Ranking the Rebuilds #6…The Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB - APRIL 9: Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Los Angeles Kings at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 9, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)
CALGARY, AB – APRIL 9: Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Los Angeles Kings at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 9, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Calgary Flames rebuild officially started on March 28 2013 when they finally pulled the trigger on a trade sending away Jerome Iginla for two prospects and a 1st round pick (Morgan Klimchuck).

None of the assets acquired in that trade have had any impact in the NHL but that doesn’t mean the Flames have been sitting on their hands.

The return on that trade was limited because then GM Jay Feaster was hobbled by Iginla’s no trade clause and, in fact, Feaster had a better deal in place with Boston before Iginla decided he would rater play in Pittsburgh.

Feaster wouldn’t survive long enough for the trade to play out after Brian Burke was named POHO in September 2013 and would fire Feaster several months later.

He was replaced by Brad Treliving, the former assistant GM in Phoenix, and the two men rolled up their sleeves and went to work.

The Flames had missed the playoffs for 4 consecutive seasons when the new regime took over and would miss again in 2013-14 but would quickly rebound in 2014/15 with a 97 point season good enough for 3rd in the Pacific Division.

The quick turnaround in Calgary came from a variety of sources.

In the first part of this series, I lauded the rebuild of the Tampa Bay Lightning as being the best in many seasons and it’s interesting to look at a comparison of the two rebuilds (Tampa vs. Calgary) from a respected Flames blogger From 80 Feet Above:

What the Lightning’s success does re-inforce is that the NHL is a young man’s game now. With Stamkos, Johnson, Hedman, Killorn and Palat all in that ‘sweet spot’ of being 24 or 25 years old, it shows what could be possible for the Flames in a few years with their young core of Ferland, Gaudreau, Bennett, Monahan and Brodie.

By turning over a portion of the roster every off-season, building up a solid supporting cast, strengthening the back-end, continually injecting youth, Yzerman has built a Lightning team that looks poised to be good for many years to come.

It’s not to say the Flames won’t be able to accomplish next season what Tampa Bay is doing right now, just don’t expect it.

What you should be hoping for instead is that Calgary stays the course on its rebuild and eventually gets to where the Lightning are at. Being a perennial Stanley Cup threat in which deep playoff runs become the norm, not the exception, should be the real goal here.

That article was written on May 31 and, of course there have been some significant changes for the Flames since then.

Chief among them was the absolute theft of young D stud Dougie Hamilton from the Boston Bruins and the signing of possession monster Michael Frolik in free agency.

Even before that, the Flames had shored up their D prospect depth by grabbing two very highly rated draft eligible players in Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington.

They added to that haul when they signed 6’3″ 210 free agent RH D Kenney Morrison out of Western Michigan University who promptly went on to score 6 points in 10 GP in a late season debut with the Adirondack Flames of the AHL

Considering their current NHL D depth chart is likely the best in the NHL, that certainly secures both the present and the future.

The Flames are in the enviable position of have no less than THREE legit top pairing D in Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie and Dougie Hamilton and their supporting cast of Kris Russell, Dennis Wideman and Derek Engelland, while being a little shy on the bottom pairing, has blue chip prospects who will, soon make an impact.

Like any team that is rebuilding to win, centre depth is critical and the Flames have addressed that issue through the draft.

In their first draft, the new regime selected Sean Monahan 6th overall. Monahan has already established himself as one of the best 2 way centres in the league…hitting 31 goals in his second season at age 20.

The following year, they selected Sam Bennett, who I rated the best player available in the draft, at 4th overall and, despite needing shoulder surgery, Bennett would score more that 2.0 PPG when he returned to the OHL and then managed 3 goals and 4 points in 11GP in the NHL playoffs.

How is this for C depth?

Monahan

Bennett

Backlund

Stajan

Colborne

Bouma

Jooris

Byron

Shore

Granlund

That’s 10 natural centres folks and, while some have already been shifted to wing, I think you’ll have to agree that position has been well stocked.

With D and C already solved, that brings us to the crease where the Flames have 3 legit NHL goaltenders on the roster and blue chip prospects Jon Gillies and Mason MacDonald working their way up through the system.

All this, and not a mention of Johnny Gaudreau who was the most electrifying rookie in the NHL last season.

The former 4th round pick scored 24 goals and 64 points as a rookie and I expect he’ll build off that success in the upcoming season.

