The Cupboard Wasn't Bare

Kent Wilson
June 08 2010 09:39AM

 

 

A common refrain around town is that Darryl Sutter had to rebuild the Flames prospect pool from scratch when he took over in 2003-04. The perception, I think, comes from the messainistic glow that infuses Sutter's tenure, specifically when it comes to the early years. The truth of the matter is the Flames prospect pool wasn't totally absent talent and, in fact, has yet to markedly improved.

Here is a list of players 24 years old or younger that were either drafted or acquired by prior regime(s) when Darryl Sutter was hired as the Flames coach in 2003:

Robyn Regehr (23)

Jordan Leopold (23)

Blair Betts (23)

Steve Montador (23)

Mike Commodore (23)

David Moss (22)

Oleg Saprykin (21)

Brent Krahn (20)

Andrei Taratukhin (20)

Chuck Kobasew (20)

Matthew Lombardi (20)

Eric Nystrom (19)

Curtis McElhinney (19)

After Regehr, there's no real difference makers in the bunch. That said, all of these guys have gone on to have significant NHL careers with the exceptions of Krahn (injuries), McElhinney (backup) and Taratukhin. The latter was a guy who played professional hockey overseas before and after he appeared in a single season for Calgary's AHL affiliate (during which he co-led the team in scoring). He was apparently interested in pursuing an NHL career before Sutter signed guys like Wayne Primeau and Mark Smith to fill the bottom end of the Flames roster. The young russian balked at the possiblity of another year filled with long bus rides to small towns and he bolted for the mother land. I have no idea if he would have made a capable NHLer, but his history and stats suggest he was at least in range.

All told, Sutter had 13 potential NHL players at 24 or under at his disposal when he took the reins. Some guys he kept, some guys he dealt, some guys he let walk. But this list makes a lie of the narrative that Sutter had to somehow completely re-stock a system that was totally bereft of NHL caliber talent. There's a dearth of gamechangers, to be certain, but that remians true to this day.

Which isn't to say that Sutter hasn't done anything for the Flames development system. After the cup run and lock-out, Darryl pressed to re-establish a franchise owned and operated farm team, which culminated in the creation of the Omaha Knights (by and by the QC Flames, presently the Abbotsford heat). The returns on that venture on the whole have been substandard given the costs associated and the fact that the club has yet to really develop any prospect of note, but I respect the theory as sound.

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Former Nations Overlord. Current FN contributor and curmudgeon For questions, complaints, criticisms, etc contact Kent @ kent.wilson@gmail. Follow him on Twitter here.
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#1 jeremywilhelm
June 08 2010, 04:08PM
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R O wrote:

I dont understand how you can simply take such a lop-sided view of Sutter's work. Saying that there is nothing that Sutter has done is an insult to players like Giordano and Backlund and several other notables.

Don't make me laugh. Giordano is decent in soft minutes but that's not a skill that qualifies as top-flight difference-making.

And Backlund? The jury's still out, because the guy may never crack an impact spot on any NHL roster. He certainly can't play in the NHL right now, he has some serious steps left ot take.

Soft minutes for Giordano? Hardly. Does he not play top quality competition most nights?

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#2 Domebeers.com
June 08 2010, 11:03AM
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My history may be wrong, but when Sutter became the GM and started talking about the farm, he didn't fire any of the scouts, right?

I mean we had Todd Button as the head scout then, and he is still the head scout.

That seems odd to me.

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#3 R O
June 08 2010, 11:20AM
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It's funny that the "cupboard restocking" thing keeps coming up because Sutter's primary impact was making the team competitive here and now.

Which is really how it should be anyway, I'm honestly perplexed by the obsession about the "future" that some people have. I think it's because some folks would rather keep hockey in their imaginations, where hockey players look good in jeans and goalies are superhuman and winning puck battles and keeping plays alive are foreign concepts.

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#4 Justin Azevedo
June 08 2010, 12:05PM
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@R O

LOL TRADE IGINLA!!!!11!!1 I also find it funny that it's seemingly impossible to be able to keep a winning team and have a good farm system. People focus way too much on the draft.

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#5 BDTR
June 08 2010, 01:01PM
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The game has changed people. The cap era has made this a young man's game (please see: Chicago, Pittsburgh & Washington) and if you are not focused on the draft and developing from within, you will find yourself out of contention very quickly.

The window of opportunity for the Flames is running out. The cupboard is bare and there is no elite talent coming in to save the day this time.

Come this time next year, both King and Sutter will be hitched to a wagon on their way out of town and the youth movement will begin.

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#6 R O
June 08 2010, 01:46PM
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The game has changed people

I wasn't aware that they were playing a game other than hockey in the National Hockey League.

The cap era has made this a young man's game (please see: Chicago, Pittsburgh & Washington) and if you are not focused on the draft and developing from within, you will find yourself out of contention very quickly

Chicago and Pittsburgh both have older bonafide difference-makers acquired through free agency. The draft is but one way to acquire talent.

