The Calgary Flames missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season in 2013 and, finally unable to ignore the writing on the wall leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline, started a rebuilding process by trading big ticket veterans Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at what moves the Flames might make this summer.
The trouble facing the Flames is that they have been so slow to accept their decline that even after shedding Iginla and Bouwmeester, general manager Jay Feaster noted, "Murray Edwards told me last evening that he expects to be in the playoffs next year, so there's my marching order."
Expecting this team to turn around and become a playoff team in one season is a major reach, particularly considering the holes that they need to fill.
It's one thing to be optimistic and hope that the Flames can get on the right track next season, but it's another matter entirely if Feaster's player acquisition decisions this summer are made under the premise that the Flames just need a couple tweaks in order to be a playoff contender once again.
However, if the Flames are going to build a strong base, they need to make decisions consistent with long-term objectives. That doesn't mean tanking the season. If they have a goaltender that stops 92% of the shots faced, as opposed to 88% (like Miikka Kiprusoff last season), then maybe Calgary could compete for a playoff spot, but that's not an expectation around which one can reasonably build a team.
Feaster's challenge is acquiring top-end talent, whether through draft, trades or free agent signings. While the Flames have solid pros scattered throughout the roster, they don't have guys at the top end of the talent scale. The sixth overall pick should net a quality prospect and the Flames have some interesting young players and prospects (Sven Baertschi, Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Backlund, T.J. Brodie), but they need more.
We'll see how realistic the Flames are about their chances by the moves they make this summer.
The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus, stars will be over 80 and MVP candidates could go over 90. Sidney Crosby finished at the top of the 2013 regular season ratings with a 93.65.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
Jay Feaster/Bob Hartley
Flames Forwards Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com
An industrious winger who has some offensive ability, Lee Stempniak tied for the team lead with 32 points and was one of two Flames to finish with a positive plus-minus in 2013. His steady play earned Stempniak 17:54 of ice time per game, the second-highest of his career, but that much ice time is also an indication of shortcomings among the rest of Calgary's forwards.
Curtis Glencross has scored 65 goals over the last three seasons, thanks to an 18.5% shooting percentage, the best in the league among players with at least 30 goals over those three seasons. That makes regression a very real possibility, but Glencross can still be a valuable contributor on a team that needs scoring.
At his price tag, Mike Cammalleri may not be the ideal fit on a rebuilding team, so perhaps his future isn't long for Calgary, but he's a five-time 20-goal scorer who has 133 points in 153 games with the Flames, so he's a good bet for top line duty as long as he hangs around.
Getting a fresh start under a new coach, Matt Stajan was a solid contributor for the Flames last season. His offensive output was modest, but he had the team's best plus-minus while taking on more challenging assignments. Considering his pay cheque, it makes far more sense for the Flames to get something positive from Stajan, rather than leaving him on the fourth line or in the press box.
Veteran playmaker Alex Tanguay had a career-low minus-13 rating in 2013, but that's more a function of playing a lot for a team with poor goaltending than any dramatically declining two-way play. A rare player who has maintained a high shooting percentage throughout his career (18.8%, best among active players), Tanguay remains a solid offensive option, though asking him to handle 19 minutes a night could be a reach at this stage of his career.
Inking Jiri Hudler as a free agent last summer was the kind of move made by a team thinking that they only needed tinkering in order to remain competitive. Hudler is a skilled player who can be a nice secondary scoring option, but the Flames don't lack secondary scoring options. It's he primary scorers that are the issue and there isn't enough to suggest that Hudler can jump to that level of production.
One of the building blocks for the franchise's future, Sven Baertschi, finished the season strong, with nine points during a seven-game point streak to end the year. He also had 26 points in 32 AHL games as a first-year pro, so it is reasonable to expect Baertschi to show continued improvement next season as he moves towards being one of the Flames' better offensive performers.
22-year-old Roman Horak is another young forward with a chance to be part of the Flames' future. He has only 18 points in 81 career NHL games, but Horak played relatively tough minutes in his 20 NHL games last season and he's shown enough that he could stick with the Flames even if he doesn't become much of a scorer.
Tough guy Tim Jackman made the most of his first season in Calgary, in 2010-2011, scoring 10 goals and 23 points, but has two goals and nine points in 117 games since. Jackman does have 34 fights in that time, so he fills a limited role at a reasonable price.
