Flames 2013-14 Season preview - Creative Destruction

Kent Wilson
October 03 2013 07:47AM

 

 

After four years of teetering on the edge of the precipice, the Flames finally plunged head first into the abyss. The only pertinent question for the club now is how deep the hole goes.

last year, the season preview was titled battling the inevitable. Thanks to a confluence of circumstances - Iginla's pending free agency, the implosion of the goaltending, bad luck, bad roster construction - Calgary finally, inexorably, lost the battle and the organization was forced to finally do what so many fans and pundits had been suggesting for so long - begin the rebuild.

The irony is, the Flames probably weren't as bad as their results suggested in 2012-13. Calgary suffered through the worst puck-stopping in the league thanks to Kipper finally bowing to the ravages of time as well as the club's terrible depth in net behind him. The Flames still suffered from all of the issues that dogged them for the last three prior seasons - an expensive, aging top-end that was no longer elite and a complete lack of peak age talent - but with league average goaltending they nevertheless would have been at least been solidly middling once again. No doubt that would have led to some difficult (or delayed) decisions regarding Jarome Iginla Miikka Kiprusoff, which perhaps would have further extended the wait to "blow it up" at least one more season.

Instead, the crease brigade imploded and the Flames were well out of the running by the trade deadline which forced Feaster to finally auction off Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester. Calgary's underlying numbers fell apart shortly thereafter as the veterans were traded or fell to injury and the team attempted to lose down the stretch. It didn't get them in the top-5 at the draft, unfortunately, but there's still plenty of time for that.

The Forwards

Out: Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, Roman Cervenka, Steve Begin

In: David Jones, TJ Galiardi, Sean Monahan, Corban Knight, Joe Colborne

Gone are Iginla, Blake Comeau and Alex Tanguay, all via trade. Ill-fated experiment Roamn Cervenka fled back to the KHL this summer after struggling to keep up with the defensive aspects of the game on North American ice. Instead, the team will skate with David Jones, acquired in the Tanguay trade (when it was clear Alex had no interest sticking around for a rebuild) and native Calgarian TJ Galiardi, garnered from the Sharks for a 4th round pick. Both guys are capable middle tier forwards, but neither is going to answer the Flames greatest need: elite level talent. Of which there is precisely none on this club.

Rookie Sven Baertschi and new top prospect and 6th overall pick Sean Monahan might develop into high level guys one day, but neither is there yet. The former will get a lot of chances to find his stride with the parent club this season after bouncing around the NHL and AHL last year. Baertschi is the best pure offensive forward in the organization's pro ranks currently, but his game needs refinement and development at the highest level. At just 21 years old there's a lot of room for improvement in Baertschi's intensity and decision making in all areas of the ice, although there are some fans who expect him to challenge for the team scoring lead right away. The truth is he's optimistically two years away from being a high impact player at this level.

Monahan is just 18 years old and will get a 9-game cup of coffee with the Flames, because newly rebuilding teams can almost never resist showing of their shiniest new bauble. Monahan is a potentially elite two-way center, but like Baertschi isn't going to dominate the proceedings just yet. 

The rest of the line-up is more or less unchanged. Lee Stempniak, Curtis Glencross and Maat Stajan will start the year as the league's most roundly dismissed (but probably underrated) first line. All three guys are quality players of varying degrees and if they formed Calgary's third line at even strength, the club would be a power house rather than a weak sister. Alas. Look for pending UFA's Stempniak and Stajan to be flipped at the deadline.

Probable second-line Mikael Backlund is entering a pivotal season with the team. Re-signed to a one-year "prove it" deal this past summer, Backlund has some of the best underlying numbers on the squad, but will have to remain healthy and spike those results with some offensive finish if he's to stick around long term. At 24, Backlund is one of the very few current Flames close to peak age iand with a bit more scoring he could become a two-way force around which the rest of the resurgent roster can be built around.

Calgary rounds out its top-six depth with 45-50 point guy Jiri Hudler (who is no doubt looking for a back door out of this situation) and Mike Cammalleri. The latter will be the team's lone, remaining big gun from days gone by. Cammalleri is still an effective triggerman, but isn't a talent who is going to singlehandedly right the ship. Management will no doubt look to pump his value as much as possible before auctioning him to the highest bidder at the deadline.

