The Calgary Flames Rebuild

Saddledome

 

I think it’s fair to say the Flames’ rebuild started, officially, with the trade of Jarome Iginla to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline in 2013…or less than 2 years ago. The Flames received Pittsburgh’s 1st round draft pick in return (Morgan Klimchuk who currently has 21 PTS in 20GP in the WHL).

While it was Jay Feaster who bungled  made that trade, a few weeks later the Flames brought in Brian Burke and Feaster was long gone not too much later.

But Feaster and Iginla weren’t the only casualties of that 2013 team under the new regime….Tanguay, Cammallerri, Bouwmeester, Comeau, Jackman and Sarich are a just a few more veterans who are no longer in Calgary.

Like Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles (and, yes, that is the blueprint here) the Flames have shed under performing, overpaid veterans and embarked on a journey to acquire young, cheap assets through the draft, trades and signing underrated free agents.

The Flames strategy is already paying off with Hockey’s Future now ranking the Flames the #2 prospect pool in the NHL. 

Strengths: The Calgary Flames have undergone an incredible amount of organizational turnover the past couple of seasons, but a promising vision for the future appears to be finally taking shape. They currently have a young, talented NHL roster, headlined by prospects such as Johnny Gaudreau, Josh Jooris, Sven Baertschi, and Markus Granlund – not to mention Sam Bennett, who is currently recovering from shoulder surgery. Their AHL system is well stocked, too, with Emile Poirier, Bill Arnold, Michael Ferland, and others pushing for NHL jobs. There are even more talented forwards at the NCAA and CHL levels, with Mark Jankowski, Morgan Klimchuk, and Hunter Smith all showing various degrees of promise. The Flames also have a few promising defensemen, such as Tyler Wotherspoon, who are close to NHL-ready. The goaltending pool is not particularly deep, but the prospects that are there – Mason McDonald, Jon Gillies, and Joni Ortio – have good potential.

Weaknesses: The Flames have great depth on defense, but the system lacks a high-end, puck-moving defenseman who can transition the puck up ice and run the power play. As mentioned earlier, the Flames have several quality goaltending prospects, but the position lacks depth.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Johnny Gaudreau, LW; 2. Sam Bennett, C; 3. Sven Baertschi, LW; 4. Max Reinhart, C; 5. Markus Granlund, C.

While the Flames have been a study in grit, hard work and surprising offence thus far this season, I think it’s reasonable to expect them to fall back somewhat as the season progresses and they may even miss the playoffs if LAK and SJS become more consistent but they are in fantastic shape going forward.

1) They have solidified their goaltending with Jonas Hiller and Kari Ramo.

2) They have 4 legitimate top 4 defensemen including Giordano, TJ Brodie, Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman (albeit overpaid) and have Tyler Wotherspoon and Patrick Sieloff in the pipeline.

3) Once Sam Bennett recovers from surgery the Flames will have NINE NHL calibre centres on their depth chart including Bennett, Monahan, Backlund, Stajan, Colborne, Jooris, Granlund, Bouma and Byron.

4) The Flames are a little weaker on the wing but Jiri Hudler is kicking out the jams, Johnny Gaudreau is delivering everything he promised, Michael Ferland is showing he’s all but ready and Mason Raymond is a reliable 20 goal scorer when healthy. If Morgan Klimchuk and Emile Poirier live up to their draft pedigrees, they should be solid.

5) But, most importantly…the Flames have CAP SPACE. While the Flames are carrying a couple of questionable contracts, as of this writing, the Flames have $13 million in free cap space and they are in a fantastic position. If the cap rises to the $72 million estimate provided this week, the Flames will go into the offseason with about $25 million in cap space to spend and it appears Burke and GM Brad Treveling are prepared to spend it for the right assets.

Burke, speaking at the NHL meetings in Florida earlier this week, made it abundantly clear that the Flames are willing to spend to the cap when the right deal comes along:

 The Calgary Flames are the second lowest spending team in the NHL this season.

But maybe not for much longer.

The Flames are stunning the hockey industry with their strong season, and today team president Brian Burke made it clear the team is more than willing to start spending some of the more than $19 million in available cap space to make the team even more of a playoff threat.

“You can quote me on this. We are budgeted as a full cap team,” said Burke today at the conclusion of the NHL’s board of governors meetings.

“The only reason we haven’t been a cap team so far is we haven’t seen the value. But the second we do, (general manager) Brad Treliving is authorized to go right to the cap.”

There are teams that are expected to go into sell mode very shortly. Arizona is thought to be ready to move Keith Yandle, Antoine Vermette and Martin Erat, for example, but I think the thing to watch most closely is Burke taking advantage of teams that need to makes moves to get under next season’s cap even though it’s rising.

Boston is going to likely have to move one of Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and/or Dennis Seidenberg.

Philadelphia is in even worse shape unless they can find a taker for LeCavalier (they won’t) and will be forced to part with some key pieces.

Pittsburgh has $55 million committed to only 13 players and will have 10 UFA and 4 RFA players in the offseason.

But I think the Blackhawks are a team to watch as a savvy team could get some pretty nice pieces from them as the Kane/Toews extensions kick in. Duncan Keith,  Johnny Oduya, Michal Rozsival and Patrick Sharp are all rumoured to be in play in the offseason.

But where Burke and Co. may really have an advantage is their ability to take on a bad contract or two and reap the rewards of young players or picks that may come from the cap strapped team.

I can foresee Burke adding a high end D like Keith/Seabrook or Yandle as well as shoring up his scoring from the wings all while acquiring even more assets from desperate GM’s.

If the Flames are prudent and take advantage of their situation properly, their rebuild will be over in less than 3 years.

That’s pretty good work.

 

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