The Calgary Flames made somewhat of a surprising deal last Wednesday, acquiring soon-to-be free agent, 29 year old, defenseman Dennis Wideman from Washington and signing him to a 5 year, $26 million deal.
Calgary hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009 and hasn’t made it out of the first round since their Stanley Cup Final run in 2004. They added 26 year old Czech Roman Cervenka, who had 23 goals for Avangard Omsk in the KHL last season. But the core isn’t getting any younger, as Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff are both 35.
One of the most puzzling things about how the Flames do business is their willingness to hand out No Trade Clauses and No Movement Clauses like candy. The team ran into trouble last season when they decided to sell, but players that teams were interested in, such as Olli Jokinen, Scott Hannan or Cory Sarich couldn’t be traded unless they approved a deal. None did, and all three finished the year in Calgary. Sarich was re-signed (with a NMC!) while Jokinen and Hannan are likely going to walk for nothing.
In fact, ten players on their current roster have either NTCs or NMCs. These players are among the Flames’ top 12 cap hits; all but Cervenka and re-signee Lee Stempniak. All ten are either approaching or past 30, some of which are arguably overpaid.
It seems like the Flames are looking to win this season, but they’ll be hard pressed to make it into the playoffs. Even if they do, will they have enough to win the whole thing? The Kings showed this year that a team just has to make it into the playoffs and regardless of seed, can win the Cup. But for a majority of the season, the Kings had high expectations and failed to live up to them. Calgary won’t have those same expectations.
On the surface, it looks like the Flames are going to be a team who is not good enough to make the playoffs but won’t be bad enough to draft an impact player next June. Their first round picks since the lockout have been Mark Jankowski, Sven Baertschi, Tim Erixon, Greg Nemisz, Mikael Backlund and Leland Irving. Jankowski may have been a reach in this year’s draft, as a Canadian high school project selection. Baertschi looks like he could be an impact player, but will have to somehow earn a job on a team with many high priced veterans. Erixon refused to sign with Calgary and was traded to the Rangers for two picks and a prospect. Backlund got into 41 games last year but only had four goals, while Nemisz hasn’t cracked the roster full-time yet. Irving will be the backup goalie this season, but won’t see much time with Kiprusoff in the net.
So it’s not so much that the Flames have been drafting poorly, they just haven’t been able to make the selections that will give them top six or top pairing talent. In fact, those are Calgary’s weaknesses on Hockey’s Future. But that doesn’t bode well for a team whose core is aging.
One would think that the Flames could have blown up the team for the last couple years, this is definitely a do or die year for Jay Feaster’s team. By New Year’s, the Flames should know which direction the team will be heading in, either keeping the veterans for a solid playoff run, or attempting to deal those players and letting the kids, like Baertschi, Backlund and T.J. Brodie, get serious minutes to continue their development.