The Rebuild is Coming

Kent Wilson
May 17 2012 12:54PM

 


 

Spring brings with it the seemingly endless debate of whether the Flames will - or should - pursue an aggressive rebuild going forward. Without a playoff appearance in three seasons and the 2004 cup run growing smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror, Calgary's options are shrining. The alternative paths set before the Flames decision makers are conceptualized as as opposites - mutually exclusive iideological antipodes that require total commitment or abandonment.

In truth, every team rebuilds on the fly to some extent. Roster attrition is an on-going concern for NHL GM's due to free agency, trades, injuries and the cruel march of time. The rebuild-status quo relationship is probably more of a continuum than a dichotomy as a result, where levels of team building each year vary based on a club's quality and needs.

Framing the issue in this in this fashion renders the rebuild debate in Calgary moot I think. Given the state of the roster and the team's eroding core, the status quo and rebuild options will ultimately and inexorably converge, like autumn turning to winter. The only question remaining now is just how long the winter will last. 

No Set path

Perhaps the most fearsome (and loathsome) aspect of the modern rebuild is the apparent aim to construct a losing team in order to take advantage of high-end draft picks. Whatever you might think of the Flames actions to date or their decisions going forward, the guiding aim of a rebuild should always be to keep the losing as brief as possible; meaning being competitive is almost always the target of properly managed clubs. Not only because pro athletes and organizations playing to lose is unseemly no matter how apparently pragmatic, but also because climbing your way out of the basement becomes progressively harder the longer you linger there.

Playing to lose necessarily means making bad decisions, or at least passing on good ones. The parity and spread of talent in the NHL is such that good bets and worthwhile opportunities are rather fleeting meaning they should always be pursued whatever a club's situation. Team building is an on-going concern for every team whatever their quality and while a given organization's position on the "rebuild continuum" may somewhat alter their short-term priorities, the goal for everyone in the league is always the same in the long-term: collect as many good players as possible for as little as possible. 

The methods to accomplish that objective vary pretty wildly, including trades, drafting, development and UFA signings. There is no certain path from the basement to the penthouse in the NHL, which is why an organization like Calgary has not charged headlong into a rebuild.

Unfortunately the club has regressed beyond the level where simply re-tooling or supplementing the core is going to be effective. The Flames have traveled too far along the rebuild continuum and are now suspended in a sort of gray purgatory between fervently running in place as a playoff bubble team and falling put of the NHL's middle class completely - whether by way of a purposeful rebuild or because the aging core ultimately collapses beneath the weight of their roles and expectations. Of course, that doesn't mean they should necessarrily trade all of the decent veteran players or ignore possibilities to add others. 

The Way Forward

So Jay Feaster is caught between the unpleasant option of rebuilding immediately and the ever-encroaching inevitability that the status quo will crash the Flames ship into the iceberg of failure anyways.

The Flames priories now mirror the typical priorities of clubs already engaged in an active rebuild:

1.) Find good-to-great young players

2.) Supplement those new core assets accordingly

Calgary has yet to really engage step #1 (Baertschi, Reinhart and Gaudreau are modest steps forward), although step two is where teams often fail. It's one thing to select a John Tavares, Steven Stamkos or Taylor Hall at the top of the draft - it's another thing completely to build a roster that can effectively leverage their cheapest and most productive seasons.

The Oilers, for instance, have all but wasted the entry level contracts of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Sam Gagner. Roster attrition can affect teams at all levels and assuming the next CBA doesn't somehow cap the second contract as the curent one does the first, the era of the cheap RFA is over when it comes to high-end youngsters. In addition, burgeoning stars don't tend to stick around organizations who lose more often than they win.

A productive player in the first three years of his ELC is a blessing for the competitive club, but a curse for the basement dweller. A 60-70 point season for a 21-year old on a 29th placed team is gold on a dung heap. Pearls before swine.

So the properly rebuilding team is doing two things simultaneously - acquiring good young players via the draft or other means while also structuring the roster so the kids artificially cheap contributions aren't wasted on subsequent seasons of failure.

The good news for Flames fans and management is that the team has yet to implode completely. They have a relatively decent collection of supplementary players as things stand. The challenge now is infusing the doddering core with fresh talent while the support guys are still effective*.

