BUFFALO, N.Y. — It's still not always easy to tell whether the Calgary Flames are going to make actual good decisions at any given time.
In general they're trending in the right direction, away from trading for Brandon Bolligs and signing Deryk Engellands, and toward identifying Jakub Nakladals and locking up Michael Froliks. They also realized that Kris Russell isn't key to their success, and traded him before the deadline.
There is, and should be, concern about what the team will do this summer, with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan looking for new deals, as well as a few glaring holes in the lineup that need addressing. But on Friday night, they took a big step in the latter direction, trading what was admittedly a high second-round pick (No. 35 overall) for Brian Elliott.
There was doubly good news in the transaction: First, the team still entered Saturday with a pair of second rounders (from Dallas and Florida thanks to trades of Russell and Jiri Hudler, respectively). Second, the team avoided the very real concern that it would give up entirely too much for a goalie it didn't really need, or wouldn't provide the value they might have thought
“There's nothing that says we wouldn't extend Brian Elliott,” team president Brian Burke said on Saturday. “Obviously the advantage of the term is the acquisition cost is lower. If you want to get a goaltender who's under contract longer, there'll be a much higher acquisition cost and a much higher salary cost. So this fits for now, but we haven't ruled out extending him.”
Over the last three seasons, Elliott has been an arguably elite goaltender in this league, posting the eighth-best 5-on-5 save percentage (.930) among all goaltenders playing more than 4,500 minutes at full strength. The guys ahead of him are largely Vezina winners or those who have at least gotten into the conversation in the last few years.
In theory, you can chalk a lot of that up to the fact that Elliott has been playing behind a team coached by Ken Hitchcock, which probably helps (his average shot distance faced was among the highest in that group). Another issue is that Elliott doesn't exactly log heavy minutes — perpetually injured Craig Anderson has about 1,700 more minutes in that time — and Calgary sort of doesn't have a backup right now. But regardless, when it came to the goaltending options available, Brad Treliving did the best he possibly could have.
“We really like Brian,” Treliving said. “He'd been on our radar for quite some time. I think he's one of these guys that's really a real mature guy. You see his game: sort of a late bloomer, maybe he doesn't get the fanfare as a lot of other guys, but you really dig into the numbers and this guy's been one of the best goaltenders in the league for the last number of years. We thought that the contract and the acquisition cost was very reasonable.”
Let's put it this way: The team clearly needed a goalie to hold them over until Jon Gillies is ready for the show (whom all signs indicate is at least a few years away). In addition, Treliving said Saturday the team was excited about Tyler Parsons, the well-regarded American goalie (.921 SV% last year) in the OHL they took in the second round.
Tampa allegedly wanted the No. 6 overall pick (a spot where the Flames got well-regarded Matthew Tkachuk) for Ben Bishop, who Calgary then would have had to extend for something in the neighborhood of seven years and $49 million. You can never go wrong trading for a guy like Bishop, who's fantastic as well, but because Calgary has those big-money contracts to sign real soon, maybe dropping $7 million a year on goalie — no matter how good — wouldn't have been prudent. Almost certainly, giving him seven years, and pushing Gillies' arrival in the league back half a decade would have likewise been unwise.
But what about Marc-Andre Fleury? The Penguins' rumored ask of No. 6 always seemed to high to be realistic, and even if you're using two second-round picks (or something like that) you're getting what is probably a pretty good goalie signed for just three more years at a more reasonable price point. But he's not as good as either Elliott or Bishop statistically, and more to the point is coming off two concussions. Lots of question marks there.
There was also the possibility that Calgary might have dipped into the free agent market to take James Reimer. But that would have likely been more expensive, and his inability to stay healthy would have been a serious concern if you're giving him four-plus years.
Basically, there wasn't a goalie the Flames didn't look at for the job opening here.
“I think we were linked to every goaltender from Timbits to Senior Men's on Sunday night,” Treliving said. “We might have talked to them all too, but it's all part of it. We don't play till October, as we look around this made sense for us.”
Add in Elliott's price point — a dirt-cheap $2.5 million — and his likely free agency ask, and this is a deal that makes plenty of sense for Calgary both in the short- and long-term. It meets their current needs while also keeping their cap obligations freed up and ensuring there's roster flexibility when Gillies is finally ready for the show. Yeah, they still need that backup goalie capable of taking 30 or so games, but you can get those almost anywhere.
