Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Northwest So Far - Calgary Flames

This is the third in a series of team evaluations for the Northwest division. I've been looking at the budget for each team for both the upcoming season and the 2010-2011 season as well as taking a brief snapshot of each of their significant NHL level moves over the last month. In terms of budget expectations, I will use the following as a basic guideline with 56.8M as the cap figure for this season and 50.0M as the possible cap figure for 2010-2011 to see how flexible teams are if the cap declines:

Top 3 Forwards - 27.5%
Middle 6 Forwards - 20.0%
Top 4 Defenders - 27.5%
Goaltending - 10.0%
Bottom 8 players - 15.0%

Many of the statistics used for evaluation wouldn't be possible without the wonderful resources available at, Behind the Net and Time on Ice (thanks Vic and Gabe). I have already taken a look at the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche. Next up is the Calgary Flames:

Budget 2009-2010

Top 3 Forwards - Iginla, Langkow, ??? = 11.50 or 20.2%

Middle 6 Forwards - Jokinen, Bourque, Moss, Glencross, Conroy, ??? = 10.15 or 17.8%

Top 4 Defenders - Bouwmeester, Phaneuf, Regehr, Sarich = 20.8 or 36.6%

Goaltending - Kiprusoff, McElhinney = 6.37 or 11.2%

Bottom 8 Players - Giordano, Pardy, ???, Nystrom, Prust, Sjostrom, Primeau, ??? = 4.93 or 8.7%

The Flames are an interesting team. I haven't included all of the players that the Flames have signed recently here because many of them are more likely to be playing in the AHL than they are in the NHL. Still, with a team as top-heavy as this it's important to have a lot of low cost options in case one player isn't performing respectably. That way, if one player isn't performing at replacement level (say, Prust), they can farm him in favour of another (say, Lundmark or Jaffray). The Flames have about 3M left in cap space and could really use a LW for the first line and another solid forward option in the middle 6 forwards. In an ideal world that would come by moving Kiprusoff out for a(n overpriced, if need be) forward option. The goalie could then be replaced by someone a bit cheaper. Matt's now moot suggestion of Kiprusoff for Smyth is right along those lines. If they could convince Atlanta that Kiprusoff was a viable option Kozlov and Lehtonen for Kiprusoff and a 1st round pick could form the base of a similar type of deal. The other option is moving a piece on defence to make some cap room in order to balance out the roster. Kent has mentioned that Nik Zherdev might be available and he would indeed make a great acquisition. A deal that involved one of Regehr or - in the best case scenario - Sarich + some minor futures (2nd round pick or later or 2nd tier prospect) to the Rangers for the rights to Zherdev would certainly serve to balance the roster somewhat. At any rate this team needs to shuffle some money away from the defenders and goaltenders and into the forward ranks.

1. Calgary trades 2009 3rd round pick to Florida for the rights to Jay Bouwmeester. Living in Vancouver I heard a lot on the radio about how Darryl Sutter just wasted a third round pick. Admittedly, it would seem that if a player is only one day away from unrestricted free agency, that the logical thing to do is in fact test the market. On the other hand, all Sutter traded was a third round pick. In my view, there isn't much value to drafting a bottom 8 player since those players are always available on the UFA market. What's valuable is drafting good players. In an earlier post on drafting I noted that the chance of drafting a good player between picks 31 and 100 (the Flames third round pick) is just under 8%. Leaving aside the fact that Bouwmeeter is a much better player than most of those 8%, I think that it's very likely Sutter believed he had a better than 8% chance at signing Bouwmeester. If he is right in that assessment, this is a very good trade regardless of whether or not the Flames actually sign Bouwmeeter.

