Depth, Creative Destruction and the Calgary Flames

RexLibris
July 09 2013 11:40AM

 

 

I had a look at the Flames depth chart the other day.

I thought the situation for this season was going to be grim going into October. In fact, I was pretty sure that Feaster was positioning the team for a top-five pick in this year's draft deliberately. The quote from the Calgary Flames' website the other day about his perception of the talent available in the 2013 free-agent crop seemed to be sane, realistic and arguably backed up this belief.

“At our meeting with ownership on May 9, we presented a preliminary list of unrestricted free agents at that time,” Feaster said, according to the team’s website. “One of the things we said to ownership was that we didn’t believe the answers to our problems, our situations, our needs were necessarily going to found in unrestricted free agency.”

Then I looked at their roster situation and depth chart and I had to laugh. The kind of laugh that comes out unbidden, when you see someone quite serenely and soberly walk into a calamity of their own volition, and it would appear to be the most natural thing in the world, except that it has everyone around them looking and thinking "what the-?!"

In the Deep End

The current depth chart for the Flames at center, according to capgeek, begins with Matt Stajan, moves on to Mikael Backlund, and then progresses (regresses?) to Blair Jones. Corban Knight appears set to take over as a 3rd or 4th line center, but he has never played an NHL game and with Sean Monahan coming in this year (a prospect whom I was hopeful the Oilers could select) this could result in the Flames dressing two rookies at center along with a developing 2nd line center in Backlund and perennial whipping boy Matt Stajan.

I shouldn't have to tell you that that is not a good thing.

The wings offer Calgary's one hope for fighting chance this season, but this is where the story takes another twist and leads to the heart of the matter.

Of the top-six wingers currently on the team, four arguably have the distinction of being considered bona fide top-six talents: Glencross, Hudler, Cammalleri and Stempniak. Cammalleri is over 30 now and his production is likely to decline (if he isn't post-apex, he can at least see it from here), and Stempniak is a prototypical depth winger. Scott Cullen has a terrific review of NHL rosters every off-season and includes a rating system for forwards. Stempniak makes the cut for a top-six forward just barely. On top of this, these same two wingers are pending UFAs at the end of this season. This is arguably the good news, as it means that the opportunity exists for the Flames to move both for picks or prospects at the deadline and rid themselves of two players who no longer fit the needs of the team.

However, this leads into the other free-agents-to-be for the Flames. This coming season Chris Butler, Kris Russell and Derek Smith are all set to become unrestricted free agents. None of those are crippling losses for the roster as they are all 3rd pairing blueliners. However, it does bring attention to an oft-overlooked weakness of the Flames organization: a dearth of prospects on the blueline. Here we get into the real crux of this article.

Kent Wilson has summed up the Flames development system in a very concise and accurate fashion before by simply saying "they need everything". This was prior to the 2013 draft, but still it could be considered to generally be true. Yet there are some areas that are more pressing needs than others.

To demonstrate, let's run a scenario.

If we were to assume that the Flames lost all three of those players listed above to free-agency, something I think is unlikely given Jay Feaster's penchant for offering contract extension to blueliners early in the season (see Sarich, Cory), it would mean that the team is almost certain to pursue at least two of those three positions through free-agency next summer.

There are very few internal options ready to step in and play at the NHL level right now.

Mark Cundari did have a short spell at the end of last season, and by eye performed well enough to give him another chance this coming year. However, it would be rash to expect him to graduate to a 3rd pairing NHL job next season this early in his development. There is also the towering Chris Breen who has been a top-4 guy in Abootsford for a couple of years. Breen could be a bottom pairing option if his lack of mobility and puck skills aren't too crippling. Fans have hopes for Tyler Wotherspoon, but at this point we don't know what kind of pro he might be.

At the same time there is nothing to suggest that there would be significantly better options available through free-agency next summer. The end result is that the Flames may let some free-agents go only to replace them with statistical dopplegangers who do not move the dial. Without internal options to improve, and with the roster built such as it is, it becomes highly unlikely that the best free-agents would choose to sign in Calgary until the team is competitive, it is difficult to project a scenario that seems marked improvement in this area either this season or next.

