Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Calgary Flames - Year End Review

In the Winter 2011 Hockey Zones edition I wrote the following:
The Calgary Flames have been inconsistent; especially at home…It does not make the Saddledome a feared building to play in. The home record must improve if the team wishes to be a playoff contender... How far will the Flames go this season? This writer believes the Calgary Flames will be in a dogfight to make the playoffs…The team needs to play a stronger game from start to finish...They must also improve on their speciality team play particularly at home - this is critical…When the Flames play a skating, up tempo and puck pressure game they are very competitive and can be victorious on most nights, but this rarely happens. A consistent team effort will ensure a much needed winning streak…..…

 Now…after not making the playoffs for the second season in row, the Calgary Flames have some important questions to answer……

Should Jay Feaster become the new General Manager?
Prior to Jay becoming the “Acting” Flames General Manager, life around the Saddledome under the Darryl Sutter regime appeared to be too serious and uptight. When Jay took over, he brought with him a fresh set of ideas and a new philosophy which consisted of a better cycle of communication between management, coaching staff and players. He hired Craig Conroy in a management role and this connection to the locker room gave Jay an in depth view of the Flames as a team as well as the players on an individual basis.

Does Jarome Iginla stay in Calgary?
He is “Mr. Flame”, the face of the franchise. While he is one of very few players on the roster today with a trade market value, there doesn’t appear to be an upside to moving the captain of the team. At the age of 34, he is still one the top goal scorers in the league, 3rd in the league this year, and Jarome still has at least another 4 years of high level production in him.

How to stickhandle around the Salary cap?
It is speculated that next season’s salary cap will expand to $61M. The current Flames salary cap hit is $56M. In order to create room under the cap, buying out a number of players and moving others is critical. It is important to create salary cap space to re-sign some of the Flames unrestricted free agents, as well as creating breathing space for potential trades, either in the off-season or at the trade deadline.

What Free Agents do the Flames re-sign?
The Flames have two restricted free agents, Brendan Mikkelson and Ryan Stone. They should re-sign Stone and let Mikkelson explore free agency. The unrestricted free agents are Karlsson, Babchuk, Staios, Pardy, Carson, Morrison, Tanguay, Glencross, and Modin. They should re-sign Babchuk, Karlsson, Pardy, Carson, Tanguay, Glencross, and Morrison and let Modin and Staios test the free agent market.

Is it time to buy out contracts?
Without a doubt, it’s just a question of how many and for how much. However, it will be a tough decision for the Flames ownership to sink monies on buyouts. It’s hard to say what the value / cost of that option will be in the end.

It’s short term pain for long term gain. From a practical perspective the odds of trading Kotalik @ $3,000,000, Hagman@ $3,000,000 and / or Stajan @ $3,500,000 are quite slim – what market value do they have   - after this season’s poor performances. Getting them to agree over the spring and /or summer to play in Europe until their contacts expires, or ship them to the farm team in Abbotsford come September time are other salary cap clearing options. Whether to buyout or not this decision needs to be made prior to July 1st – timing is critical and there’s no room for mistakes.

 Who should stay on defence and who goes?
Jay Bouwmeester is making $6.7M. He is a great skater and logs enormous minutes, but his offensive output does not justify his salary. Moving him would create much needed cap space and/or high value draft picks. Giordano, Regehr, Sarich, Babchuk, Pardy, Carson, and are all effective defensemen at reasonable prices. The two prospects, Brodie and Erixon, are waiting in the wings to make the step up to the big show.

 What to do with the goaltending situation?
Keep Kipper. Along with Jarome, both are the faces of the franchise. He is still in his prime and he showed that down the stretch with some incredible performances. However reduce his workload to 55 – 60 games next season.

 Any help from the farm system?
The Flames have only one pick in the first 100 selections come draft day. In the system they only have Backlund, Bouma, Nemisz, Brodie, Erixon, and Irving. After that, roster improvements will have to come through free agent signings or trades. The Flames now are one of the oldest and slowest teams in the NHL considering the speed of today’s game. They often fall into the trap of letting the opposition dictate the pace of play. This needs to change next season.

 In Conclusion:
The Flames don’t need to “blow it all up and start over”. The salary cap restrictions limit what they can do for the time being. Freeing up space under the cap should be a top priority so management can resign their own free agents, especially Tanguay and Glencross respectively. Players such as Kotalik, Hagman, and Stajan should be jettisoned for salary cap relief and Bouwmeester could be traded for draft picks or another solid defenseman. The Flames should also inject more youth into the team. Kids like TJ Brodie should be given an opportunity to play and develop at the NHL level and Michael Backlund should also be given more ice time and a more important role next season. Yes indeed, Jay Feaster is the man who can tinker and tweak with the current Flames roster and salary structure to get this team into the playoffs next season.