Sunday, August 28, 2016

FF80F Podcast: Episode 5 - Cruickshank Joins Haynes for a Look Both Ahead and Back


For my latest podcast, longtime Calgary Herald (now PostMedia) Flames beat writer Scott Cruickshank stopped by. One of the good guys and I'm not just saying that because he also took journalism at Mount Royal College, Scott was on the Flames beat from 2000 through last year and has seen a lot.

Now working as a columnist, the latest podcast was not only a look ahead to the upcoming NHL season but also a look back as Flames past.


Topics Broached
  • The non-glamorous side of life on the road as a Flames beat writer
  • Memories of covering the 2004 Stanley Cup run
  • What the Flames have in newly-signed Sean Monahan
  • For contrast, a look back at how poor the Flames were at centre for two decades
  • What are the expectations for Glen Gulutzan
  • Recapping Brad Treliving's most impactful and most surprising move
  • Will Jarome Iginla call it quits after this season
  • Could Kris Russell end up back on the Flames

Options to Download/Listen

You should now be able to download Flames at 80 Decibels from all your favourite websites as well as through your regular podcast player or app. Here are a few of the more popular links to where you can download the latest episode:
Catching up On What You've Missed

The good news about summer podcasts is for the most part, they're all still very much relevant. After all, there hasn't been much Flames news lately. So if you haven't heard them yet and find yourself heading out on vacation and needing something to listen to, download the whole series. Here are links to summaries of what you'll find on each of the first four episodes:
  • Episode 4 - On August 14, Ryan Leslie from Flames TV stopped by and provided a glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes with the Flames -- on the charter, etc. Other topics included who will play RW on the top line, who will benefit the most from the new coach.
  • Episode 3 - On August 5, I connected with Mr. Kerr again, this time to dig into a variety of other off-season topics like the Gaudreau/Monahan contract 'stalemate', Troy Brouwer and expansion.
  • Episode 2 - In the more technically-sound second episode (thanks to Rob Kerr's audio equipment) on July 19, Rob joined me as co-host and we debated the Flames season-opening roster. 
  • Episode 1 - In the July 11 impromptu pilot, featuring zero technology, I recapped development camp. This was was a solo effort with sub-part technology but fresh on the heels of the prospects being in town, lots of good stuff discussed.

Look for another podcast in early September as we close in on rookie camp and the return of hockey. Thanks for listening!




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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Listen to that Purr: Flames Have the Offensive Engine to Drive into the Post-Season

So new. So clean. So shiny.

A look under the hood of the Calgary Flames reveals an immaculately-kept engine that would make any mechanic squeal with delight.

Playing the role of the camshaft, pistons, spark plugs and fuel injector are the young stars that drive this team -- Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett and Dougie Hamilton. That purr when the key turns in the ignition is the engine version of that coveted new car smell.

In 2015-16, no NHL team got a greater offensive contribution from its youth than the Flames, who got a whopping 94 goals from players aged 22 and under. That's 41 percent of their overall goal production coming from kids who not that long ago just learned to drive.


Across the NHL in 2015-16

Putting that 94 goals in context, it was five better than the 103-point, Atlantic Division-winning Florida Panthers.

Here is the top five. Note that this is strictly goals from players up until their 23rd birthday. So in the case of players such as Mark Scheifele and Brandon Saad, who turned 23 during the season, their listed goal total was what it was up until that point.


1. Calgary, 94 (41.0% of 229 GF)
  • Johnny Gaudreau 30
  • Sean Monahan 27
  • Sam Bennett 18
  • Dougie Hamilton 12
  • Markus Granlund 4
  • Hunter Shinkaruk 2
  • Patrick Sieloff 1

2. Florida, 89 (38.4% of 232 GF)
  • Barkov 28, Trochek 25, Huberdeau, 20, Ekblad 15, Grimaldi 1

3. Buffalo, 69 (34.7% of 199 GF)
  • Eichel 24, Reinhart 23, Ristolainen 9, Girgensons 7, McCabe 4, Rodrigues 1, Fasching 1

4. Winnipeg, 68 (32.1% of 212 GF)
  • Scheifele 23, Ehlers 15, Lowry 7, Copp 7, Trouba 6, Dano 4, Armia 4, Petan 2

5. Columbus, 63 (29.6% of 213 GF)
  • Jenner 30, Karlsson 9, Wennberg 8, Bjorkstrand 4, Murray 4, Saad 3, Rychel 2, Jones 2, Anderson 1

Honourable mention was Edmonton. Led by Leon Draisaitl (19), Connor McDavid (16), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (12), and Nail Yakupov (8), Oscar Klefbom (4) and Darnell Nurse (3), the Oilers were sixth with 62 -- a number that would have been significantly higher if not for McDavid missing nearly half of the season due to injury.


The Flames Historically

As you can see, those 94 goals last year is a significant jump from 65 two years ago. But both of those numbers blow away anything we've seen in this city going back to 2000.

Heck, go back six years and the total was just one -- Mikael Backlund as a rookie, who was 1-9-10 in 23 games.

Painting a frighteningly bleak picture of where the team was at that time, that 2009-10 season was the start of five straight years of missing the playoffs. There's one thing to miss the post-season with young players just developing as was the case last year for Calgary. It's quite another to miss the playoffs with hardly any youth in the line-up whatsoever.




Prior to 2014-15, the highest total had been 31. That came in 2003-04, the year the Flames went to the Stanley Cup final. The three youngsters contributing that year were Matthew Lombardi (16), Oleg Saprykin (9) and Chuck Kobasew (6).

That year along with 24 goals in 2007-08 -- Dion Phaneuf (17), Dustin Boyd (7) -- were the only two seasons over a 13-year span in which the number was greater than 20.

It also sums up how the Flames fared at the draft from the late 90s through 2010. Although to be fair, the only top-10 picks from 1997 through 2012 were Daniel Tkaczuk (6th in 1997), Rico Fata (6th in 1998), Phaneuf (9th in 2003), Eric Nystrom (10th in 2002) and Brent Krahn (9th in 2000).

Higher first round picks and better overall drafting, as has been the case lately, is how you start accumulating premium talent like Monahan, Bennett and the budding stars in the pipeline that make up the Flames top 20 prospects.

The youth movement that has steadily grown over the past three seasons goes back to Monahan's draft year of 2013 in which the sixth overall pick has been the star of his draft class. Calgary has added at least one key offensive piece every season since. After Monahan made an immediate impact in 2013-14, Johnny Gaudreau joined the team in 2014-15 and Sam Bennett and Dougie Hamilton came on board last year.


NHL Historically

Going back to 2000, only 10 other teams have gotten 94-or-more goals in a season from players in that 18-22 age group.