Now bottom pairing defensemen are generally cheap, so this isn't meant to suggest that the sky is falling. But it is a symptom of a larger problem within the organization.

Future Flames?

For the most part, I don't have a great deal of faith in Hockey's Future prospect rankings. Where I do find them useful is in how they can provide all of the names of prospects broken into forward, defense and goal positions. The Flames are currently listed with seven defensive prospects in their system. If we account for the general rate of attrition amongst prospects, that would mean that one of those bodies is likely to become an NHL player. And that excludes the higher rate of lost prospects amongst defensemen due to injury.

Of all the names on the Flames' list of blueliners developing, I'd put money on Wotherspoon at this stage. He's made it this far. Sieloff has come along well, and Cundari has already played some NHL games, but it is a long, long way from prospect to player.

The only other area in which the Flames are more desperate for prospects, warm bodies even, would be at Right Wing. Presumably the organization felt that this position was more or less taken care of for the foreseeable future when #12 was on the roster. Today, they have four names listed as RW prospects: Greg Nemisz, David Eddy, Ben Hanowski, and Tim Harrison, although left shooting Emile Poirier can apparently play both wings. Of those, Hanowski is closest to the NHL and will begin his first full professional season this year, likely in the AHL. Nemisz and Eddy are AHL-level talents and Harrison was a 6th round pick this past draft.

Wing is a difficult position to nail down as some players can switch sides, however for the most part a player has a clear preference or competence for one side or the other. Either way, RW is an area in which the Flames would be well-advised to spend some time acquiring and developing prospects or younger players at least.

The Flames have one area of prospect development that is brimming with bodies: goaltending. However, as has been discussed here at FN, that is also one of the least efficient areas of development in which to invest. The percentage of players who turn into useful NHL guys is notoriously small, and when taken in conjunction with the almost voodoo-like methods of discerning goaltending talent amongst prospects, it is a stock portfolio heavily leveraged in lottery tickets. If it pays off, you're set. If not...

But What Comes Next?

So the Flames have a shortage of NHL-tested centers for this coming year (nothing new), a paucity which may force or entice the team to push recent draft Sean Monahan into service. The club is also heavy with wingers whose best-before date is quickly approaching or whose ceiling is well-below elite and are set to become free-agents, a shortage of internal options with which those roster spots can be replaced, and a defense corps that is set to lose marginal supporting players to free-agency thus raising the even-more-terrifying specter of re-signing those players to retain some semblance of an NHL roster, with no obvious TJ Brodie-like internal replacements on the horizon.

But what might be the bright side of this situation? There is a concept known as creative destruction, highlighted in the book "Why Nations Fail" by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, which can be defined as the opportunity which arises from the collapse of a system, leading to the creation of an innovative and adaptive new system in its wake. For the Flames, the collapse of their previous roster paradigm - centered around Jarome Iginla, Jay Bouwmeester and Miikka Kiprusoff - has already occurred and a new one is waiting to be established.

It should be noted that the collapse of an institution or system does not inherently demand the creation of a new one to take its place. A vacuum can exist following such a collapse, with no new paradigm or structure emerging to take its place. In NHL terms, this would be those teams who wander the proverbial desert.

For the sake of argument let us assume that the roster holes that exist today will be filled with upgrades, even minor ones, via trade and free-agency, the alternative is the status quo and as much as that has been the norm over the past few years for the Flames, it almost certainly will not be so any longer.

If the Flames address their pending roster holes (on the wings and the 4,5,6,7 slots on the blueline) through free-agency they must run uphill to attract quality, impact players who will improve the team by their mere addition. A difficult sell when the team had a fighting chance, now that they are rebuilding this is a virtual impossibiity. An alternative is that they will have to settle for the second-tier UFAs who can, at the very least, sustain the team and help support those players already there as they continue to develop.

The latter is the option that I believe is most feasible and will be the most desirable in the long-term as it will allow the team to come to rest in its most natural setting and draft accordingly. Thus creating an opportunity for value-added restructuring through improved draft position.

Crafting A Solid Foundation

The Flames have begun to assemble a collection of prospects around which the team intends to build. Statistically speaking, of the past three drafts, it would be reasonable to expect that the Flames will graduate approximately two impact to elite-level NHL players and three to four NHL players at or slightly above replacement level over the next five years.That is in total, not on a per/year basis, for the draft years extending from 2011 to 2013, and obviously this is based solely on those prospects currently enlisted.

