but I don’t think the Hawks will be giving him away if they actually choose to trade him.
In addition, I’m not sure how eager Cody Franson would be to sign in Calgary as a putative third pairing defender if the team added Hjalmarsson. A big part of the pitch to Franson would likely be the opportunity to play with T.J. Brodie in the Flames’ top four.
Is Cory Scheinder a reasonable target. Perhaps a Gillies for Schneider swap?
— Lumin8 (@21lumin8) June 16, 2017
This question is moot in the wake of the Mike Smith deal, but we’ll go through the exercise anyways. Cory Schneider is an excellent goalie, but I’d stay away from him for a couple of reasons:
- He’s going to cost a lot to acquire. The Devils are entering a rebuild, so they will only want to part with key assets if the return is worth their while. That means the conversation starts with a first round pick and goes up from there.
- Schneider’s contract is really unappealing. The player is already 31 years old and his $6M cap hit extends for another five years until 2022. Any sort of step back in terms of performance turns that deal into a toxic asset.
Also, sticking a $6M starter in the crease until 2022 also makes it a tough developmental environment for guys like Gillies and Parsons as well.
Rumours that Orlov might bolt to KHL. If the caps can't afford him, what would it take (trade and contract) to get him on the flames?
— Nick (@nhlnb) June 16, 2017
Washington certainly has some cap concerns thanks to their need to re-sign RFAs Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Brett Connolly, Nate Schmidt and Dimitri Orlov himself. They also need to re-sign or replace Justin Williams, T.J. Oshie, Daniel Winnik, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Karl Alzner. Yikes.
If Orlov really is available thanks to his club’s cap crunch, he’d make for an attractive trade target. At 25 years old he’s in the right age range for the Flames’ competitive window. He’s also well above average across the board and was arguably under-utilized by the Caps last year:
Orlov is left-handed, but he’s good enough that sliding Brodie back to the right side shouldn’t be cause for concern. I’m not sure what Washington would want back in return for the player (probably not an NHL contract to be sure), but the Flames should be inquiring.