If the NHL season started tomorrow, the Calgary Flames could more or less ice a full roster. Brad Treliving has accomplished most of his offseason to-do list, leaving him a healthy six to eight weeks to tie up loose ends.
For the Flames GM, this is a preferable position relative to his last offseason, when contract talks with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau dragged into the fall (and, in fact, wiped out Gaudreau’s training camp).
With the hiring of a new coaching staff, the late addition of various players including Gaudreau and Kris Versteeg, Calgary entered 2016-17 in a state of disarray. It took weeks for the coaches and players to find their footing, resulting in a lousy October that almost capsized their season. This time around, the Flames should be able to hit the ground running.
So what’s left? Re-signing Sam Bennett, beating the bushes for another quality winger and, maybe, starting to talk to Mikael Backlund about a contract extension.
One last free agent coming, or bigger/longer contract for Bennett? Which would you prefer?
— Hubie (@Hubie444) July 14, 2017
Bennett is a player I’d prefer to bridge at this time, so I’d likely choose to add another free agent, with the important caveat that the free agent has to be worth a damn. That list probably begins and ends with Jaromir Jagr right now, so if the Flames are not considered an option in the Jagr camp, then maybe they can push to up the commitment to Bennett.
Of course, this assumes that Bennett’s camp is open to a longer term deal, which I doubt. My guess is the player and his agent would prefer a one- or two-year bridge so they can angle for a much bigger contract down the road.
This is an avenue worth exploring, although Calgary’s cap room is a major obstacle when it comes to this kind of deal. If their trade target has a cap hit over $2.5M or so, the club would need to somehow dump salary in order to fit him on the roster.
Troy Brouwer and Matt Stajan are obviously the first two expendable deals that come to mind, but I’m not sure there’s a way the Flames could move those contracts outside of buying them out. I’m also not sure how eager ownership would be for another buyout since they are already paying Lance Bouma, Ryan Murphy, and Mason Raymond to not play for them this year.
Do you think the Flames have an agreement in principle with a UFA pending RFAs? RFA's are getting dealt with quicker then they need to be.
— James Foster (@YKJFosterYYC) July 14, 2017
I doubt there’s any sort of handshake deals out there, but it makes sense for Treliving to get his major RFA deals done as quickly as possible nonetheless. It clarifies the Flames’ cap picture and gives him an idea of what the team can (or can’t) spend in their quest to shore up the forward depth.
Assuming there are a few UFA targets he has in mind, Treliving is also racing against the clock to get them an offer before they sign elsewhere. He can’t really do that until he knows how much money he has on hand.
What do the #Flames know about Curtis Lazar that we don't? Does he have incriminating pictures of Tre?
— Ed (@Ed_Ward42) July 14, 2017
The Flames are betting that Curtis Lazar’s usage and illness entirely accounts for his poor results at the NHL level. There seems to be great organizational faith the player is far better than the results he has shown to date.
To some degree there is evidence to support this perspective, at least in terms of the theory that Lazar was sunk by bad circumstances. For instance, here is an XGF (expected goals for) model compiled by Cole Anderson in regards to Lazar:
on the other hand, he's been given garage minutes in his short career, and outside of a rough 2015-16 he hasn't had bad xG impacts pic.twitter.com/uubzURjGgU
— Cole Anderson (@CrowdScoutSprts) July 14, 2017
This is rather complicated, but the thing to pay attention to is the red line – it represents the XGF Diff (expected goals differential) of an average NHLer if he was deployed in the same fashion as Lazar. As you can see, it’s not pretty and shows that Lazar wasn’t really put into a position to succeed as a Senator. The blue line shows his actual XGF differential was worse than expected over the span of his career thus far, but at least this gives us a different baseline for expectations given his prior treatment.
This look suggests there could be an average player lurking beneath the rubble of Lazar’s time in Ottawa. Of course, he might also just be a replacement-level guy who got snowed under as well. We won’t really know until he plays in better circumstances.
what do you think backlund new contract extension would look like?
— S'asha (@konnie7889) July 14, 2017
When does a Backlund extension get done?
— James Foster (@YKJFosterYYC) July 14, 2017
I imagine Treliving will turn his attention to extending Backlund when all of the other major priorities have been taken care of. The two-way dominance of the 3M line and Backlund’s recognition as a Selke candidate makes retaining the player a high priority.
There are a handful of comparables we can use to establish a floor and ceiling for Backlund. For instance:
- Travis Zajac (eight years at $5.75M)
- Frans Nielsen (six years at $5.25M)
- Tomas Plekanec (six years at $5.0M)
All three of these guys signed deals that ate up a bunch of UFA seasons and were known as quality, tough matchup centers who are good but not great offensively (the outlier is Zajac. His number looks a little outrageous now because he signed his deal years ago after managing 62 and 67 points seasons. He has since settled into a hard minutes, 45-point pivot).
It’s probably fair to consider Zajac’s $5.75M a ceiling for Backlund’s contract, while we can also assume $5M to be the floor. The closest comparable to Backlund is likely Frans Nielsen, who spent years putting up similar results in a similar role for the New York Islanders. As such, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Backlund’s number come in around five to six years at $5M and change.
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