The second of the Flames two big trades is now confirmed. Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust are headed to the Rangers with Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins coming to Calgary. When I discussed the Dion Phaneuf deal I talked about the Flames salary structure and looked especially at how it changed the balance of the current roster for the better. With this deal, I think it's much more relevant to look at Calgary's salary commitments for next season. I'll also look at the individuals involved and see how the trade impacts Calgary's current lineup.
Before I look at how the trade will impact Calgary's salary structure for next season, here are some general guidelines on how I think most teams (should) structure their payroll:
Top 3 Forwards - 27.5%
Middle 6 Forwards - 20.0%
Top 4 Defenders - 27.5%
Goaltending - 10.0%
Bottom 8 Players - 15.0%
Of the four players involved in the deal only Kotalik has a contract that goes beyond this season. Thus, the Flames are spending 3M in cap space over the next two seasons on Ales Kotalik instead of waiting until the summer when Jokinen's contract expired (or waiting for another trade proposal). Here's are the Flames' payroll commitments for next season:
Top 3 Forwards - Iginla, Langkow, ??? = 11.50M or 20.5%
Middle 6 Forwards - Hagman, Kotalik, Moss, Glencross, Dawes, ??? = 9.35M or 16.7%
Top 4 Defenders - Bouwmeester, Regehr, Sarich, Giordano = 15.19M or 27.1%
Goaltending - Kiprusoff, McElhinney = 6.37M or 11.4%
Bottom 8 Players - Pardy, ???, ???, ???, ???, ???, ???, ??? = 0.70M or 1.3%
So at least the payroll still makes sense. The Flames still have about 3.5 to 4M to spend on a first line winger and 1.5 to 2M to spend on a middle six forward. It may even be more if the Flames cheap out at the bottom of the roster (something Sutter's been good at in the past). If Kotalik is worth something approaching his 3M salary, then, this trade makes sense.
So how can Kotalik be effective? Well, he needs to contribute on a "scoring" third line. This means a healthy dose of offensive zone draws against the non-elite players (though not necessarily the dregs) on the other team. This is exactly how Kotalik was used in 2007-08 with the Sabres, one of his most successful seasons statistically. Kotalik was actually +2 playing five-on-five that season and managed a positive Corsi number as well. This year with the Rangers Kotalik's role was similar. Tortorella didn't give him the best starting positions (the best starting positions usually went to Gaborik's line), though Kotalik still had a positive faceoff ratio and he was still taking on pretty soft competition. And the results weren't good. But this is despite his Corsi being in the middle of the pack (-0.66/60) and really not that bad. What sunk him was a terrible PDO number (5.4 Sh% and .884 Sv% = 93.8) that resulted in him getting absolutely shelled this year five-on-five. If his luck balances out and he's put in a similar or better situation to the one he had in New York Kotalik may actually be a positive surprise for Flames fans who seem to be expecting disaster. He's not a positive difference-maker five-on-five but it seems to me that he can hold his own in the middle of the lineup.
So why would anyone pay him 3M dollars? Setting aside the fact that no one should have, Kotalik's real value comes on the power play. He has a good shot and usually plays the point. Should the Flames decide to use him on the top power play unit (to replace Phaneuf), it could actually save them money on a couple of other contracts since, at least in theory, he'll be taking high point-producing minutes away from Mark Giordano and Ian White. And there's no reason he shouldn't be used there. He's been a pretty consistent performer on the power play at around 4 points per sixty minutes for the last three seasons which is a good number for a player on the point. Considering the Flames' struggles on the PP this year, Kotalik should be a welcome addition. He also brings some value to a team with his play in the shoot-out where he's been very good so far in his career.
The other piece of the deal, Chris Higgins, has really struggled so far this year. He's been a solid contributor in the past, but I don't think there's and he's still young enough that a return to form isn't out of the question. The problem for the Flames is that they would need it immediately in order for it to make a difference.
So does this trade make the Flames better today? I don't think so. And that's the real kicker. If Kotalik wasn't going to cover his 3M deal in the future - and he probably won't, though I don't think it's as bad as some others do - you'd at least think the Flames got better today for taking it on. Olli Jokinen has taken a lot of crap in Calgary this season but the fact is he took on some decent competition, outshot his competition, outscored his competition and scored at a decent rate. Neither of the guys the Flames got back for him can boast the same. I can see why Jokinen was thought of as a disappointment but this deal does not spend the 5.5M any better. It's worse.
The one potential silver lining for Flames fans is the 0.5M gain in cap space. This could potentially be very helpful as Sutter looks to improve the team between now and the trade deadline. The trade doesn't look good today, but there could still be another shoe to drop.