*(Ironically, this was the inverse problem the team faced for years as they tried to shore up the depth around elite guys like Iginla, Regehr and Kiprusoff.) 

This off-season, the pertinent challenges for the Flames have little to do with whether they will be a cup contender next year or not - absent a 2010 Colorado Avalanche run of luck, Calgary isn't going to be challenging the elite teams in 2012-13 no matter what management does this summer. Instead, the focus must be on acquiring more and better players under 25 years old while establishing a roster that will allow them to grow into a team that is competitive sooner rather than later. A team who won't need to sell hope and the entry draft to its fans every summer in perpetuity.

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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 Jayamania
May 17 2012, 01:13PM
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Kent, we know the Flames will never do a full rebuild. That's why Sutter quit / was fired. He wanted to go young and Feaster said no way.

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#3 Sincity1976
May 17 2012, 01:19PM
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@Jayamania

Is that really true though? It has been clear for some time that the team Feaster is building isn't the type of team that Sutter is effective at coaching. There is clearly a philosophical difference between Feaster and Sutter. But it could very well be in the type of team that Feaster is building as opposed to old vs young or rebuild vs no rebuild.

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#4 Baalzamon
May 17 2012, 01:57PM
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@Jaymania

people keep saying that. I have yet to see any proof whatsoever, myself.

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#5 KetchupKid
May 17 2012, 02:01PM
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Haha "the iceberg of failure". Love it! I would like to see an artist's rendering (MS Paint if possible).

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#6 loudogYYC
May 17 2012, 02:26PM
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@Jayamania

I don't put a lot of stock into the speculation that Brent 'wanted' a young team. It would make sense for Brent or any other coach to want a younger, more enthusiastic team than the one that's missed the past 3 playoffs but that's the thing. A coach with an expired contract that failed to make the playoffs during his 3 years under contract doesn't have a lot of say on what he wants or doesn't want.

Darryl Sutter could have gone after Dave Tippet 3 years ago but instead brought in his brother. Feaster has taken over since then and I don't think Brent would have been his first choice.

If Feaster is 25% as smart as his speeches are, he'll have to rebuild to some extent. Be it by signing a super expensive player and forcing other expensive players to move or by just flat out trading Iginla and Kiprusoff.

It's going to happen. It has to.

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#7 Colin.S
May 17 2012, 02:30PM
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Every team has to rebuild in some capacity every year, whether it`s through retirements, UFA or injuries. Detroit had to fill the hole Rafalski left last year, this year Lidstrom and Holmstrom are both retiring (not 100% but pretty close to). They are going to have to rebuild, doesn`t mean they have to go full Oilers and go into the gutter.

Same thing with the Flames, we can rebuild, or well we are going to have to rebuild sooner rather than later, and we don`t have to be a 30th place team to do it.

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#8 Parallex
May 17 2012, 02:40PM
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Kent,

Could you give me your definition of "Rebuild"?

It seems to me as if the rebuild is not coming but rather already underway. Most of the old core is gone, the old coach is on his way out, the Management team has changed, there has been a lot of roster turnover, they're dipping into the College and international market looking for gems, the team seems to be drafting with more of an eye for ceiling rather then floor... does that not sound like a rebuilding team?

I mean... is being sold hope while playing "kids" and being basement dwellers really essentual elements of a rebuild? Because I really don;t want to end up as the NY Islanders, a team that continually loses in spite of it's past high drafting history and youthful line-up.

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#9 Kevin R
May 17 2012, 03:52PM
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I think the rebuild has already started & it was the less controversial pieces moved to date. The big ones are Kipper & Iggy & the next 8 months will stop this ongoing debate. I think if Feaster has his way he wont trade Kipper & Iggy for picks & prospects, I cant help think he'll be going after established pieces to mainytain a level of competitiveness while he fast tracks the Baerstche's into the line up.

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#10 RKD
May 17 2012, 04:24PM
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The reality is that the team is not good enough to even make the playoffs. Everything else has been done with changing GMs, going through different coaches, the trading of Langs and Reggie. The only thing that has not been tried is a rebuild by moving Kipper or Iggy.

