Wednesday, April 30, 2008


It's buy low, sell high, not the other way around

I read a nice couple of season review/looking forward pieces on the Flames Monday afternoon. Metrognome has a terrific piece (Part 1) with a whole whack of enjoyable and incisive lines:
...When I first heard the Sutter interview in March, his claim [~"it's parity, what do you expect?" -ed.] struck me as a bit of ass-covering sophistry. "Okay is not okay" was one of his famous lines from the previous off-season. "Okay is simply inevitable" seemed to be the new Franchise motto come the end the regular season, however.

And though I agree with it quite a bit less than MG's, Eric Francis did a pretty good job of laying out the basics of a plan:
[Tanguay is] the first to admit he struggled, which is why he spoke cryptically about his future here Friday -- a future few believe will (or should) last past the NHL draft.

While Sutter is too smart to simply give a man of Tanguay's talents away, as soon as he finds a reasonable offer, he has to free up that precious cap room and inject some much-needed youth into the club. In that vein, he might just be the Flames' most-valuable player this summer.

EF's other bullets are: gut the scouting staff; re-sign Langkow and Giordano; buy out (at least?) two of Eriksson, Nilson, & Warrener; and "decide on a backup goalie" ...which is a topic for another day.

What's the actual GM thinking, as opposed to we wannabes? I thought this, from Saturday's Herald, was interesting:
The GM says the toughest calls he'll have to make this summer aren't necessarily tied to a list of unrestricted free agents that includes Kristian Huselius, Owen Nolan, Stephane Yelle, Jim Vandermeer, David Hale and Curtis Joseph.

"Those aren't the tough decisions," said Sutter. "It's the guys already under contract who aren't earning what they're making. There's a number of those guys that, based on their careers, they're third- and fourth-line guys. Well, every one of our forwards in Quad Cities (the Flames' top farm club) can play on our third and fourth lines."

At first it looks like Sutter is going down the same road as Francis, but then he takes specific aim at the depth players... wait a sec... this can't be right. Who are the guys who are (A) already under contract, and (B) based on their careers, third- and fourth-line guys? Not Iginla or Tanguay. Moss doesn't have enough GP under his belt to be one of the guys singled out here (nor does Boyd). Lombardi? Maybe, but in the same Herald piece, Sutter is quoted as saying, "...when you look at his minutes played and the way he played down the stretch... I think he can clearly be a No. 2 guy based on minutes played and performance. We're fine with that."

That leaves Wayne Primeau and Marcus Nilson. Let's insert their actual names into that quote, and tell me if you're as jarred as I am:
"Primeau and Nilson, based on their careers, they're third- and fourth-line guys. Well, every one of our forwards in Quad Cities (the Flames' top farm club) can play on our third and fourth lines."

I guess if you're a mere fan who, like me, was confused as to why these two got signed to multi-year contracts last summer, you've got company -- because Sutter is too. Which segues to my next thought, which is: if you're looking at buying anyone out, the first guy getting the money to just go away ought to be Wayne Primeau. I'm really not sure why everyone one else seems to like him more than I do, but I maintain that he doesn't bring anything to the table. He doesn't score (career high = 11 goals). He doesn't kill penalties. He doesn't shut down the other team's good players. He doesn't fight, at least not much. He doesn't stay out of the penalty box.

He may be big, and he may not be a hide-your-eyes liability in any one area, but he doesn't help you win. Here's a little table that you may wish to laugh, or cry, at. Numbers are from Vic/Time-on-Ice, and are for when that Flames forward is on the ice in even-strength situations (excluding when either goalie is pulled, i.e. 6-on-5 & EN situations).

Columns from left to right: jersey #, games played, goals for & against, saved shots for & against, missed shots for & against, Fenwick# (Vic's gloss for the total of those 3 things, for minus against), and finally Fenwick# per GP. Not to re-explain all this from scratch (that's another summer project), but if you're looking to find out who is helping the team win the even strength battle, you could do a lot worse than this table.

The biggest thing not captured by these numbers is quality of competition and quality of linemates. In Primeau's case, I'm reminded of the joke from Rounders (older than that no doubt): if you can't spot the sucker in the first half-hour at the poker table, then you ARE the sucker. Accordingly, if a guy is dead last on the team in shots for minus shots against (by a huge margin), it's a bit of a waste of time to worry about whether he had crappy linemates, because he is the crappy linemate.

A few footnotes for you to ponder as you review that table:
- Desjardins has Tanguay and Conroy as playing the toughest opposition (which matches my eye)
- Moss is a player. Nystrom probably isn't. Godard definitely isn't.

