Friday, January 28, 2011

Trade Deadline Predictions: 5 Players On Their Way Out

A recent surge by the Calgary Flames certainly complicates the focus of the organization heading into trade season. My view? Jay Feaster was handed the reigns on an "acting" basis to make changes, and one month of solid hockey isn't going to fix the underlying shortcomings of the team. Regardless of any playoff pursuit, I expect the Flames to be sellers by the deadline. That is: shipping out veteran contributors for younger options - be it picks or unproven youngsters, to spur an eventual youth movement in Calgary.

For starters, here are some key points to remember about Jay Feaster:

1) He has expressed an intent to obtain value for *pending free agents*
2) His goal is to become more *mobile* on defense. He emphasized the importance of quick, puck moving defense in today's game
3) He plans to surround the "core" with players that can commit to Brent's style on a *consistent* basis. In other words, Feaster intends to build the team around Brent. Agree or disagree, at least the plan has an element of consistency to it.
4) He has expressed a desire to re-stock the team's draft picks. As it stands now, the Flames have 1 pick in the top 100 for the upcoming draft. Should Feaster prevail, we can expect a number of mid-level picks heading West this February. 

One rule: We would all love to trade Ales Kotalik and Olli Jokinen for draft picks and skate sharpeners. The reality? No organzation would be willing to take on those contracts, even if they find some absurd reason to give up assets in order to acquire them. I'll try to remain as realistic as possible when addressing potential trade components on the Flames. In doing so, I'll steer clear of these deadweight contracts in order to  set fourth reasonable predictions.

5 players on their way out of Calgary by February 28, 2011:

ROBYN REGEHR (2 years remaining, no-movement clause)

It will be tough to see Reggie go, but his inflated trade value around the leave presents an opportunity that shouldn't - and won't - be passed up. Compounded with 2 more years at a shade over 4 million per, Regehr's trade value is at its peak, and the Flames strength on defense would allow the team to manage without. Unlike, let's say, Jarome Iginla's offensive contributions. Given the team's inconsistency in recent years, one of the leaders - Iginla or Regehr - is bound to be dealt. For my money, it's more realistic to replace a shutdown defenseman than an all star, franchise-leading goal scorer. 

Comparable Transactions
- Scott Hannan for Tomas Fleischmann
- Michal Roszival for Wojtek Wolski

Potential Return
Here's the best news - given recent transactions around the league, a deal involving Regehr would garner a hefty return - potentially involving a 1st round pick, along with some youthful offensive depth.


Glencross was a bargain signing in the summer of '08. While I've been a big fan of his tenacity and underrated skill set, Glencross' contributions have been wildly inconsistent - an attribute that has plagued the entire team in recent memory. Curtis has a club membership to Brent's doghouse, and has expressed frustration with his limited opportunity at a top-six role on the team. With this in mind, it seems unlikely that Glencross would be re-signed by the team this summer. Expect Feaster to ship him off and acquire an asset while the option is still available to do so. He would be a low-risk, depth acquisition for a number of teams - most likely of the contending variety.

Comparable Transactions
- Dominic Moore for a 2nd rd pick
- Raffi Torres for Nathan Paetsch, 2nd rd pick

Potential Return - 3 Scenarios
1) Strong team seeking bottom-6 depth:
Glencross for 3rd rd pick
2) Lower seed team, looking for an affordable top-6 option:
Glencross for 2nd rd pick (e.g. Rene Bourque acquisition by CGY)
3) Playoff team looking to ship off an expiring contract of its own - unlikely to re-sign:
Glencross for Bergfors
Glencross for Upshall

Given the desperate nature of the trade deadline, we can expect a team to give up too much for a versatile, energy player like Glencross. Comparable transactions from last year's deadline (see above) bode well for the Flames in this case.

