Random Thoughts - Flames through the first half

Kent Wilson
January 07 2014 09:30AM

 

 

(This was written before last night's content against the Avs)
 

We're through the first half of the 2013-14 season, which means the standings picture is starting to become clearer. Things can always change in the latter half of the year, but we have enough games under our belt now to at least get a feel for who the Flames are and what we can expect from the rest of the year. 

- Let's tackle the recent struggles first - Calgary has scored on just 1% of their shots through the post-Christmas dry-spell, which is grotesquely bad luck, even if we can all agree their play hasn't exactly been inspiring. Calgary has had two legitimate goals called back by suspect officiating over that span and more than a few posts, close-calls and suddenly hot opposition goaltenders. It happens.

The Flames aren't going to be a high scoring club at the best of times of course and it's pretty clear that the impressive first-10 games or so were not truly indicative of the team's talent. That said, they aren't as bad as they seem right now either.

- Which isn't to say the Flames are good either. In fact, they aren't even mediocre. Only three teams in the league have a possession rate as bad or worse than Calgary currently: the Edmonton Oilers (yup, they are still terrible), the Toronto Maple Leafs (whose bubble will probably burst in the second half of the year) and the Buffalo Sabres. There's a chance Calgary's ability to move the play north will take another hit post-deadline, though to what degree will depend on who they keep and who they sell off.

- Speaking of selling at the deadline, the decision will only partially be in the Flames hands. With guys like Mike Cammalleri, Matt Stajan, Lee Stempniak, Kris Russell and Chris Butler approaching free agency, the move to put each or all of them on the block will be driven, in part, by each guy's willingness to re-sign in Calgary. Personally, I would actively try to re-sign Russell, Stajan and Stempniak, but it's also possible all of those guys spurn the Flames advances and look for greener pastures elsewhere.

- The inclusion of Stempniak in that list might surprise some people. Stempniak is suffering through a dreadful dry spell currently, but the truth is he's a quality middle tier NHLer. Stempniak's possession rate is 4th best amongst forwards on the team currently and his abysmal PDO (92.3) isn't likely to persist forever and not indicative of his actual ability.

In addition, his terrible luck and lousy counting numbers would make him cheaper to re-ink and a good "buy low" candidate for the club. His poor output may even make him more ameniable to sticking with the Flames if they approach him about a contract now, since a bad year makes it difficult to cash-in on a good contract as a UFA in the summer.

Stempniak is the sort of player that can get lost in the mix during a rebuild. Edmonton purged a lot of their decent (yet unspectacular) NHL talent during their many-tiered rebuild efforts and now they are finding it difficult to gain traction again with a roster filled with kids and hastily bolted on spare parts.

Stempniak may not seem like "the answer" but he's the sort of player who adds structure to an NHL roster; allowing the team to potentially emerge from the other side of tunnel with shiny new talent buttressed by quality, established veterans.

- Stajan is in a similar boat. His season, from an underlying numbers perspective, is the best of his career. Stajan is seeing the toughest minutes on the team and is third amongst forwards in terms of relative possession. Stajan isn't a particular sexy player and is easy to overlook, but his resurrection post Sutter as a useful all around center has been a remarkable one. His PDO is also a dismal 93.0, so he's another guy the Flames could get cheaply if they make some overtures soon.

- One player I didn't mention as a sell candidate is Jiri Hudler, in part because he's signed for another couple of seasons. Hudler's one of the few guys who has run hot from a percentages perspective this year (PDO = 104.8), so it would be a good time to "sell high" if there's interest in him.

That said, the Flames should probably consider keeping Hudler for the remainder of his contract. The club will have to retain some salary to make the cap floor next year and, like Stempniak and Stajan, Hudler could be one of those vets who helps the team find its footing afte it has bottomed out (likely next season).

- The irony of Calgary's SH% going south in December and early January is the goaltending seems to have come around. Karri Ramo and Reto Berra both have three quality starts in their last five appearances and each guy has a SV% above .900, which is the first time the Flames can say that about their two main goalies in the last season and a half.

It will be interesting to see if they can continue to play at this level for the rest of the season.

- Sean Monahan's underlying numbers right now are as bad or worse than Ben Street, Tim Jackman and Joe Colborne. At the time of writing, the only guys getting outshot more frequently on a relative scale on the Flames are Brian McGrattan, Ladislav Smid and Shane O'Brien. And the latter two guys start way more often in their own zone. In contrast, when he was sent down to the AHL, Sven Baertschi's possession ratio was 45% (about the same as Glencross and Paul Byron right now). Monahan's is currently at about 43%.

