Placed LW Niklas Hagman on re-entry waivers where he was subsequently claimed by the Anaheim Ducks (November 12 and November 14, 2011)
Claimed LW Blake Comeau off waivers from the New York Islanders(November 25, 2011)
If there is a truism that runs true across all sports, it is that new management likes to bring in new players, to stamp their own identities on the rosters representing them. 11 months ago, Jay Feaster, largely underemployed since resigning from his post as GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning after the 2007-08 season had run its course, was tasked with replacing Darryl Sutter as GM of the Calgary Flames. Shackled by a horrendous ownership group Tampa consisting of Len Barrie, Oren Koules, and Brian Lawton, Feaster preferred his own path. That path led back to the NHL approximately 24 months later, as the Calgary Flames brought him in as an assistant to the embattled Sutter in July 2010. Three days after Christmas, still in his first season with the franchise, Sutter (the GM) stepped down and Feaster was back on top of an NHL team.
Counting active players acquired while Feaster was still only the second in command, 11 out of 26 players currently counted against Calgary's cap were picked up on his watch. His most recent addition also involved (in a roundabout way) wiping away one more part of a horrendous Sutter trade consummated only six months prior to his receiving help, which saw former Norris Trophy nominee Dion Phaneuf packaged with towering young blueliner Keith Aulie, and defensive forward Fredrik Sjostrom to Toronto in exchange for defenseman Ian White, center Matt Stajan, and wingers Jamal Mayers and Niklas Hagman. With Hagman now having been claimed off re-entry waivers by the Anaheim Ducks, the still disappointing Stajan is Calgary's only remnant from that transactional disaster. And with the four-year contract extension given to the Mississauga native a mere 29 days after being acquired, nothing short of a buyout will excise Stajan from the Calgary roster until after the 2014 playoffs.
For Calgary 2009-10 (post-trade) 2010-11 2011-12 (as of Nov. 20)
Niklas Hagman 1.6 2.4 0.9
Jamal Mayers 0.5 N/A N/A
Matt Stajan 1.7 4.0 -0.3
Ian White 4.6 0.2 N/A
Anton Babchuk* N/A 9.8 0.5
Totals 8.4 16.4 1.1
*In mid-2010-11 Ian White was traded along with Brett Sutter to Carolina for Anton
Babchuk and Tom Kostopoulos. While Kostopoulos was more productive than young Sutter,
this analysis will focus on the offensive defensemen portion of the trade.
For Toronto 2009-10 (post-trade) 2010-11 2011-12 (as of Nov. 20)
Keith Aulie N/A 0.5 N/A
Dion Phaneuf 2.4 7.3 3.3
Fredrik Sjostrom 0.0 -1.5 N/A
Totals 2.4 4.4 3.3
Looking at the raw GVT of players in Calgary compared to players in Toronto, the Flames hold the clear retrospective edge. Looking further, we can see that much of the edge came from Anton Babchuk, who excelled in a partial 2010-11 for the Flames after representing the key component of the return for Ian White, shipped to Carolina after Feaster joined the Flames brain trust. With Babchuk's contribution taken away, Calgary got practically as much from their players last year as Toronto did, and even with Babchuk this year, Dion Phaneuf's resurgence alone looks to greatly outstrip the remaining contributions of that trade for Calgary. If we presume that 22-year-old Keith Aulie (projected by VUKOTA for 1.4 GVT this year) will continue off his return from the AHL to build off the promising debut he had for the Leafs last year, this deal will look more and more lopsided as time passes. In our math, we should also account for an extra roster spot opened up for Toronto through the deal.
While it was quite clear that Darryl Sutter was in over his head, this post is neither meant to excoriate nor exonerate him for his role in creating what is now the 27th-ranked team in the NHL. This post is here to stick with the facts and follow the trail of NHLers as they move from employer to employer. The facts in this case are that Calgary, after failing to get rid of Niklas Hagman through the waiver wire last season, pulled off the trick this time, although as the Ducks made their move on re-entry waivers, Calgary is still on the hook for half of what remained on his $3 million salary, guaranteeing that they would be responsible for approximately $1,768,000 for the departed Finn.