Although actually, it's only six teams with three of the teams appearing multiple times.
  • Pittsburgh (2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09) - Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal
  • Chicago (2007-08, 2008-09) - Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane
  • Edmonton (2011-12, 2012-13) - Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Magnus Paajarvi
  • Boston (2008-09) - Phil Kessel, David Krejci, Blake Wheeler, Milan Lucic
  • Washington (2007-08) - Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green
  • Atlanta (2002-03) - Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Stefan

As you can see, teams with such an impactful core of youth have generally gone on to be very good teams, if they weren't good already. Of course, there are two notable exceptions in the Oilers and Thrashers.

A breakdown of each of the 10 teams is below. Included are the goal scorers and how the team fared that year as well as in the next two seasons that followed. Were they able to build off it? Or did they bring in a new coach (e.g. Dallas Eakins), refuse to address the glaring positional need and end up sliding the opposite direction?

Before you ask, note that the top team on the list was the Oilers in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. I list them as No. 1 because their 71 goals from players aged 22 and under extrapolates out to 121 goals over a full 82-game season. That would have been the most.


1. 2012-13 Edmonton Oilers, 71 goals (in 48 gm)
  • Nail Yakupov, 17
  • Taylor Hall, 16
  • Jordan Eberle, 16
  • Magnus Paajarvi, 9
  • Justin Schultz, 8
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 4
  • Teemu Hartikainen, 1

That season - Missed playoffs by 10 pts
1 year later - Missed playoffs by 24 pts
2 years later - Missed playoff by 25 pts

The Skinny - After that 2012-13 season, the Oilers brought in Dallas Eakins to replace Ralph Kruger. That didn't work, nor did addressing defensive deficiencies by adding the likes of Anton Belov, Andrew Ference and Martin Marincin. Devan Dubnyk also struggled the next season and Ben Scrivens, brought in to replace him, was not the calibre of goaltending upgrade Edmonton needed.


2. 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins, 117 goals
  • Evgeni Malkin, 35
  • Sidney Crosby, 33
  • Jordan Staal, 22
  • Tyler Kennedy, 15
  • Kris Letang, 10
  • Dustin Jeffrey, 1
  • Luca Caputi, 1

That season - 4th in East, 99 pts - Beat DET to win Stanley Cup
1 year later - 3rd in East (4th playoff seed), 101 pts - Lost to MTL in round 2
2 years later - 3rd in East (4th playoff seed), 106 pts - Lost to TB in round 1

The Skinny - With Dan Bylsma taking over for Michel Therrien, the Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup that season, Pittsburgh increased its point total each of the next two seasons but exited early in the playoffs. In 2009-10, Pens blew a 3-2 series lead in the semi-final, losing games 6 and 7 to the Canadiens with Marc-Andre Fleury badly outdueled in net by Jaroslav Halak. The next year, Pittsburgh blew a 3-1 opening round series lead to fall in 7 games to the Lightning.


3. 2008-09 Chicago Blackhawks, 108 goals
  • Jonathan Toews, 34
  • Patrick Kane, 25
  • Kris Versteeg, 22
  • Dave Bolland, 19
  • Cam Barker, 6
  • Jack Skille, 1
  • Niklas Hjalmarsson, 1

That season - 3rd in West (4th playoff seed), 104 pts - Lost to DET in round 3
1 year later - 2nd in West, 112 pts - Beat PHI to win Stanley Cup
2 years later - 8th in Wes, 97 pts - Lost to VAN (SC runners-up) in round 1

The Skinny - In the sophomore season for both Kane and Toews, Chicago reached the Western conference final. The next year, they improved to 112 points -- third best overall, and would go on to with the Stanley Cup. The year after, they were upset in the first round by the Canucks, who would go on to reach the Cup final before losing to Boston.


4. 2006-07 Pittsburgh Penguins, 107 goals
  • Sidney Crosby, 36
  • Evgeni Malkin, 33
  • Jordan Staal, 29
  • Max Talbot, 7
  • Kris Letang, 2

That season - 4th in East (5th playoff seed), 105 pts - Lost to OTT (SC runners-up) in round 1
1 year later - 2nd in East, 102 pts - Lost to DET in Stanley Cup final
2 years later - 4th in East, 99 pts - Beat DET to win Stanley Cup

The Skinny - The first year together for Crosby, Malkin and Staal produced a 105-point regular season but the Penguins were upset in the opening round by Ottawa, who went on to reach the Cup final. But they bounced right back, reaching the Stanley Cup final each of the next two seasons, losing to Detroit and then beating the Red Wings the year after.


T5. 2011-12 Edmonton Oilers, 103 goals
  • Jordan Eberle, 34
  • Taylor Hall, 27
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 18
  • Sam Gagner, 18
  • Teemu Hartikainen, 2
  • Magnus Paajarvi, 2
  • Anton Lander, 2

That season - Missed playoffs by 21 pts
1 year later - Missed playoffs by 10 pts
2 years later - Missed playoffs by 24 pts

The Skinny - Coach Tom Renney had all sorts of talented youth up front but a D group of Tom Gilbert, Jeff Petry, Ryan Whitney, Ladislav Smid, Corey Potter, Theo Peckham and Andy Sutton just weren't good enough. The blue-line would continue to be a problem area in the years to follow.


T5. 2007-08 Washington Capitals, 103 goals 
  • Alex Ovechkin, 65
  • Mike Green, 18
  • Nicklas Backstrom, 14
  • Jeff Schultz, 5
  • Eric Fehr, 1

That season - 6th in East (3rd playoff seed), 94 pts - Lost to PHI in round 1
1 year later - 2nd in East, 108 pts - Lost to PIT (SC champions) in round 2
2 years later - 1st in East, 121 pts - Lost to MTL in round 1

The Skinny - Bruce Boudreau took over when Glen Hanlon was fired but more than just a coaching change was needed this season. Ovechkin, in his third year, was a one-man show with 65 goals, 39 more than Alexander Semin, who was No. 2. The Capitals just weren't deep enough. Plus, Olaf Kolzig had a poor year in net. But that changed and the influx of depth and better goaltending saw the Capitals see their point total rise significantly each of the next two seasons. In 2009-10, they won the Presidents Trophy by eight points.