Based on that rough projection, and factoring in a rate of attrition with an older roster and impending free-agents coming due over the next three seasons (nine in 2013-14, four in 2014-15, and three in 2015-16) that would require the Flames to graduate an astonishing number of rookies into their NHL roster over the next few years. Upwards of four or five next season, though declining after that. Simply put, their current development system and talent pool does not support this level of elevation.

Obviously this won't happen and they will try to augment this roster need by re-signing some free-agents and acquiring new ones. I'm leaving out trade possibilities because it is impossible to predict.

The rebuilding of the Calgary Flames is currently focused on their drafting and development. However, management has shown a willingness, eagerness even, to pursue trades as a means of adding prospects further along in their development than those currently available.

Regardless of the team's record in either of these departments, the former is the most enticing and ultimately promising area of franchise expenditure. Draft picks are a renewable asset with an historical rate of return - depending on position - and, when handled properly, offer a cheap influx of talent on an almost annual basis.

The rebuilding effort underway in the Flames organization today begins, correctly, with the drafting and developing of a core of players. However, there are several areas of development and multiple factors at play simultaneously. Free-agency, recognizing and re-signing important depth pieces of the roster, leveraging current assets to support the larger long-term goal, and establishing a balance within a poorly maintained talent pool are all requirements. The task ahead would be like trying to solve a Rubik's Cube by moving all sides at once.

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#51 BurningSensation
July 09 2013, 09:33PM
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RexLibris wrote:

Don't worry, we won't speak of it again.

I have the sad feeling Hall is going to kick us in the teeth for a very, very, very long time.

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#52 chillout
July 09 2013, 09:37PM
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@BurningSensation

nah he's one head down charge from being Eric Lindros'd right out of the league.

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#53 Jeff Lebowski
July 09 2013, 10:18PM
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@RexLibris

I think EDM will be significantly better this upcoming season. I think MacT has done a very good job. The 'boldness' to me was a line fans could be heartened with and if rumour is true he tried hard.

I do think that when CAR took Lindholm and we took Monahan it screwed him over. I think he wanted a centre that could bump Gagner to third line.

The question I have about his draft choice: Who will be better (long term) at their position, Nurse or Horvat (who I think they should've taken)?

I agree with you about defence prospects and 'gestation' time (haha).

However I think you can piecemeal a d corp (like the Hawks, Bruins) once you have 1 true stud. For the oil, Schultz or Klembom or Nurse (one of which I think should get flipped for a power centre). For Calgary...(I love Brodie but is he great? Hopefully.)

I don't think the cost of acquiring good but not great d men is too high, compared to good but not great centres (and wingers to a lesser degree).

EDM just has more good young pieces. They should since they've been at the rebuild longer.

I think there is generational talent (I don't think Hall, RNH or Yak are generational - but really good) coming with the next 2-3 drafts and it would be sweet if Calgary gets it. Will Calgary's drafted players push through before (will they push through at all?) and take them out of the running? As Weisbrod pointed out, look at Kadri: #7 in 2009. Broke through 4 years later.

The timing is looking good for Calgary.

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#54 clyde
July 09 2013, 11:04PM
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BurningSensation wrote:

As much as it pains me, Edmonton does have at least one (and IMO likely more) elite player;

Taylor Hall.

I wouldn't say so. He had no production in the crunch last year and was played sparingly overseas due to his trouble with the coaching staff. He is one who may develop into that category.

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#55 Baalzamon
July 09 2013, 11:21PM
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chillout wrote:

nah he's one head down charge from being Eric Lindros'd right out of the league.

That's a myth. Hall has never had a concussion (at least, he hasn't since he turned pro). The injury you're thinking of occurred when a teammate stepped on his face during a warmup. A broken cheekbone, I believe.

Last season, Hall didn't face any freak accidents. And, lo and behold, he played a full season. Funny how that works out.

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#56 loudogYYC
July 09 2013, 11:23PM
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Taylor Hall will always be dangerous, but once RNH adds a few pounds, he and Eberle will be big point producers. They still need another centre though. The most important position in hockey.