NIKLAS HAGMAN (1 year remaining)

Nik Hagman is what he is: a 31 year old, speedy Finnish winger, that could be a valuable asset to any team... should he find a way to improve his consistency. Based on Feaster's intentions to turn the page with this team, I don't see a scenario wherein Hagman survives the transition. As a capable secondary scoring option, his trade value hasn't completely deteriorated. Unlike Glencross, it's difficult to equate Hagman's deficiencies to a lack of work ethic. He moves his feet, can crash and bang along the wall, and provides some much needed energy for the team. Unfortunately, Hagman simply isn't able to "finnish" (no pun intended). Perhaps his hustle would be rewarded with a more offensively potent line-up, skating alongside players not named Stajan, Jokinen or Kotalik.

Comparable Transactions
- Jeff Halpern for Teddy Purcell, 3rd rd pick
- Matt D'Agostini for Aaron Palushaj

Potential Return
Hagman's additional year under contract helps his trade value. A 2nd rd pick would be a steal, but Hagman is more likely to yield a 3rd rd pick, or mid-level prospect. He's a viable option to re-stock a pick in the top 100 for the upcoming draft, a goal clearly outlined by Jay Feaster.


Morrison has proved to be an impressive value signing for the Flames this season. When he isn't contributing on the scoresheet, he's winning face-offs, killing penalties and finding some way to make his linemates better. Brendan has played well on lines 1-4, at centre and on the wing. Luckily for the Flames, Morrison now represents a valuable spare part for any playoff team. With 4 NHL options at centre (Jokinen, Stajan, Backlund, Moss) and viable options in Abbotsford (Wahl, Stone, Armstrong), it seems very unlikely that Feaster would look to re-sign a 35 year old depth centreman. The good news? Morrison has created a market for his services that was non-existent a mere 5 months ago. 

Comparable Transactions
- Scott Walker for a 7th rd pick
- Jamie Langenbrunner for a conditional 3rd rd pick

Potential Return
Given his age, Morrison's expiring, pro-rated $725,000 contract serves as an asset, as it gives any organization the ability to evaluate his performance in a small snapshot. This creates some flexibility in the offseason, with no long-term commitments or cap obligations beyond this season. At age 35, the ceiling may be limited, but Morrison's versatility could render a 4th rd pick, which would contribute to the inevitable youth movement in Calgary. 


Since his arrival on the scene, Babchuk has performed as advertised. He's a 5th/6th defenseman, often protected from top line competition, and serves primarily as a powerplay specialist. His shutdown ability is limited, but his overall defensive game has progressed in his short stint with the Flames. Babchuk leads all Flames defensemen with 4 PP goals, and - as advertised -  does possess a heavy shot from the back end (2nd only to our hero: Ales Kotalik). 

While we're at it, here's an interesting comparison from The 4th Line Blog:

Babchuk-14 Points in last 34 games. 
Phaneuf-11 Points in last 33 games.

... Just provides a little somethin' to giggle at. Babchuk has been a capable depth defender, and brings a secret threat on the powerplay. So, what's the market for a depth defenseman like Babs for the stretch run?

Comparable Transactions
- Martin Skoula for 5th rd pick
- Shane O'Brien for Ryan Parent

As a one-dimensional defenseman, the return on Anton Babchuk is limited. Nevertheless, expect Feaster to find a taker on this PP specialist, and attain a late round pick (5th/6th rd) or mid-level prospect in return.

And so ends my predictions for the upcoming trade deadline. Remember, these were assembled based on what we've heard from JayFe to this point, and do not necessarily reflect my own preferences. Look forward to hearing some of your expectations for the deadline! 

Here's what we know for sure: this is an intriguing time to follow the Calgary Flames. 

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Darryl Sutter: The Beauty... and the Beast

Welcome to the celebration of Darryl Sutter's tenure as GM of the Calgary Flames. We are going to drink hard early on and rejoice some of the great memories, before the hangover kicks in and we begin to feel a tad more cynical about Darryl's tenure. Oh yeah: it's Beauty and the Beast themed, so bring your masks and ball gowns.



This one goes without saying: Sutter dealt a 2nd round pick to SJ for Kipper, which paid immediate dividends, and now represents a huge turning point for the organization. 