At the bottom end of the rotation is Galiaradi, Jones, tough guy Jackman, potential checker Lance Bouma and facepuncher Brian McGrattan. On the edges of the roster are hopefuls Roman Horak, Corban Knight, Joe Colborne and Max Reinhart, all of whom will likely get looks when injuries and trades cull the big club's roster. Knight, at 23 years old, was a quality college player and high-end Florida prospect acquired in the summer. He was expected to press for a spot out of training camp, but it became in pre-season clear he'll need at least some seasoning in the minors.

The recently acquired 6'5" pivot Joe Colborne has the potential to be quality 2nd or 3rd line center, but will need to work his way up the depth chart and stave off challenges by other hopefuls in order to stay in the rotation. If Colborne can play, look for him to take over for Sean Monahan on the active roster beyond the 9-game mark, which is when the team will have to decide whether to keep the kid and burn a year of his ELC or send him back to junior. 

Overall, the Flames have enough talent and depth that they won't be routinely run out of the rink, assuming they get the bounces. There's zero established elite possession or scoring talents, and no one is poised to become elite this season either. The depth is also precarious given the lack of top-end ability - one or two injuries to or trades of players in the top-6 and things get thin in a big hurry for Calgary. Some kids are bound to get a lot of at bats on the big team this year as a result, which isn't necessarily a bad thing since 2013-14 is a fact finding mission for the club and not a search for the holy grail.  

The Defense

Out: Jay Bouwmeester, Cory Sarich

In: Shane O'Brien, Kris Russell

The Flames blueline, like it's forwards corps, features some good players, but zero elite talents and the depth gets scary as soon as you get beyond the top of the rotation. TJ Brodie is perhaps the best story to emerge out of the club's fall from grace over the last 12 months or so and should be firmly ensconced in the top-4 group, if not the top-2 pairing. A high-end puck mover Brodie, like Backlund, will have to further prove he's the sort of talent the team will be able to start assembling a new core around by continuing to develop and improve.

New captain Mark Giordano and Dennis Wideman round out the top-3, although both would probably be number four guys on a contender. Cory Sarich was replaced by Shane O'Brien in the Tanguay trade, and the move probably won't make much difference either way. Kris Russell lands in Calgary, his third NHL stop despite being just 26 years old. A second round pick by Columbus, Russell made the NHL at 20 years old and was tabbed to be a high-end offensive producer after tearing up junior, but never managed to take thet step in the NHL. His best output in the NHL is just a 23-point season in 2010-11. Russell is quick and mobile, but small and can struggle with containing bigger opponents. His underlying numbers have been mediocre forever.

Beyond Russell is Chris Butler, who may have been the worst veteran defender in the league last year, tweener Derek Smith and tough guy O'Brien. Knocking on the door is towering AHL vet Chris Breen, who has yet to prove he can handle the pace in the show, and diminutive trade deadline acquisition Mark Cundari, who has the exact opposite problem. The best bet to make the jump is Cundari, who was an AHL all-star last year and handled didn't look terribly over his head during his brief stint on the big club previously. 

There are less question marks for the Flames on the back-end than perhaps anywhere else. Brodie, Giordano and Wideman will be sticking around for a few more seasons and they should form a decent trio in terms of puck movement and offense. The bottom-end of the blueline is suspect and the club could use at least one more top-4 body, but there's no real rush to fill that gap just yet since Calgary isn't contending this year anyways. Of course, as with the forwards, a few key injuries or two could sink the boat really quickly.

Goaltending

Out: Miikka Kiprusoff, Danny Taylor, Leland Irving

In: Karri Ramo, Reto Berra, Joni Ortio, Laurent Brossoit

Kipper's gone and his replacements are almost complete enigmas.