You have to explore that path even if it is a failure. To not explore that avenue is doing a disservice to the organization and the fan base.

The build around Jarome experiment has failed, bringing back recycled players like Tanguay, Jokinen, and Cammy has failed.

To avoid the band-aid solutions, start building around Irving, Brodie, Bartschi, Backlund, Smith, etc.

The only other way I see the Flames go this summer is a complete retool like Florida. Maybe a roster overhaul might work. One thing I was thinking about and I know it's early, but the Flames have not yet resigned Iggy to an extension. Could this be an indicator of a trade or letting Jarome walk away on July 1, 2013?

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#11 Austin
May 17 2012, 04:46PM
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@RKD:

I think we can still be a team fighting for a playoff spot if we trade one of Iggy or Kipper. If we trade both we probably won't be gunning for the playoffs. Feaster has to trade Kipper this year! We could use another first round pick in the draft.

But an argument can still be made to trade Iggy before next season. Iginla's contract is up at the end of next year, so his trade value will be lower, where as this year it would more likely be higher, plus he'll be older next year. His production may wane.

I don't think the club has extended Iginla yet because they simply haven't decided on his future. This season it almost sounded like Iginla didn't want to be part of a rebuild, that he wanted to be on a winnning team. But what you said could be true, this may be a sign of things to come.

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#12 loudogYYC
May 17 2012, 04:57PM
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@RKD

As long as Iginla can unload 99 MPH slapshots he'll get to choose where he goes. I don't think it's in the Flames cards to just let him walk on July 13 2013.

If for no other reason, this should be the one the Flames trade him for. He's a proud, aging superstar that hasn't won a cup. Don't think that cuz he's such a nice guy he'll stick around to make sure Baertschi and Gaudreau mature. He'll be gone to the team that gives him the best chance of winning. I bet you he'd sign for little money with the right team if it means he can fight for a cup again.

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#13 DangleSnipeCelly
May 17 2012, 05:12PM
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Hey Kent,

Question for you - it doesn't exactly pertain to this article so my apologies for that...

Where does the Flames management get their impressions of what the fans are feeling, thinking, saying? IE how do they take the temperature so to speak... how concerned are they with public opinion? Do they have a staffer monitor sites like this, do they read what's posted on FB, listen to sports radio etc..

I'm just wondering if it's the uneducated casual masses they listen to or the more hardcore fans or both or neither?!?!

They obviously have a feel for what the frustration level of the fans is - where do they get that feel?

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#14 Colin.S
May 17 2012, 11:12PM
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@DangleSnipeCelly

Season ticket sell through rate is pretty well it. One of the first things out of Feasters mouth, or maybe kings when talking about next season and if the Fans were entertained or whatever at the end of last year was something along the lines of "well 99% of season ticket holders have renewed for the coming season".

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#15 the-wolf
May 18 2012, 11:23AM
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@Kent- I agree with the the general theme of what you're saying and I totally agree that eventually the Flames will be forced to do a rebuild.

That said, when it comes to talking about Calgary, the definition of 'rebuild' seems to be contingent on moving one specific player.

That's for 2 reasons:

1) the amount of time the team has been 'his team.'

2) adding youth and speed to the bottom 6 is great, but as you've noted many times, they need that in their top 6 and there's only one immediate best way to get that.

I don't think any team loses on purpose in the sense of throwing individual games. They may trade useful veterans knowing that will cause a drop in the standings, but that's different, though I agree there's an inherent danger to it that should be minimized. However, I've been of the opinion for years now that the NHL has become cyclical, much like the CHL ranks. That due to the CBA, teams need to 'reload' every so often. It's the problem Detroit is experiencing right now though it'll be very interesting to see what they do this summer with extra cap room.

This is also why, despite how well LA is doing, I still think Philly made good moves in moving out Richards and Carter.

The difference in the NHL is that I think the cycle is 6 years, maybe a little more, and that smart managment can allow a team to 'retool' vs 'rebuild.'

Piitsburgh is looking at a similar situation as well.

I hope that made sense. My point is that teams can't just keep rosters together forever with cash anymore and that a GM's ability to move the right vets at the right time for the right future assets is paramount.