2. Calgary signs Jay Bouwmeester to a five year deal at 6.68M per year. Here is the list of defencemen who have a higher cap hit than Bouwmeeter next season: Zdeno Chara (7.5M), Nick Lidstrom (7.45), Brian Campbell (7.14M). That's it. A couple things come to mind here. Firstly, that Brian Campbell contract is more repulsive than a Flames Stanley Cup victory. Well, not quite, but it's darn close. Secondly, Bouweester probably didn't leave much money on the table. I suppose it's possible someone would bump him up into Chara/Lidstrom territory over the five year term but even then he's only missing out on 4.1M or 11% of what the (likely) maximum salary would have been. The term works well for both teams in that Calgary isn't saddled with a deal until Bouwmeester is 45 and Bouwmeester will be young enough at the expiry of this contract that he should be able to get (at least) one more really big payday.

The last question that comes to mind is, of course, how good is Bouwmeester? The answer is that he's very very good. In Florida, Bouweester was taking on the toughest quality of opposition and was starting in his own zone all too often. When I looked in March, his 451 defensive zone starts was leading the league (next closest was Zbynek Michalek at 407). He finished the year with a total of 576 defensive zone starts (47.6% of all of Florida's defensive zone draws) and 180 more starts in the defensive zone than the offensive zone. Bouwmeester probably played the toughest minutes in the league on a poor team. He ended up with a big negative for Corsi (-10.8/60) and a slightly positive 5v5 goal differential (+3) with a PDO number of 102.0. His offense at even strength really isn't anything special. This past year he put up 0.71 pts/60 while the one before that is was 0.89 pts/60. Because of the extreme nature of his ice time, it's hard to say just how good these numbers are.

At this point I think it might be worthwhile to look at a couple of other players that were in a very similar situation (toughest competition, way more defensive zone starts, bad team) in Zbynek Michalek and Scott Hannan. Hannan did not do well. His Corsi was -14.7/60 and his even strength +/- was -24. On top of that, he brought virtually no offense with only 0.38 pts/60. A lot of his bad numbers, however, can probably be chalked up to percentages given the goaltending in Colorado. Hannan's PDO number was well down the list at 98.2. Michalek fares a bit better. His Corsi was -14.3/60 and his even strength 5v5 +/- was -18 but he was comparable to Bouwmeester offensively with 0.92 pts/60. His PDO number was also substantially lower than Bouwmeester's at 99.1. I think this shows that the difference between Bouwmeeter and some of the others playing with similar disadvantages is real but that much of it was coming in the form of percentages. Bouwmeeter was reducing the number of shots but the difference really isn't that drastic and the offense he provides from his starting position isn't all that great since he saw that one of his two comparables actually scored a bit more.

On special teams, Bouwmeester got a lot of time but didn't provide a ton of production. His power play numbers are less less than what I'd expect of a top end performer (3.53 pts/60) and on the penalty kill, although he played the most minutes of all of the Florida defenders, the team was actually much better when others were on the ice (7.73 GA/60 with Bouwmeester on the ice, 4.35 GA/60 with Bouwmeeter on the bench).

Now, Bouwmeeter is still very young, having just completed his 25 year old season. He's also going into a much more favourable environment with the Flames so his numbers will almost certainly improve. Bouwmeester could be a rock on the Flames for the next five years and put up a lot of production. Yet, there's also the possibility that his rates don't improve, that he's really nothing special on special teams, that he's just a really good shutdown defender. To me, there's a real chance that Bouwmeeter underperforms this contract and that the Flames, with other more glaring holes in their lineup, chose to put money into the backend. This isn't really a bad deal for the Flames, but it's not good either.

3. Calgary signs Adam Pardy to a two year deal at 0.75M per year. Pardy played his first NHL season last year on the bottom pairing and managed to both outshoot and outscore the opposition at even strength. That probably has a lot more to do with the forwards in front of him but there's something to be said for not screwing things up. For 0.75M, the price is right for someone that you already know fits in. This is a solid deal for the Flames.

4. Calgary signs Fredrik Sjostrom to a two year deal at 0.75M per year. This is the first of Darryl Sutter's many replacement level forward signings. Sjostrom has a long track record at the NHL level having appeared in 358 games. His best skill is penalty killing (3.71 GA/60 while on the ice compared to 4.30 GA/60 while off the ice), an area where the Flames performed very well this past year finishing fourth (Sjostrom's Rangers finished first). At even strength, Sjostrom isn't very good and he'll probably need to compete for a job in the starting line-up with some of the other guys the Flames have picked up in the off-season. Still, there's nothing wrong with bringing in cheap depth players.

