The Calgary Flames signed KHL center Roman Cervenko to a one year contract on Wednesday afternoon. Signing the Czech product signifies a fairly large shift in philosophy for the Flames and has very little downside, with some great potential upside.
“We are an organization that needs to bring in that skill, and we need to bring in skill that’s at a little bit younger age,” General Manager Jay Feaster told me Wednesday afternoon when talking about the 26 year old pivot.
He’s right. This team has a number of different needs, but skill down the middle is the largest of all, and has been for a long time. Whether Olli Jokinen is coming back or not, the Flames don’t have very many centers they can project to be big parts of the future in a scoring or skill role. If Jokinen comes back, he’s still closer to 35 than 30, so he doesn’t truly fit the long term fit, whereas a 26 year old Cervenka might. Key word might.
“He’s a highly skilled player, he has really good hands, very good vision, he’s demonstrated that he can score at a tough level of competition,” Feaster said.
There’s no guarantee that aforementioned skill will translate to the NHL, but it’s worth the risk. The Flames aren’t in a position where they can’t try unconventional methods to try and improve their team and address their needs, and that’s what I believe this is. But here’s a player that scored 54 goals in his last two KHL seasons, and it’s a one year contract, so it’s not like there’s much, if any, downside. It’s also not the case Calgary was the only team interested in Cervenka’s services, according to Feaster.
“He had his pick as far as where he was going to go and who he was going to sign with. For us to be able to bring him into the fold and slot into our top six forwards, and we think play as a top two line center iceman, and not have to give up anything other than the signing bonus to sign him, that’s a huge transaction for us.”
The fact Cervenka was courted by numerous other suitors is probably a large reason why his Average Annual Value (AAV) ends up being $3.775 million. For a guy who’s never played an NHL game, that number might scare you, but I don’t think it should, for a few different reasons. First, as mentioned, it’s a one year deal and the Flames have the cap space, so it’s almost a moot point for me.
But second, and more importantly, the dollar figure will likely never get there, and the cap hit may end up lower as well (depending on the new CBA and whether there’s a bonus cusion or not). Cervenka’s deal is an entry level one at its base, but with max A and B bonuses tacked on, it gets raised to that more eye catching number. He’ll have to reach every single incentive to actually get paid thad, and the best news is how this impacts a contract extension. If he were to sign after this one year deal, the bonus structure changes, and his cap hit will likely be lower while his actual salary would be higher. Confusing I know.
The most significant thing is how large a shift this is for the team. Under Darryl Sutter, Calgary looked at the KHL option a grand total of zero times. It just wasn’t something they did, for better or worse. But this team has missed the playoffs for three straight years and aren’t poised to be making any jumps in the near future. Along with exploring undrafted college free agents, the Flames have expanded where they look for players, which is what any forward thinking team should do.
“Our European guys identified him very early on, that this is a guy that could really come over and play and help our hockey team,” Feaster told me. “We had (assistant GM) John Weisbrod travel (to see him) during the opening round of the KHL playoffs and saw Roman play and he said ‘everything our European guys have told us is true,’ and so we’re just fortunate he decided to choose us.”
This may not work out. Cervenka may not be a good NHLer. But so what? If he’s not a good NHLer, he moves on and the Flames give up nothing in trying this experiment. There is next to no downside here, and what happens if he scores 25 next season? What if it ends up being a good signing? There’s the potential that could happen, so why not sign on the dotted line when the risk is minimal?
- Feaster told us that Cervenka’s teammate in Omsk, Karri Ramo, will likely finish out his contract in the KHL next season. The goaltender was acquired by the Flames in January’s trade with Montreal that also saw Calgary bring in Mike Cammalleri.
- Feaster, Weisbrod, Craig Conroy, and the rest of the Flames brass have put together a “master list” of potential Head Coach candidates that will be slimmed down over the next number of weeks. Feaster equated their search for a new bench boss as the team being in “the first inning of a nine inning game”.
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