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#16 shutout
May 18 2012, 11:45AM
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The rebuild has already started and was due to the salary cap problems facing the team this last season. The rebuild will only get really bad if they fail to act boldly or fail to convert current assets to future assets where possible.

What the Flames wont do (intentionally) is go a scorched earth approach of planning for 3-5 years of top five draft picks to mature and morph into overnight success. The oilers will be more competative again this year, but are at least a couple of more seasons away from being a contender, and there is no way Edwards agrees to let the Flames go through that death valley.

The question really comed down to how bold is Feaster willing to go. Does he have the balls like a Holmgren or a Lombardi? Is he willing to shorten the rebuilding term by making some franchise altering decisions that will significantly impact the next few years of the franchise?

The question of an optimised rebuild is to bring in players that are all going to be going into their prime in the 2-3 years. Which means that trading veterans for draft picks will not work because that is a 3-5 year window at the very least. Keeping veterans or adding more older players is not the key because as the playoffs have shown you do not win if your core is over the age of 30. So the only way to do a short, quick, optimised rebuild is to sell off the older end of the roster for prospects and to sell off the future for prospects. But ideally prospects that are going to be ready to step into the NHL next year.

So does Feaster have peashooting marbles or does he have those big brass things hanging off the back of redneck pickup trucks?

Does he have the cojones to trade Iginla and Kiprusoff and at the same time trade the next three first round draft picks?

Throwing ideas out there. Rumours are that Matt Duchene might be available from Colorado - would a package similar to the one Toronto sent for Kessel get a deal done? Rumours are also that Niederreiter might be available from the Islanders. Those two deals would probably cost three first round picks, some prospects, plus more.

If you could bring in a couple of NHL ready prospects for Iginla and Kiprusoff (Tatar and Ashton)and then add in some youth like Niederreiter and Duchense along with Baertschi, Bouma, and Nemisz I think that you could then leverage the veteran talents of Tanguay, Cammalleri, and Glencross. Plus I think that Roy in Buffalo will be available as well because of his comments after the end of the season. He could probably be gotten for the first round pick we would get for Iginla.

Bold decisions. Take some chances. Show us that the organization wants to win and that mediocrity wont be tolerated. I would rather that the team go big and do something bold than do nothing and let the entrophy continue with the team as it currently sits. To build with the draft picks in the next three years and still keep our aging stars means that these young players wont be of any value until the vets have retired.

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#17 the-wolf
May 18 2012, 01:01PM
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@shutout - Interesting idea to sell off our 2 best vets for future assets while simultaneously mortgaging the future with first round picks.

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#18 the-wolf
May 18 2012, 01:22PM
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The downside is that you have to spend more than you get back For example, Kessel. Teams won’t let established but still young players go for unknown commodities unless you really tilt the scales. Though to use TO as an example again, had they been able to trade Sundin for futures, the idea is those futures merge with Kessel.

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#19 shutout
May 18 2012, 01:31PM
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@wolf

Toronto should have moved Sundin and Kaberle at the time they traded for Kessel so that they had a broader base of young talent to build around. In doing so they would not have finished bottom five and the deal would not be so lopsided to Boston because of Seguin.

Giving up the future draft picks and keeping Iginla would be similar because we would not leverage all of our opportunity for youth. Our defense is young enough that they can stay intact and help to stabilize the changes that we would see up front.

You are correct in that you are paying a premium, but the draft is viewed almost like a lottery where teams come away with different varieties of success. Look at how many first round picks are still busts when it comes to the NHL.

I would pay a premium for an elite young player rather than take my chances in the draft. Plus by doing so I have sped up the rebuild by 2-4 years.

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#20 the-wolf
May 18 2012, 01:41PM
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Of course, the other issue is that you may be getting someone else’s problem. There’s usually a good reason why a team would let a young, talented player go when he’s already shown he can play.

Plus, you’re getting players from a variety of different development systems. I think it helps when guys all come up together through one system. But maybe I place too much emphasis on that, I'm not sure.

But you’re right in that it would greatly speed things up.

