Desperation – A Cautionary Tale

Desperation. It is something that you always like seeing from your team when they are trailing in a game. It shows some resilience and determination, and that is one of the things that make fans cheer on their team the most. For the last few seasons, the Flames have rarely shown desperation in the face of adversity on the ice and have been more likely to show apathy when the game is on the line. We all know that they are trying to win and the lack of positive outcomes is not directly the problem, but rather it is a symptom of a larger issue. The fact of the matter is that the flames simply are not talented enough to win consistently.

With yesterday’s attempt to sign Ryan O’Reilly by Jay Feaster, we are seeing some creativity from our GM and that can either be a good thing or a bad thing. The Flames offered O’Reilly a 2 year contract that sees him getting a 2.5 million signing bonus and a 1.0 million dollar salary followed by a raise up to 6.5 million dollars which balances out to a 2 year 10 million dollar contract. Had the Avalanche not matched, it would have seen the Flames 1st and 3rd round picks move to the Av’s as compensation.

As an outsider, and someone that tries to approach every situation from an impartial standpoint, I hated this offer. Do not get me wrong, Ryan O’Reilly is a very capable second line center, basically a slightly better version of Daymond Langkow. A player like that is always good to have on your team, especially considering he’s only 22 years old. The problem I have with the offer sheet is actually based off of three things.

One, the internal evaluations on where the Flames are likely to finish at the end of the season. Considering the Flames have only held the opposition to two goals less only four times this year, and three of those games were against the lowest scoring team in the entire league. There is a major problem with the defensive system and goaltending, and I don’t see that improving overnight. With a team that has an inconsistent offense and are one of the worst teams at keeping the puck out, the only place that makes sense for this team to finish is either in or near the top five picks in the draft.

Two, the calibre of the players in the top ten in the draft. Between McKinnon, Barkov, Lindholm and Monahan, there are a variety of center options that all look to be of a similar calibre of prospect that Seguin, Zibanejad, Huberdeau and Couturier all were in their draft years. The only difference between O’Reilly and those 4 centers is that you know what O’Reilly is. He’s a 50-65 point center that’s good defensively. The four listed above are more of a question mark, but they could easily become a 1st line center, at least as easily as O’Reilly could.

Three, It is terrible asset management. It would be somewhat understandable if O’Reilly was on a rookie contract, however he will be making 5 million dollars a year. Any of the drafted kid’s entry level contract will be cheaper than that. You can spend the money freed up from Babchuk walking at the end of the year on the rookie contract and spend the 5 million that O’Reilly was due and throw it at an unrestricted free agent in the summer. I’m sure that you could sign Valteri Filppula for 5 million per, and he as a center is not much of a step down from O’Reilly in terms of production and calibre of player if at all.

“Sometimes we stare so long at a door that is closing that we see too late the one that is open.” Who knew that Alexander Graham Bell could accurately reflect the Flames current situation. I realize fully that it is Jay Feaster’s job to improve the club by whatever means possible, but what I am concerned about is how the Flames will react when reality does not comport to their projections. The last thing I want to see is the Flames making trades out of desperation to try and make the results fit their reality and then having a Karl Rove election night reaction when the Flames get eliminated from the playoffs.

I want the Flames to improve by whatever method possible, and the moves Feaster has made since this offseason have been good. Wideman – Excellent, Hudler – Excellent, Cervenka – okay, Henrik Karlsson for 7th then getting Joey MacDonald on waivers – Good on both fronts, Moving Wahl for Testwuide and Piskula for McGrattan, each of those incrementally improves the overall roster. There isn’t anything wrong with their external talent evaluations.

The thing that I believe caught them off guard is them only having 18 points in 19 games. How they have reacted, by trying to snag O’Reilly, shows some signs of departing from their incremental improvement of the roster. With expedience, increases the chance for regret. We only have to look to a pair of moves that the previous General Manager made that were taken under somewhat similar circumstances.

Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins for Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust. While Jokinen returned and Higgins departed after the season, we were stuck with Kotalik and eventually lost a second round pick to get rid of him. Additionally we’ve missed what Prust brought since the day he was traded.

Dion Phaneuf, Keith Aulie and Fredrik Sjostrom were moved for Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers, Ian White, and Nik Hagman. With Hagman, we had to eat 50% of his final year just to not have him on the team, Mayers left for San Jose, Ian White struggled and we now have a 2.5 million dollar player permanently in the press box as a result, and Matt Stajan has only been worth his 3.5 million for the past couple weeks, while Dion has been solid, not great for the Leafs. We did finally address his loss though with the acquisition of Wideman. It took three years to recover from that mistake and we still have 10% of our cap tied in two players that are either adequate or in the press box.

The point I’m trying to make is that moves that are made to shake things or to try and improve on the fly tend to be remembered for years as being trades that would have been better off not being made. With a team that is not a playoff calibre team, and it seems like they are several pieces away from even that, the Flames need to be patient and try to roll with the punches and utilize their more than adequate player evaluations and make moves that will be good for the team in the long term, rather than trying to get something done for the immediate. As John Quincy Adams once said “Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.”

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