7. 2007-08 Pittsburgh Penguins, 99 goals 
  • Evgeni Malkin, 47
  • Sidney Crosby, 24
  • Jordan Staal, 12
  • Tyler Kennedy, 10
  • Kris Letang, 6

That season - 2nd in East, 102 pts - Lost to DET in Stanley Cup final
1 year later - 4th in East, 99 pts - Beat DET to win Stanley Cup
2 years later - 3rd in East (4th playoff seed), 101 pts - Lost to Montreal in round 2

The Skinny - It is a rare luxury to get a 1st overall pick, 2nd overall pick and 1st overall pick over a span of three years but that was the good fortune for the Penguins and they took full advantage. Back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup final might well have been three straight trips if Fleury delivered the same calibre of goaltending in the playoffs as he did in the regular season in 2009-10. 


8. 2008-09 Boston Bruins, 97 goals
  • Phil Kessel, 36
  • David Krejci, 22
  • Blake Wheeler, 21
  • Milan Lucic, 17
  • Vladimir Sobotka, 1

That season - 1st in East, 116 pts - Lost to CAR in round 2
One year later - 6th in East, 91 pts - Lost to PHI (SC runners-up) in round 2
Two years later - 4th in East (3rd playoff seed), 103 pts - Beat VAN to win Stanley Cup

The Skinny - Tons of youth up front led the Bruins to the second-best record in the NHL. They were also the second-highest scoring team. However, off-season moves by GM Peter Chiarelli forced by salary cap constraints included the trading away of leading scorer Phil Kessel for draft picks. That along with an injury to Marc Savard, contributed to a 25-point drop-off in the standings the next season. That year Boston was the second-lowest scoring team. But bolstered by the addition of Nathan Horton, a freshly-drafted Tyler Seguin and with phenomenal goaltending from Tim Thomas, Boston bounced back the next year to win the Stanley Cup.


T9. 2007-08 Chicago Blackhawks, 94 goals
  • Jonathan Toews, 24
  • Patrick Kane, 21
  • Dustin Byfuglien, 18
  • Brent Seabrook, 9
  • Cam Barker, 6
  • Andrew Ladd, 5
  • Dave Bolland, 4
  • Jack Skille, 3
  • Kris Versteeg, 2
  • Jake Dowell, 2

That season - Missed playoffs by 3 pts
1 year later - 3rd in West (4th playoff seed), 104 pts - Lost to DET in round 3
2 years later - 2nd in West, 112 pts - Beat PHI to win Stanley Cup

The Skinny - Again, it goes to show how valuable it can be to have two high draft picks in consecutive years. Toews -- third overall in 2006 and Kane -- first overall in 2007, both played in their rookie season. The result was Chicago just missing the playoffs but their 88 points (after 71 points the year prior) was proof that they were on the rise. The next season in Joel Quenneville's first year behind the bench (taking over from Denis Savard after four games), they improved by 16 points and went to the conference final. They won the Stanley Cup the year after that. 


T9. 2002-03 Atlanta Thrashers, 94 goals 
  • Dany Heatley, 41
  • Ilya Kovalchuk, 38
  • Patrik Stefan, 13
  • Kirill Safronov, 2

That season - Had 74 pts, missed playoffs by 9 pts
1 year later - missed by 13 pts
2 years later - missed by 2 pts

The Skinny - It's yet another team that ended up big on future potential after stringing together three consecutive high draft picks in Patrik Stefan -- 1st overall in 1999, Dany Heatley -- 2nd overall in 2000 and Ilya Kovalchuk -- 1st overall in 2001. Halfway through this season, Bob Hartley took over as coach and the Thrashers ended up 20 points better than the year prior. However, their goaltenders had a league-worst .893 save percentage and didn't get much better the seasons after. The other key in the unravelling of the Thrashers was the car accident in September 2003 involving Heatley that killed teammate Dan Snyder. Heatley missed over three months the following season due to injuries from the accident. He was then traded during the 2004-05 lockout to Ottawa.



Final Word

While the Flames young stars like Monahan and Gaudreau are not at that same elite level of a Toews and Kane, or a Crosby and Malkin, they have the ability to be the lite versions of both of those duos.

With a decent back-end led by Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie, Calgary does not have the same gaping holes on the blue-line that killed the Oilers. By bringing in Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson, the Flames have also addressed their goaltending, avoiding a repeat of what killed Atlanta.

They also are in good shape in terms of salary cap and an ability to keep all of their young stars for the next several years. In other words, the Kessel situation that forced Boston to retool will also not be an issue.

While historical comparisons guarantee nothing, Flames fans should be encouraged to see how the Blackhawks, Penguins, Capitals and Bruins all went on to enjoy tremendous success shortly after a season like Calgary just had in which youth played such a prominent role.

All of them made Stanley Cup appearances with that same cast except for Washington and the Capitals had the types of regular seasons that nobody would complain about.

Also, not to be forgotten, there is more youth on the way too.

While Gaudreau and Hamilton have now graduated from the 22-and-under list, Hunter Shinkaruk turns 22 on October 13. He looks like someone, who could contribute offensively before too long. Meanwhile, 2016 sixth overall pick Matthew Tkachuk, 18, could also be a guy that immediately contributes. At worst, he starts making an impact in 2017-18.

The core is there. Just surround them with better defence and goaltending and this Flames team could be going places and soon.




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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    Saturday, August 20, 2016

    ELC Graduation Day: Monahan Rewarded for Being Valedictorian of NHL's 2013 Draft Class

    There was no mortarboard, just that pristine mane of thick black hair that's become Sean Monahan's trademark. Nonetheless, there was a graduation feel to Friday morning's press conference at the Saddledome.

    Three years after the centre arrived in the NHL, calm, cool and full of confidence, media and team officials gathered for the centre's graduation from his entry-level contract. It was a day of celebration for the organization, the city and all Flames fans.

    "I'm so excited to be here. This is where I want to be and a seven-year commitment is huge," said Monahan. "To play here is pretty special and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."

    In a summer in which the crème de la crème of the NHL's 2013 draft class has moved on from their ELCs, sporting the highest grade-point average of the bunch and easy choice for valedictorian was Monahan. For that distinction, he will get paid, signing a seven-year, $44.625 million deal.

    In terms of deals struck by Flames general managers, it is the richest in team history, eclipsing the $40.5 million pact signed by captain Mark Giordano last summer. The annual average value of $6.375 million ranks sixth all-time:
    1. Jarome Iginla, $7M (5Y/$35M, 2008-09 to 2012-13) 
    2. Jarome Iginla, $7M (3Y/$21M, 2005-06 to 2007-08)
    3. Mark Giordano, $6.75M (6Y/$40.5M, 2016-17 to 2021-22)
    4. Jay Bouwmeester$6.68M (5Y/$33.4M, 2009-10 to 2013-14)
    5. Dion Phaneuf, $6.5M (6Y/$39M, 2008-09 to 2013-14)
    6. Sean Monahan, $6.375M (7Y/$44.6M, 2016-17 to 2022-23)
    7. Miikka Kiprusoff$5.8M (6Y/$35M, 2008-09 to 2013-14)
    8. Dougie Hamilton$5.75M (6Y/$34.5M, 2015-16 to 2020-21)
    9. Dennis Wideman, $5.25M (5Y/$26.25M, 2012-13 to 2016-17)
    10. Alex Tanguay, $5.25M (3Y/$15.75M, 2006-07 to 2008-09)

    Best in Class

    Notably, Monahan's AAV is $75,000 more than Nathan MacKinnon, first overall pick in 2013, who until Friday was the highest-paid from that draft class.

