Awwwww yeah. It's about that time again where we're close enough to the end of the off-season to look back and take a look at exactly how Flames GM Jay Feaster plans to keep his team treading water at the bottom of the playoff picture for the next few years. Before jumping into what Feaster did to get his team into position to finish in 9th place again, let's first focus on what he didn't do as the team let go of one interesting name.
-Olli Jokinen: The former Panthers star could easily be seen as the face of the recent disappointments in Calgary. Plenty of talent and a feeling of "almost there" but never consistently pushed it over the top to become the force they probably should have been, Jokinen's tantalizing skillset never reached the apex of his glory days in Florida and he drew the ire of Flames faithful and became a a prime target for criticism. A top point producer for Calgary last season, Jokinen managed to put up a respectable 23/38/61 line and played in all 82 games. With no clear cut replacement for his spot in the Top 6, Jokinen's departure to Winnipeg stands as the biggest blow to Calgary's hopes for digging themselves out of the perpetual cycle of mediocrity they've found themselves mired in the past few seasons.
-David Moss: Letting go of their own version of David Jones, the Flames allowing Moss to walk ends a strange tenure in Calgary that included some pretty solid goal numbers for an otherwise unspectacular hockey player. Being predominantly a goal scorer and not a whole lot else, Moss reverted back to his "every other year I'll be productive" form last season and managed just 2 goals in an injury riddled season in which he played only 32 games. Unfortunately for him, the Flames did not seem to feel the need to reward his goal-scoring burstiness with a comical overpayment and allowed him to leave for the Phoenix desert where I won't be the least bit surprised if he turns into a 25 goal scorer that everyone dismisses because he's a Coyote.
Scott Hannan: While Hannan has yet to sign anywhere yet, the former Av and forever hobbit will no doubt leave a hole on the Flames blueline as his calm, steady play combined with all that veteraniness hockey folk love is a valuable, albeit unspectacular asset on the blue line.
Jay Bouwmeester: Wait, what? He's still in Calgary? Making HOW MUCH? Oh. Oh.
Roman Cervenka: After years of dominating the Czech league and recently leading the KHL in goals scored, Cervenka finally made the move across the pond to put his skills to test against the world's best when he inked a 1 year, $925K deal with bonuses that push the cap his to just under $4M. For a team pushed so heavily against the cap, this is quite a chance the Flames are taking that the 26-year old's skills will translate to the North American ice. In a rare move of clarity, GM Jay Feaster managed to contain himself by only giving 1 year to the Czech sniper instead of his customary 4+. Of all the deals the Flames made this off-season, this one impresses me the most as the risk/reward factor could heavily favor Calgary this time next year.
Jiri Hudler: Speaking of David Jones, the Flames made the same mistake the Avs did by overpaying a very mediocre hockey player and even tried to help justify the hilarious Jones deal by giving Hudler the same exact terms. Instead of re-hashing the for 250928239025th time what a terrible deal the Jones one is, I'll just thank Feaster for replacing David Moss with the defensively clueless Hudler. Tell that mean ocean, Todd.
Dennis Wideman: Ahhh, yes. The big splash. The headliner. The signing that caused poor SteveHouse to injure his hand from slapping the desk in fits of maniacal laughter. One of the most polarizing moves of the entire off-season, the Flames acquisition and subsequent signing of former Caps D Dennis Wideman rocked the sanity of the hockey world. A five year deal worth a shade over $25M total, making Wideman the 23rd highest paid defenseman in the NHL was the crown jewel of the Flames' off-season efforts. While SteveHouse did much rejoicing at the idea of Matt Duchene undressing Wideman with an array of spin moves, I tried to focus on the unfortunate truth that Calgary's hockey team is better with Wideman than without him. If Wideman shows the regular season form that made him so strong in Washington last season, the Flames will be significantly more dangerous offensively and on the PP. If the dreadful playoff form is the dominant Wideman in Calgary, the Jay Feaster better be prepared to come under some serious heat for such a bold move (pick me, NHL.com!). I expect the truth, as it so often does, will lie in the murky waters of the gray area that exists between the two extremes and while being a potentially albatross of a contract 3 years from now, for at least this upcoming season I expect the Flames will take an important jump in productivity as they move from the Anton Babchuk era to the Dennis Wideman era.
Lee Stempniak: I've spent a solid 10 minutes trying to figure out if Stempniak's return to Calgary actually qualifies as a "Key" anything but screw it. Stempniak is pretty well known amongst fans and I can't quite figure out why. He's never been anything particularly special outside of one solid year in St. Louis but that was back in 06-07 and clearly the CheeChoo Career Outlier. He's not a BAD player but bringing back mediocre players is kind of what Calgary does, man. Speaking of Cheechoo, did you know his middle name is Earl? Fascinating. Also fun, I once heard to Lee Stempniak referred to as "Ninja". So there's that.
Cory Sarich: In another move straight from the Avalanche playbook, the Flames did their best to collect as many defenseman as they could handle and bringing back. Like Stempniak, Sarich is an average NHL player with some upside and stretches of good play but who will also occasionally disappear and drive a fan base crazy with a month of god awful hockey. By my count, Sarich's return and the lack of a Bouwmeester salary dump leaves the Flames with an avalanche of defenseman (admit it: you chuckled, even if sadly).
Akim Aliu/Mikael Backlund/Paul Byron/Blake Comeau/Blair Jones: "Please, young fella, step your game up and provide us with a reason to give you a Classic Calgary Flames Over-Extension. As a reward, we promise we'll give you a full No-Trade Clause in your next contract if you take lots of money over a bunch of years"
With this renewed commitment to aging hockey players and mediocrity, the Flames have put to rest any personal fears I have that they become a legit threat in the Northwest Division for the next 2-3 years but this is still a team worthy of a watchful eye. They have a goalie who never seems to slow down, an offensive stud that refuses to be stopped, and a fading star defenseman who can return to previously dominant form on any given night. Still, there just doesn't seem to be enough overall improvement to make a significant jump from the group expected to battle for the final playoff spot to the top 4 area where separation actually occurs in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Their one big wildcard lies in the ability of a young star who could come in and take the team by storm and add to their arsenal of intriguing offensive weapons. To you, Sven Baertschi, I ask of you: Please, please don't be as good as I think you're going to be.
Jay Feaster spent money, Flames got marginally better in some areas & worse in others, Dennis Wideman got paid how much and for how long? Welp.