Not much is known about Roman Cervenka outside of the Czech Extraliga or Russia’s Continental Hockey League, other than the 26-year-old - a late bloomer by hockey standards - has been considered one of the best players outside the NHL for a couple of years now.
Cervenka was previously linked to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Phoenix Coyotes, but didn’t make a commitment to the NHL until Wednesday, when he signed a one-year, entry-level contract worth the maximum allowed, $3.775-million, which is split between base salary and bonuses.
According to general manager Jay Feaster, the Flames won a bidding among a number of NHL teams to secure Cervenka’s services.
“For us to sign him to an entry-level deal and not give up any assets to add that kind of skill, it’s an exciting signing for us,” said Feaster.
It’s a lot to pay for an unproven commodity, but the Flames firmly believe that he can step into their line-up and immediately play a role as a top-six forward. Cervenka previously played in the KHL for Avangard Omsk and two years ago, was Jaromir Jagr’s linemate on the Russian powerhouse team.
Not every veteran European can make a smooth transition to the NHL, no matter what his skill level, so what is it about Cervenka that makes the Flames believe he can make that step seamlessly?
“He’s a mature young man,” said Feaster. “He’s a guy that’s been pursued for a number of years by NHL teams and he has waited. He’s thought about it. This isn’t a snap decision. He’s a very cautious guy. He does a lot of research. He has talked to a lot of players from the Czech Republic who are, or have, played in the league.
“That’s the biggest thing. He has done the work on his end to be certain he’s ready to come over and we were impressed with the maturity he demonstrated in (their) conversations with him.”
Cervenka’s English needs some work, Feaster acknowledged: “He clearly understands English much better than he speaks it.”
Feaster wouldn’t address how Cervenka’s signing could impact the Flames negotiations with their upcoming unrestricted free agents, but it stands to reason that if Cervenka plays a top-six role in the team, as they expect, then Olli Jokinen’s days are likely numbered. More than anything else, the Flames believed they needed to enhance their overall skill levels, after missing the playoffs by five points this season and finishing ninth in the Western Conference. With Cervenka and the likely promotion of teenage sensation Sven Baertschi of Switzerland, the Flames believe they have made an upgrade.
Feaster said the Flames began scouting Cervenka at the start of the season and then dispatched assistant GM John Weisbrod to watch him play in the KHL playoffs, where he was the leading point-getter this spring. His contract in Russia officially expired Monday.
“We made a presentation as to where we saw him fitting in on our hockey club; and why we felt we were the best spot to begin his NHL career. When he made that decision - that he wanted to come play in the NHL - we were fortunate he chose Calgary.
“This is a player with good hands, with good vision. He has demonstrated he can score goals at a high level of play.”
Feaster also indicated that the search for a coaching replacement is still in the early stages of the process, and that no decision is imminent. A report earlier this week indicated that Bob Hartley, a former associate of Feaster’s with the AHL Hershey Bears, had been hired. Feaster denied that. Among other candidates, Troy Ward - who is currently running the Flames’ AHL affiliate in Abbotsford - is considered a possibility for the job.
As for Cervenka, he played the last two years with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). During the 2010-11 season he received the top goal scorer award, registering 31 goals in 51 games while playing alongside Jagr. He was also selected to play in the KHL All-Star Game collecting more fan votes than any other player in the league.
During 2011-12, the Prague native recorded 23 goals during the regular season while notching a league leading 22 points from 11 goals and 11 assists in 20 playoff games. Cervenka has represented the Czech Republic with the national team on multiple occasions. He earned a bronze medal at the 2005 World Junior Championships. He also played at the 2009 IIHF World Championship and the 2010 Winter Olympics.