It’s September, the World Cup of Hockey tournament is about to start for real, and the Calgary Flames still have to sign Johnny Gaudreau. But an underlying and rather valuable asset remains unsigned as well: Jakub Nakladal.
After his well above-average showing to close out last season, the Czech blueliner is among a small contingent of capable NHLers who may warrant a PTO or a contract – whether it’s in the NHL or overseas – that can help improve a team immediately.
The value in Nakladal: driving play
In the past, we’ve explored why signing Nakladal is imperative. But with additional data available, and some newer ways to contextualize the results shown in his 27 game sample we get a richer perspective:
Using Sean Tierney‘s visualizations and Ryan Stimson‘s Passing Project data, when looking at primary shot contribution data (shots and shot assists) we see a rough concept of how each defenseman looked in terms of their PSC results.
The major and obvious caveat here in this would be Nakladal’s sample size tracked in this project. Even though he has a limited sample, it’s still very promising and it validates a lot of Nakladal’s value and why he’s a guy this team needs. Nakladal’s tracked results at 5v5 prove he helps contribute to the team’s shot generation. When married with more modern metrics the picture is even clearer (via Corsica Hockey):
Down the stretch to the end of the season, Nakladal was one of the better Flames blueliners in driving play. With all of this information, the portrait of what Jakub Nakladal becomes more vibrant. And this is strictly 5v5 play, with what some may regard as softer deployment (33.55% OZS), though it still indicates he was able to take advantage of that deployment to provide a positive impact while on the ice.
When deployed on the Flames’ power play, Nakladal didn’t put up groundbreaking results, but his ability to distribute the puck and his shot make him an asset for second unit minutes. Whether or not he can potentially be used on the penalty kill is an uncertainty, but it’s an opportunity that could be explored.
Any team would be lucky to have him on their roster given what he could do in an extremely limited sample.
The team itself, the cap situation, and how to proceed
With the current salary cap structure on this Calgary Flames team, finding a way to sign Nakladal (with whatever room is available after Gaudreau) becomes extremely tricky. The bulk of it is the vast majority of money wrapped up in players who either don’t justifiably deserve or warrant their existing deals, or whose results have dwindled well below acceptable terms of how they should be paid.
The blueline situation itself accounts for $11.66M in money that could be better served elsewhere. Jyrki Jokipakka, who was acquired in the trade for Kris Russell, wasn’t included in this amount because there is still some distinguishable upside in him.
- Dennis Wideman, who with age has become further and further one-dimensional; the impact of which is a long and well-documented tale. You can shelter him, but his play in his own end will be a train wreck more often than not. His trade value is significantly diminished since his suspension and that ordeal is still ongoing.
- Ladislav Smid, who at the moment may be fully incapable of playing at the NHL level due to health issues. Again: another black hole on-ice and financially. Playing him in any capacity – with medical clearance – is a foolish decision.
- Deryk Engelland, who may very well be the only serviceable option in this trio, but make no mistake: he is best suited for usage as a sixth/seventh man.
This doesn’t even touch the well-documented issues with the forward group and the money wrapped up there.
The bulk of this can be summarized as follows: beyond Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton there are a lot of question marks.
Finding defensemen who are capable in moving the puck but also finding defensemen who can suppress the opposition (but aren’t the classic shutdown defenseman archetype touted by flawed narratives) are the future. But more importantly, they’re the types that you want in the Flames’ future. Oliver Kylington, Rasmus Andersson, and Adam Fox should fit this group, though all three are some time away from this point.
Brett Kulak and Tyler Wotherspoon had positive showings in their extremely limited usage in 2015-16, but whether or not they can fully make the jump this season remains questionable. Though when compared to Nakladal we have a clear idea of who the right choice would be.
That said, all of this remains to be seen as the current financial restrictions limit what can be done to manipulate the roster composition for the best results for the season. Right now, finding some way to keep Nakladal around on a PTO or with some sort of verbal agreement would be huge for this team. It would save them the ordeal of another capable asset being waived or signing elsewhere.
But more importantly it would give further parity to this maturing team looking to take a positive leap forward this fall.