5. Montreal signs Mike Cammalleri to a five year deal at 6.00M per year. Well, if the cost of the Bouwmeester deal was losing Cammalleri at this price point, it really isn't much of a loss at all. 6M per season is just too much to pay for a player that isn't taking on the toughs unless he's outscoring the opposition by an extreme number. Cammalleri doesn't. He did manage to post some decent numbers with the Flames but he got bombed by weak opposition the year before in Los Angeles. In my view this is one part of a very weak off-season by Bob Gainey in Montreal. Now the Flames will still need to replace Cammalleri but they should be able to do without paying such a high price.

6. Calgary signs Garth Murray to a one year deal at 0.50M per year. Murray has played some games at the NHL level each of the last five years so it's reasonably likely he'll end up playing some games for the Flames this year. This is another in the list of replacement level forwards that Sutter has brought in to make sure that his AHL team has some strong players and his NHL team will have players with NHL experience coming up from the farm in case of injury. If you can get a bunch of those guys for the league minimum it's really not a bad idea (unless they get plucked on re-entry waivers).

7. Calgary signs Staffan Kronwall to a two year deal at 0.50M per year. Another minimum salary player, this time a defenceman. Kronwall again has some previous NHL experience and may even slot in as Calgary's seventh defender if he puts in a good camp. Accumulating players in their mid-twenties with NHL experience for the bottom of the roster really isn't a bad plan. These aren't players with much upside but the players themselves know that. By this time they have realistic expectations about how they can help the team and will be probably be willing to do anything the coach says to stay in the NHL. It doesn't hurt to have these guys around.

8. Calgary signs Jason Jaffray to a two year deal at 0.50M per year. This is another forward with some experience at the NHL level but even more in the AHL. In the AHL he's a point per game forward which is pretty darn good. If the Flames don't pick up any more forwards, Jaffray might be able to win a job as a middle 6 forward if he can outperform Michael Backlund and the other minor league rabble. Since it would infuriate Canuck fans if he becomes a good NHL player I can only hope that Jaffray just needed a chance to succeed.

9. Calgary signs Jamie Lundmark to a one year deal at 0.60M per year. At the risk of getting redundant, the Flames have hired another NHL/AHL tweener. I hope for Lundmark's sake that it's a one-way deal but I don't think that it is. If I'm right, he may have been stupid for taking the extra $100,000. With the Flames looking to be tight to the cap, that extra money could be the difference between playing in the NHL and hanging out in Abbotsford watching Jason Jaffray from your hotel room on HNIC.

Budget 2010-2011 (50.0M projection)

Top 3 Forwards - Iginla, Langkow, ??? = 11.50 or 23.0%

Middle 6 Forwards - Moss, Glencross, ???, ???, ???, ??? = 2.50 or 5.0%

Top 4 Defenders - Bouwmeester, Phaneuf, Regehr, Sarich =20.80 or 41.6%

Goaltending - Kiprusoff, McElhinney = 6.37 or 12.7%

Bottom 8 Players - Giordano, Pardy, ???, Sjostrom, ???, ???, ???, ??? = 2.34 or 4.7%

The long term prospects don't look so good for the Flames if the cap drops. Because the defenders are locked up long term, the roster imbalance is exaggerated in this situation. Over half of the budget is being spent on the top four defenders and the goaltending. That's, frankly, just way too much. If the cap goes in this direction the Flames will need to be creative in order to get the forward depth in order to compete. Langkow and (especially) Iginla are great players but they'll be another year older as well and probably on the downward slope of their careers. If the Flames don't get the roster imbalance sorted out and the cap drops they could be looking at some very serious problems. Of course, they could also just send Kiprusoff to Finland and Sarich to the minors and the problem is largely solved. That said, it would probably be wiser to act now and move some of the money off of the backend.


dstaples said...