Although a disappointment from the moment he pulled the Flames jersey over his shoulders, Hagman was actually relatively productive when allowed on the ice for his former team this year, tallying 0.9 GVT in only eight games, a pace that would see him reach the lofty heights of 9.2 GVT over a full season, a mark that would rank as the second best of his career. As is, the three-time 20-goal scorer only lit the lamp 17 times in 106 games for Calgary. As his play declined, so did some telling factors in his advanced metrics. Although the indispensable behindthenet.ca only goes back to 2007-08 (his first 20-goal season), we can see that the three-time Olympian has always had solid Corsi numbers, but that his offensive start rates have fallen drastically since leaving Toronto. Hagman was protected to the tune of 57.4% offensive zone starts in his breakout 27-goal season with Dallas in 2007-08. Dropping to 54.9% in 2008-09 as a Maple Leaf, he scored 22 goals in only 65 games. Splitting the following season between the Blue and White and the Red and Yellow, the winger was in the offensive zone on 55.9% of his faceoffs. Although the vast majority of his damage came before the trade, 25 goals is nothing to sneeze at. Last year, his first full season under the thumb of coach Brent Sutter, Hagman's O-zone faceoff rate dropped to 51.1%, as he scored a mere 11 goals in 71 games. This season, he has been downright defensive, getting only 46.3% of his zone starts in the offensive end. Peering in closer, focusing on the quality of Hagman's teammates and competition, in the previous four seasons he has hovered close to neutral for both. While not horrid this year, both numbers have slipped below all previous levels. In spite of his generally poor play over the past two seasons, Hagman may yet provide some value in limited play before his contract runs after this season*.
*As a Wagman, I would love for Hagman to continue making his presence felt in the NHL. It's the closest I will come to vicarious stardom.
Although the Hagman move was originally ostensibly to make room for the return from injury of Mikael Backlund, dissatisfaction with the undersized and underexperienced Paul Byron, coupled with a interesting opportunity, saw Feaster prove that the waiver wire is not just for dumping players, but can also come in handy to make additions to a roster. Feaster did the trick in picking up left winger Blake Comeau, a 25-year-old coming off a breakout 24-goal season, but who had yet to pick up a single point in 16 games. The former second round pick had a neat little career trajectory going as his 15 point rookie season in 2007-08 was followed by 25 points as a sophomore, 35 points in 2009-10 and 45 points last year. In the last two years, his GVT was more than respectable at 6.1 and then 8.5. Although now 25 and supposedly in his prime, Comeau will not continue on the path he had been laying out for himself.
Rumors had been circulating that Isles' GM Garth Snow had been trying to trade the struggling winger, but could not find a taker. If there is any solace to be found for Islanders fans in this throwaway, it is that the Flames picked up the former Kelowna Rocket on straight waivers (not re-entry) and are thus responsible for his entire remaining salary cap hit this year.
Soon to be a restricted free agent, Comeau, known as a streaky player, will have a chance to prove that his early season play is no more than a bad fluke. In many cases where a player's production craters, one can point to a downward change in offensive zone start rate (like with Hagman) as an explanation. Not so with Comeau, who had actually been far more prone to defensive zone starts historically, hovering near the 45% mark (44.3% last year). In other words, he had been producing something out of nothing. This year, for the first time in his career, the native of Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan has started more than half of his shifts in the offensive zone, at 51% through his first 18 pointless games.
What has changed for Comeau this season has been his linemates. As a lifelong Islander, they have never been great (barring his frequent appearances alongside John Tavares in the latter's rookie campaign), but this year they have fallen to new levels of decrepitude. His center for the second straight year has been Josh Bailey and the enigmatic former ninth overall draft pick has been struggling almost as much as his former teammate with a mere five points in his first 21 games. 34-year-old Marty Reasoner was another frequent linemate, who with only a single point in 18 games, is making a case that his NHL career may be coming to a close.
To Comeau's credit, he has a track record of two-way play, logging important minutes on both special teams. In his first two games as a Flame, Comeau has teamed up with Lee Stempniak playing on his opposite wing with first Roman Horak and then Mikael Backlund as their centers. He has received some time on the power play, but only mere seconds on the penalty kill. In Calgary, Blake Comeau has an opportunity to curry favor in an organization in search of future direction while playing for a coach with whom he has history (Brent Sutter coached him for Team Canada in the 2005-06 WJC). With no fewer than seven other forwards entering unrestricted free agency this offseason, even a moderate resurgence could see the newest Flame stick around for a while.
Ryan Wagman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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