Should the Flames sign any of their PTOs?

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 1:37 am by Kent Wilson

Training camp is nearing its end and the Calgary Flames still have three players hanging around on professional tryouts: Chris Higgins, Lauri Korpikosi and Nicklas Grossmann. It could be that these guys are just extra bodies to fill the veteran quota for the last two exhibition games – or it could be that the club is actually considering keeping one of them around.

Let’s not bury the lede here. No, the Flames shouldn’t sign any of their PTOs. The club’s cap situation is precarious as things stand, and none of the players offer anything that can’t be found elsewhere for nothing. 

Shorter version: they’re all pretty lousy. 

The 3 PTOs

Nicklas Grossmann, D 

The 31-year-old Swedish defender is big, slow and has next to no offense to speak of. He played in 58 games for the Coyotes last year, averaged about 14 minutes a night, and by just about any measure you care to look at, he was one of the worst players on the Arizona blueline.

Here’s how his 2015-16 looked by various underlying measures relative to his peers (via Own the Puck):

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The sliders with no circles mean Grossmann didn’t even register by that metric. So yeah, he’s bad. 

There’s no upside with Grossmann. He’s over 30 years old, so he’s more likely to get worse rather than better. And he’d have to get better just to be a bottom pairing defender. 

If Calgary is in the market for a depth defensemen, then they have a much better option in Jakub Nakladal. Of course, they also have hopefuls like Brett Kulak and Tyler Wotherspoon who are already signed, are much younger and are a good bet to be at least as good as Grossmann at the NHL level. 

Lauri Korpikoski, LW

Quick… name the worst regular forward on the Oilers last year. I know, competition is stiff, but from many angles the answer is “Lauri Korpikoski”. The 30-year-old swift skating LWer appeared in 71 games and garnered the worst relative possession rate on a team packed with bad even strength players. Korpikoski’s season was so horrendous it spurred Jonathan Willis to write an article entitled “Lauri Korpikoski has been unbelievably bad for the Edmonton Oilers“. From that piece:

When Korpiksoki takes the ice, the opposition manages to out-attempt the Oilers 62-38. Only two other forwards in the entire NHL (min. 100 minutes played) can claim a worse on-ice number than that.

All the other shot metrics, from Fenwick to scoring chances, are similarly skewed. Individual contributions to scoring chances say the same thing; Korpikoski has easily the worst numbers of any regular Oilers winger. The numbers for high-danger chances are most damning of all; Edmonton is out-chanced by a 70-30 margin when Korpikoski is on the ice. That’s worse than even Steve MacIntyre managed during either of his two 20-plus game seasons as an Oiler.

Unlike MacIntyre, Korpikoski is not an enforcer. He’s not taking on tough opponents; he’s not even being asked to take on a particularly ridiculous diet of defensive zone starts. It’s been more than a month since he’s contributed an even-strength point. He has no particular value to the Oilers and has been a millstone around the neck of whichever forward line he’s been assigned to.

Just to pile on a bit more: over the last two seasons with the Oilers, Korpikoski has been outscored 71 to 30 (-41!) at 5on5, outshot by almost 400 shot attempts and boasted an expected goal ratio of just 42.7%. Those are all straight-up awful results and indicative of player who is completely in over his head at the NHL level. 

Forget Korpikoski. Stick with Linden Vey or Garnet Hathaway or Freddie Hamilton or Lance Bouma or… 

Chris Higgins, LW

The only faintly interesting option is former Flame Chris Higgins. A useful NHLer for years, Higgins is now 33 years old and seems to have entered the “rapid decline” phase of his career. Last year he spent about half the season in the AHL with the Canucks’ farm team. 

Of the guys here, Higgins is the only player who wasn’t at the bottom of the barrel by various underlying measures on his team last year. Nope, he was usually fourth or fifth worst, at least at even strength.

Maybe special teams work can redeem Higgins? Unfortunately, no. The wily vet is known for his PK ability, but last year his team got murdered with him on the ice at 4on5 – they gave up the second most shots against and second most scoring chances against per 60 minutes of ice of any Canucks penalty killer. 

Like Korpikoski and Grossmann, there’s no sense to keeping Higgins around. The Flames could claim better bets on the waiver wire on any given day and there are plenty of internal options who should be as good, with the added bonus that they might also improve since they aren’t turning 34 this season. 

Conclusion

So yeah, as stated, the Flames’ PTOs this year aren’t of any interest. 

There’s no upside to any of them and no reason to believe they’ll provide anything above replacement level hockey. They are low risk, no reward options. Move on and leave some space for the kids and existing organizational hopefuls. Better to find out if you have something than sign someone who is practically guaranteed to be bad.