Below the surface of a disappointing round two exit for the Calgary Flames, there were some troubling indicators. To be blunt, the lack of physicality from a team deemed by many pundits as “the most physical team in the NHL” this season might be a sign that changes are coming.
While one could tack up much of this up to playing that style for the entire season and in turn placing very high in the standings, ultimately the group lost steam too early and injuries amassed in greater force than what the Edmonton Oilers were dealing with.
One painful truth is that the Flames’ defence group became easy to play against in the normally hard areas to play. The bottom pairing of Erik Gudbranson and Nikita Zadorov were breaking down in the stretch and it’s undeniable that they lost the physical edge that insulated the rest of the group. Without those two maintaining a presence and with Milan Lucic playing through an AC (shoulder) sprain; the Flames top four were exposed.
Only Johnny Gaudreau threw less hits per 60 minutes of ice time than the entire Flames top four.
Comparing that to the top four of the 2012 LA Kings.
Or the top four of the 2014 LA Kings.
And we see this obviously bad group of statistics turn into glaring discrepancy.
All in all, the red line of physical players needs to be that much more present if the Flames are going to go further.
Obviously, the Flames have some bigger fish to fry in the coming weeks. That said, instead of the same old will-they, won’t-they guessing game, we’ll be looking at some realistic unrestricted free agents that might move the needle in the right direction.
Possible Physical Player UFA Additions
RW Josh Archibald – 5’10” – 176lbs – Age: 29
Josh didn’t get much love from the Oilers faithful this season. After refusing to get vaccinated and then falling into a serious case of myocarditis; his NHL career was in doubt.
Despite that, he came back for eight regular season games and 13 playoffs games.
While he has some work to do to get his hands and confidence back, his feet are at where they need to be. Josh threw an astounding 51 hits in 13 playoff games. That translates to 24.89 hits per 60 minutes of play. His speed, aggressive nature and underrated skill with the puck would fit well in a Sutter system.
Archibald’s value is in the air given his controversial year, but will likely still get offered something in the 1-1.5 AAV range.
C Nick Cousins – 5’11” – 192lbs – Age: 28
Cousins isn’t a guy who throws his weight around as much as the other players in this list. With 4.67 hits per 60 minutes of ice time, he averaged less than one hit per game this season— 66 hits in 68 games. Despite that, Nick is a savage player to face in a corner battle or along the wall.
It’s also worth noting that Nick’s physical game elevated when the playoffs began to what would be required in a Sutter system; 11.32 hits per 60 or seven hits in three games. Cousins was given incrementally more ice time as the series went on.
His nine goals and 22 points over 68 games wasn’t insubstantial either and despite his style of play, he only amassed 30 penalty minutes over the season and zero in the playoffs— a stat the Darryl might appreciate.
Cousins’ last deal was a 1.5x2, but with his offensive production slightly declining year over year, he may sign something around a million per year.
LW Nicolas Deslauriers – 6’1” – 220lbs – Age: 31
Anaheim lost a presence when Deslauriers was traded for a third to Minnesota at the deadline. Anaheim was amid a major skid already and suddenly their young stars were playing without a safety net. That became all more apparent when Ducks leading scorer was jumped by Coyotes forward Jay Beagle during a 5-0 Ducks win on April 1st.
Chances are very low that Terry gets the same treatment if Nic was patrolling the ice.
Deslauriers would be an interesting replacement for Milan Lucic if the hulking veteran were to be dealt for cap space. Lucic is by far the better player, but Deslauriers certainly fills a role and has a ten goal season in 17-18 under his belt.
Unfortunately that’s about all the positives that can be said about the winger from LaSalle, Quebec. He was out-chanced 43-28 for a 39.44CF% during the playoffs— a team low. He played 36:49 of ice time over five games and wasn’t on the ice for a high danger opportunity.
Oh, and he was benched for game six against the Blues. Might be a pass on this one.
Deslauriers will land a 1.25ish annual average value somewhere simply due to demand for a nuclear option.
D Ian Cole – 6’1” – 225lbs – Age: 33
Ian Cole taught Flames fans a very hard lesson during round one of the 2019 NHL Playoffs: He’s not a fun guy to be paired up against. Avs Coach Jared Bednar had him paired up against Johnny Gaudreau whenever possible.
One assist in five games for the Flames star.
Cole doesn’t throw a ton of hits— 17 over 14 playoff games this year and 110 over 75 regular season games, but when he makes contact it isn’t pleasant.
Given the market for defencemen, Cole would command around a three million dollar commitment.
C Jay Beagle – 6’3” – 210lbs – Age: 36
Yeah, the guy who beat up Troy Terry. Beagle would play in a similar capacity as Brad Richardson this season, but with much more size.
His two points and -20 in 33 games was horrible, but the Coyotes had issues and Beagle took the brunt of the defensive matchups when healthy. Jay would ideally insulate the lineup and provide an extra body when game day injuries inevitably occur.
The contract for Beagle would come in at under a million.
RW Bokonji Imama – 6’1” – 225lbs – Age: 25
I’ve been following Bokonji since he was drafted late in the 6th round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He has a very cool name.
His game is interesting too. In 17:27 over his first four NHL games, he has a goal, a fight and a brutal 24.32CF%. Two goals for and four against while on the ice. Not ideal, but ten hits in four games for a 33.17 hits per 60 is a factor.
That all said, he just keeps moving up. Imama’s story doesn’t end here. He has a knack for finishing plays as highlighted by his 41 goals and 14 assists in his final year of Junior with the St. John Sea Dogs.
This is all without mention of his very loaded resume in hockeyfights.com. His first NHL fight came on April 29 vs. Mark Borowiecki of the Nashville Predators. Boro cleaned the rookie’s clock after having his pride hurt in a fight against Milan Lucic three days prior.
Imama will likely sign the first two way deal offered.
C Brad Richardson – 6’0” – 190lbs – Age: 37
The Flames missed their veteran center after Richardson was claimed off waivers by the Canucks at the trade deadline. Richardson’s eight goals against over 27 games and 253:58 of ice time is exactly what one wants in a fourth line center. Also his faceoff percentage of 58.82% ranks seventh in the NHL among players that took +150 draws. His hits were never ground shaking, but 40 hits over 27 games isn’t bad for only playing 9:56 a night.
Seeing Richardson back on a 750k one year deal would be welcome news. Maybe this time with the assurance that he wouldn’t get waived.
D Connor Mackey – 6’2” – 200lbs – Age: 25
The cheapest option will always be developing players from within. At the age of 25 and already practicing with the Flames for the Playoffs, Mackey looks set to step into the lineup. The question becomes “will he be good enough to leapfrog Oliver Kylington and provide a physical presence in the top four?”
Over nine NHL games, Connor has stayed consistently around five hits per 60 minutes of ice time. He has a goal and three assists over those nine games and is a +2.
LW Martin Pospisil – 6’2” – 180lbs – Age: 23
The day will come for Martin Pospisil. The rookie tournament prior to this season he showed how his game might develop once the fierce Slovak fills out. It’s a scary prospect. He hits, slashes, crosschecks, trips and generally batters everything in his way regardless of whether they have the puck. Once Pospisil gets himself to >190lbs: Look out.
Given the Flames’ current cap objectives, sometimes it’s good to consider other ways to help the team than just getting players to re-sign. If you think I missed anyone or you don’t like one of the suggestions, make yourself heard in the comments.
Stats via eliteprospects.com, dobberhockey.com, ahl.com, moneypuck.com and nhl.com.