    What does the difference work out to? Well, I'd suggest it's far greater in principle than in actual dollars. Converted into math that you or I -- the non-professional athlete -- can better comprehend, it's the equivalent of giving both MacKinnon and Monahan a crisp new $100 bill, then fishing around the loose change in the ashtray of your car to find an extra $1.19 to flip to Monahan.

    No, I don't mean $1.20 either. Players are paid in U.S. funds where the penny is still a thing and I don't doubt tough-as-nails general manager Brad Treliving would be that shrewd. If he's giving Monahan a couple dimes with that additional dollar bill, his hand is out and he's waiting for his one penny in change.

    "It's a great deal for him, 21 years old and to have that type of financial security, but with it comes responsibility," said Treliving. "When you make those types of commitments, as much as everyone looks at goals, assists and points, it's the person you're investing in too. We have no concerns about the person we've invested in here, he's a high, high character person."

    Coming 132 agonizing days after the season ended and more than six weeks after MacKinnon came to terms in Colorado, the inevitable yet long-awaited announcement was a great day for the organization. Also, chalk it up as a modest victory for Treliving. In managing Calgary's tight salary cap situation, he probably did the best he realistically could given the ammunition possessed by Pat Morris, Monahan's agent.
     
    "You're always looking at a market place, trying to find common ground and comparable contracts, so it always plays a part. The good news for Sean is what he's done over the first three seasons has put himself in a really good position," said Treliving. "But then you're projecting up. You can get into a problem in a cap system when you're paying significant dollars for things that have happened in the rear-view mirror, but we think he's just scratching the surface."

    With both sides pleased with the final outcome, we're left to speculate about which side ultimately gave in the most to get the deal done. Both sides will have moved but if somebody travelled a bit further, it wouldn't surprise me if it was Monahan's camp.
     
    Based on their NHL resumes so far, Monahan has done more and was deserving of a higher number than what was fetched by MacKinnon. If he got $6.5 million annually or even $6.75 million, I wouldn't have been stunned. Instead, Treliving locked him up for virtually the same figure.

    In addition to the distinction of being the only one of the five to wear a letter, the statistic that distinguishes Monahan from the players -- MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Drouin, Seth Jones, Elias Lindholm -- drafted before him, is his lethal scoring touch.
    • His 80 goals is 21 more than MacKinnon and 28 better than Barkov, the next two on the list.
    • Add in the 2011 and 2012 draft classes as well and Monahan still ranks third in goals, behind only Gabriel Landeskog (2011, 100 goals) and Brandon Saad (2011, 83 goals).
    • Also, he has scored the most goals in franchise history before turning 22, just ahead of Robert Reichel (79) and Dan Quinn (72). 


    Goals Get You Paid

    There are varying opinions on where Monahan's two-way game is at today. In general, the consensus would be that it's behind a guy like Barkov. While that may be true, the reality is goals are still what gets you paid in this league. While the evolution and wider spread acceptance of advanced stats and alternate ways to measure contributions continues, we're not there yet in the NHL. In fact, it may take until the next CBA for concepts like Corsi to be fully embraced.
     
    If you look at what statistics players can be offered bonuses for and these are written into the CBA as performance bonus schedules permitted, we're talking about so-called conventional numbers only. e.g. Time on ice, goals, assists, points, points-per-game and -- be prepared to plug your nose -- even plus/minus is in there. This is in addition to things like being named to the all-rookie team and playing in the all-star game.

    Similarly, if you look at the arguments permitted in a salary arbitration case, once again, conventional stats is still what rules the day.

    So while Monahan's situation wasn't an arbitration case, this underscores the reality that the stats that matter most in this day and age -- like it or not, disagree with it or not -- are good old fashioned G + A. I expect this to change eventually, perhaps by the next CBA, but right now it's gaudy goal and/or point totals that are going to get you those extra 0's added to the end of your salary,


    Cowtown Loyalty

    He's an Ontario kid but Monahan loves Calgary and why not. The city has been great for him and he's been great for the franchise. Having a drafted and developed fixture at top line centre is something the Flames haven't boasted for over 20 years, since Joe Nieuwendyk moved on in the summer of 1995.

    No disrespect to Mikael Backlund, who was the Flames No. 1 centre on and off through 2013-14, but Monahan has been entrenched as that guy the past two seasons and that's homegrown stability on the top line that has been missing.

    Looking back at who has been cast in that role the past couple decades, it's been a non-stop carousel of players brought in via trade or free agency -- Mike Cammalleri, Olli Jokinen, Daymond Langkow, Craig Conroy, Marc Savard, Jeff Shantz, Andrew Cassels, Dave Gagner.

    There's been nobody of the ilk of Monahan. It's been a gigantic void and Treliving realizes the importance of his role.

    "Sean plays a critical position, which is centre ice. Everybody here has heard me talk ad nauseam about the importance of building through the middle," said Treliving. "He's a big centreman, he can score goals, he can make plays, he can play on both sides of special teams, he's a big body. All those types of things."

    Now there's no guarantee that Monahan makes it to the end of this contract as a Flame. Not to be a buzz kill but how many players play 10 years in the same city anymore? But he does have a limited no-trade clause that kicks in for 2020-21 and Calgary has always been a market where players enjoy living and love to play.


    Place in Flames Franchise History

    In team history, so going back to 1980 when the Calgary Flames came into being, Monahan already has climbed to 31st in goals, one back of Doug Gilmour. He's 62nd in games played.

    Should he, indeed, play the next seven years at the Saddledome and if he averages 27 goals and 80 games per season, by the time he's 28 and when his new contract expires, he should rank top-five in franchise history in both categories:

    Projections for the summer of 2023:

    Goals

    1. Jarome Iginla, 525
    2. Theoren Fleury, 364
    3. Joe Nieuwendyk, 314
    4. Sean Monahan, ~269

    Games

    1. Jarome Iginla, 1,219
    2. Mark Giordano, ~1,050
    3. Robyn Regehr, 826
    4. Al MacInnis, 803
    5. Sean Monahan, ~797


    To be honest, that goal total could be much higher too. We know the kid is lethal from within 15 feet. His shooting percentages in his first three seasons are a potent 15.7, 16.2 and 13.7. Find a long-term fit on the right side of Calgary's top line and a 35-goal season is a possibility, maybe even 40.

    And who knows what happens after that. If you really want to stare into that crystal ball and play the 'what if' game, add on another four-year extension and we're talking about a player that very likely ends up second in both goals and games, behind only Jarome Iginla.


    Standing out From the Rest

    Although there's a good bet he drops one spot when Gaudreau signs, Monahan's AAV ranks 48th in the NHL for 2016-17.

    What's obviously unique about that is his age at just 21. That puts Monahan alone on an island big-time on the list. If you look at the 47 names above his, the three closest in terms of age are:
    • Vladimir Tarasenko - 34 months older, 20th (tied) at $7.5 million
    • Ryan O'Reilly - 44 months older, 20th (tied) at $7.5 million
    • Steven Stamkos - 56 months older, 9th (tied) at $8.5 million

    "Ultimately you look at the production. Sean has put himself at the upper echelon when you look at his three years," said Treliving.

    Surely over the next couple weeks, you'll also be able to add Monahan's buddy and linemate Johnny Gaudreau -- 14 months older -- to the above list. If only we had the slightest idea where on that list he will land.


    Stellar First Three Seasons

    Even more eye-popping is what he's done in his first three years in comparison to his much older peers around the league.
    • Goals - 80, 21st
    • Non-Empty Net Goals - 78, 18th
    • Even-Strength Goals - 59, 19th 
    • Game-Winning Goals - 15, 25th

    Remember, these numbers were amassed at age 19, 20 and 21. Imagine how the next three years could look at age 22, 23, and 24 and a lot closer to his prime.

    For context, the only other player in the top eighty in goals over the last three seasons, who did so on his entry level contract for the duration, was Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov, who is tied for 48th in goals over that span with 68.

    Meanwhile, the rest of his game continues to steadily round out. Monahan's assist total has steadily climbed from 12 to 31 to 36. Of those 36 helpers last season, 25 were primary assists, which tied him for 24th in the league.


    Anxious to Get Going

    When Monahan came to Calgary this week, it was to meet with the training staff. But packing a suit, apparently, was a good pre-caution.

    "I didn't even know I was signing. I came out here to get some medicals done before the World Cup so I didn't have to do them there," said Monahan. "I was going to do some training with Ryan (van Asten), our strength coach and next thing I knew, I got a call from my agent and he asked me if I liked it and I said absolutely, and we got it done. A little change of direction while I was out here but it's a good change."

    Watching him sweat out the announcement, clearly this type of thing -- the lights, the cameras, the attention -- isn't in his comfort zone, but as long as he performs on the ice, I don't think anyone cares.

    "That was the first interview I've ever been so nervous for," Monahan admitted. "It hasn't really kicked in and doesn't feel real. Obviously, everyone wants a lot of money but at the end of the day, I'm 21 years old, I want to play hockey, I want to win a championship."

    And, he wants to do it in Calgary.


    His New Home

    "Loyalty is key and obviously I want to play here. If you could play until you're 50, I would sign a 20-year contract as fast as possible," Monahan said. "This is where I want to be, Calgary is home and there is no other fans I'd rather play in front of than try to make them proud and have that excitement in this building."

    For a long time in the mid-to-late 80s, Calgary had a very good team. Monahan looks forward to bringing those glory days back to the city again.

    "I want to be here and I want to win here. I've talked to a lot of guys that have been here for a long time, guys who have retired and have won the Stanley Cup here. It's a special city to play in and it's home now. I'm excited to be here and I couldn't be happier."

    Given all the change this off-season, he can't wait to get started.

    "Obviously Brad's made some big moves this summer. Got some new goalies, some new players that are going to help our team," said Monahan, who has talked to new coach Glen Gulutzan several times. "It's been a long summer, obviously. Without playoffs, summer can be the same thing. You go on the ice, you work out, and you just want to play a game.

    "I'm looking forward to getting out there for the World Cup, I'm excited about that, then getting back here with the boys. I'm getting pretty anxious and I just want to get out there and play."


    Final Word

    Moving forward, if you had a choice between MacKinnon and Monahan, most would probably still take MacKinnon. But the bottom line is what Monahan has done so far, you can't take away from him.

    The other intriguing fun fact about Monahan's salary is it's nearly identical to what Jonathan Toews signed for in his second deal with Chicago back in 2010.

    Add in inflation and the fact that the Toews deal (five years/$31.5 million) was two years shorter and it's fair to say Toews' $6.3 million AAV at the time should be considered better than what's essentially the same figure for Monahan. But it's still a curious co-incidence for a player that Monahan has frequently been compared to in regards to his always-serious demeanor.

    Maybe, just maybe, if Toews is Usain Bolt, Monahan will turn out like Andre De Grasse.
     
    Now we wait and see what Gaudreau signs for and -- speaking of comparables -- if it's a similar number to what Kane got back then, which you'll recall was the exact same contract as Toews. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one but if anyone could pull off that kind of wizardry, it might just be the Flames GM.




    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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    Tuesday, August 16, 2016

    On the Cusp: Wotherspoon Hopes Cautious One-Year Deal Will Pay Dividends in the End

    Best-case scenario for Tyler Wotherspoon? A $249,000 pay cut. Worst-case? A $55,000 raise.

    Huh?

    Allow me to explain.

    The Calgary Flames came to terms with the first of their league-high four remaining restricted free agents on Monday. The 23-year-old defenceman agreed to a one-year, two-way deal for 2016-17 that per General Fanager consists of a $625,000 salary in the NHL or $125,000 in the AHL.

    What left many scratching their heads was the NHL number. Just $50,000 above the league minimum, it is nearly a quarter-of-a-million dollars below what his NHL salary would have been had he accepted the qualifying offer made by the team in June, which would have been for a smidge over $874,000.

    There are two catches: 1. The AHL salary. 2. Sometimes an NHL salary that's too rich can work against a player not yet established.

    In Wotherspoon's situation, CBA guidelines for a qualifying offer are that it include a five percent raise on what his NHL salary was in his last deal. In his entry level contract, his NHL salary was $832,500, after you remove the signing bonuses. However, the AHL salary component of a two-way has no inflator, so that qualifying offer would have been for a repeat of the $70,000 he made in Stockton last year.

    It's one thing and almost expected for the player to show bravado, self-confidence and an air of invincibility when it comes to such a situation and accept the more lucrative deal with the greater NHL wage. After all, this is for sure the season that Wotherspoon breaks through, right? But sometimes there's more to it.