This refers to the original trade for Tanguay in 2005. Leopold and a 2nd round pick for a 26 year old, cup clinching goal scorer seemed to be a bargain. His 80+ points worth of playmaking alongside Iggy wasn't bad either. Tangs then managed 58 points in a checking role under Keenan the following season. He was a major impact player for the Flames, and the deal that brought him to Calgary proved to be a steal.


Speaking of Tanguay, he has since admitted he asked for a trade that final season, and his request was met in the '08 draft. Tanguay was traded to the Canadiens for a 1st round pick, a pick that was then dealt to LA along with a 2nd round selection for Mike Cammalleri. So, Darryl essentially dished off an unhappy player, and slightly shifted the team’s draft position in order to acquire Cammalleri several minutes later - while maintaining a 1st round pick. Not bad, Darryl. Cammalleri would go on to score a career high 39 goals and 43 assists in his only season with the Flames.


Minutes after free agency opens on July 1, Darryl avoids the free agent frenzy and trades a conditional 2nd round pick to Chicago for Rene Bourque, a 3rd/4th line penalty killer for the Blackhawks. Rene had tallied 33 goals in 3 years with the Hawks (6 short handed). Admittedly, I sure didn't think much of the deal at the time. The undrafted winger has scored 20+ goals in two full seasons with the Flames, and is on pace for 26 this year. While inconsistent, he's shown signs of growth in his offensive contributions, despite some battles with injury along the way. Re-signing Bourque to a multi-year extension worth around 3.3M per season could prove to be a bargain as well.


A diamond in the rough, as they say, and rough is the key word here. Giordano was undrafted and plucked out of the OHL by Sutter. He spent 3 seasons with the organization, before a contract dispute landed him in Russia for a year. Clearly, there were no hard feelings, as Darryl went right back at Gio and signed him to return to the Flames the following season. Since that point, we have witnessed the steady maturity of a very solid NHL d man. He's been one of the team's most consistent players over the last couple of seasons, and continues to evolve into a very dependable player in every facet of the game. Earlier on this season, Giordano was extended long-term, with a cap hit of 4.02M. A number that, presumably falls well below the money he would have collected this July 1st, as he was said to be one of the top 3 pending free agent defensemen this summer.


Given Daymond's current status with the team (and possibly his career), this mention is likely to fall on deaf ears. To me, there's no doubt the team misses his solid, two-way consistency. As far as the transaction itself, all we need to ask ourselves is "where are Denis Gauthier and Oleg Saprykin playing these days?" That was the deal that brought Langkow to Calgary in 2005. In his first 4 seasons as a Flame, Langks posted 20+ goals consistently, and compounded a plus/minus rating of +42. A difficult start to last season and a long-term neck injury have diluted some of Daymond's contributions over the last couple of seasons, but full credit to Darryl for the initial move. Not that I don’t miss Oleg Saprykin’s shoot-from-everywhere approach. 


Mike Keenan hired, Jim Playfair fired

Based on the last couple of years of Flames hockey, it's tough to fathom a coach firing after one season at a 43-29-10 record. However, Darryl saw fit to demote head coach Jim Playfair in the summer of 2007. To make matters worse, he hired the infamous “Iron Mike” Keenan, stating that Mike was the “perfect selection” to take his team to the next level. It’s my belief that Keenan set the Flames back several years, with his unwillingness to play youngsters, and his excessive dependence on the likes of Iginla, Jokinen and Kiprusoff. With undue pressure on 23 year old Dion Phaneuf to perform through 25+ minutes a night, Keenan’s tenure sparked the beginning of Phaneuf’s fall to mediocrity as well. To his credit, Iron Mike remains tops in all-time wins among NHL coaches with a number of different teams. However, his inequitable distribution of ice time, and his reluctance to address the positional and strategic aspects of play hurt the Flames’ underlying performance. The team’s PP and PK percentages dropped drastically, and the defensive accountability plummeted, leaving a disaster for Brent Sutter to clean up – a process that is still ongoing. While the team’s performance in the standings was tolerable, Keenan’s regime could be viewed as a damaging period for the organization long term.