I really hope Feaster and company at least try to sign Grabovski. We'll need a veteran point producer once Cammaleri is gone.

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#57 Baalzamon
July 09 2013, 11:25PM
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@Jeff Lebowski

"Who will be better (long term) at their position, Nurse or Horvat (who I think they should've taken)?"

Nurse. And it isn't even close.

ALL of the hype surrounding Horvat comes from a) the fact that he plays the game "the right way" (and he's Canadian) and b) from a decent playoff (23 points in 20 games). In the regular season, he had only 61 points in 67 games. That's worse than noted plug Brendan Gaunce did in his draft year. And Horvat was on a MUCH better team.

Honestly, I don't get it.

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#58 BurningSensation
July 09 2013, 11:29PM
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@Jeff Lebowski

"I think EDM will be significantly better this upcoming season."

I disagree. I think they could be better (they were pretty bad, so improvement should be in the cards), but I doubt they make the playoffs. The defense is still bad bordering on atrocious, and Dubnyk scares exactly nobody as a #1 goaltender.

The biggest hole on the roster is at #2C where Gagner has been a corsi disaster. On a team starving for a #2 pivot Gagner is being converted to the wing.

"The question I have about his draft choice: Who will be better (long term) at their position, Nurse or Horvat (who I think they should've taken)?"

Nurse. Horvat brings a wide variety of skills to the dance, and should be an excellent complimentary player, but Nurse flashes true #1 potential, and has freakish athletic abilities in terms of size and skating. The tough call for me isn't on Nurse over Horvat, it is Nurse over Nichushkin.

"However I think you can piecemeal a d corp (like the Hawks, Bruins) once you have 1 true stud"

Agreed, though I think the Hawks have two; Keith and Seabrook.

"For the oil, Schultz or Klembom or Nurse (one of which I think should get flipped for a power centre)."

I don't think you can flip either of Klefbom or Nurse for a power center, they are too rare a breed (which is why have some sympathy for the idea the Oilers should have taken Horvat).

"I think there is generational talent (I don't think Hall, RNH or Yak are generational - but really good) coming with the next 2-3 drafts and it would be sweet if Calgary gets it."

It would be sweet. That said, I think Hall is one of the elite right now, and is arguably the 2nd best LW in the game after Ovechkin, or the best if OV is a RW.

"The timing is looking good for Calgary."

I tend to agree. I'd put the inner boundary for a return to the playoffs at two years, and the outer at six.

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#59 backburner
July 09 2013, 11:49PM
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The only negative I can see about where the Oilers are at now, is that Colorado are developing at the same rate if not better. Aves have Landeskog, Duchene and now Mackinnon.. should be some good battles in the future!

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#60 Tenbrucelees
July 10 2013, 12:59AM
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What a confusing article. First para says you laughed because feasted reckons that there is not much to currently help in free agency. Then you list a million reasons where the team sucks. Then you recap by saying a lot more words and suggest that they need more prospects/trades/free agents. Er yeah I guess so ....

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#61 chillout
July 10 2013, 06:29AM
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Baalzamon wrote:

That's a myth. Hall has never had a concussion (at least, he hasn't since he turned pro). The injury you're thinking of occurred when a teammate stepped on his face during a warmup. A broken cheekbone, I believe.

Last season, Hall didn't face any freak accidents. And, lo and behold, he played a full season. Funny how that works out.

Yeah but he's been lucky, is he not notorious for charging around with his head down? or has he smartened up?

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#62 Scary Gary
July 10 2013, 08:02AM
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Baalzamon wrote:

That's a myth. Hall has never had a concussion (at least, he hasn't since he turned pro). The injury you're thinking of occurred when a teammate stepped on his face during a warmup. A broken cheekbone, I believe.

Last season, Hall didn't face any freak accidents. And, lo and behold, he played a full season. Funny how that works out.

Didn't Sarich give Hall a concussion?

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#67 everton fc
July 10 2013, 09:17AM
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loudogYYC wrote:

Taylor Hall will always be dangerous, but once RNH adds a few pounds, he and Eberle will be big point producers. They still need another centre though. The most important position in hockey.