    Enter the Player Agent

    Where the player agent enters the picture is it's his job to be smart about it. It's his job to not think with his heart, but think with his head and act in the best interests of his client long term.

    Given Wotherspoon's limited NHL resume -- just 26 games so far -- the decision was made to pass up that more lucrative potential NHL pay cheque to negotiate a deal that while cheaper could end up ultimately working out better for the client. At the same time, it also provides a more lucrative safety net in the worst-case scenario of a return trip to Stockton.

    "It's a time in my career where I still need to prove myself and be able to show that I can be a full-time NHLer," said Wotherspoon on Monday from his off-season home in Surrey, B.C. "I'm looking for that opportunity this year, to come out of the gates strong, stick with the big club and show that I can be there long term."

    You may be thinking that being waiver-eligible now, doesn't that mean he will remain in the NHL? That the Flames wouldn't dare demote him to the AHL and risk losing him to another NHL team by putting him on waivers? Well, that's what Joni Ortio thought last year too. Instead, the goaltender played poorly, was placed on waivers, went unclaimed and landed back in northern California.

    If Wotherspoon has a disappointing camp and the Flames choose to put him on waivers to assign him to Stockton, chances are other NHL teams will also not be interested enough to disrupt their own 23-man NHL roster to create a space for him.

    The other angle for the agent to consider is are the odds of playing in the NHL better for his client if his salary is lower? For a young player, logging more NHL games, however he can get them, is often the top priority. On cap teams, a lower NHL salary could be the path to that.

    Think about it. Until Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan sign, Calgary's proximity to the salary cap's upper limit remains unknown. That said, it's common sense that if the team ends up tight to the cap (remember in 2008-09 when the team was so close to the cap they weren't even able to dress a full 20-player line-up over the final month), a defenceman at $625,000 could end up being a more attractive call-up option than a guy making $925,000.


    Makes Sense in the Big Picture

    If Wotherspoon does stay up with Calgary the entire season, sure it will be disappointing short-term to only be making $625,000 compared to what he could have made, but that still makes for a decent payday on the 15th and 30th of every month for a guy in his early 20s. I don't think he'll need to use a Treasure Chest coupon book when he goes out to eat.

    On the flip side, making $125,000 in the AHL versus $70,000 is a lifestyle changer. Think about your own job and how much your quality of life would improve if your manager called you into their office today and offered you an 80 percent raise on what you made last year.

    The other thing to consider is should Wotherspoon play this season in the NHL, he should recoup any lost salary in no time as he'll go into negotiations next summer in a much stronger negotiating position.

    Also noteworthy is next off-season will be one of significant change for the Flames blue-line. Contracts for Dennis Wideman, Deryk Engelland and Ladislav Smid will have expired and chances are Jyrki Jokipakka could get plucked by Las Vegas in the June expansion draft.

    The net outcome will be plenty of job openings and perhaps more importantly for a player in line for a new deal, a lot of freed-up spending money for the GM.

    "Everybody is curious what is going to happen next year," says Wotherspoon, who has logged 162 AHL games. "As part of the business, you think about those things and what may happen as they play out. If there's an opportunity where I play well this year, it gives me more playing time next year or so be it. But I just want to focus on the current and making the team because that's all I can control right now. Let next year play out as this year moves on."


    Assistant general manager Craig Conroy says it will be important for the team so see this season what they've got coming because with the big three taking up over $17 million, they'll need to have some value contracts on the blueline.

    "The only way you're going to do well in this league now is get your core guys and then have young guys come up, earn spots and become your core guys," says Conroy. "You can't go out and just keep signing unrestricted players, it just gets too expensive."


    Important Season Lies Ahead


    Being waiver-eligible can be a career game-changer for Wotherspoon this season is it puts the onus on him. No longer can he be sent down to the minors -- regardless of how well he might be playing -- just because the organization can. Now, Calgary must expose him to the league's other 29 teams if they want to do that.

    He admits it changes your viewpoint a little bit as now you're looking to showcase yourself to the rest of the league too.

    "I'm not only playing for the Calgary Flames but I'm going to go into camp to show that I can play in the NHL," says Wotherspoon. "If Calgary's numbers don't work out, I'm also playing for my job. Anything can happen. My goal in the end is to play in the NHL, show every team out there, especially Calgary, that I can play there."

    At the end of the day, players are independent contractors that have to look out for themselves.

    "Calgary has been great to me over the last three years. they obviously drafted me and helped me out lots along the way, and that's where I want to be, in Calgary and playing for this team," says Wotherspoon. "But things happen and it's a business and in the end, I just want to be where I'm wanted and where I can help out the most."


    Conroy says there will be legit opportunity this fall.

    "When you're a player, you're always looking at depth charts, you're always looking at who has one-way contracts and is there an opportunity for me," says Conroy. "If you look at where we are, I think there is an opportunity. We have young guys in the American League. We have a spot or two, depending on how guys play. If a guy plays so well, we're going to make a spot for you."


    New Coach Means Fresh Start

    Wotherspoon says he's anxious to get started with new head coach Glen Gulutzan.

    "Oh, I'm excited. Everything I've heard about Glen has been all positive and great things," says Wotherspoon. "He seems like a great guy, great coach, and I'm just looking forward to getting training camp started."

    Two years ago, it wasn't until his fourth call-up of the season that he actually drew into Bob Hartley's line-up and it was the meaningless regular season finale in Winnipeg. You can see how a player might conclude that the coach didn't have a lot of faith in him.


    First impression from Gulutzan has been quite the opposite. After speaking with him for the first time a couple days ago by telephone, Wotherspoon says he is feeling good.

    "He told me he's happy that the negotiations have finalized. Now we can look forward to training camp and that he's seen me over the last couple years with my last couple stints and that he's excited and believes in me," says Wotherspoon. "It's always nice to have the head coach have some confidence in you. It just makes you that much more anxious for training camp to start."


    Much like how Treliving did his own background checks before hiring Gulutzan, Wotherspoon's network of hockey connections have provided him with his own intel on his new boss. The reviews have all been good.

    "I know (former Portland Winterhawks head coach) Travis Greene really well, who is with the AHL affiliate in Vancouver, and he's said great things about him," said Wotherspoon. "We've never met personally but I know a lot of guys that know him and every person I've spoken to has said great things about him and the way he's coached. Even players that I know that have been under him have said great things so I'm excited to meet him and get the season going."

    Conroy says the fresh start is not just an opportunity for Wotherspoon but for many players.

    "With a whole new staff, everyone is starting with a clean slate," says Conroy. "Obviously I think they know Gio and Brodie and those guys but hey, there's opportunity there.

