December 29 2012 11:12AM
This is a continuation of a series in which I propose a method of rebuilding the Flames organization. For a frame of reference, you can go to the first in the series here. The Flames have at their disposal four 1st round draft picks resulting from trades of Bouwmeester, Iginla and Kiprusoff, as well as their own. In addition, they have amassed five more picks in the other six rounds, with only the 3rd and 5th rounds excluded.
Draft Day 2013 - The Gathering
My goal on draft day is to acquire a future 1st line center. Two if I can swing it.
The 2013 Draft is deep with players at the forward position, with a number of them listed as centers. It will almost certainly require trading up, perhaps to 6th overall. In order to do that, I would be willing to package two first round picks to move up. The 10th and later 1st round pick ought to be enough, given past draft trades, to move up five spots.
Following that, depending on the trend of the draft, I may choose to retain the two middle 1st round picks or trade those for another pick within the top 10, perhaps 8th or 9th overall. For the sake of this exercise, and to make this a simpler experiment to follow, I am going to assume that those four 1st round picks have been exchanged for modest moves up in the draft order and two selections at 6th and 9th overall.
My 1st round targets on draft day would be Alex Barkov, Jonathan Drouin, Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan, and Curtis Lazar, roughly in that order. Jones and MacKinnon have been left off due to the likelihood of their being already picked.
As mentioned, my priority is a center. This player would be acquired with the intention of being an eventual franchise player and with the expectation that depth will provide insurance against any failed development of members of the current prospect group (Jankowski, Ferland, Reinhart and Granlund). Drouin is currently playing left wing, but his skill set is one that, I believe, could translate to the middle. Besides, by some reports he is the single most talented player in the draft and that always has value.
I realize that draft rankings vary wildly between the beginning of a season and draft day, and as such these names are meant to give an impression of the player types that would be targeted: a center with high skill and intelligence for the game.
The 2nd round selection (acquired by trade in the previous article) would target wingers or defensemen, though not so exclusively as to pass on any player who falls outside the first round and is considered to be the most highly skilled player available. Beginning in the 4th round I would instruct my scouts to continue to run their draft board and take the best player available based on skill, without paying heed to size or nationality, but to try and prioritize defensemen and right-wingers who fit this criteria.
This draft would be run under the general principle of identifying skill and prioritizing an awareness of the game, regardless of size.
In this way it would not seem to differ from the Flames' current drafting philosophy; one might say that there was then no need to remove Tod Button. I return to my original argument in that while the game plan may be sound and bear a striking resemblance to prior habits, there remains room for improvement in the individuals executing that plan.
Returning to my expectation that the players drafted in this year will finish their junior careers before having a period of two or perhaps even three seasons of apprenticeship in the AHL, the goal of this renewed and re-focused attention to the draft is to re-stock the prospect pool of the Flames organization. Ultimately I am attempting to create a system whereby a steady stream of potential NHL-ready talent is available year over year with younger players consistently pushing older players for roster spots.
Heading into the off-season then, the Flames would now have added somewhere between two and four forward prospects, at least two that play center, as well as perhaps a goaltender and a pair of defensive prospects. These would join the current crop of prospects that include Max Reinhart, Mark Jankowski, John Gaudreau, Tyler Wotherspoon, Michael Ferland, Markus Granlund, Joni Ortio, Laurent Brossoit, Ryan Culkin, Patrick Sieloff and others.
The current prospect depth chart of the Flames is deep at center, but lacks any guaranteed first line prospect. Jankowski is still considered a high-risk, high-reward player-type and that is the exact opposite of a guarantee. The most glaring weakness in the Flames developmental system is on the right-wing. This has been, and will continue to be, addressed at the draft over the long-term, but for the short-term will be filled through free-agency.
Free-Agency in the Summer of 2013
I suspect that Baertschi will be ready to graduate to the NHL after one season in the AHL and therefore the left-wing position would be more or less set with Tanguay, Glencross, Baertschi and Jones.
The right-wing position will consist of Cammalleri, Hudler, Stempniak, Jackman and Horak.