Checking centre Blair Jones has never played more than 43 games in an NHL season, yet has accrued 114 career games over parts of six seasons. He's a fringe guy, big enough to bang on the fourth line if need be, but he'll be 27 by the time next season arrives and guys that haven't earned full-time jobs by that age tend to be replaced by younger alternatives.
It speaks to the Flames' relative dearth of young talent that Mikael Backlund is one of those that they are pinning hopes on. It's not that 24-year-old Backlund couldn't be a productive player, he's had strong possession numbers, but has 27 points and a minus-19 rating in 73 games over the past two seasons. If he's going to make the jump to being a bona fide top six forward, now's the time.
The challenge for the Flames when they enter the offseason is to not look for immediate help. There could be temptation to add a veteran free agent or two with the hopes that, if all goes right, they can combine with Cammalleri, Tanguay and company to be good enough for the Flames to somehow manage to sneak into the postseason. If they're being patient, though, the Flames would at least have to look at younger free agents, like Tyler Bozak or Mason Raymond that, while not great difference-makers on their own, perhaps could be part of turning around the team's fortunes over the next few seasons.
Flames Defence Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com
A puck-handling defenceman who can make some glaring turnovers, Dennis Wideman played a career-high 25:01 for the Flames last season and did what he does, scoring 13 of 22 points on the power play and tying for 16th in the league among NHL defencemen with 37 giveaways. All in all, though, there's enough to like about a guy who ranks 13th in points since 2008-2009 among blueliners.
While his production hasn't approached his 43 points in 82 games that he scored in 2010-2011, Mark Giordano has played more than 23 minutes per game for each of the past three seasons, establishing his place as a top four (top three? top pair?) defenceman. Over the last couple years, while his scoring has declined, Giordano has taken on more challenging defensive matchups, so that needs to go into his evaluation -- it's not as simple as saying that he's less valuable because he's not scoring as much.
34-year-old Cory Sarich has 915 career games played, but played a paltry 14:52 per game in 28 games last season. He's made his career as a big, physical, stay-at-home defenceman, but Sarich is nearing the end and, if he is in Calgary next year, it may be in a reserve role.
A late-bloomer who got into 47 games with the Flames in 2011-2012, Derek Smith saw minimal action (12:15 ATOI) in 22 games last season. He's inexpensive to fill a roster spot, but the window is closing (if it isn't closed already) for the 28-year-old to establish himself as a full-time player.
One of the young players that benefitted from the Flames' fall out of playoff contention, T.J. Brodie, played 23:26 per game in April, getting real reps to help improve his game and the 22-year-old appears to have the makings of a quality puck-possession defenceman. As he matures and gets stronger, Brodie has a chance to play a significant role in the Flames' future.
After playing a career-high 21:36 per game in 2011-2012, Chris Butler saw his role reduced under a new coaching regime, playing 17:02 per game (only after logging nearly 20 minutes per game in the final month). While Butler can tighten up defensively and improve his decision-making, he's a 26-year-old that has played 267 NHL games and can be effective when given the right matchups.
Trading Jay Bouwmeester changed the outlook for Calgary's defence, demanding a lot from veterans Wideman and Giordano, while affording more opportunity to Brodie and Butler, but adding a proven top four defenceman would be an obvious remedy to make the Flames more competitive going forward.
Seeking out a younger, and maybe not quite so expensive option, maybe someone like Ben Lovejoy or ex-Flame Ian White could be a reasonable option.
Mark Cundari, a prospect acquired in the Bouwmeester trade, also has a chance to stick on next season's blueline.
Free Agent Goaltender
||'12-'13 Cap Hit
Miikka Kiprusoff is under contract for next season but, after posting a 3.44 goals against average and .882 save percentage in 2013, it's entirely possible that he's reached the end of an impressive career in which he started more than 70 games for seven straight seasons. When he decided that he didn't want to get traded at the trade deadline, Kiprusoff indicated that he was likely to retire in the offseason. If that is, in fact, how it plays out, that will put the Flames in the market for a starting goaltender.
The Flames must have liked what they saw out of journeyman Joey MacDonald when he was thrust into the lineup last season, as they signed him to a new contract, but the 33-year-old with a .903 save percentage in 122 career NHL games can't be expected to handle anything more than a backup role.
