Saturday, June 17, 2017

Protection List Priorities: Hurt Feelings Should be the Least of Treliving's Concerns

How would you classify hurt feelings, anyway? Upper body injury?

The Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft is upon us and with that has come numerous theories including some head-scratchers on who Calgary is going to protect and why, when they submit their list of protected players to the NHL on Saturday afternoon.

Conventional wisdom, which is a fancy way of saying common sense, has the Flames protecting these seven forwards:
  • Sean Monahan
  • Johnny Gaudreau
  • Sam Bennett
  • Mikael Backlund
  • Michael Frolik
  • Micheal Ferland
  • Curtis Lazar

For me, it's the obvious choices. Like obvious, obvious. Any straying from this list would be akin to severely overthinking it. Like removing the retro reds from your list of favourite Flames sweater designs and substituting in the black horse head.

Nonetheless, if you read enough mock drafts as everybody not named Brad Treliving takes their own stab at guessing Calgary's protected list, the point of variation up front is with slots No. 6 and 7.

In these instances, the first thing I wonder is if the author has simply used the wrong definition of mock by mistake. While what we're typically going for with mock draft is "make a replica or imitation of something", an alternate definition of mock as taken verbatim from my trusted Oxford dictionary is "tease or laugh at in a scornful or contemptuous manner".

It does give one pause for thought, yet I believe these varying authors were being quite serious.

Who it Should Be

It's not complicated why the choices for sixth and seventh forward are as indicated.

Micheal Ferland

Finally, he put it all together. Finally, the big guy that crushes guys like a cruise missile yet also has great wheels, thinks the game smartly and has remarkably soft hands, demonstrated that long-awaited consistency in his game. Finally all those individual qualities ended up bundled together and put on display nightly.

From Feb. 21 when they were put together in Nashville right through the end of the regular season (then through the playoffs too), Ferland played on the Flames No. 1 line with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau.

It was the fit Calgary had long been looking for. Over that period, Gaudreau was tied for second in the NHL with 22 even-strength points (behind only Patrick Kane with 23). Meanwhile, Monahan's 18 points were tied for 10th.

Go back a little further to that game against the Senators on Jan. 26 (first game after the Glen Gulutzan post-game eruption in Montreal and subsequent team train ride to Ottawa) and Ferland had 10 goals at five-on-five in 29 games.

In what ends up being well over one-third of the season, that ranked him 1st on the Flames by far on an ES goals-per-game basis and 23rd in the NHL -- two spots behind Sidney Crosby and one rung ahead of Nikita Kucherov.

Finishing the year with a career-best 15 goals, Ferland just turned 25. You absolutely hang onto this guy.

Curtis Lazar

Last year at the trade deadline, the Flames used a second round pick from this year's draft to acquire Lazar from Ottawa.

From the outset, the team lauded his upside but said it was a long-term play. This was a move made with the future in mind, not the present. This was not your classic trade deadline rental in any way, shape or form and this was reinforced by how he was utilized through March and April by coach Gulutzan, or not utilized.

Calgary was ultra conservative with him and he never got into the line-up until a playoff spot was clinched. He wasn't part of the playoff mix either until desperation set in for game 4.

The Flames careful handling of him was all about getting him acclimated to the team and city, comfortable with Gulutzan's system, all designed to best set him up for success when his fresh start kicks in officially at the start of this year's training camp.

When the team made that trade, they knew the expansion draft was coming, they also knew the protection limit for forwards and the ramifications of adding in Lazar, yet they made the deal anyway. They made that deal because they have zero intention of losing him to Vegas.

Who it Should Not Be

Matt Stajan

First of all, I love Stajan and would take him on my team any day. Great guy in the room, superb mentor for the team's young centers, plays with emotion, is versatile, can kill penalties and last year was a guy with an uncanny knack for turning other player's seasons around. It became a real and acknowledged thing in that dressing room where guys in slumps would be jettisoned down to the 4th line for 'seasoning' with Stajan. Sure enough, they'd find their way again and his work had been done.

That said, Matt gets it and he would be the first guy to tell you that he knows where he slots in at this stage in his career. He's a fourth line player and he's making a heck of a lot of money in today's NHL for someone cast in that role. He'll turn 34 in December and has one year remaining on his contract that pays him a cool $3.125 million.

Vegas GM George McPhee is looking for pieces he can build around for multiple seasons or assets that he can flip in trades to bring in pieces they can build around. No disrespect to Stajan but he's no longer either of those things. There is zero reason for Vegas to take him, which means there is zero reason for Calgary to use up one of the coveted protection spots to protect him.

Alex Chiasson

In a bottom six role, Chiasson was an effective player for the Flames. A dozen goals was also nice output from a depth player.

He's good on the penalty kill, has the size to get after loose pucks in the corner and come away with them. All that and you paid just $800,000 for him last season.

A better player than Lazar right now, I just don't see a great upside in Chiasson. Watching him on the top line for half the year was painful. So if that's the decision point and it should be, I gamble on Lazar's upside every time. Maybe he won't ever realize it but I'm willing to take that chance. But Calgary could very well lose Chiasson to Vegas as a result.

Troy Brouwer

OK, I'm going to need more than three paragraphs for this one.

The Weak Case for Protecting Brouwer

The narrative most commonly linked with speculation that Calgary will protect Brouwer is that he might have hurt feelings if you don't.

Oh please.

We're talking about a mature adult about to turn 32, not an emotionally-fragile 14-year-old teenager concerned about his or her Snapchat streak.

Besides, $4.5 million annually can buy you a lot of boxes of tissue. Even if you don't have a Costco membership. Even if you opt for the expensive triple-ply versions.

As a business, hockey is a two way street and on July 1, 2016, that squeal of rubber was Brouwer gunning it through the intersection in a Lamborghini, music blaring.

