Free agency frequently brings a variety of deals that range from astute to downright absurd. This year’s free agency period was no different.
While there are a variety of teams that have appeared to alter their talent level significantly for better or worse, the Calgary Flames easily had some of the most head-scratching moves.
Flames GM Darryl Sutter navigated the opening day of free agency by securing contracts for Alex Tanguay and Olli Jokinen. This obviously surprised many in the media and fans alike, since Sutter had previously set both players adrift via trade.
Another curious move that has been overshadowed by the two high profile signings was the buyout of Nigel Dawes. Dawes had a solid season for the Flames last year with a 4.8 GVT and a cap hit of $850,000 next season, before becoming a restricted free agent the following summer.
Obviously to compete in a capped league, teams must efficiently use their cap space. For the Flames, it makes sense to take a look at the moves made by Sutter with respect to the player’s performance and their salary cap numbers.
2007-2010 Plus Kotalik's
Average (3 Seasons) N. Dawes A. Tanguay O. Jokinen Wasted Salary
Cap Hit 0.85 1.7 3.0 6.0
Age 25 30 31 --
GVT 4.4 7.1 9.9 9.9
Pts / 60 1.73 2.08 1.74 1.74
Corsi / 60 6.45 -1.28 -0.11 -0.11
Corsi QoC -0.312 -0.532 0.476 0.476
Corsi QoT 4.76 -1.23 -1.52 -1.52
(% offensive) 57.5% 52.0% 52.5% 52.5%
Shooting % 8.50% 10.90% 7.92% 7.92%
GVT per $ (in M) 5.18 4.18 3.30 1.65
*According to CapGeek.com, the Dawes buyout will cost the Flames $141k
this season and next in cap space.
All performance figures in the table are 3-year averages to ensure we’re evaluating the players over a more extensive period of time than just last season. Sometimes memories can be short and sway perception of a player’s value. Stats can do the same thing if the sample size isn’t large enough.
Using GVT as the principle measure of value, the Tanguay signing made a lot of sense, and frankly so did the Jokinen deal if evaluated purely on its own.
When we looked at the Tomas Plekanec contract, the best value among the comparable players was Mike Richards (3.03 GVT per $M). This year’s crop of free agents with a GVT greater than 4 will end up with an average of 2-3 GVT per $M given the contracts we’ve seen so far.
The deals for Tanguay and Jokinen appear to present better value than that benchmark, and the risk presented by their age has been mitigated by 1 and 2-year deals respectively.
Tanguay has a very impressive point production rate and is capable of being a first-line player. In his first 9 seasons in the league, he averaged 13.5 GVT until bombing with Tampa Bay last season. He has a track record of playing well with Iginla too, which won’t hurt.
On the subject of Jokinen, the real confusion comes when we consider the true cap and salary hit to the Flames that can be attributed to Sutter’s deal with the Rangers last year. This doesn’t even take into account what the Flames gave up to get Jokinen in the first place.
The Flames are left with a player in Kotalik who clearly has no place on the team, but carries either a cap hit of $3M or possibly just the salary drain if he clears waivers successfully. In this case, Jokinen has cost Calgary $6M given that he conceivably could have been kept for the remainder of last season and re-signed without taking on Kotalik’s contract.
Jokinen is a player who provides enough value to be a top 6 forward on any team. He has produced despite playing with below-average line-mates and against tough competition. He wasn’t a great fit alongside Iginla last year, but could easily center the second line and be very effective with Rene Bourque and Glencross or Hagman on the other wing. The only myth to dispel regarding the big center is his finnish (pun intended). Despite being hailed as a scorer by many, his pedestrian shooting percentage (7.92%) is nothing to brag about.
Buying out Dawes makes even less sense now that we’ve taken a closer look. Dawes was definitely the recipient of premium ice time by starting the majority of his shifts in the offensive zone and rarely facing the opposition’s top lines. However, he produced at a decent rate and had a very affordable cap hit for a player on the 2nd or 3rd line. The Flames saved $710k in cap space by buying him out and subsequently spent $600k on Raitis Ivanans (-2.4 GVT) and $550k on Tim Jackman (-1.1 GVT).
The Flames finished last season with the 5th worst Goals For per 60 minutes at even strength. Therefore, it seems strange to buy out a productive secondary scorer with a manageable salary. Given that Dawes is only 25, he could sustain his production for the next 4-5 years if the Flames could sign him to an efficient RFA tender at the end of the season.
In the end, the Tanguay and Jokinen signings were good value for the money spent, despite the odd circumstances surrounding the players’ return under the same GM that let them depart. However, the Dawes buyout and Kotalik’s salary are enough to counter the progress made. At this point, the Flames have likely shuffled the deck chairs instead of having made genuine progress.
Ryan Popilchak is a contributor to Puck Prospectus and writes for Sports Opinionated. You can contact Ryan at email@example.com.
Ryan Popilchak is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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