The Flames rebuild isn’t quite done since they’ll have to find another scoring winger and need to move out some deadwood on D (Smid, Engelland) but their future is very bright according to Hockey’s Future:

TEAM BREAKDOWN:
Strengths: The Calgary Flames have a bright future ahead of them as they have transformed into a resilient team that will only get better. It was thought the rebuild would take years before the Flames would contend for the postseason, but the bar has been raised following a special year that saw them reach the second round of the playoffs through determination and skill.

Most of their graduated prospects from this season were impact players, but their prospect pool is still flush with talent across the board. Markus Granlund has settled into a second/third line role while Michael Ferland stepped up in the postseason.

Expect Sam Bennett to push for a spot in the NHL next season.

There is also competition coming from the AHL ranks with a strong cast of players like Emile Poirier, Tyler Wotherspoon, Kenny Agostino and others fighting for an NHL job.

Further down the pipeline in the NCAA and CHL, there are a host of skilled forwards with promise including Mark Jankowski, Morgan Klimchuk, and Hunter Smith. In spite of their shallowness in goal, Joni Ortio, Jon Gilles and Mason McDonald have shown prospective for the future of the Flame’s net.

Weaknesses: Calgary is fortunate to have a deep defensive pool, but the system needs a high-end, puck-moving defenseman who can transition the puck up ice and run the power play. The Flames also need more depth on the right wing and in the crease.

Please note the bolded.

The Flames acquired Dougie Hamilton to cover the first weakness and added Michael Frolik to address the second.

There is some concern that The Flames were “lucky”last season based on their possession stats but I find it difficult to project that going forward considering the offseason additions of Hamilton, Frolik and Bennett and potentially Morrisson and others.

This rebuild isn’t quite finished but, damn, it’s close and, when you consider it’s only been underway for 2 years, while provincial rival Edmonton has been rebuilding for almost a decade, it’s remarkable.

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Spitballin”

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With the trade deadline less than 48 hours away, it’s always fun to speculate who is going where and what the return might be.

Of course, none of us has the inside poop on what General Mangers are actually thinking but we can make some guesses on what we think teams need and which ones are likely to be buyers.

One team that has been flying quietly under the radar is the Calgary Flames. 

TSN/ESPN pundit Pierre Lebrun has a post up today that looks author the Flames are approaching the deadline:

The reality is that the Calgary Flames are playing with house money being in playoff contention this late in the season, and even if their passionate fans might have forgotten their pedestrian preseason expectations, team management hasn’t. Which is why GM Brad Treveling isn’t about to trade a first-round pick in exchange for rental help. Heck, he’s going to guard his second-round pick pretty closely too, unless it’s a trade that really, really makes sense. And he will protect his Grade A prospects, too. But he does want to make a deal before Monday’s deadline that’s reasonable for now and beyond because he wants to reward the NHL’s hardest-working, blue-collar outfit for their surprising season.

Lebrun also identifies Calgary as being in the market for a defenseman in the wake of the injury to Mark Giordano and with his team currently 1 point out of a playoff sport, I think he’ll pull the trigger and may have the Oilers’ Jeff Petry in his sights.

The question then becomes what might the Flames dangle to get themselves another defenseman. Well, they are absolutely loaded at centre with Sean Monahan, Matt Stajan, Micahel Backlund, Joe Colbourne, Lance Bouma, Josh Jooris, Markus Granlund, Max Reinhart and Sam Bennett on the way next season.

Not only might one or more of those players prove to be attractive to a team wanting to move a defenseman but I would imagine the Arizona Coyotes could make an offer that would send Antoine Vermette to the Flames for a potential playoff run.

Brian Burke teams have a history of swinging big trades so don’t be surprised if the Flames pull off a blockbuster in the next few hours.


Another team to keep an eye on is the Florida Panthers. Dale Tallon has already acquired Jaromir Jagr and has just moved out Tomas Fleischmann’s $4.5M cap hit to the Ducks for Dany Heatley (buried in the minors) and a 3rd round pick. I expect another galosh to drop in south Florida very soon as the Panthers try to overtake the Bruins for the final wild card spot in the EC. Patrick Sharp?


Apparently the Toronto Maple Leafs are shopping centre Tyler Bozak very hard but there’s likely a limited market for what is essentially a 2nd line centre with a cap hit of $4.2M for another 3 seasons. It’s very difficult to predict which, if any teams might be interested in Bozak at that price point but some GM might step on his dink in order to get his team in the playoffs.


Lots of chatter that the Chicago Blackhawks are going to move Patrick Sharp (in the wake of persistent rumours he was involved in fisticuffs in the Hawks dressing room). Don’t be surprised if he ends up in Florida although there are other teams in the chase:

Noises getting louder over Blackhawks discussing calls for Sharp, who has limited NMC. Told WAS, MTL, DET have serious interest.