The temptation to trade Tanguay exists, however, at his age and with his cap restrictions I doubt that the market is there. And at this stage his veteran presence on the roster is more valuable than the modest draft pick the team is likely to receive in exchange.
I would pursue Boyd Gordon, or a comparable depth player, for the fourth-line center spot, offering a two-year deal for no more than $2 million a year, no clauses or restrictions. This means the Flames centers going into the 2013-2014 season are Gomez, Cervenka (more in a minute), Backlund, and Gordon (or equivalent).
On defense I would pursue Rob Scuderi as a free agent. Contract terms would be three years at no more than $4 million a season. No clauses or restrictions. Failing that, Mark Fistric, if available, for as much as $3.5 million a season over three years. For him I would offer a limited NTC that would be in effect for the first two years of the contract and expire in November of the final year. I feel that he may be a more hotly-contested defensive asset on the open market, hence the contractual incentive.
I realize these numbers may seem low, and I am open to the possibility that they may very well need to be higher. However, coming out of the last lockout, despite a significant rollback, salaries immediately came down for many free-agents before skyrocketing back up. I am anticipating something similar occurring this time and thus need to capitalize on the depressed prices. For the purposes of this exercise let us assume that it is Scuderi who signs.
You may have noticed that I have not mentioned Roman Cervenka in the re-signings. I am still unsure as to whether he will be a fit for the NHL and it is simply too difficult to predict anything about him at this time. If he performs well (50+ point pace) in the 2012-2013 season, then a new contract will be forthcoming. I would limit it to a maximum of two years in the range of $3 million, depending on performance, and with no clauses or restrictions.
If Cervenka struggles and his point totals do not exceed my benchmark, then depending on the nature of those struggles, he could be re-signed (assuming he is interested) to another one-year contract, and play behind Backlund as a 3rd line center. If he is unfit to return for another season then Backlund will, by this time, have likely earned a chance to play on the 2nd line. In that event, a 3rd line center can be found via free-agency. An Eric Belanger range player who can, historically, contribute modest offense and play the penalty kill is all that is required at this time.
There is a great deal of uncertainty about how this season will affect Cervenka and what the repercussions may be for any potential NHL career. However, for the sake of this exercise, I am giving him the benefit of the doubt that he can become, at least for two more years, a serviceable center on a relatively weak team.
I would also try to sign Chris Mason, or an equivalent player, as a backup to Antti Niemi. A two-year deal for around $2 million would be on offer.
In June, I would buy-out the remainder of Cory Sarich's contract, at a cost of $666,667 for two years.
The New Roster
So the roster looks thus:
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
This ends year one of my exercise.
The prospect pool is now stocked with forwards as well as a few goaltending and defense prospects, though many are still at least two years from the NHL. The right wing and defense are in need of elite talent potential and will require a great deal of shoring up, depending on the depth of the 2013 draft and efficiency of the scouting department. The Flames salary would fall around $57 million, against a ceiling expected to descend to approximately $60 million, for the following season. In addition, many of the most difficult contracts will have been moved out along with the most notable holdovers of the previous management regimes.
I want to be clear here, though. This isn't change for its own sake. I very sincerely believe that the organization is currently heading in the wrong direction, and this season may be the last wherein it has assets of enough value to help facilitate a smoother transition into a rebuilding phase. If this window is missed then the process will likely only be longer and more painful. As I mentioned in the opening article of this series, I have moderated my own view on the best route taken so as to find a middle path between the scorched-earth path that I sincerely feel is best, and the oft-suggested controlled dismantling that many fans appear to favour. In either case, 2012-2013 is the last time this window opens.
In the following segments I will outline years two through four and conclude with my estimation of the overall situation of the franchise at that point. The most difficult and in-depth part is over and what remains becomes increasingly vague as we move further into the future, hence an increasing brevity of description. I will try to avoid deliberate obfuscation and be clear where I can. My hope is that at the end of the fourth year the Flames will appear to be a more stable, successful, and well-balanced organization than they are today.
What say you?