Olli Jokinen

Sutter made a splash in the ’08 trade deadline, by acquiring a number one centre to play with Jarome Iginla.

To Calgary:
Olli Jokinen
3rd round draft pick

To Phoenix:
Matthew Lombardi
Brandon Prust
1st round draft pick

I must admit, I was in full support of the deal at the time. Being somewhat unfamiliar with Jokinen’s play, I took one look at his 40+ goal seasons and immediately jumped on board. The wait was over, and the Flames finally had an elite #1 centre. Or did they? Things looked very good early, as Jokinen put up several multi-goal games in his first 10 as a Flame. From there, however, Olli’s play would drop off... and the rest, much to the frustration of Flames fans, is history. Jokinen was then sent to New York for a short sample of Chris Higgins, and a deadweight contract in Ales Kotalik. So essentially, the team gave away a young, speedy centreman in Lombardi and a desperately needed 1st round pick, for Jokinen (twice) and 3 million dollars worth of Ales Kotalik for the remainder of the season – and two more. Again, far be it for me to criticize any move related to Olli Jokinen, because I was strongly in favour of the initial deal that brought him to Calgary.

That ugly blockbuster trade

I have no qualms about dealing your most tradeable asset. However, the Phaneuf deal reeked of desperation, and could prove to be a missed opportunity for the team. An opportunity to deal a very attractive asset to bring in some much needed skill and youth. Instead, Darryl brought in four members of the worst team in the NHL. As the team approaches a potential rebuild, it’s frustrating to consider the impact players or prospects that could have come back in a deal for Dion. Jeff Carter? Jordan Staal? Derek Roy? Obviously speculation there, but it’s clear Darryl didn’t shop around for the best offer, as indicated by several GMs throughout the league. Rather than trading a star for a star, the team gave away its most tradeable asset for four average players, and only two remain with the team. To make matters worse, Darryl threw in Keith Aulie, who was arguably the Flames’ best defensive prospect at the time. 


Did you really feel the need to deal away a 3rd round pick, alongside a serviceable *young* d man for Steve Staios? Did you really think your deadline deal to bring in a slow, 37 year old veteran defenseman would be the difference between making and missing the playoffs? That’s a tough sell, especially with that 2.7 M cap hit for an additional season.

Passing on Cammalleri

Hmm: Great chemistry with Iginla, young, undisputable skill, and a timely scorer (39 goals). When asked if the Flames would be able to sign Cammalleri to an extension under the cap, Darryl responded “we can do whatever we want.” According to Craig Conroy, Cammo was looking for a deal in the neighbourhood of 5M per year. So, clearly Darryl didn’t “want” Cammalleri back. Every time the Flames lose 2-1 games to Minnesota, Columbus or Nashville, I find myself wondering what could have been if the team were to have kept shifty Mike Cammalleri. ... The one that got away.

Stajan contract extension

First off: offering a 4 year extension to a player that has only played 9 games for you is likely premature. Also: to pay him $4 million in the first two years as a second line centre (at best?) is too much. If we felt it was a poor deal when it was announced late last season, we can take comfort in reviewing Stajan's production so far this season: 2 goals. Yes, that's 2 million per goal. Worst part is, Stajan’s lack of production makes his big contract near impossible to move.

Darryl deserves some credit for building a competitive team from the depths of a very dark period for hockey in Calgary. Darryl was an exciting GM to follow, as he was always prepared to tinker. Whether we agreed or disagreed, he was ever prepared to make adjustments, and rarely stood pat. Unfortunately, Darryl’s moves turned to desperation later on in his tenure, and these decisions could set the team back a number of years. All we can say now is “thank god I’m not Jay Feaster.”

To close, here are some quotes in memory of Darryl Sutter:

"To be quite honest, (fill in the blank here)... So, we have a really good hockey team."