I expect the Arizona Coyotes may be the most active team in the next few hours. Along with aforementioned Vermette, the Coyotes may also deal Keith Yandle, Sam Gagner, Martin Erat, and Zbynek Michalek. Don Maloney could be holding a raft of draft picks if most or all of those players are moved.


 

I’ll update this post later in the afternoon as the dominoes begin to fall.

Snap Shots

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1) So, the fire sale has begun in Toronto with the Nashville Predators swooping in and picking up two of the better players on the Leafs roster. The trade essentially breaks down as a low 1st round pick to Toronto for Franson (a player I like a lot) and  Brendan Leipsic (a very good prospect who is playing well in the AHL) for Mike Santorelli. That both of the players acquired by Nashville are on expiring contracts leaves Nashville with cap flexibility in the offseason and gives them more firepower for a playoff run. But that also means Toronto did very, very well in the trade by getting a 1st for Franson and I would imagine the Leafs may add another 1st pick or two as they burn things to the ground.

2)  The Vancouver Canucks could be in big trouble as they try to hang on to a playoff spot. #1D Alex Edler is out with an “upper body injury” and join Kevin Bieksa (broken hand) on the walking wounded list. Cody Franson would look pretty good in Vancouver right now but Nashville got their first.

3) The Calgary Flames are like that bad smell that just won’t go away. They remain in the last wild card spot after a 3-2 win over the Canucks last night but both Minnesota (8-0-2 in their last 10 GP) and the LA Kings (winners of 4 straight) are charging hard. Calgary can’t afford to lose so it’ll be fun to watch them fight and claw for the remaining games in the season.

4) There were more than a few critics (mainly Oilers fans) of Flames centre Sean Monahan’s performance last season suggesting he was lucky to score 22 goals because he had an “unsustainable” 15.7 shooting percentage. Well, his percentage has dropped a bit this season to 14.1 but, playing on a line with Jiri Hudler and Johnny Gadreau, Monahan is putting up even better numbers this season and is on pace for 28 goals and 52 points. Looks like it WAS sustainable.

5) Speaking of Gaudreau…he continues to pile up points and is on pace for 22 goals and 62 points and remains in the running for the Calder Trophy although Filip Forsberg has an 8 point lead.

6) But for my money, Florida Panthers rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad is the rookie of the year. Ekblad, who turned 19 just last week, is playing more than 22 minutes a game for the Cats (tied for second on the team) and is putting up exceptional scoring numbers for a rookie (on pace for 13 goals and 47 points).

7) Stop the Parade! After absorbing a 7-2 beating at the hands of the Ottawa Senators yesterday, the Oilers are now 9-11-2 under Todd Nelson. As mentioned yesterday, the Oilers next 5 games are against the big, heavy Winnipeg Jets, Boston and then a WC heavy schedule that kicks off with 2 games against the streaking Wild, Anaheim and St. Louis. Worth noting the Oilers are 4-21-8 against the west this season.

8) There’s continuing speculation that the LA Kings and the Toronto Maple Leafs are working on a deal that would see Mike Richards and Dion Phaneuf trade teams. That’s a deal with plenty of complications but makes sense on several levels. Phaneuf would be a great pick up for LA’s second pairing (despite the price) and the Leafs could certainly use Richards as a stop gap while their rebuild develops. Richards is an Ontario boy and perhaps a move to the ACC might kick start his career. If, as rumoured, the Leafs trade Tyler Bozak, they will certainly need SOMEONE to play centre.

9) The Florida Panthers remain 4 points out of a wild card spot in the EC with a game in hand on the Bruins. GM Dale Tallon is reportedly shopping veterans on expiring contracts including Sean Bergenheim, Thomas Fleischmann, and Tomas Kopecky. Must be a difficult time for “Trader Dale”, one of the most active GM’s in recent years. I would imagine he will be able to move all of those players for late round picks but runs the risk of losing out on playoff revenue.

10) Back to the Flames for a moment…Calgary is sitting on the most free cap space in the league AND the second best prospect pool in the NHL. The Flames have flexibility to take on any contract and could, of course, extract a King’s ransom from any team that needs to dump salary now, or in the offseason. Keep a close eye on what happens in Calgary since the Burke regime is in a perfect spot to either load up for the playoffs or finish their rebuild in the offseason. I doubt they want Phaneuf back but Phil Kessel might be a very interesting addition if they can get the Leafs to retain some salary in return for a couple of prospects or picks. It’s a good time to be Brian Burke!

 

The Calgary Flames Rebuild

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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.