Karri Ramo has been a top tier goalie in the KHL for the last three years, but no one knows how or if that success will translate on this side of the pond. An average or better Ramo would go a long way to keeping the Flames out of the league's basement this year. On the other hand, if Ramo fails to make the adjustment, the Flames could easily be picking inside the top-3 at the draft come June. Some preliminary work on KHL-NHL translation factors suggest Ramo should be better than league average (.920 SV% overall), but that's completely theoretical at this juncture.

Joey MacDonald is a mediocre, 33-year old NHL journeyman the team decided to keep around at the end last season for some reason. There's no upside there. Reto Berra has been plying his trade in the Swiss league for years, which is even more obscure and difficult to translate to the NHL than the Russian league. He will get some starts in the AHL to prove he's worth a damn, while rookies Joni Ortio and Laurent Brossoit will wait and hope for him to slip up. Brossoit was a highly successful WHL goalie who will probably have to spend some time in the ECHL owing to the crowded crease, while Ortio was an above average starter in the Finnish Elite league at 22 years old in 2012-13.

The goaltending situation for the Flames this year is a giant petri dish - management is just hoping something good grows there.

Management

There's been as much turnover in the front offices than there has been on the ice the last few years. With the recent arrival of Brian Burke to a group already featuring Jay Feaster, John Weisbrod, Chris Snow and Craig Conroy, the question is will the Flames executive class come together to form a harmonious leadership group or will the organization descend into a battle of personalities and egos? Burke brings with him a wealth of experience and a track record of audacious trades and maneuvers, but also a fairly mixed history of overall team building. He's also not shy about his disdain for new analysis and the traditional need for grit on the roster.

If the suits manage to come together in a way that evokes the best in each guy, Calgary could have a fairly formidable front office given the mix of exeprience and talents they currently boast. On the other hand, there's an old cliche about cooks in a kitchen that tends to apply to such circumstances.

Conclusion

With some luck the Flames could surprise some folks and not be terrible this year, but the truth this season isn't really about the club's on-ice record. The real goal is develop, experiment and test the org's various younger commodities, so Calgary can begin to understand what they have to build around and, more importantly, what they need to aqcuire to grow into a contender.

Although the club has already begun panning for gold by grabbing guys like Colborne and Knight this summer, the team is still relatively talent and asset poor. The depth of the prospect pool has grown substantially over the last three years, but it will take time and luck for any of those hopefuls to progress into difference makers at the NHL level.

In the mean time, things are going to be unpleasant at the NHL level. In fact, there's a non-trivial chance the record will get worse over the next two seasons before it gets better - with probable trades of Cammalleri, Stempniak, Stajan and maybe even Hudler over the next 12 months, the Flames are a good bet to lose more established talent than they will be able to acquire or develop.

The true bottom is approaching. The question is, how long does it take the team to recover?

Other Stuff

In case you missed it yesterday, I had separate bits appear in the Calgary Herald and National Post. In the Herald piece, I explain how the Flames were a victim of circumstance as much as poor roster management last season (analysis which should be familiar to regular readers here), while in the NP I joined a panel of "bloggers" and answered some questions about the upcoming season. Mikhail Grabovski's opening night hat trick made me look pretty bright for singing his praises in this piece...

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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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#2 piscera.infada
October 03 2013, 09:38AM
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@Derzie

The death knell has already sounded for Sven. He can't magically become a 3 zone player can he?

That's what they said about Kadri in Toronto. He figured it out.

If you actually think - based off nothing more than one comment in a press conference, that was based off one month of seeing Baertschi play in a training camp - that Burke is already looking to trade away our young players, I want some of what you're smoking, 'cause it must be damn good.

I think the first half of that comment (the one where he said "flashes of brilliance") is being overlooked. Maybe Burke didn't mean the second half, and is going to run away to France with Baertschi to train him in the fine art of abstractionist painting - in fact, I'm very worried, nay, almost certain that's definitely what will happen.

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#4 Willi P
October 03 2013, 10:18AM
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Clay wrote:

Oilers were a little lucky having Hemsky and Horcoff on the books for so much, for so long, until the kids earned their second deals.

I think it is a stretch to say the Oil Kids "earned their second deals". On almost any other team they would have been offered bridge deals not 6M and term.

