Saturday, March 26, 2016

Eight From 80 Feet: Facts, Rules, Thoughts and other Considerations with Mark Jankowski

Mark Jankowski was a hot topic in Calgary on June 22, 2012, when general manager at the time, Jay Feaster, went off the board to make him the 21st overall selection in the NHL draft.

Not helping matters was assistant GM John Weisbrod promptly describing him as a young Joe Nieuwendyk. Geez, could you put any more pressure on the kid?

Passing on a player like Finnish defenceman Olli Maatta, who went to the Pittsburgh Penguins with the next pick, the Jankowski selection is a move that was widely panned at the time and that criticism has never gone away.

Now, 1,373 days later, Jankowski is a hot topic once again as his NCAA career came to an abrupt end on Friday when Providence College, the defending national champs, were upset 2-1 in double overtime by Minnesota Deluth in a regional semi-final.

So, now what? Eric Francis reports that Flames assistant GM Brad Pascall and other team personnel were at the game in Worcester, Massachusetts, with the intention of offering a contract to Jankowski should such a result happen and Providence not make it back to the Frozen Four. Guess it's come time to sit back and see what happens.

In the meantime, here's a primer on Jankowski and his situation. In a special edition of Eight From 80 Feet, I present eight thoughts on what could be and what should be next for Jankowski while also clarifying some of the CBA rules around his situation -- potential free agency, compensation pick, etc.

1. How the Compensatory Pick Works

The CBA has a provision that if a team is unable to sign a first round pick, they are compensated with a second round pick of the same number. The spirit of this rule is to not give teams a mulligan should they blow their first round pick and want to pick someone different, it's to give them a safety net should they legitimately try but be unable to sign a player drafted in the first round.

What does "legitimately try" mean? It means making a "bona fide" contract offer to that player. This is set out in section 8.3. (b) of the CBA.

In other words, it's not as simple as some are suggesting that Calgary can merely walk away from Jankowski by waiting until he becomes a unrestricted free agent on August 15 and then claiming a compensatory pick. To qualify for that pick, they need to have offered Jankowski a contract that he rejected.

2. What Would a Jankowski Contract Look Like?

Based on the age Jankowski will be when he signs his entry level contract (he turns 22 on Sept. 13), his deal can only be two years, which is a rule stated in the CBA.

This was identical to the situation with Kenny Agostino and Bill Arnold most recently, who both played their full four years of college and then signed with the Flames.

Also laid out in the CBA are ranges for the minimum and maximum salaries for the AHL and NHL in an entry-level deal, which must be two-way. (All dollar figures are in US dollars.)
  • AHL - Minimum salary is $45,000 and is capped at $70,000.
  • NHL - Minimum salary is $575,000* and is capped at $925,000

* If the two-year deal does not begin until next season (so year one isn't burned), the minimum salary jumps $75,000 to $650,000 in year two as this incremental increase in the NHL minimum salary is scheduled in the CBA to kick in for 2017-18. 

What can optionally be offered on top of that is a limited set of NHL performance bonuses. However, the thing to keep in mind if you're of the mindset that Jankowski will need to spend a couple of years seasoning in the AHL anyway -- and I have yet to run into anyone that doesn't feel this will be the case -- the NHL money and any bonus clauses become a moot point on this initial two-year deal anyway.

Ideally for the Flames he signs a contract that kicks in next season and that leaves the door open for him to immediately join Stockton for the remainder of this season on an amateur try-out (ATO). That is the only way he is permitted to play in the AHL this season. Rules in the CBA stipulate that a player is not eligible to be sent to the minors when he signs a contract after the NHL trade deadline that begins that same season.

3. Flames Path to a Compensatory Pick

As a first round pick, who was named a Hockey East first team all-star in 2015-16 and is coming off his best offensive season, make no mistake there would be NHL teams very willing to sign the 6-foot-4 centre should he reject any Flames offer and opt to try free agency.

This is what happened with Johnny Gaudreau's Boston College linemate Kevin Hayes two years ago. He spurned the Chicago Blackhawks, who originally drafted him, and waited until he became a UFA and then in a bidding war, chose to sign with the New York Rangers instead.