I really hope Feaster and company at least try to sign Grabovski. We'll need a veteran point producer once Cammaleri is gone.

Brunner might be a nice fit in Edmonton. Ditto, Grabovski.

Both could fit their needs... But both are on the small-side.

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#68 everton fc
July 10 2013, 09:19AM
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backburner wrote:

The only negative I can see about where the Oilers are at now, is that Colorado are developing at the same rate if not better. Aves have Landeskog, Duchene and now Mackinnon.. should be some good battles in the future!

The Avs could be very good, very quick. I get a sense they'll surprise a lot of people next season.

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#69 Scary Gary
July 10 2013, 09:23AM
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RexLibris wrote:

He did.

Hall's injury history is largely a combination of nagging junior issues (shoulder) and freak incidents as when Potter stepped on his forehead and he sprained his ankle in a fight with Jared Boll (iirc).

The Sarich hit was one bona fide injury that fits the bill of many of his critics, keeping his head down. Gabriel Landeskog had a more significant injury two years ago with Andy Sutton that was the result of the same thing. These things happen with young forwards and Hall has impressed in his ability to alter and adapt his game thus far into his career.

No doubt, Hall is good; I wasn't a believe until I watched him quite a bit last season. People that doubt him haven't been watching him or aren't objective.

Regardless, the oil are going to be hard pressed to crack 10th.

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#70 piscera.infada
July 10 2013, 09:26AM
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@everton fc

They have a worse situation on defence then the Oil do. I remember when everyone was hyping them up last year, picking them to win the North West. I just don't see it. Good in the future? Likely. I have a hard time believe they'll suddenly get over their major issues just because of Patrick Roy. Could be wrong though.

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#71 McRib
July 10 2013, 09:39AM
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@RexLibris

"With regards to the 2013 draft year being one of the top three of all time, I'm sorry, but all the recent history suggests that this simply is not the case."

What Recent History?? Hahahah. I just gave you three examples off the top of my head that completely support the drafts depth. I could make a case for almost any other Top. 60 pick this year (Not Michael McCarron or Marko Dano) being drafted 10-30 slots higher.

Kerby Rychel had 87 points this season. Other years a pure scorer like him goes in the Top. 10, as scouts would look past average skating. This year they can afford to be picky, hence why in deep years first rounders pan out so often, teams are twice as selective with the scouting process, major question marks are not overlooked.Hunter Shinkaruk would not fall outside of the Top. 10 any other year because he had a bad "interview or two". But once again teams could be selective this year because of the talent pool. Anthony Mantha scores 50 GOALS and Detroit knows they can trade down and still get him at 20...

The greatest comparison of all, look at Klefbom's (19th) J20 SuperElit 2011-2012 Stats the year after he was drafted and Hägg's (41st) totals this year. Oscar Klefbom (GP 15 G 1 A 3 P 4 -4) Robert Hägg (GP 28 G 11 A 13 P 24 +8)Hagg put up far better offensive numbers with a better +/-. Basically Klefbom would have been very lucky to go in the second round this year.

Do you want to know where Andrew Cogliano (25th) goes this year (best Tier Two Player)?? Look no further than Adam Tambellini who went 65th. Actually watched both of them draft year Tambellini has a much better release is four inches taller and his skating isn't far off. Look at Nic Petan (43rd) compare him to Jaden Schwartz who went 14th his draft year... You cannot tell me Petan is not a Top. 20 player any other year. This years first two rounds were twice as deep as normal, as someone who follows the draft extremely close if this is not one of the top three all time it definitely is the best without a doubt since 2003. Most teams will come away with at least 1-2 Top. 6 players the Flames came away with at least 3.

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#74 Kurt
July 10 2013, 12:47PM
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clyde wrote:

I wouldn't say so. He had no production in the crunch last year and was played sparingly overseas due to his trouble with the coaching staff. He is one who may develop into that category.

So you don't think Hall qualifies as an elite player (he would have been second line all star had the hockey writers not voted OV to left and right wing...). But we think Sven, Johnny G and 3-4 others are elite prospects...

I mean I'm a homer fan too but yikes. If Hall isn't elite, I can confidently declare we have zero elite prospects. I get hating on the Coilers but common...

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