And really, it doesn't matter whether that backup is particularly good. This is a Flames team that, for all intents and purposes, still has a decent way to go before being actually competitive. With solid goaltending, they may be able to hang with the iron of the Western Conference for a game or two, but the odds they'd, say, advance out of the first round without the help of a favorable matchup still seem quite low. If they make the playoffs at all, which isn't a given for the team that just picked sixth for the second time in three years.
But this is, at long last, a team trending in the right direction, because Treliving is sharp and finally gaining agency to make moves. Before, there was a perception that he was constrained by Brian Burke's insistence on adding “beef” to the lineup, and he's finally starting to get out from under the difficult contract situation he inherited and continued to deal with early in his tenure.
And getting Tkachuk — by not giving up the No. 6 for goaltending help, even if they just traded down — was seen as vital for the organization. Treliving said he likes that Tkachuk, “plays in the guts of the game,” which is a very traditionally Flames-y attribute.
“Once things went a little bit out of sequence, we all said to each other at the table, 'We got him,'” team president Brian Burke said on Saturday afternoon. “That's the guy we wanted. He's got a high skill level combined with a high compete level. The kid's kind of a pain in the ass. We don't have enough guys who are pains in the ass. The way I like to play, I like guys who are pains in the ass, so I thought it was a real important pick for us.
That's not to say Tkachuk is another Burke-brand “we picked him because he's size-y” pick in the vein of Tyler Biggs. He scored a lot of points, and has been praised high and low for his high hockey IQ. If the idea is still that you need to be both big and skilled to win these days, especially in the West, Tkachuk moves the needle in the right direction there.
If this is Treliving finally gaining traction when it comes to making the team in his preferred image, then there's plenty of reason for hope in Calgary for the first time in a while. The vast majority of moves he's made in the last six months — decidedly “meh” coaching hire aside — highlight a clear understanding of what it takes to succeed in the NHL in 2016.
Not be overlooked here is that they also pulled another high-level forward out of the draft to complement a growing stable featuring Gaudreau, Monahan, Bennett, Frolik, Mikael Backlund, Josh Jooris, and perhaps more in the pipeline. All of whom play in front of a D corps featuring Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton for the next several years at least.
There has been years of skepticism about what the Flames actually valued, and how much that was holding them back. They're finally starting to erase it, and depending upon how well negotiations with their most talented forwards, there's no reason to think this team's for-real arrival as one of the better teams in the league isn't just over the horizon and gaining speed.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks had two quality picks in the first round, but only one other pick in the first three rounds. Hard not to like Max Jones and Sam Steel where they got them, but the volume of picks just isn't there. B+
Arizona Coyotes: They did very well for themselves when it comes to getting Clayton Keller at No. 7, and also wisely used their cap flexibility to move up and snag a free-falling Jakob Chychrun. Playing the numbers with Anthony DeAngelo also seems like a potentially high-reward move. B+
Boston Bruins: The Bruins didn't take a single Canadian, which is brilliant. But otherwise their picks were neither coups nor disasters. Perfectly alright draft, which, given how last year went, might count as a bigger W than it otherwise should. B
Buffalo Sabres: They took 10 players in the draft, including a well-regarded high-second-round pick in Rasmus Asplund. Plus they took Cliff Pu at No. 69. (Not sure I love giving up Mark Pysyk and two picks for Dmitri Kulikov and a second though.) A-
Calgary Flames: Really liked the Flames' weekend here. See above. A
Carolina Hurricanes: They had the 13th and 21st overall pick, then four more in rounds two and three. This is just buying lottery tickets right now, but I like the Jake Bean pick. B
Chicago: Not-paying Andrew Shaw for the next four to six years is a good thing for a cap-strapped club. So, too, is three picks in the second round, including high-scoring undersized American Alex DeBrincat and well-regarded D Chad Krys. No first-round pick hurts for a team that needs to replenish the NHL roster quickly every year. B+
Colorado Avalanche: Really like Tyson Jost at No. 10. And given that there's been plenty of speculation the team would do something dangerously dumb to acquire an NHL defenseman, it was good they kept their powder dry. Especially because the scuttlebutt on the draft floor was that the market there was getting less pricy. B