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#21 Kevin R
May 18 2012, 01:45PM
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Wolf & Shutout: Totally intriguing concept. Kessell wasnt a bad idea, it was that lack of foresight by previous managers prior to Burke, let Sundin walk for nothing & that orphaned Kessell. That is my biggest fear. Do nothing with Kipper & Iggy & we orphan Baerschte, who we totally lucked out on being available at the draft. Cant expect that this year & 14th pick is 14th crapola pick. I see urgency in how the Flames are handled in the next 10-12 months. I like bold, its scary as hell, but no where near as scary if we do nothing bold.

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#22 shutout
May 18 2012, 02:07PM
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Intruige is what we do. As that BBQ sauce commercial says "BOLD like that thing you did in Cancun"

My 11 point plan for a quick rebuild. There might have to be some tweeking in order to make things happen, but this is the 90% portion of it that in my mind is possible due to needs of the teams involved, and comments about the different players and their situations. •Iginla to Red Wings for 2012 1st round pick, Tomas Tatar, Xavier Ouellette

•Kiprusoff to Toronto for 2012 2nd round pick, Carter Ashton

•Red Wings 2012 1st round pick and John Ramage to Buffalo for Derek Roy

•Flames 2012 1st round pick, 2014 1st round pick, and 2014 2nd round pick to Colorado for Matt Duschene

•Flames 2013 1st round pick and Tyler Wotherspoon to Islanders for Neino Neiderreiter

•Flames 2012 5th round pick and 2013 6th round pick to Wild for Josh Harding and conditional draft pick dependant on if Harding does not sign(7th in 2013)

•Toronto 2012 2nd round pick, Flames 2012 4th round pick, and Flames 2012 7th round pick to Rangers for Christian Thomas and Michael St Croix

•Cash and Karlsson go to KHL in exchange for releasing Ramo from his last year of his deal

•Buyout balance of Stajan's contract

•Don't resign Irving

•Look for a defenseman in free agency that can play as a 3 or 4 defenseman on the team (Jackman, Carle, etc)

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#23 ALL THE WAY IN
May 18 2012, 03:49PM
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I think with a little tinkering this team can get competitive again. 1st I would buyout stajan at 5 million, give thar money to jokinen. Since feastet wants skill, I could see him going after Semin. Now all of a sudden our team looks like this: semin - cervanka - iginla, tanguay - jokinen - glencross, cammilleri - backlund - bartschi, bouma - Jones - jackman. I would feel confident in this team next year. Rebuilding is for suckers.

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#24 FireOnIce
May 18 2012, 03:57PM
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@shutout

Interesting plan. Dunno if Duchene would take 2 first rounders and a second rounder to acquire though. He's fallen off a cliff in the past season and may never regain his best form - three top picks for him could be a waste.

If any of this happened, Flames might as well not even show up for the draft until 2015. Phone in their 7th round picks and stay home drinking the Feaster-ade.

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#25 suba steve
May 18 2012, 04:15PM
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@shutout

Holy frak! You've been busy. Can't say that I think you are totally on dope here though, this type of plan could work. Or...Feaster could end up livin in a van, down by the river. The flames may as well have traded away a whole lot of their draft choices over the last 20 years, since the players they took only rarely turned into impact NHLers and often totally flamed out (Fata, Tkachuk). What could we have got in trade for those 2 (wasted) high draft choices?

These moves would see Iggy, Kipper, 3 x flames 1st rounders, a 2nd, a 4th, 5th, 6th, and a 7th shipped out. Coming back Roy, Duchene, Harding, and 6 prospects of various levels (mostly with good potential). Where the heck are they all gonna play?

Biggest problem is how does Feaster get permission to ask Iggy to wave his No Trade? Anyway, good imagination. Keep it up.

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#26 Nolan Moore
May 19 2012, 03:47PM
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We all know why Feaster was brought in, publicity. He was desperate to get back into the NHL and jumped at the first opportunity. Just had to sit back and be a yes man. When his time came, he knew if he wanted to stay he'd have to be a yes man. Which is what he has done. He says he's never had a moved turned down, because he knows what wont go. He says all the right things in a presser then does exactly what King and ownership want him to do. this team wont change until the ownership realizes that. One of the main problems when you have multiple owners.

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