One year later, Brouwer is heading the other direction and metaphorically stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Heck, cynical fans would argue he has barely moved over that period.

But does anyone really think this would be the tipping point for Brouwer? That this would be the incident that makes him upset.

What about that morning he showed up to work at the Saddledome and found out he had been dropped to the fourth line. How about the time he learned he had also been removed from the power play (although he returned to that unit a few games later.)  How about when the playoffs began and he was still on the fourth line. How about in game 4 against Anaheim with the season on the line when his linemates for that crucial tilt were Lazar and Freddie Hamilton.

Man, if he is that tender emotionally, that ship has been in the water and sailing for a long time now.

Common Sense Must Prevail

While the team can beat its chest and proclaim loyalty to a veteran player and key part of the team's leadership group by protecting him, there are a couple other choice words that come to mind if the team was to make a poor choice and list Brouwer amongst its protected players on Saturday.

Selfish - By protecting Brouwer because you fear he might get upset, the team would be forced to give up a better or younger player as a result. It could be 22-year-old Lazar and his alluring, untapped upside. Heck, as asinine as it sounds, it could be Ferland.

Making misguided sentimental decisions like that in the business of pro sports is the stuff that can flatline an organization. It's not how you win championships, it's how you move further and further away from even making the playoffs.

Dumb - Brouwer is a smart guy. While it will require leaving his ego (and note that all professional athletes have a certain level of professional pride and/or cockiness) at the door, he should get that the smart decision for the team is to protect the guys that would be taken otherwise.

Brouwer's poor season and big contract with three years remaining has basically made him protected without actually having to protect him. Why would Vegas go there? They'll have a myriad of alternate ways to get to the cap floor. The McPhee connection (he traded for Brouwer when he was GM of the Capitals) is a curious one but we're going back a long ways. Not sure I'm buying it.

Thus, if it's not realistic that you'll lose Brouwer, and if losing him and the $13.5 million remaining on his deal over the next three years is something you can live with should the unexpected happen and he gets plucked, then why waste a protection spot on him. The smart play is use it for guys that would be more tempting for Vegas to acquire -- young guys with upside like Lazar or coming off breakthrough seasons like Ferland.

Would Handle it Like a Pro

One thing I must emphasize is Brouwer has not said himself that he would have hurt feelings if he's left unprotected.

It's a safe assumption he would be irritated to some degree given he was a high profile signing a year ago that wears a latter, who plays in all manpower situations, but it's hard to imagine he'd be all that surprised.

He's a pro. It's not like he's going to hold a grudge for three seasons. He's not going to mope around like Eeyore for the next several months. If that was his make-up when Treliving was doing all his background checks on him a year ago, he wouldn't be on the team today. He certainly would not be wearing an 'A'.

For Brouwer, the writing has been on the wall for a long time that this outcome was one that was a very real possibility. He knows he spent the most important part of the season on the fourth line. Generally that won't get you into the top seven come protection time.

Plus, if he does end up mad and comes out this season with a chip on his shoulder and plays with something to prove, that wouldn't be a bad thing. In fact, that would be an excellent thing.

More emotion, more snarl, a greater physical presence, playing pissed off would elevate Brouwer's game significantly as those were ingredients noticeably lacking last year and a big part of the player Calgary thought they were getting.

Final Word

Assuming Brouwer goes unclaimed and is back with the team next season, I might be in the minority but I expect him to have a better year in 2017-18.

When you sign in a new city, there's an adjustment that comes with a new team, city, coach and systems. It wasn't exactly the ideal start either with Calgary the worst team in the league those first five or six weeks, which I can imagine compounded the adjustment period for a guy that has always been a part of perennial playoff teams.

For a while, he might have been the one re-thinking his decision to sign in Calgary, more than the other way around.

For those looking for positives, I defer you to the roller coaster three seasons that Deryk Engelland had in Calgary.

You will surely remember when he was everyone's whipping boy in his first season after signing an exorbitant and heavily criticized free agent deal with Calgary. The signing was detested and by association, the player was detested also.

But as the years passed, Engelland settled in, he played better, there became an appreciation in the fan base for those intangibles that he brought to the team, and the boos faded. By the end, he had become one of the more respected and revered players.

While most fans have already given up on Brouwer, leaving him unprotected would not be an admission that the hockey team has done the same. It would merely be the smart business decision and a way to keep as much of the core/future parts of this hockey club intact as possible.

It's a decision that will make the team better and if Brouwer handles it the right way, that will also make the team better.

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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  1. Good summary. I've been expecting Alex to go to Vegas since December when his play seemed to noticeably improve. It would be better for the Flames I think than losing Kulak because we have some young forwards that look ready to make the jump and the extra spot would be helpful, especially if Troy has a bounce-back year.
    Plus of course we are not exactly deep on defense.
    But doesn't Alex have to agree to go since he is an unsigned UFA? I don't see Vegas offering him 2MM+ to sign so unless BT has told him already that he won't be back I don't see Alex going there.
    I hope it happens because then we have more than enough young bodies to fill D5-D7 and just need one D4 while Oliver develops.
    I guess we'll know in a few days, but what do you think the chances are that Alex ends up in Vegas?

    1. Thanks for the note. Chiasson is an unsigned RFA so is free to be selected. He has arbitration rights but one way or another, he will be fairly easy to sign as his options are limited so Vegas will not be concerned about that.

      There isn't a real obvious choice from the Flames. Brett Kulak is a possibility, as is Hunter Shinkaruk, and despite everything that has been said, I won't rule out Troy Brouwer either. George McPhee is on record as saying he does need to identify some leadership to help pull the team together and not many players wearing a letter will be available. We'll wait and see, indeed.