    "I just see this as a great opportunity for Wotherspoon. I'm pumped that he's signed and we've got him back in the fold and he's got a comfort level now. He knows what it's going to take and now he's got to come in and take a job, take one of the jerseys and say, I'm not leaving, I'm staying."


    Turning Point Last Season

    Wotherspoon comes into camp coming off a strong finish to 2015-16, a turnaround kick-started by being made a healthy scratch by Stockton coach Ryan Huska for a game in January.

    "He was playing OK but the urgency and the push that we wanted to see with him just wasn't where it should be and what he was capable of," said Huska about the decision. "It was a tell-tale time of his year in regards to how he would handle it and he handled it the right away by making himself better because of it. From that point, he was a lot more dialed in. He was a lot more engaged. I think it was just a reminder of how hard he needed to play and work every day."

    Reflecting on that moment, Wotherspoon says it was decision time for him.

    "At that point in the year, as a lot of players are, they can get frustrated. I was at a point where I felt like I just wasn't having the year I wanted to be having," says Wotherspoon. "I felt I had a couple good stints up in Calgary, I felt like I could play up there. It was a part of my year where I was frustrated, wasn't getting the results that I wanted. Maybe sitting out that game, made me realize that I just need to buckle down and work hard and worry about myself and just do the best I can because I know I can be a good player.

    From then on, I let all the thinking go to the side, and just let my play do the talking and just starting working harder to focus on that."

    Resurrecting his status as a key go-to defenceman for the Heat eventually led to a call-up to Calgary, an opportunity in which he took full advantage. Over the 11 games he accumulated, he averaged over 14 minutes of ice time. While that is still a small sampling, of all the Flames to play at least 10 games, he finished with the highest SAT% at 53.39. Aka Corsi, that reflects the ratio of shot attempts created versus given up while on the ice at 5-on-5.

    He passed the eye-test too, looking more confident and assertive on the ice.

    "Over the last three years, I've really matured as a player. Having the ups and downs of getting called up and getting sent down and has really taught me a lot," says Wotherspoon. "At the end of last season, I tried to push as hard as I could to show them that I'm still a player that can play in the NHL. I feel like I did that with my call-ups and that they still believe in me and it set me up for this off-season to be more excited about next year."



    Final Word

    Wotherspoon has spent most of his summer back home in B.C., other than a couple trips to Portland, Oregon, which is the hometown of his fiancé. The wedding is planned for next summer.

    An admitted big Olympics follower, the other thing keeping him busy besides the regular off-season training has been watching the Summer Games in Rio.

    "Trying to catch as much as possible, whenever I'm free. I'm a big track fan so seeing (Andre) De Grasse perform against (Usain) Bolt. That was big to watch," says Wotherspoon. "I loved all the hype leading up to it too. It's fun to watch and Bolt himself, I liked being able to witness that and also see a Canadian do so well."

    Heck, with a breakout season for the Flames in 2016-17 and with a top-four role potentially lying in wait a year from now, Wotherspoon could be the subject of the hype around Calgary a year from now. If so, he could also be in line for a nice raise too.

    "Around the league, he's still a bit of an unknown at the NHL level," says Conroy. "But if he can get into a bunch of games this year, that next contract when he comes calling, he's going to be looking for more -- one-way and bigger money."

    Wouldn't that make for a nice wedding gift.



    By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

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    Sunday, August 14, 2016

    FF80F Podcast: Episode 4 - Flames TV's Ryan Leslie Joins for Some Summer Hockey Chatter


    Determined to quench your thirst for off-season hockey talk, I recorded another podcast this weekend. On Saturday, the always-entertaining and well-connected Ryan Leslie stopped by my home recording studio (aka my kitchen) and together, we ripped off episode No. 4.

    The former Sportsnet broadcaster and current host of Flames TV had the distinction of being the first to join me in using my new Blue Yeti microphone. So yet another milestone achieved as I slowly but surely figure out this world of podcasting.

    That said, there were still some learnings. Standing out this time was how noticeable it is when someone (first name rhymes with Bryan) taps his hand or fist on the island, in which the microphone was placed. Yes, that's what that thumping noise is that you'll hear periodically. I was able to dampen it in post-production but not remove it. But hey, Ryan is a passionate guy on some of the topics we discussed so it's all good. Hopefully the body language comes across in the final product.


    Topics Broached
    • Ryan takes us behind the scenes with a glimpse into what happens on Flames charters, etc.
    • We look ahead briefly to Penticton (more in-depth preview to come in early September)
    • Who will log the most games on RW on the top line?
    • Who will the coaching change benefit the most, and who could be negatively impacted?
    • What is the one thing that despite the sunny and optimistic outlook, could turn the upcoming season into one of dark and cloudy skies.
    • Who are the leading candidates for alternate captain (replacing Kris Russell) 
    • Assortment of other random musings

    Options to Download/Listen

    Earlier in the week, Flames at 80 Decibels was added to iTunes and that milestone, which required the creation of an RSS feed, means it should now be available via your favourite podcast player or app. Here are a few of the more popular links to where you can download the latest episode:
    Catching up On What You've Missed

    The good news about summer podcasts is for the most part, they're all still very much relevant. After all, there hasn't been much Flames news lately. So if you haven't heard them yet and find yourself heading out on vacation and needing something to listen to, download the whole series. Here are links to summaries of what you'll find on each of the first three episodes:
    • Episode 3 - On August 5, I connected with Mr. Kerr again, this time to dig into a variety of other off-season topics like the Gaudreau/Monahan contract 'stalemate', Troy Brouwer and expansion.
    • Episode 2 - In the more technically-sound second episode (thanks to Rob Kerr's audio equipment) on July 19, Rob joined me as co-host and we debated the Flames season-opening roster. 
    • Episode 1 - In the July 11 impromptu pilot, featuring zero technology, I recapped development camp. This was was a solo effort with sub-part technology but fresh on the heels of the prospects being in town, lots of good stuff discussed.

    This remains a work in progress technically, especially fumbling my way through post-production but I'm learning something new every podcast and I think they're sounding great. I appreciate your patience and thanks for listening!



    By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

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    Thursday, August 11, 2016

    Bad NHL Contracts and Dandelions: Difficult to Eliminate, Your Best Hope is to Minimize

    When you spend most of your time staring at your own backyard, it's easy to find faults. Crabgrass in the veggie patch, black knot fungus in the lilac bushes, a couple patio blocks not quite level.

    If you have too much time on your hands as is often the case in the summer, it can become all consuming. You start dwelling on it as you sit on your adirondack chair, sipping your morning latte.