Excellent work. Heartening to see your analysis of Bouwmeester, as an Oilers fan, I mean.

Kent W. said...

What's heartening for me is if Bouwmeester makes one of Regehr or Phanuef redundant, the Flames could flip any one of them for a generous return.

Vic Ferrari said...

Nice summary. I didn't realize that the Flames had so many good forwards.

You missed Dustin Boyd as well, a very good young player. And I really rate Sjostrom, especially at that salary. He's the quality of player that Brodziak, Pouliot, Brule, Reddox, Jacques, etc may become one day, in a few years, if they work hard.

I don't think that they'll miss Cammalleri as much as most people do, either.

I really rate Bouwmeester as well. For the same money I'd take him over Pronger ten times out of ten.

Let's just hope that Kiprusoff continues his freefall.

Scott Reynolds said...

You make a good point Kent. Of their expensive assets, they have several that should be attractive to other teams and have the ability to move some money from the defense to forward. It's just a matter of actually doing it in order to restore some balance to the roster. It would be best if they could keep those three and move out Sarich. If they move Sarich for Zherdev, I'll make sure to work my Kiprusoff voodoo dolls twice as much as last year :)

Scott Reynolds said...

Vic, I omitted Boyd because he's not signed yet. I should have mentioned him as likely option in their bottom 8 guys and maybe as a middle 6 forward.

Sjostrom is a good player, but primarily on the PK which Calgary did very well last year (although a lot of that may have been Kiprusoff's high save percentage, in which case Sjostrom may be able to help).

As for Bouwmeester v. Pronger, for a one season deal at the same money next season, I think I'd prefer Pronger but I do think that they're in about the same class. The "problem" (and really, there's not a big problem with having elite(ish) defencemen) is that Bouwmeester is the fourth highest paid d-man in the league so he needs to be (a least a little bit) clear of guys like Pronger.

Vic Ferrari said...

I think that Sjostrom is a good 5v5 player as well. A quick look at the numbers shows a terrible PDO# for him. Maybe that's why Sutter got him at such a low price. Terrific zone shift and, context considered, very good underlying numbers. Betts really took off when he played with Sjostrom instead of Orr. It's unimaginable to me that Sjostrom fails to cover the 750K bet, and by a wide margin. Brent Sutter coached against him and Bouwmeester a bunch last year, I'm sure he has Daryl's ear as well.

Zherdev had good underlying numbers for the same reason Comrie had great unserlying numbers as an Oiler ... he played for a very sharp head coach who recognized his limitations.

Thank Christmas that Renney is with the Oilers now, otherwise Zherdev would be exactly the kind of shiny dime that the Oilers would pursue.

Is Betts still available btw?

Gomez is a guy I wish the Oilers had pursued, though the price in trade was a touch steep. That's a player that does a lot more than just score points imo.

Kent W. said...

Hmm...I didn't know Sjostrom had nice underlying stats. I figured the Flames had just getton themselves another Nystorm.

Scott Reynolds said...

I admit that Sjostrom's PDO number is terrible (95.2). Still, his Corsi number (+31) isn't particularly impressive given the team context (the team was +431) and the goal differential (+16-32) just isn't very good any way you slice it. He did get 23 more defensive zone starts, but that's no huge number. In Phoenix the year before he was outshot (Corsi is -46 on a team that was -169) and outscored (+15-21). He had 39 more defensive than offensive zone starts, a zone shift of +19 (which doesn't seem all that impressive to me if he's getting more opportunities for pluses than minuses) and another pretty bad PDO number (98.3). I suppose there might be something there (he's not drowning) and he's probably a decent bet at $750,000 but I don't think he's much better than the other farm options they have like Jaffray or Lundmark at EV.

Zherdev's Corsi was very good (+254), though he was put in an offensive role (121 more offensive zone starts). Still, his PDO this year was pretty normal (99.6) so it's not like he was just riding percentages. He was put in an offensive situation and he delivered. That has some value IMO, especially for a team like Calgary that can generate the offensive zone draws on which Zherdev can capitalize.

Betts is still available as far as I know.