Columbus Blue Jackets: Not sure I understand either the Pierre-Luc Dubois pick at No. 3, or the Kerby Rychel trade. The former was a shocking choice, with Jesse Puljujarvi still on the board. The latter seemed like selling awful low on a 2013 first-round prospect who shot 6 percent last season. C-
Dallas Stars: Meh draft, sold as low as possible on Jack Campbell. I like Riley Tufte in theory, but a player who scored more than three points a game against high school kids isn't super-exciting. C
Detroit Red Wings: Okay, Dennis Cholowski might be good one day, sure. But getting out from under that Datsyuk deal while still staying in the first round was vital. A-
Edmonton Oilers: Having Puljujarvi drop to them at No. 4 shows why the Oilers are the luckiest damn team in the league, at least in the offseason. They could have forfeited the rest of their picks and been big winners. Instead they just had a solid draft. A
Florida Panthers: They robbed Buffalo blind on that Pysyk deal. And if this was the “we're using stats to draft from now on” plan in action, it went pretty damn well for a test flight. A
Los Angeles Kings: They drafted once in the first 111 picks. Kale Clague seems like a decent value at No. 51, but ah jeez. Maybe you're glad they got Jack Campbell. On the other hand, that Trevor Lewis extension is probably not a good idea. C
Minnesota Wild: This team only had four draft picks? I really like Luke Kunin, and it was wise to buy out Thomas Vanek, but you'd really like to see the Wild have more choices to make at this point in their competition cycle. C-
Montreal Canadiens: Andrew Shaw is certainly an upgrade over Lars Eller (a No. 2/3 center on Chicago is far more valuable than a No. 3 on Montreal), and Mikhail Sergachev is a strong pickup at No. 9. That rumored Shaw deal, though? Eesh. B
Nashville Predators: Getting Dante Fabbro at No. 17 is a steal. He's going to be a very good pro for a very long time. Then getting three more picks in the top 78 is a great way for a team like this to restock the cupboard. A
New Jersey Devils: Beau Bennett is a decent gamble, but the Michael McLeod pick was a puzzler. Everybody else went more or less where they should have. So-so performance. C
New York Islanders: Surprisingly, only six picks in this draft, but Kieffer Bellows should help the attack in a few years. B-
New York Rangers: They got journeyman D Nick Holden, which might help, maybe? But the fact that their first pick was No. 81 overall, and Sean Day was their guy, well, they were just gambling all Saturday. Whatever I guess. C+
Ottawa Senators: Logan Brown at No. 11 is very solid value, and potentially, so is Jonathan Dahlen at 42. If Brown is their future No. 1 center — the jury's still out, obviously — that's someone they've needed for like a decade. B+
Philadelphia Flyers: German Rubtsov was a strong selection at No. 22, and the three more choices by No. 52 help fill up the pantry for a few years for now. Quietly strong draft there, for sure. A
Pittsburgh Penguins: I guess they're not gonna complain about a mediocre draft given you-know-what. C+
San Jose Sharks: Same as the Penguins: Mediocre draft. But they grabbed Dylan Gambrell, a solid college player with 47 points in 41 games as a freshman, at No. 60. That ain't bad. B-
St. Louis Blues: I am not enamored of the Tage Thompson selection (he had one 5-on-5 goal last season), but deeper into the draft they grabbed a couple of value picks. Also really not sure why they felt the need to jettison Brian Elliott. But oh well. C
Tampa Bay Lightning: Gave up on Anthony DeAngelo, but that allowed them to get three picks in the second round. And when a team is already that good, the ability to keep stocking up the prospect pool is very valuable. B
Toronto Maple Leafs: Like the Kerby Rychel acquisition, since they were gonna dump Scott Harrington anyway. But they did have 11 picks this weekend. Oh and uh, that Matthews kid? Sure, that'll work. Can't screw that up at all. A+
Vancouver Canucks: Olli Juolevi was their guy. So was William Lockwood. So to get two of those guys, plus a fellow named Rodrigo Abols? Let's go. B+
Washington Capitals: Lars Eller should be an affordable No. 3 center, which is fine. Their draft was also fine. C+
Winnipeg Jets: Patrik Laine is the best. Logan Stanley could be good. A-
Gold Star Award
The city of St. Louis alone had five kids taken in the first round alone. That's becoming a serious hockey hotbed, quite unexpectedly.
Minus of the Weekend
Yeah I really don't get that Trevor Lewis deal. Why do you need a 30-year-old Trevor Lewis for four damn years?
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “VoynovsParoleOfficer” is off and running.
Phi: Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov & Jordan Osterle
Edm: Jake Voracek, Travis Sanheim & Sam Morin
This party is over.
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