Lots of internet chatter today, as the Oilers are in Calgary to play the Flames, about the comparative success of the rebuilds in Alberta’s two NHL towns.
Lowetide has a rambling, somewhat illogical post up that is one part anguish over the sorry state of the Oilers and one part a defense of their situation because it might be different next season.
The rebuilds in Calgary and Edmonton look a certain way this morning but we know (we really do) that a year from now it will be different. We remember. We remember. And we kind of laugh at ourselves, because how stupid we’ve been forgetting that one major thing that changes the entire equation.
Then the phone rings and a shot goes in from center ice and it’s that damn Josh Jooris scoring on the Oilers from center ice!
Trade them all!
We need to remind ourselves there was a time when Guy Lafleur was a failure, when Denis Potvin’s team won 19 games, when Charlie Simmer couldn’t get a job. We need to remember that Nail Yakupov is 21 years old.
While what Lowetide says is not certifiably untrue, what we can do now, is make some reasonable guesses about how this will project into the future.
If you believe, as I do, that good teams are built from the backend out and, then, up the middle, a team that ignores those parameters is very unlikely to be successful.
To assist in this “forensic analysis” (where have you heard that before), I’ll turn this over to Kent Wilson at Flames Nation who has an excellent post up about the State of the Nation in Calgary.
We can jump right his his conclusion but I urge you to read the entire article:
It’s not wrong to cheer for wins and hope the Flames somehow make the post-season this year, but let’s face it – this is still an organization that has a lot of work to do before they’re a legitimate contender. The good news is the club has a lot of arrows pointing in the right direction and are apparently well ahead of where they would seemed to be at the onset of this project.
The cupboards aren’t empty anymore. There’s established, pillar talent already on the roster. And there’s real competition amongst future NHLers in the depths of the organization. For the first time in perhaps a decade, there’s opportunity for the Flames to evolve and take real strides forward.
While I laud Wilson for a balanced and objective description of the Flames’ progress, I’d like to dig a little deeper into what the future may hold for the two ASlberta teams.
Let’s start with goaltending.
As pretty much everyone would agree, Craig MacTavish bet that two inexperienced backup net minders would battle it out for #1 and things would be swell.
Well, that bet, like so many others he has made, blew up in his face with both Scrivens and Fasth rocking save percentages well below .900.
In contrast, Calgary management went out and acquired a solid, veteran goaltender in Jonas Hiller who is sporting a .915 percentage which I’ve always thought is the floor for good to great goaltenders.
This is a huge advantage for the Flames and with Kari Ramo (.903) as backup and Joni Ortio (.911 in the AHL) , the Flames are in a great spot.
On defense, the Flames also have a huge advantage in that they have TWO legitimate top pairing defensemen in Giordano and Brodie, (please refer to Wilson’s article to see how good these guys really are) and a decent supporting cast.
The Flames bottom 4 D are a work in progress with Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell as the second pairing but it should be remembered that Wideman, despite an inflated $5.25 cap hit, is a pretty good offensive defenseman in his own right with 10 goals and 21 points which, coincidentally, is the EXACT same offensive production as Taylor Hall and a country mile better than the production of Justin Schultz. Certainly Wideman has some chaos in his game but I think you’ll agree that Schultz pretty much personifies chaos.
The undersized Kris Russell is Calgary’s #4D is another offensive defenseman who is certainly covering his cap hit of $2.6 million and with 15 points on the season is providing as much offence as Schultz for far fewer dollars.
The Flames bottom pairing is scary with Derek Engelland and Laddy Smid but, going forward, bottom pairing D are very easily upgraded any offseason.
And lets remember when criticizing Calgary’s bottom pairing that the Oilers are paying Nikita Nikitin and Andrew Ference almost $8 million in combined cap space to fill those roles.
Now, it is pretty clear that, with Darnell Nurse, Oskar Klefbom and Martin Marincin, developing, the Oilers have better prospects (based on draft pedigree) on D but the Flames also have a trio of very good prospects in Wotherspoon, Sieloff and Cundari and, with the wonky development path of defensemen, there is no guarantee the Oilers trio will turn out better.
Of course, the other most important aspect of building down the middle is at centre and here there is just no comparison.
The Oilers till have the worst depth at centre in the entire league while Calgary is stacked:
And, THAT’s it!
Now, obviously, not all of Calgary’s centre prospects will become NHL players but SEVEN of them already are and I think it’s a pretty good bet that Bennet will be too. It’s an incredible organizational strength that allows the Flames to withstand injury but also gives them an arsenal of trade assets when the time is right.
The perception is the Oilers have a big advantage on the wings and, while that may be true, lets look at what is going on this season by ranking both teams wingers by PPG.
Doesn’t look like the gap at wings is as big as some would like to think and I didn’t includes the centres that Calgary is playing on the wing because of the logjam there.
I guess you can argue that Hall, Eberle and Perron are having off seasons and that may be true but I think it’s important to remember that hockey is a team game and the Flames are having much more success playing as a team. There are always reasons for that.
Next is something we’ve touched on before so I won’t belabour it but the Flames have far better prospect depth than the Oilers who have basically nothing in the pipeline at forward while the Flames are ranked #2 in the entire league according to Hockey’s Future, while the Oilers are ranked 25th. Considering how high the Oilers have drafted in the past 10 years, this is almost inconceivable.
Finally, it’s important to recognize that the Flames have the lowest payroll and the most cap space (estimated at $25 million) heading into next offseason.
Their immediate needs would seem to be at least one more top 4D (Keith Yandle or Johnny Boychuck anyone?), a couple of upgrades on right-wing (they have Morgan Klimchuck, Emile Poirier and Michael Ferland all coming at LW)
If Burke and Treveling make the right moves in the summer, the Flames could easily be a playoff contender and their rebuild could be over.
While Edmonton drafts another kid.