So while the Flames cannot just choose to not offer Jankowski a deal if they felt (which I don't believe they do) that a compensatory pick is a better option, they could present him an offer that is for the minimum across the boards -- e.g. $45,000 AHL, $575,000 NHL and no bonuses -- that would surely be rejected.

Heck, if I'm the advisor representing Jankowski, I'd view that type of an offer as an insult and would definitely rather take my chances in free agency where there would be more than enough interest from other NHL teams to produce a much better contract offer.

4. Myth that 'Burning a Year' Hurts the Team

Often, college players that sign with an NHL team that still has games remaining will 'burn' the first year of their NHL contract. This maneuver is something they will often demand during negotiations. Two weeks of an NHL paycheque can pay off a lot of student loans. e.g. An $800,000 NHL salary for two weeks works out to around $60,000 USD (or around what that player would make in an entire season in the AHL.)

For Jankowski, that could mean signing a contract in the next few days that begins this season. Typically this also comes with an assurance of NHL games and we've seen this scenario numerous times recently with Ben Hanowski, Agostino, Bryce Van Brabant, along with the Arnold-Gaudreau situation two years ago when Boston College was knocked out of the Frozen Four in the semi-final and both signed immediately then flew to Vancouver to appear in the Flames regular season finale.

If this was to happen with Jankowski, it means his two-year deal begins this season so in 2016-17, he would already be in the final year of his entry-level contract. Players often see this as to their advantage. It gets them out of their ELC quicker and gets them into a potentially more lucrative standard player contract.

That said, I've been told by NHL management personnel in the past that sometimes teams prefer this option also. The theory being with older college players, you typically know if they have NHL potential or not pretty quickly compared to 18-year-old kids in major junior. A shorter contract length enables the organization to cut bait earlier on a player that they feel has no NHL future.

5. Taking his Stats with a Grain of Salt

Photo courtesy of the Calgary Flames
Jankowski's numbers do not blow you away. His 40 points (15 goals, 25 assists) in 38 games as a senior was the best of his four years in college but at that, is not anywhere near the production you typically would expect to see from a college player that has a long NHL career ahead of him.

That said, a couple other considerations need to be taken into account:
  • He played for a school that was very defensive focused. The MO for Providence under coach Nate Leaman has not been to outscore teams, but to keep games low-scoring and win with defence. One of Jankowski's strongest attributes is said to be his defensive game.
  • He was always billed as a long-term project. Nobody should be expecting his rookie point total to be where it would be with other players that were less raw. 

So if you look at things like NHL equivalency that suggest Jankowski has no NHL future, that's being overly presumptuous with someone still 21 years old, who does come with some unique circumstances.

6. Careful What You Wish For

While it's far from a certainty that Jankowski will ever make it to the NHL, are you really better off with a 51st pick?

Three reasons I'd be skeptical are Flames hopefuls Emile Poirier, Hunter Shinkaruk and Morgan Klimchuk. Selected 22nd, 24th and 28th respectively in the 2013 NHL Draft, I'd argue none of them are any more assured of gainful NHL employment down the road and they're late first round picks, the odds are that much more stacked against you to find a NHLer late in the second round.

Still basking in the 2015 draft, it's easy to point to Rasmus Andersson, who was taken 53rd as an example of the calibre of player you can get in the range of where that compensatory pick would be but let's just pump the brakes on assuming two things: (a) Andersson is a lock. Yes, he looks like a steal but many have prior. Let's see him at the pro level. (b) Considering the Flames had Andersson ranked significantly higher, I'd view him as the exception, not the norm.

If you look at the players drafted in the range of 49 to 53 over the 12-year span of 1998 through 2009, only 11 out of 60 players ended up playing 200-or-more NHL games. That's a success rate of 18 percent or less than 1-in-5. Those aren't very good odds.