The kid was almost treading water at the start of the season, albeit with a healthy dose of help from the coach in terms of starting position, but he has fallen off a cliff since the start of December (even though Hartley continues to feed him softer minutes). It could be Monahan came back too early from his foot problem and playing injured has hampered him to a non-trivial degree, but it could also be that he's just a teen who is completely overwhelmed.

If it was an option, I'd say the Flames should send Monahan down to the AHL. Unfortunately, that's not possible given his current age, which is another reason keeping teenaged junior players in the NHL is a gamble.

- Speaking of Colborne, his work with the Flames has been underwhelming, to say the least. There are times when you can see flashes of ability - big reach, soft hands - but he just doesn't get much accomplished aside from those rare glimpses. Colborne doesn't drive possession and doesn't personally generate shots on net, meaning there doesn't seem to be much upside there.

Colborne turns 24 at the end of the month, so it's not like he's a raw 20-year old either. It's worth hanging on to him for a bit because there's a package of skills there and maybe he'll figure things out with some games under his belt, but the early returns are pretty discouraging.

- Although I think the Flames will improve a bit in January and February (assuming their percentages snap back to some degree), there's a very real chance the club gets significantly worse after the deadline sell-off happens. If Stajan and Stempniak along with Cammalleri opt to move on, it's probable the Calgary Flames will ice the worst roster in the entire league through March and April. A top-5 pick is almost a lock and the Flames are likely in the running for a top-3 pick as a result.

39d8109299a9795cb3b41a4e9b49d501
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 piscera.infada
January 07 2014, 09:34AM
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I know this isn't Canada Nation. So any chance we could get an open thread on Team Canada? Just don't want to flood this...

But seriously, Rick Nash?

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#2 piscera.infada
January 07 2014, 09:38AM
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More to the point of the article, I really hope they can resign Russell. Do you think he'll want to resign here? I know he may not fit into Burke's plans, but his positive step forward this year is hard to overlook.

Also, does anyone in here see Monahan's struggles as "ruining" him? I don't, but I'm wondering what other people's opinions on this are.

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#3 Burnward
January 07 2014, 09:45AM
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@piscera.infada

He'll be fine. That kid wants it. He's just going to keep working until he gets there.

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#4 icedawg_42
January 07 2014, 09:53AM
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the Flames sure seem to be taking opposite approaches with Monahan and Baertschi. On one hand one kid is being propped up and given all the time in the world regardless of performance, and seems to have all the confidence of management, while the other gets smacked around in the media, sent to the minors, thrown in the coach's doghouse and told his game has too many holes to play in the NHL. I know they're different players, at different stages in their careers, but sheesh these 2 approaches to development look like polar opposites to me.

I mean, don't get me wrong - having Sven in the minors makes perfect sense so that we can make room for Westgarth and all. Great stuff! I'm lovin' it.

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#5 HongkongHockeyFan
January 07 2014, 09:53AM
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As it looks like the Flames could end up with a top 3 pick or even the number 1 pick, I'm just wondering what is the projected ceiling on Sam Reinhart? A first-line or second-line centre?

Or put another way, how does compared to recent top drafted centres? Will he be more like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? Nathan McKinnon? Tyler Seguin?

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#6 Justin Azevedo
January 07 2014, 10:12AM
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for the olympic team, take off nash, carter and kunitz and replace with thornton, st. louis and giroux. every other pick was good, imo.

sam reinhart projects to be a first line centre. likely doesn't have the upside of nuge or mackinnon but he'll be a top-15 c in the nhl.

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#7 Dave
January 07 2014, 10:13AM
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@Justin Azevedo

Ok, lets get him then.

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#8 SmellOfVictory
January 07 2014, 10:19AM
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HongkongHockeyFan wrote:

As it looks like the Flames could end up with a top 3 pick or even the number 1 pick, I'm just wondering what is the projected ceiling on Sam Reinhart? A first-line or second-line centre?

Or put another way, how does compared to recent top drafted centres? Will he be more like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? Nathan McKinnon? Tyler Seguin?

Reinhart seems to have a top line C ceiling, but it's considered to be lower (at least, offensively) than a lot of recent first/second overall centres.