If the Flames are indeed looking for a new goaltender, they could theoretically trade for Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo or Jonathan Bernier, but there are plenty of options on the free agent market. Mike Smith, who GM Jay Feaster acquired in Tampa Bay in 2008, could be interesting, if the Flames believe that he might be able to provide some reasonable replication of his 2011-2012 season or, if looking for a shorter-term answer, Feaster also has a history with Nikolai Khabibulin.
||Boston College (HE)
||21-30-51, +19, 35 GP
||Providence College (HE)
||7-11-18, +5, 34 GP
||10-20-30, +3, 50 GP
||17-24-41, +9, 37 GP
||Providence College (HE)
||17-12-6, 2.08 GAA, .931 SV%
||7-30-37, +62, 61 GP
||7-14-21, -26, 67 GP
||7-21-28, +4, 58 GP
||33-8-6, 2.25 GAA, .917 SV%
||St. Cloud (WCHA)
||17-14-31, +1, 37 GP
There's no question that Johnny Gaudreau is a talented player, the only concern is whether he'll be able to withstand the rigors of pro hockey. He has 95 points in two collegiate seasons but, at 5-foot-7, he'll have to prove he can handle bigger and stronger players once he turns pro.
Drafted 21st overall last summer, Mark Jankowski is a raw prospect who made a big jump from Quebec high school hockey to the NCAA, and it showed. He remains a long-term project with offensive upside, but he'll need to increase his productivity to remain highly-regarded.
A second-round pick in 2011, Markus Granlund has put up 64 points in 97 games over the past two seasons, while playing against men, in Finland. He doesn't have the same offensive flair as his brother, Minnesota's Mikael Granlund, but Markus could be an effective two-way performer.
Picked up in the Jarome Iginla deal, Kenny Agostino is a sturdy winger who has improved his production in each of his three collegiate campaigns, playing a pivotal role for the national championship team in 2012-2013. He's not a high-end scorer; more a strong winger who should be able to chip in offensively as a pro.
There is always uncertainty when it comes to goaltending prospects, but Jon Gillies sure looks the part of a future NHLer. A third-round pick last summer, Gillies excelled as a freshman and his 6-foot-5 frame is a definite asset. He's only 19, though, so it's going to take some time before he's a consideration for the Flames.
A steady performer that has improved his production every year of junior, Tyler Wotherspoon earned a spot on the Canadian World Junior entry and the 2011 second-rounder should be able to develop into a shutdown-type defenceman as a pro.
Max Reinhart didn't score as much as anticipated in his first pro season, but still got a look in Calgary late in the year (three points, minus-3 in 11 games). He'll have a chance to earn a fourth-line job next season, but could improve his offensive game with more time in the AHL.
Acquired in the Jay Bouwmeester trade, Mark Cundari is and undersized defenceman who has put together three solid AHL seasons, earning a chance at the next level. He contributed three points, and a minus-2 rating, in four games with the Flames late in the year, but showed well enough that he should have a chance to start with the big club next season.
A sixth-round pick in 2011, Laurent Brossoit has a .915 save percentage in 110 games over the last two seasons. With the Flames' goaltending ripe for change, Brossoit could have a good opportunity in the AHL next season.
Another piece in the Iginla deal, Ben Hanowski is a good-sized winger who scored 40 goals and 74 points in 76 games over the last two seasons at St. Cloud State, before playing a handful of games with the Flames last in the year. He likely needs time in the AHL, but if his skating improves, he'll have a shot.
Some other Flames prospects to consider include Bill Arnold, a solid winger who has 71 points in 80 games over the last two years at Boston College, and towering defenceman Chris Breen, who has limited puck skills but stands 6-foot-7.
6th - Elias Lindholm, Valeri Nichushkin, Darnell Nurse.
22nd - Fredrik Gauthier, Kerby Rychel, Ryan Pulock.
29th - Nicolas Petan, Robert Hagg, Jordan Subban.
According to www.capgeek.com, the Flames have approximately $44.3M committed to the 2013-2014 salary cap for 16 players.
Check out my possible Flames lineup for next season on Cap Geek here.
Needs: Two top six forwards, one top four defenceman, another defenceman, starting goaltender.
What I said the Flames needed last year: Two top nine forwards, one top four defenceman, another defenceman.
They added: Jiri Hudler, Roman Cervenka, Steve Begin, Dennis Wideman.
Mike Cammalleri, Lee Stempniak, Alex Tanguay.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.