The window of opportunity for the Flames is running out. The cupboard is bare and there is no elite talent coming in to save the day this time. Come this time next year, both King and Sutter will be hitched to a wagon on their way out of town and the youth movement will begin.

And yet, the Flames will likely be competitive next season, and the future beyond that is really not certain for any team. There are arrows of course, but if history teaches anything it's that success and failure can be fleeting.

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#7 John F
June 08 2010, 02:18PM
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What do the teams mentioned, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Washington have in common. Correct they were all teams horrible enough to get top 5 picks over and over again. Unlessfans are willing to be bad (the worst) the big difference makers don't exist and its hit and miss. Of course there are those, Leafs, Oilers who had high picks over and over and they didn't work neither.

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#8 Emir Kazic
June 08 2010, 02:34PM
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I dont understand how you can simply take such a lop-sided view of Sutter's work. Saying that there is nothing that Sutter has done is an insult to players like Giordano and Backlund and several other notables.

Being critical of Sutter is great; just use more developed arguments.

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#9 Wanyes bastard child
June 08 2010, 03:07PM
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@John F

Actually we Oilers never had a dirth of high picks due to the fact that we always seemed to finish just in or just out of the playoffs meaning we were in the middle for draft day.

You can't take this year and our #1 pick to say we "had high picks over and over and they didn't work neither." since we have not had high picks over and over.

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#10 R O
June 08 2010, 03:20PM
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I dont understand how you can simply take such a lop-sided view of Sutter's work. Saying that there is nothing that Sutter has done is an insult to players like Giordano and Backlund and several other notables.

Don't make me laugh. Giordano is decent in soft minutes but that's not a skill that qualifies as top-flight difference-making.

And Backlund? The jury's still out, because the guy may never crack an impact spot on any NHL roster. He certainly can't play in the NHL right now, he has some serious steps left ot take.

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#11 walkinvisible
June 08 2010, 03:30PM
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Emir Kazic wrote:

I dont understand how you can simply take such a lop-sided view of Sutter's work. Saying that there is nothing that Sutter has done is an insult to players like Giordano and Backlund and several other notables.

Being critical of Sutter is great; just use more developed arguments.

- other than giving him a contract, sutter has spent the past three years essentially PREVENTING gio from blossoming as a bonafide nhl defender. this includes the refusal to sign him a one-way deal in 2007 (ushering him to russia), and hiring mike keenan (who played gio in an extremely limited role and who blamed the blueliner for getting hisself injured last season).

- it's a little early to make judgements on backlund.

- drafted and gave up on guys that [*surprise !!!] flourish elsewhere (lombo, backelhinney, boyd, ryan wilson, and possibly phaneuf and aulie, here).

- selected kris chucko over mike green, david booth and/or dave bolland. nuff said.

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#12 R O
June 08 2010, 04:22PM
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Gio played a stretch of tough min, and never without Bouwmeester, to start the 09/10 season. IIRC that experiment ended around game 20.

History strongly suggests Bouwmeester drove any positive results in that time frame.

Otherwise he has no track record in this regard. He did not touch them in 08/09.

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#13 Graham
June 08 2010, 04:23PM
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'There's a dearth of gamechangers, to be certain, but that remians true to this day'

This is the most interesting 'truth' in Kents article. We may well have some prospects that will have decent NHL careers, but few in any impact players.

If you put your 2003 glasses on, Phaneuf looked like a potential star, you had two top goal tending prospects, several good looking d-men (Leopold, Regehr), forwards like Lombardi, Kobasew and Taratukhin all looked like potential NHL players.

If you are being honest, the cupboards look emptier now. (or as one of my friends argues, the cupboards are even missing their shelves) I would be extremely happy to find some Phaneufs, Regehrs, Leopalds and Lombardis in the current crop of prospects.

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#14 Grant F
June 08 2010, 04:32PM
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There wasn't much that could be done to satisfy Taratuhkin. He wanted a guarantee that he would be with the big club....but by the rules of the CBA he had to have a two way contract.

Regardless the point is valid - the cupboard wasn't bare but let's also keep in mind that the previous regime had higher picks and weren't able to land a single impact player....with Chuckles being probably the best of a long string of relatively high 1sts.

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#15 CP is GARBAGE
June 08 2010, 08:57PM
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@walkinvisible

uummmm,

Dustin Boyd is 'flourishing'? he of 5 points in 18 games with his new team.(with all three goals scored in one game)

Ryan Wilson is 'flourishing'? healthy scratch three times in the playoffs.

McElhinney 'flourishing'?

please. it is very possible all the players you mention are can be described in one word:

Replaceable.

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#16 Canucks Suck
June 08 2010, 10:31PM
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@R O

Just to build on your first post in response to BDTR is that if Hockey has taught us anything its that anything can happen any give night.