Let's wrap this up by getting back to Tanguay. There are a whole bunch of reasons why trading him right now (or in June) is a less-than-ideal plan.
  1. His counting numbers (G-A-Pts) sucked this year. He will certainly have some value based on his career numbers and age (potential), and some of the teams that look closer at EV play (and correct for the fact that he "performed" on the #2 PP unit) will be interested. But trading a guy coming off his worst season in years doesn't exactly maximize return (see post header).
  2. They're limited in what they can seek in return: they almost have to get a quality LW in return. Not sure if you noticed, but the Flames' depth chart at LW sans Tanguay and Huselius is virtually non-existent. Who would the #1 LW be? The right-shooting Moss, I suppose? He, or some centreman playing out of position.
  3. Per 1 and 2, he's almost a mortal lock to be better next season. Huselius is gone, so he'll almost certainly be the LW on the #1 PP unit, and his numbers will go up. He just scored essentially 20 points less than his career average, and his shooting % was 5% lower than his career average. These are things that are extremely likely to bounce back.
  4. If he is reunited with Iginla on the #1 line -- i.e. if the Flames can cobble together a #2 line that doesn't get torched without Tanguay on it -- their performance ceiling is unbelievably high. In 2006/07 (a mere one season ago), those two were the most productive EV players in the entire conference. They really were! Forsaking the possibility of that repeating in order to fish for "depth and energy" (esp. given Sutter's non-success at doing so to date) seems like a bad bet to me.
Your mileage may vary, as we say, but I think there are other ways to find money and try to improve that have a better chance of working. I think Aucoin showed this past season that he still has value: he stayed healthy, did a competent job on the PP, put up some attractive-ish counting numbers (10-25-35, +13), and was generally solid. The Flames can use him next season, but I'm a lot more confident that they can replace his contribution to the cause for $4M than they can replace Tanguay's for $5.25M. He has a no-trade clause (so does Tanguay), but maybe they can work with him to find a situation where he'd be happy. Primeau's contributions, as noted above, are that of a minimum salary player, but he's earning making $1M/yr more than that. Same goes for Eriksson. Etcetera.

I'd love to finish with a stirring conclusion of some kind here, but I think I'm stuck with, It should be an interesting summer.


As per your table, counting numbers and general improvement as the year went on, what are the Flames' desire concerning Nolan? I seem to have seen a cryptic quote from #11 that the Flames were definitely 'an option' going forward: this sounds like he's trying to sniff around Toronto again.

Are we limited to the number of players we are allowed to buy out of contracts per season?

That last sentence makes me sad.

..what are the Flames' desire concerning Nolan?

I'd guess same as with Conroy and Vandermeer: like to have them back, but are totally unable to offer them a contract anywhere close to what they can get elsewhere, unless/until they move some other salary.

Why hasn't someone pointed out the major problem lays in the falmes horrible scouting/drafting. If you have young talent coming in to the organization filling the gaps, you dont need to sign all the useless guys sutter has signed. Plain and simple, the falmes dont have anybody that can step up and fill roles.

You would think a guy like sutter would be great at finding late round gems that could be great role players, but that hasn't yet materialized.

Well, I think the Flames does have to improve the scouting, but in fairness the last four years our draft position has been 24,26,26,24 and before that we got Dion. Detroit seems to do it so we can certainly improve. What really has hurt the Flames from the draft perspective were the 97-2000 drafts, long before Sutter, we had a 6,6,11,9 in the form of Dan Tkaczuk, R. Fata, O. Saprykin, B. Krahn. Those draft choices should be the heart of our team now, but during those years, 'we chose poorly'.

Scouting is far more important than draft position. Detroit was already mentioned, but also consider Dallas, Colorado, or San Jose, teams which have consistently done better than Calgary in the regular season and who are still in the running for the Cup. this year.

Matt's right: Tod Button and the rest of the scouting staff should be held to some sort of account. They have 15 guys in there who can't even find one bonafide prospect to develop, while other teams are punching out homegrown talent left and right.

Here's a non-scientific look at drafting vs. scouting. Of the top 30 scorers in the league, 22 were drafted first round, 3 second round, 1 4th, 2 6th, 1 7th, 1 undrafted. Datsyuk and Zetterberg were 6 and 7 by Detroit. Alfredsson was 6th by Ottawa. St. Louis was undrafted. Those first rounders were obviously players who were expected to succed, and did. They don't tell us much. But the four I mentioned were players who were passed over, multiple times even, by every other team in the league. That's pure scouting.

I thought the Sutter article was very interesting. He certainly sounds like he's realized that mediocre free agents are inferior to mediocre call ups. I guess we'll have to wait and see if he follows up on that. I like his comments on Giordano. It seems that he and Giordano are on the same page: he needs to be an NHL player.

But the four I mentioned were players who were passed over, multiple times even, by every other team in the league. That's pure scouting.

Nah, that's pure luck. If you want to make a case for scouting, pointing out the best 6th/7th round draft picks of all time isn't the way to do it.

If the Sens knew Alfredsson was Alfredsson it would have been downright irresponsible to wait until round 6 to pick him. Obviously they saw something worth gambling on, but that's true for every player past the top 50/100/200/whatever. You have to caount the misses along with the hits.

MG made the note at my place that we're screwed without a true number 1/2 LWer (if we traded away Tanguay), but his disappearing act just chaps my ass.

However, I do agree with you that it's terrible asset management to buy high and sell low, and so philosophically I agree that he should stay.




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