In a flat cap world, every dollar and every contract matters. The Calgary Flames were fortunate to have almost $17 million to spend this free agency period, and they’ve gone out and bolstered their depth at every single position.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars showed how important good depth is in their run to the Stanley Cup Final just weeks ago, and the Flames have clearly taken note. The days of a static fourth line and nobody in Stockton fighting for a call-up are over; the Flames will have a much deeper lineup next season, whenever it takes place.
Let’s dive into these depth signings.
It seems like the Flames just want their players to be happy. They brought in Dougie Hamilton‘s brother, Freddie, when he was playing here, they acquired Johnny Gaudreau‘s childhood friend, Buddy Robinson, and this offseason they signed two of Elias Lindholm’s best friends, Jacob Markstrom and Nordstrom.
This wasn’t just the Flames doing Lindholm a solid, though. Nordstrom is a veteran of 400 NHL games with the Chicago Blackhawks, Carolina Hurricanes, and most recently the Boston Bruins. In total he’s scored 31 goals and 68 points, with his career highs of 10 goals and 24 points coming in 2015-16 season with Chicago.
Nordstrom is a bottom-six left-winger through and through, and won’t make any kind of real push for top-six or power play minutes. He does have quite the extensive resume on the penalty kill; he’s logged at least 1:40 per game on the PK in all of the past five seasons. He also has two shorthanded goals on his career stat line, and has a very impressive +30 penalty differential all time (61 drawn, 31 taken).
In terms of advanced statistics, Nordstrom has floated around the 50% CF mark his whole career, but really didn’t perform well for Boston last season finishing at just 44.6% CF. He’s also usually below water in xGF%, SCF% and HDCF%, with poor showings across the board last season. All stats taken at 5v5 score-and-venue adjusted, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
He will likely spend time both on the fourth line and in the press box for the Flames next season. Nordstrom is a very average player, but doesn’t hurt his team by taking irresponsible penalties and will munch minutes on the PK.
Dominik Simon looks completely differently than Nordstrom does in terms of underlying numbers, but it needs to be stated right away that his most common linemate for the past few seasons has been Sidney Crosby.
Still, Simon is a useful player who can slot in on both wings, and has shown that he can play with the best of the best as well as lower in the lineup. He has played 173 games in his career and amassed 19 goals and 64 points. His career highs came in 2018-19 when he scored eight goals and 28 points.
In terms of advanced statistics, Simon looks to be a positive player across the board. In 64 games with the Penguins last season, he finished at 52.4% CF, 50.3% xGF, 51.4% SCF. He was underwater in HDCF% finishing at 48.8%, but that was the only season in his career where he didn’t at least hit the 50% mark. Right now, he is around a league average player, which is pretty decent.
On the special teams side, Simon’s role was on the second power play with the Penguins, but it’s tough to tell if he’ll get the same opportunity in Calgary, especially because he shoots left. The Flames have a plethora of left shooting forwards that probably have more upside on the power play. Simon does not kill penalties, but maybe he should.
As seen above, Simon was one of the most effective defensive forwards in the league in 2018-19; he definitely has value as a middle-six or bottom-six winger with penalty kill potential. He averages around 13 minutes per game and that’s exactly what you need out of your depth players.
Joshe Leivo is one of those guys that analytics folks really like and can’t figure out why they don’t get more ice time. Leivo has 169 games of NHL experience under his belt for the Toronto Maple Leafs and most recently the Vancouver Canucks (surprise, surprise). He’s scored 31 goals and 65 points in his career. He scored a career high 10 goals in 2018-19, and a career high 19 points last season.
Leivo had a great stint with the Canucks, despite only suiting up for 36 games. Last season, he finished at 52.6% CF, 52.4% SCF, and 50.1% HDCF. He was barely underwater at 49.8% xGF. In limited usage, Leivo was a great complementary player and deployed mostly in offensive situations. His most common linemates last season were Tanner Pearson and Bo Horvat.
On a cheap deal, Leivo offers positive results on both sides of the ice, finishing above average on even strength offense and even strength defense. He doesn’t offer a great finishing ability though, so having a guy who can shoot the puck on his line is probably ideal.
On the power play, Leivo averaged at least 1:47 per game in each of the past six seasons, with his highest power play usage coming in 2018-19 at 2:39 per game for the Canucks. Leivo does not kill penalties.
The thing about Leivo that sets him apart from the rest of the Flames’ signings is that he is a right shot winger. This immediately gives Leivo a leg up on making the team, as the Flames are severely lacking right shots all over their lineup.
At this point, it seems prudent to pencil Leivo into the starting lineup, perhaps as high as the third line. His skillset and ability to play in both zones looks to be a perfect fit for the Flames’ bottom-six, and his power play experience coupled with a right shot makes him a perfect candidate to take reps on the second unit.