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#17 CitizenFlame
June 08 2010, 10:53PM
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@R O

I agree with R O, everybody is too high on Gio. He had a really good season, but that is compared with the expectations attached to this player and this happened after the fact that he was paired with JBO. I don't want to underplay how good of a season he had and I think that Calgary should really try hard to resign him but I think he is starting to get overvalued. I think that the same argument can be made with White- being paired with Regehr. While Regehr defenitely looked a little slower this year, I think that White benefited from having a steady, stay-at-home defenceman of Regehr's quality.

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#18 Sincity1976
June 08 2010, 10:57PM
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I guess.

I could argue that the pre-Sutter Flames should have had better talent based on their bottom 10 finishes and higher draft picks.

I could also argue that players like Erixon and Backlund (perhaps others) at least have the potential to be semi impact players.

But I won't argue because I agree with you. Sutter hasn't exactly wowed me in the development and recruitment department.

But what is the point? Not really sure I have heard many accuse him of "stocking the cupboards".

What he has done is pick the team up from the ashes (and near bankruptcy), put a playoff team on the ice 5 out of his 6 years with the club, bring the team to the Stanley Cup finals once, and win a division title.

But of course we hate him. We missed the playoffs . How dare Sutter (and more accurately the ownership group) continue to put a playoff team together while tickets sell out at a premium price and merchandise flies off the shelf. Instead, they should enter rebuilding mode and hope the fickle fan base sticks around long enough while they restock the cupboards.

Rant off. Hating on Sutter just seems the in thing now a days and this just seems like slander for the sake of slander. But I am probably missing the point.

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#19 SmellOfVictory
June 09 2010, 01:14AM
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CitizenFlame wrote:

I agree with R O, everybody is too high on Gio. He had a really good season, but that is compared with the expectations attached to this player and this happened after the fact that he was paired with JBO. I don't want to underplay how good of a season he had and I think that Calgary should really try hard to resign him but I think he is starting to get overvalued. I think that the same argument can be made with White- being paired with Regehr. While Regehr defenitely looked a little slower this year, I think that White benefited from having a steady, stay-at-home defenceman of Regehr's quality.

I do think that Gio is likely overrated by some (still awesome, and of course excellent value at the moment), but I disagree to some extent with your comments on White.

Regehr was having a garbage year earlier on (with Phaneuf), and ended up looking better alongside White. This is not to say that White didn't benefit from having a good defensive partner in Regehr, but more that I think White may actually be better than Gio and was less reliant on his partner for a boost in terms of good results while playing tough minutes.

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#20 44stampede
June 09 2010, 02:19AM
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BDTR wrote:

The game has changed people. The cap era has made this a young man's game (please see: Chicago, Pittsburgh & Washington) and if you are not focused on the draft and developing from within, you will find yourself out of contention very quickly.

The window of opportunity for the Flames is running out. The cupboard is bare and there is no elite talent coming in to save the day this time.

Come this time next year, both King and Sutter will be hitched to a wagon on their way out of town and the youth movement will begin.

Agree with you BDTR. No way Chicago (for one) could have built the team they have now without drafting high/well. Think of how cheap they had Kane, Bolland, Keith and Toews in the beginning. Now that they are getting paid, they can't afford them all and still have a team as good.

All the Flames can hope for is that they find that diamond in the rough like RBQ/Sharp type player that come around once every five- ten years...OR...buy up some veteran contracts and pray that those same guys, who couldn't cut it on the team they just came from, play to (or above) their contract value/potential. Anyone reasonable can see that this is a really bad way to try and build a (WINNING) team.

Does this mean the Flames won't be competitive? They may still be especially if Robert Cleave is right about the shooting %(a whole bunch of our guys being low last year). I don't think anyone will suspect us of being elite however. So if battling for the last two playoff spots is the goal, I think this team can accomplish that.

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#21 marcus
June 09 2010, 12:50PM
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That still looks like a pretty bare cupboard man. Especially considering the high drafts the flames duffed on in the nineties. Daz made use of the poor and unproven assets he had when he came here to get to a final and remain competitive for years thereafter.

Regarding comments... such a what have you done for me lately crowd but this one of the only places that people are talking flames hockey right now.

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#22 Emir Kazic
June 10 2010, 11:22PM
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A lot of great points made by everybody. Like all arguments there are two sides to each story. But one thing to consider is the Cap era and the bliss of talented cheap youth, or should we call it a curse?

The blackhawks, thankfully they won the cup, because lets face it, they are going to have to trade some good players away from that team in order to make room for other good players that they have. The Penguins may lose Gonchar as a result of the cap.

Even though we dont have some locked in superstars in our farm, have made some bad picks, but it still doesnt mean we are screwed.

Lets face it, the grass isnt greener on the otherside, and hopefully we can do better this draft.

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