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#5 danglesnipecelly
October 03 2013, 10:53AM
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I'm I the only one that thinks Stajan could be re-signed at this point...

*slaps self in face for uttering such blasphemy*

Seriously though, he's playing well, seems to be on board with the rebuild, maybe not such a bad guy to have around for a few more years at say $2M

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#6 Subz
October 03 2013, 08:34AM
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Good Read,

I'm looking forward to see what other pieces will be moved out and brought in. Gio, could have returned a nice return, but with him given the C i doubt this happens, and i suppose we need to ice something resembling a nhl team.

On a unrelated point Sean Couturier played 11 min last night , WTF is going on there.

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#7 Clay
October 03 2013, 10:10AM
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BurningSensation wrote:

Sven is only 21. He could still be the Swiss Hakan Loob.

Svekan Boob

I'm a child

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#8 Clay
October 03 2013, 08:39AM
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I mentioned this on Twitter a couple of days ago... the Flames cannot sell Cammalleri, Stajan, and Stempniak without doing a little shopping for next year. If the cap goes up ~8M or so as expected the floor rises to ~58M.

Even if the Flames sign Gaudreau and potentially others to rookie max deals and rush them into the NHL, and our other free agents earn raises, they can't get there. Whether they/we like it or not, we need an inflated contract or two to float this ship.

For that reason, Hudler can look for a back door all he wants, but it isn't there unless money comes back.

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#9 ChinookArch
October 03 2013, 09:56AM
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@Kent Wilson

"Chris Butler, who may have been the worst veteran defender in the league last year,"

That honour belongs to the worst defensemen every to wear crimson: Anton Babchuk. Even Michel Petit was better than Babs.

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#10 BurningSensation
October 03 2013, 10:07AM
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Derzie wrote:

The direction the Flames take will be based on seats. If the 'Sea of Red' turns out to be empty red seats, panic will set in and the whale hunting will commence. I know the season tickets are already set but the bums-in-seats feeding the concessions and merch profits are important as well. Also, good point by @Primo on Burke's imprint. The death knell has already sounded for Sven. He can't magically become a 3 zone player can he?

Sven is only 21. He could still be the Swiss Hakan Loob.

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#11 Clay
October 03 2013, 10:42AM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

Re; Flames and the cap floor...ALL THE MORE REASON TO TRADE FOR LILES AND GET SOMETHING ELSE IN RETURN. Agreed? Agreed.

or OFFER SHEET O'REILLY!

Dude was an animal for Colorado last night.

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#12 Jeff Lebowski
October 03 2013, 11:04AM
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@piscera.infada

I think the first half of that comment (the one where he said "flashes of brilliance") is being overlooked.

I totally agree and said 'he did call him brilliant' the moment Burke uttered it.

The other comments are much ado about nothing.

Sven is going to be a motivated player and I think he will be flying tonight.

GFG!

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#13 Baalzamon
October 03 2013, 11:07AM
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@danglesnipecelly

My issue with keeping Stajan around is this:

Backlund

Monahan

Colborne

Horak

Reinhart

Knight

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#14 thprop1
October 03 2013, 11:13AM
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I am going to snicker and watch everyone's proverbial heads explode when this version of the flames is "in the hunt" at the deadline. I am not saying Stanley Cup or even playoffs...but you watch they will be close enough that some deals will remain "un-done". They are not going to be bad enough....mark my words. :)

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#15 seve927
October 03 2013, 11:19AM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

Re; Flames and the cap floor...ALL THE MORE REASON TO TRADE FOR LILES AND GET SOMETHING ELSE IN RETURN. Agreed? Agreed.

A good start by the Leafs won't hurt anything either, as they bask in the warm glow of the dynasty they are building; the cap space will look more and more inviting. They don't need that 1st!

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#16 Clay
October 03 2013, 08:40AM
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Subz wrote:

Good Read,

I'm looking forward to see what other pieces will be moved out and brought in. Gio, could have returned a nice return, but with him given the C i doubt this happens, and i suppose we need to ice something resembling a nhl team.

On a unrelated point Sean Couturier played 11 min last night , WTF is going on there.