    Sometimes the best remedy when you're suffering the backyard blues is to go for a walk. Throw the leash on the dog, download Pokemon Go (or your favourite Flames podcast), whatever it takes, just get out there and take a look at how other backyards in the neighborhood are doing.

    Chances are, once you see the strewn mess that exists in most people's backyards, you'll return home feeling a whole lot better about your own situation.


    Enter Troy Brouwer

    There's been a lot of debate about the contentious Troy Brouwer free agent signing on July 1 for four years and $18 million.

    Critics suggest the $4.5 million will hurt the Flames down the road. Too much money and for too long of term has been the popular refrain. While I fully agree Brouwer at $3.5 million annually for three years would have been a far more palatable pact, that offer wouldn't have got it done.

    Well some will argue then it should never have happened, I do understand where general manager Brad Treliving and the Flames are coming from and why they were willing to pay a little more and go that extra year to get their guy, in what was a weak free agent class.

    This is a player that for lack of a better term, checked a lot of boxes in terms of what the club was desperately looking for:
    • Proven Goal Scorer - With 140 goals over his last seven seasons, that's an average of 20 per season. While that will eventually drop off, there is no indication a decline is imminent, especially if he ends up seeing time on the top line.
    • Right-Hand Shot - Some left-hand shots are capable of playing right wing, but they still shoot left. The team specifically wanted to add a right-shot at forward on the power play as it makes for a different look, makes it harder to defend and should generate better results.
    • Good Penalty Killer - Calgary was the worst shorthanded team in the league last year. New personnel should be considered a plus.
    • Leader - 'Good in the room' is cliche, but there's truth to it also. Whether you're constructing a company or a sports team, leadership is a necessary ingredient. The Flames have older players in Matt Stajan, Deryk Engelland and Dennis Wideman, but the date on one's birth certificate does not make you a leader. If the dressing room is in need of a guy that is vocal and not afraid to challenge guys a little bit, Brouwer comes with that reputation.
    • Big-Game Experience - He's played in twice as many game 7's (eight of them) as Mark Giordano has played playoff games. At 15 post-season series, that's more than the number of playoff games for most Flames players. His 98 playoff games dwarfs the next guy on the list, which is Dennis Wideman at 55. With Wideman likely gone after this season, that would leave Michael Frolik next at only 38 post-season games.

    You can dispute the importance of so-called intangibles like leadership and experience and there are certainly some, who overvalue them, but they are a significant part of Brower's make-up and believe in them or not, it's those qualities that made him such a coveted player for Calgary.

    The Flames are a team that has its sights set on the playoffs and it's at that time of year in particular where I'd expect Brouwer's value on a young and inexperienced team to go up exponentially.


    Is it a Weed or a Yellow Flower?

    Is it really that horrible of a deal? I get that a four-year contract starting at age 31 doesn't sound ideal. After all, it wasn't that long ago that Curtis Glencross, just one year older at that time, was told by 30 NHL GMs to go back to ranching.

    But then again, then there's a guy like Joel Ward, who has many of the same qualities as Brouwer.

    San Jose's rugged right-shooting winger has a nice scoring touch, a reputation for playing his best in big games, is a good penalty killer, isn't bad on the power play and was a key cog for the team last season. He sniped 21 goals and 43 points in the regular season and notched another seven goals in the playoffs -- tied for third on the team -- as the Sharks made it to the Stanley Cup final.

    Ward's similarities to Brouwer go back to the start -- Ward went undrafted, Brouwer was a 7th round pick. Where they differ is Ward's impactful 2015-16 season, the first of a three-year deal, came at age 35. That's one year older than Brouwer will be after playing out the final year of his deal with the Flames.


    The Age 34 Divide

    What even the harshest of Brouwer skeptics can take solace in is when you look around, you'll find there are worse contracts out there, many of them in the same neighbourhood.

    For the sake of argument and scratching the Ward testimony from the record, let's say the Brouwer contract is for one year too long and regression will set in at age 34.

    At forward, here's how Brouwer's deal stacks up comparatively in the Pacific Division. Listed is the amount of term that will be remaining when each player enters his 34-year-old season:
    • C Ryan Kesler, Ana - four more years at $6.9M
    • LW Milan Lucic, Edm - one more year at $6M
    • RW Loui Eriksson, Van - three more years at $6M
    • RW Dustin Brown, LA - four more years at $5.9M
    • RW Marian Gaborik, LA - five more years at $4.9M
    • RW Troy Brouwer, Cal - one more year at $4.5M

    Damn, there is potentially all sorts of black knot fungus in that group. I would argue that many of the contracts on that list will turn out to be bigger headaches than what Calgary will be faced with.

    Look beyond forward and there are others in the division too. Arizona goaltender Mike Smith, 34, still has three years remaining at $5.7 million in annual average value. You wonder if he hasn't already been passed on the depth chart.


    Perfect World 

    Ideally, every player would agree to sign only for what they're worth and all contracts would be designed to either terminate or drop in average annual value as players age and their skills erode. If only there wasn't an NHLPA.

    Of course, as Jaromir Jagr and Alexander Semin have demonstrated, the age at which decline happens and how severe the drop-off is, is something that can vary significantly from player to player.

    But, no world is perfect, especially not the world that is the National Hockey League.

    Consistent with any industry in which there is an element of supply and demand, certain players that are in limited supply due to their attributes will cost more. They've got the leverage, it's that simple. They will also often get longer term than ideal because once again, they can.

    The reality is sometimes you need to overpay -- sometimes in average annual value, sometimes in term, often in both, to get what you need. Especially if you have identified a pressing and very specific need. The theory at work is you're better off overpaying for exactly what you need, than paying less for someone substandard, who doesn't address what you're looking for.


    Final Word

    Oh, we all yearn for a pristine backyard. Lush grass, koi pond, natural stone waterfall, perfectly level stained-concrete patio.

    But that is the stuff of dreams and HGTV.

    Back to reality, even the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, as nice as their backyard looks with Lord Stanley's mug perched in the middle, still has some rough patches. Marc-Andre Fleury, owned $5.75 million the next three years, will be an expensive back-up goalie the next few years if Matt Murray remains the starter. Chris Kunitz soon turns 37 and has another year to go at $3.85 million.

    Sure, three years from now, that contract of Brouwer's may end up hurting the club but while that's a factor to consider, it should not be a reason to not do it. If you identify him as a piece to the puzzle that can help you win right now -- as in the next two-to-three seasons -- that's your risk-reward equation.

    As you gaze into your backyard, it's easy to start daydreaming and lose yourself in what could be years down the road. But sometimes you need to live in the present too. As they say in baseball, flags fly forever.



    By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new Calgary stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues I enjoyed and I'll also sometimes use that space to weigh in on the news of the day.

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