This was a sneaky signing for the Flames that addressed organizational depth on the right side. They added a player who can be relied upon in all three zones, has power play upside, and can play up and down the lineup.
Depth on Defense
The Flames added Alex Petrovic on the first day of free agency. He played the majority of the season in the AHL last season for the Providence Bruins where he scored two goals and 20 points. He’s played 263 NHL games with five goals and 50 points to his name. Petrovic is more of a third-pair shutdown defender, and has a career average of 16:22 TOI per game.
Petrovic was signed to fill in gaping holes on the right side of the blueline, and likely slots in behind Oliver Kylington, Connor Mackey, and Alexander Yelesin on the depth chart. Petrovic couldn’t stay a regular on the Oilers’ blueline last season which is saying something. Even with the departures to the Flames defense corps this offseason, there are several players who Petrovic would have to beat out for a roster spot on the big club.
In terms of advanced statistics, Petrovic is quite bad. He has been underwater in almost all major categories his entire career, and just looks to be a big body defenseman on the rights side.
It’s unlikely he’ll be worthy of a roster spot, but being a RHD that weighs in at 6’4″ and 193 lbs, there’s always a chance Brad Treliving and Geoff Ward opt to play in in games over smaller, more talented defensemen; it’s just the world we live in.
Based on his career to date, it’s reasonable to expect Petrovic to move the needle in the wrong direction whenever he’s on the ice. However, word on the street is that he went through a rough relationship with the game of hockey in general, and has just recently re-found his love for the sport. Whether he’s a rejuvenated player on the ice remains to be seen.
At least the Flames didn’t give up an asset to get him.
One of the latest signings for the Flames this offseason, Nikita Nesterov is a left handed defender who can play on both sides of the ice, but he hasn’t played in the NHL since the 2016-17 season where he split time between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens. The past three seasons he’s played in the KHL for CSKA Moskva, and won an Olympic gold medal in 2018.
Nesterov’s last season in the KHL was quite good. He scored seven goals and 23 points in 53 games, and then put up three points in four playoff games.
When Nesterov was in the NHL, he actually had pretty decent underlying numbers. In his last season between the Lightning and Canadiens, he finished at 53.2% CF, 50.5% SCF, and 46.3% HDCF. He was also broke even on expected goals at 50.0% xGF.
It’s tough to predict what Nesterov will bring in his return to North America, but his results before he left and his play in the KHL the past few years is promising. It’s very possible that Nesterov ends up being the sixth or seventh defenseman for the team after an adjustment period in Stockton.
It doesn’t seem likely that the Flames would give Nesterov a regular NHL role after being in Russia the past three seasons. However, being a flex defender who can slot in on either side is handy and could be the deciding factor between using a Petrovic or Mackey as the seventh defender this season.
Depth in Goal
Before they signed Louis Domingue, the Flames had just two goaltenders with NHL experience in the organization: Markstrom and David Rittich. The Domingue signing is purely to add a layer of insurance to the crease. With a condensed schedule and the high probability of there being lots of back-to-backs, the Flames’ goalies will have their work cut out for them. Having an insurance policy with NHL experience is very valuable, and that’s what Domingue brings.
Treliving is familiar with Domingue from his days with the Arizona Coyotes. Throughout his career in Arizona, Tampa Bay, New Jersey, and Vancouver, Domingue has been a very average goaltender who has struggled to hold down an NHL job and has just as many wins as losses.
His time in Arizona sums up his NHL career perfectly: he outplayed Anders Lindback to earn the starting job while Mike Smith was injured, but was then placed on waivers after losing six straight starts.
Having played both AHL and NHL games over the last three or four seasons, Domingue is a guy with lots of experience playing professional hockey. He’ll be able to push Artyom Zagidulin and Tyler Parsons for jobs in Stockton and serve as a mentor.
This signing is unlike the rest: Domingue won’t be on the NHL roster unless something goes wrong.
Diving into the deep end
The strategy for the Flames this offseason has been quite unique. Using the large unloading of unrestricted free agents, Treliving took it as an opportunity to retool. Clearly the Flames are committed to their core players, and sought to improve the team by adding depth in literally every position.
Bringing on a handful of depth players all at league-minimum or near-minimum contracts, Treliving did a commendable job of navigating the flat cap while providing the Flames with both extra options and appreciated stability.
These moves bring little risk to the Flames but high reward. Between the new additions and the plethora of depth options already in the system, including up and coming prospects, the Flames will have a lot of flexibility in their roster makeup. The opening night roster will depend largely on how these players perform in training camp.
In any case and combination, the Flames now have the opportunity to ice a better team in the upcoming season compared to the last; the added internal competition for the depth spots makes it such that no role is given and every spot earned.
The strategy of bringing on cheap and effective talent is a proven one. Whether these players end up effective in Flames uniforms remains to be known, but at least Treliving went to work and gave his team the best chance of being competitive heading into the 2020-21 season.