"There are only a handful of elite coaches that could coach this group." So Darryl, would you return to coaching? "Well, I'm one of them... I just don't want to."

"Our goals-for is fine. It's our goals-against that needs work." Earlier this season, when the team was scoring an average of 2.05 goals per game.

"Hey, if the fans want our players to wave their sticks at centre-ice after having the sh*t kicked out of them, we can arrange that," when asked about a post-game salute to the fans.

For additional head-scratching, here are more D-Sutt quotes - courtesy CalgaryPuck:

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Holiday Feast(er)

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Jay Feaster.

With the recent announcement of Darryl Sutter's resignation, a promotion for the Assistant GM seems an obvious choice for a team in transition - especially halfway through the regular season. Looking at the big picture though, would we have predicted Jay Feaster to be the GM of the Calgary Flames one year ago? That perspective presents a stronger element of surprise.

Many of us lack a detailed understanding of Feaster's history as a General Manager, but there are some events we can look to with his stint in Tampa Bay.

Positives: First off, a Stanley Cup. No matter what way, shape or form, championship titles are tough to dispute. Feaster took a horrific hockey team and turned them into champions. While I don't profess to know the ins and outs of that process, it's an important bullet on his resume. Coupled with an impressive regime with the Hershey Bears, we know the man is capable of assembling a winner.

Negatives: Salary cap mis-management. Feaster was caught in an awkward transition at the outset of the new CBA. Suddenly, he was faced with a number of cup-winning free agents set to hit the market, along with a recently imposed salary cap. Most notably, budding star Vincent Lecavalier was set for free agency, and subsequently signed to an astronomical multi-year extension. As a result, the team was forced to part ways with goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and, eventually, Brad Richards. This period yielded much of the criticism directed at Feaster over his regime in Tampa. Upon his arrival in Calgary, Jay purposefully addressed those topics, detailing the mistakes he made, and the learning process that took place as a result. A General Manager that is accountable for his mistakes? Boy, that's a new one around here.

In his short stint as Assistant GM in Calgary, Feaster emphasized his "old school" approach as being comparable with Darryl. The only relevant synonym for "old school" in the NHL is a "pre-lockout" style of management. As we've learned, such philosophies fail in a league that continues to move towards speed, skill and youth. Let's hope Jay's self proclaimed "old school" style has some elements of new school as well. After almost 7 months of close observation, you'd think Jay would be able to learn from some of Darryl's mishaps. 

What else do we know about Jay Feaster?

Great communicator - media savvy

Strong supporter of Brent Sutter

Doesn't miss an episode of One Tree Hill... Simply because we have no reason to believe otherwise

Found a way to get along with John Tortorella

... Okay, so personally I know very little, but what could the promotion of Jay Feaster mean for the Calgary Flames? 

Unfortunately for some passionate fans, Jay's position at the helm does not necessarily mean that aging stars Iginla, Regehr and Kiprusoff will be dealt away for young prospects within the calendar year. My less-than-educated guess would be that no General Manager wants to be known as the guy that took power, and drove the face of the franchise and his friends out of town shortly thereafter. I expect the newly appointed GM to take a more conservative approach to his first season(s) running the team.

Personally, I'm pleased with the transition, because I had no confidence that Darryl and his stubborn ways were going to address the obvious shortfalls of this group. I was tired of hearing him say that goal scoring wasn't a problem, that the Olli-Tangs-Iggy connection was working well, or that he would still trade Phaneuf for a few "impact players" from the Maple Leafs. Given the decision making in recent history, how could we believe that the team wouldn't continue on its downward spiral under Darryl's watch?

It was clear a change was needed. From my perspective, it was clear THIS change was needed. But what will Feaster add to the perpetual carousel that is the Calgary Flames?

All I can say is, at this point, I have no reason to believe Jay Feaster won't perform well as General Manager for this franchise. While the transition may be unfamiliar, or even unpopular, Jay will provide a fresh outlook, and even if only slightly - a new direction. As fans of a 14th place team, what else could we ask for?

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