Vinny Lecavalier

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#17 vowswithin
October 03 2013, 08:42AM
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WOoooo Hockkkkeeyyyyyyyyyyyyy

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#18 Primo
October 03 2013, 08:46AM
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Kent..my compliments on a nice summary.

In a few months all these off season moves will be irrelevant. The creative destruction you mention will soon start! The make up of this team will change drastically over the next couple of years. I believe the 'Brian Burke' type players will start to emerge within the organization and you will start to see more skill, size and toughness. Soon we will see the departure of players like Sven and Backlund in exchange for chemistry, size and toughness Burke is looking for. Burke starts nothing without a top flight veteran goaltender (Riemer?). The defense will be totally different by end of current hockey season and on and on it goes!

My 2 cents worth on creative destruction.

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#20 Stockley
October 03 2013, 09:01AM
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Primo wrote:

Kent..my compliments on a nice summary.

In a few months all these off season moves will be irrelevant. The creative destruction you mention will soon start! The make up of this team will change drastically over the next couple of years. I believe the 'Brian Burke' type players will start to emerge within the organization and you will start to see more skill, size and toughness. Soon we will see the departure of players like Sven and Backlund in exchange for chemistry, size and toughness Burke is looking for. Burke starts nothing without a top flight veteran goaltender (Riemer?). The defense will be totally different by end of current hockey season and on and on it goes!

My 2 cents worth on creative destruction.

Not sure I'd consider Reimer a veteran goalie just yet. Ramo is more of a veteran if you're looking at age and body of work; he's just a mostly unproven commodity outside of Russia and Europe. I have a feeling the current stable of goalies will get lots of time to establish whether they're terrible or the real deal. This team is going nowhere of note anytime soon so why rush the process? They're all just keeping the crease warm until Gillies turns pro anyhow.

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#21 schevvy
October 03 2013, 09:18AM
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FYI Kent Backs signed a two year deal with the Flames. Brodie is also on a two year

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#22 Baalzamon
October 03 2013, 12:35PM
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Parallex wrote:

No, they wouldn't have. Not for sure anyways. Tavares got dollars and a long-term deal, Myers got dollars and a long-term deal, Karlsson got dollars and a long-term deal...

It's perfectly acceptable to give a large 2nd contract so long as you make the proper risk vs. future savings evaluation.

You can debate whether they made the right eval but I think it's wrong to say that almost any other team would have offered bridge deals.

especially with Hall and Eberle. I could see Nugent-Hopkins maybe getting a 1 year from some teams, but Hall would have been locked up regardless.

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#23 negrilcowboy
October 03 2013, 02:55PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

Re; Flames and the cap floor...ALL THE MORE REASON TO TRADE FOR LILES AND GET SOMETHING ELSE IN RETURN. Agreed? Agreed.

Agreed, Liles and a couple of other additions would at the minimum foster a slight ray of hope.

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#24 seve927
October 03 2013, 08:42AM
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How do you think the Flames will (or should, if that's a different question) manage reaching the salary floor if they fire sale as you suggest?

(as I see Clay has questioned as well).

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#25 Clay
October 03 2013, 08:44AM
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seve927 wrote:

How do you think the Flames will (or should, if that's a different question) manage reaching the salary floor if they fire sale as you suggest?

(as I see Clay has questioned as well).

Oilers were a little lucky having Hemsky and Horcoff on the books for so much, for so long, until the kids earned their second deals.

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#26 AronV
October 03 2013, 08:45AM
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Boy, that's a lot of downgrading...

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#27 Michael
October 03 2013, 09:01AM
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@seve927

We still have a couple of unanswered questions; are the owners really content with the rebuild and finishing in the bottom five (or do Edwards comments about being competitive and making the playoffs stand) and why was Burke added into the mix?

Its quite possible that the ownership group has little time for the long traditional rebuild, and that Burke was added at the very least to jump start it, or even to radically accelerate it. I suspect that the 'rebuild' will end this year, replaced by the 'now' that we have come to expect from the ownership group. I expect that Burke and gang to be strong buyers much sooner than people expect (can you say 'star' player, established goalie)so reaching the floor next season isn't going to be an issue.

