Coming fresh off a Stanley Cup Final appearance, Raphael Diaz didn't have a home to start the 2014-15 season. He was an unrestricted free agent who had jumped between three teams the season prior, and nobody was willing to take a flyer on him on July 1st. Or 2nd. Or 3rd. Or any day of that month, or the next.
Instead, Diaz was invited to the Calgary Flames' training camp. The Flames were a team pretty short on defence, and with Deryk Engelland being their sole backend acquisition, they needed more.
Diaz had an excellent training camp, and was rewarded with a cheap one-year deal. For his efforts, he was the seventh defenceman, behind everyone on the depth chart, even though he probably should have actually been the fifth guy and anchoring the bottom pairing. Engelland and Ladislav Smid did not complement one another at all, and it wasn't until Smid's season ended due to injury that Diaz stepped in full time. The bottom pairing immediately improved.
That said, Diaz still couldn't get enough respect throughout the season. He wasn't promoted to the top four when Mark Giordano went down, and he later ended up hurt himself. His return in the playoffs was a welcome, and much needed addition, but for whatever reason, he still hardly even played.
Diaz's season was consistent: he was underused and under-appreciated the entire time. Here's how we felt about him.
Raphael Diaz should have gotten more minutes. He shouldn’t have started the season off as the seventh defenceman, even though he had to earn his way onto the team via a training camp invite. He was an excellent depth addition, and far better at the role of bottom pairing guy than both Deryk Engelland and Ladislav Smid.
For whatever reason, though, he just never got utilized, and he could never really convince Bob Hartley to put him in more frequently and up his minutes, especially when Mark Giordano went down. He remains a good depth option should the Flames get stuck, but based on how this season went, it’s unlikely to see him back. It’s an understandable move, though; there are more defencemen out there, and more opportunities for younger guys. Diaz will be 30 next season, and he deserves an NHL home, but it probably won’t be back here, and that’s fine.
Mike FAIL (C+):
There is no denying that Raphael Diaz is better than Deryk Engelland, and Ladislav Smid. Under serious analysis you can make a strong case he is better than Kris Russell, too. The inability of folks in the organization to acknowledge this is one of the many faults that existed this season. When Smid went down with what would be his season ending injury, most expected an elevated role for Diaz. We were unfortunately wrong. You would have expected actual usage when Mark Giordano went down. Wrong again, folks.
At the very least he is a capable bottom pairing/depth guy who can slot up under limited usage and circumstances. When used with Brodie, the tandem worked well and elevated Brodie back from possession hell. It’s a bummer he probably won’t return next season because he deserved more of a chance.
Diaz was astounding for what he was acquired for in the offseason. As a signing in training camp he wound up making the roster and making the lineup when Ladislav Smid went down. He proved over the course of the season that he is much better than Smid.
Diaz did some things so incredibly well that he may even merit a grade better than the B which he’s being given. He carried Deryk Engelland this season and performed better with him than T.J. Brodie could. That’s a very hard thing to do. He also earned minutes on the power play and penalty kill.
The fantastic possession numbers generally carry over from year to year and in that aspect he’s second only to Mark Giordano. Yes, Brodie was better overall, and Dennis Wideman had a better season in terms of his point contributions and overall contributions to the team, but defensemen are flakey and the points may not come next year. A good early way to judge Brad Treliving will be by seeing if he re-signs Diaz and, if not, who he replaces him with.
You may be thinking, who? Diaz was not a standout most nights (don’t forget that wraparound goal). He’s not a star, but he didn’t garner attention for all the wrong reasons either. He simply provided quiet (much needed) stability to the bottom pairing all year, and was a possession driver in his role. Can’t ask for much more from a 5/6 defenceman.
For a guy who was signed on the last day of training camp and spent a good majority of the early season in the press box, Diaz has exceeded all expectations. A quiet presence on the third pairing, he was certainly more deserving of a promotion than Engelland was (that’s true of all defencemen, but still). I don’t expect him to be re-signed, but he’s a good option in case the Flames can’t get any of their UFA targets.
We never saw the very best of Diaz, mostly due to the situations he was played in. He’s good, and I’d welcome him back, but he needs to be utilised better.
Raphael Diaz had the pleasure *cough*cough* of playing nearly half his minutes with Deryk Engelland. Even with this burden, Diaz had respectable possession numbers as far as the Flames are concerned, though it’s not like he was facing the opponent’s top lines either. For the 700k Diaz was being paid, he did his job just fine.
Some of us were more generous than others, but we all come to the same conclusion: Diaz was underused and undervalued by the Flames' coaching staff. For what he was allowed to play, he did a great job, but he wasn't on the ice nearly enough. As a solid bottom pairing defenceman - likely all he will ever be on a good team - he earns a solid C+ average from us.
As free agency approaches within a month's time, Diaz will no longer be a Flame. Or he might be. But considering his usage throughout the season, it seems unlikely he'll be back. He has more to offer than chances he was given this past season, and hopefully he'll be able to show that to whichever team he ends up with next year. He'll soon be 30, and while he's not going to make or break his team, he will be a solid addition. It just depends on how much defensive depth is already there, and whether or not the coaching staff can properly evaluate it.
If this is it, though, let's end on a high note: