By acquiring a six-pack of new players without long-term contracts or expensive commitments, my feeling is that Darryl Sutter is hedging a bit. This has, without question, been a troubling season from Jarome Iginla. He's Jarmoe'd it up quite a bit, and in alarming ways: He's getting beaten along the boards routinely, makes weak plays with the puck, and doesn't get shots from the danger zones nearly enough.
I'm not convinced yet that he's on the "downside" of his career, but on this Flames team, he lacks a complimentary, distracting talent. Last year, it was Mike Cammalleri, who Sutter apparently thought was not as useful as Olli Jokinen, but somehow managed 39 goals, a lot of them off plays where Iginla was getting all the attention. That's called taking advantage of your opportunities, and we all know how well our Flames have been at that in 2009-2010.
Cammo, who was in the Flames' grasp, could have been that guy. Instead, he's in Montreal, Olli Jokinen is in New York, and the Flames have Iginla and about 10 second- and third-liners to try to score with for the rest of the season.
Now, back to my hedge theory. Sutter has created wiggle room now that he (or, if we're lucky, some new management team) can work with in the off-season to bring in a forward who can actually be that second top-level threat. And in the meantime, he can use the rest of this season to assess the usefulness of each member of an extremely deep, if not extremely dangerous, forward group — then decide who to keep in the off-season.
Before we get to the new forwards, I'll start with Ian White. This is a player I've liked since junior, and as far as swapping talent-for-salary goes, the Phaneuf-for-White move is, frankly, phenomenal. I'll take him for four years at $3M per after this easily, and he'll be a talent and leader on the team for years. From what I could tell in Toronto he (along with Stajan) were the best character players on the team. White's like Andrew Ference with more talent and consistency, and that's a good thing. I also thing he has higher upside than he's already shown, and love that right-handed shot on the PP.
As for the forwards:
MATT STAJAN: In Toronto, Stajan faced the weight of Leafy expectations in a completely unfair manner. Based on draft position and forecasting, my take is he's already having a better career than his expected top-end of playing third-line centre. He's responsible all over the ice, and is on his way to a Daymond Langkow-type career, which is awfully good.
To my eye, he's been value for the Flames so far, figuring his way into some chemistry with Iginla relatively quickly, and scoring a very pretty skate-to-stick goal. Given his UFA status, there's low risk here, but a nice opportunity to sign a quality player ahead of other teams.
NIKLAS HAGMAN: To be honest, I don't get this player. He obviously has mad puck skills, but makes me mad with his stickhandling mishaps at the offensive blue line. Can't figure out the scoring streaks and slumps, either, for a guy who has as good a shot as Hagman does.
But, he's a bona fide 20-goal scorer, and can do it without top-level distribution — and the Flames need that. I'll take it, especially at his price tag.
ALES KOTALIK: Still can't figure this one out. They didn't need him on the power play with Giordano/White/Bouwmeester, and this can't have been a cancelling out of the expiring Jokinen contract. From all indications, in fact, it's a weird deal that allowed the Flames to acquire the seemingly in-decline services of ...
CHRIS HIGGINS: Kent did a nice job in this post of outlining the quality play of Higgins in a Flames jersey (not Flames "silks", a horrible replacement for "uniform" popularized by wordsmithing Herald sportswriters). Those numbers match what the naked eye saw, as well: He's been strong in both ends, and has complimented Kotalik and Daymond Langkow as a great group at producing chances, especially off the cycle.
JAMAL MAYERS: Like I said in an earlier post, he seems good on face-offs. He also appears to get along well with coaches and teammates. Here's hoping Brent realizes he's the 14th forward, and not the third-line centre.
Like I said, the one thing I do like about all these acquisitions is that the Flames are now awfully deep. I like the lines like this coming out of the break/when healthy:
(Conroy, Nystrom, Mayers, McG)
I liked Dawes's ability to play with Langkow earlier in the year, and think Backlund/Kotalik/Bourque could really overwhelm some teams given softer matchups. No reason why Boyd-Moss-Glencross shouldn't be an absolutely killer fourth line, and allow Brent to roll four easily. If Boyd or Conroy can't keep up, Nystrom's at the ready.
I get what they're trying to do splitting up Bouwmeester and Giordano, but I don't really like it. Coming out of the break, I'd rather see more minutes out of the top four.