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#28 Clay
October 03 2013, 09:05AM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

Yeah good point. The issue is, if Stempniak, Stajan and Cammalleri don't want to sty here, the Flames will pretty much have to move them.

Agreed. I think the 3 are gone. Stajan may stay, but if I were him I wouldn't Otherwise, I think we are married to Wideman/Hudler and others.

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#29 Derzie
October 03 2013, 09:25AM
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The direction the Flames take will be based on seats. If the 'Sea of Red' turns out to be empty red seats, panic will set in and the whale hunting will commence. I know the season tickets are already set but the bums-in-seats feeding the concessions and merch profits are important as well. Also, good point by @Primo on Burke's imprint. The death knell has already sounded for Sven. He can't magically become a 3 zone player can he?

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#30 Clay
October 03 2013, 09:40AM
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Derzie wrote:

The direction the Flames take will be based on seats. If the 'Sea of Red' turns out to be empty red seats, panic will set in and the whale hunting will commence. I know the season tickets are already set but the bums-in-seats feeding the concessions and merch profits are important as well. Also, good point by @Primo on Burke's imprint. The death knell has already sounded for Sven. He can't magically become a 3 zone player can he?

The seats are green... as I suspect our new 3rd jersey will be to hedge our bets.

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#31 ChinookArch
October 03 2013, 09:52AM
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Clay wrote:

I mentioned this on Twitter a couple of days ago... the Flames cannot sell Cammalleri, Stajan, and Stempniak without doing a little shopping for next year. If the cap goes up ~8M or so as expected the floor rises to ~58M.

Even if the Flames sign Gaudreau and potentially others to rookie max deals and rush them into the NHL, and our other free agents earn raises, they can't get there. Whether they/we like it or not, we need an inflated contract or two to float this ship.

For that reason, Hudler can look for a back door all he wants, but it isn't there unless money comes back.

This has got to be a very easy fix. Spending money is not hard for NHL teams or any of the GM's. Let's just hope they spend wisely in the long run.

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#32 Baalzamon
October 03 2013, 10:00AM
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LOL! I just read a bunch of the comments on that National Post article... holy crum! Ignorance is still alive in the world, never doubt it.

If all else fails (re: reaching the cap floor next season) the Flames could always "Jeff Finger" Chris Butler or somebody.

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#33 Parallex
October 03 2013, 10:35AM
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seve927 wrote:

How do you think the Flames will (or should, if that's a different question) manage reaching the salary floor if they fire sale as you suggest?

(as I see Clay has questioned as well).

I would imagine in the short-term (this year) they'll simply eat $$ on the trades to expand the return/range of bidders.

Medium-term (Next year) I imagine we'll see either a few trades for short-term bad money deals with some extra's attached or we'll see some deadline bait guys added that get relatively rich 1 year deals.

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#34 Craig
October 03 2013, 11:09AM
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I'm so excited for this season! I think I'll get a Sven jersey this year. That kid just flat out impresses me on and off the ice.

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#36 Parallex
October 03 2013, 12:19PM
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Willi P wrote:

I think it is a stretch to say the Oil Kids "earned their second deals". On almost any other team they would have been offered bridge deals not 6M and term.

No, they wouldn't have. Not for sure anyways. Tavares got dollars and a long-term deal, Myers got dollars and a long-term deal, Karlsson got dollars and a long-term deal...

It's perfectly acceptable to give a large 2nd contract so long as you make the proper risk vs. future savings evaluation.

You can debate whether they made the right eval but I think it's wrong to say that almost any other team would have offered bridge deals.

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#37 clyde
October 03 2013, 04:20PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

Re; Flames and the cap floor...ALL THE MORE REASON TO TRADE FOR LILES AND GET SOMETHING ELSE IN RETURN. Agreed? Agreed.

Agreed

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#38 please cancel acct
October 03 2013, 06:12PM
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Where do you place the coach in regard's to team success Kent?

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#39 Danny Lawson
October 03 2013, 08:59PM
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Gonna be a long season.

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