Sure, maybe you strike gold. That mix includes:
  • Mike Cammalleri, 49th in 2001
  • Shea Weber, 49th in 2003
  • Milan Lucic, 50th in 2006
  • Derek Stepan, 51st in 2008
  • Corey Crawford, 52nd in 2003

However, there are also 26 (43%) that never played a single game and 37 (62%) that played 20 or fewer.

Does Jankowski have a 20 percent chance of making it to the NHL and being a regular? I would think so and if that's the case, playing the odds would suggest sticking with Jankowski and seeing this experiment through to a conclusion.

7. The ol' 'Draft Hindsight' Game

Yes, Jankowski was a controversial pick when they made it and for many fans, the bitterness persists because of how Maatta turned out. However, was the Penguins defenceman even the guy the Flames had next on their list anyway? Because there was lots of dreg that came right after that.

The next six players selected after Maatta have combined for 22 NHL games so while you can cherry pick when it comes to the 'what if' scenarios with the draft, those conversations have two sides.
  • What if Calgary chose goaltender Chris Driedger instead of Jon Gillies in 2012? Driedger was picked next by Ottawa.
  • What if Calgary chose left-winger Emil Molin instead of Johnny Gaudreau in 2011? Molin was picked next by Dallas.
  • What if Calgary chose defenceman Sean Lorenz instead of TJ Brodie in 2008? Lorenz was picked next by Minnesota.

So knock yourself out, go ahead and selectively lament the fish that got away, but holding that pick against the player seems counter-productive. It was hardly Jankowski's fault.

That management team has moved on. Seems like fans should too. Maybe let the guy turn pro with a clean slate and see if he can continue to flourish. He's gotten better every year while at Providence, who is to say that development won't continue.

8. What Could He Be?

What is the upside for Jankowski? For me, I would think he could become a third line NHL centre eventually, emphasis on 'could'. We've seen his skill, most recently at development last July when he stood out. He's had some end-to-end rushes in college that have found their way to YouTube also. If his defensive game is sound and he can be proficient at the face-off dot, a centre that is 6-foot-4 and over 200 pounds has value. Maybe he could become the replacement for Mikael Backlund when he potentially moves on in two years.

Right now, Backlund is an excellent fit at centre on this club alongside Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett. But two years from now when the Swede is a UFA and looking for a significant raise from his current AAV of $3.6 million, can Calgary afford to re-sign him if they're already paying big money to Monahan and Bennett? Probably not so that could be a role Jankowski could slide into as someone not at Backlund's calibre but with a salary that fits.

Final Word

For me, Jankowski is definitely worth signing and having a look at him as a pro. So much time has been invested in him already, it's the right move.  And unless the Flames seriously insult him with a low-ball contract offer, I truly believe there's a deal to be made.

I've spoken with Jankowski many times over the years and he has always come across as legitimately appreciative of the Flames organization for how they've treated him. I could be wrong and maybe I've completely misread him but I just can't see him bolting. That just doesn't seem to be in his make-up.

Sign him right away, throw him a few games down the stretch because why not. I'm pretty sure we know what Brandon Bollig is by now, or Matt Stajan, etc. As someone that would not count as one of the Flames permitted four AHL call-ups (because he's not coming from the AHL), there are slots Jankowski could slide into on this roster just to give him a taste and to give fans a preview also.

To assume Calgary would be better off with 51st pick in the 2017 NHL Draft is a stretch. At that point in a draft, you're looking at a guy that could maybe help the Flames five years from now at the earliest. Look at it like that and suddenly waiting a couple more years to see if Jankowski pans out doesn't seem like that bad of an alternative.

For those that claim to know with certainty what Jankowski will be, they're lying. Sure there are indicators but he's also a unique case. The bottom line is nobody knows for sure what this guy will become. 

With Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie both late bloomers, and as I just wrote about, with Andrew Mangiapane potentially another, if there's one fan base in the NHL that should know better than to pass judgement and give up on someone too quickly it should be the residents of Flames nation.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


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    1. As always, great read! Thank you.

    2. Thanks Darren. If Jankowski is signed, it should be interesting to compare his game at training camp to the other big centres currently in the system: Grant (if re-signed), Shore (if re-signed), Pollock and Karnaukhov.