In terms of recent guys, the rankings generally go like this:

MacKinnon
Barkov
Galchenyuk
Seguin
Reinhart
RNH

His style is normally compared to a guy like Toews.

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#9 RexLibris
January 07 2014, 10:25AM
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I agree that the Flames could improve slightly between now and the trade deadline. However, I would also warn about the team tanking thereafter.

I'm not convinced that Burke will simply sell for draft picks and hollow out the roster. And even if he did, recall last year how the Flames actually improved or maintained after the Iginla and Bouwmeester trades.

The Flames still have games at hand on the Oilers and a three point lead. MacTavish isn't going to make any big moves that are likely to help the team this year as the season is shot and the full value of their 1st round pick hasn't been realized yet.

Buffalo seems a lock on 30th overall and is highly unlikely to climb higher than 29th. Depending on what happens with Ryan Miller they could even potentially be worse.

The Islanders, however, could still improve if Snow makes a move to acquire a goalie.

So the Flames are probably looking at 3rd overall, maybe 4th.

On Monahan, I agree. Said as much last night. This is the catch-22 for developing these prospects and something that I think might need to change with the CHL. Teams invest in these high picks and want to take over their development. If they send them to the CHL they lose control. But the players aren't yet eligible for the AHL where the NHL teams could dictate ice time, deployment, training regimens, etc.

Monahan is likely equivalent to a top four draft pick in most years and those players are in the no-man's land between the CHL and NHL. Flames should have sent him back to junior, and while I understand their reasoning against it, I suspect it will create another, short-term challenge for the player's development.

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#10 Lordmork
January 07 2014, 10:26AM
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For the most part, I'm pretty pleased with the Flames right now. Most of the time they seem to play hard and contest games, and if we can continue to find surprises like Byron and Russell, then I think we're laying the foundation for a better team, and while it's sad to be drafting in the top-5 or even top-3, the future Flames will be better for it.

My concerns remain with leadership and management. That said, when Feaster got fired, I figured we'd have traded away our first-rounder by now, so I guess I have to wait to condemn any big moves until they happen. Not happy with the apparent toughening up of the team, but I'm not sure it's cost us anything so far.

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#11 RexLibris
January 07 2014, 10:32AM
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@SmellOfVictory

Not to pick a fight here but you've got two raw rookies at the top of your list, followed by players who were Cs in junior but have since largely been playing wing, then a 2014 draft-eligible, with the only NHL regular (145 gp) at the bottom of the list.

Is this how you rank these players from top to bottom?

What I have read on Reinhart does echo some of Toews in so far as he is a defensively responsible player, key to his team's offence due in part to a weaker roster, and a well balanced size and skill set.

On a top ten NHL team he probably ranks ideally as a 2C. His NHL range might be somewhere in the Sean Couturier/Ryan O'Reilly area. Perhaps more.

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#12 SeanCharles
January 07 2014, 11:07AM
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Stajan, Stempniak, Cammalleri and Butler should all be traded.. Roster turnover is important for stockpiling assets. Glencross-Backlund-Hudler

Byron-Monahan-Galiardi

Bouma-Colborne-D.Jones

Westgarth-B.Jones-McGrattan

Street

Gio-Brodie

Smid-Wideman

Russell-O'Brien

Smith

Tough out the remainder of the year and let youngsters get the call when needed..

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#13 SmellOfVictory
January 07 2014, 11:09AM
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RexLibris wrote:

Not to pick a fight here but you've got two raw rookies at the top of your list, followed by players who were Cs in junior but have since largely been playing wing, then a 2014 draft-eligible, with the only NHL regular (145 gp) at the bottom of the list.

Is this how you rank these players from top to bottom?

What I have read on Reinhart does echo some of Toews in so far as he is a defensively responsible player, key to his team's offence due in part to a weaker roster, and a well balanced size and skill set.

On a top ten NHL team he probably ranks ideally as a 2C. His NHL range might be somewhere in the Sean Couturier/Ryan O'Reilly area. Perhaps more.

Not how I personally rank them, but my impression of the general ratings that people tend to give them. This is not a ranking of how they are now, but how people expect them to end up when they become fully-formed players.

And true, Galchenyuk has played quite a bit of wing to start his career, but I think that changes. Just as it did with Seguin (he began playing wing in Boston, and as far as I'm aware has played primarily centre in Dallas).

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#14 Kevin R
January 07 2014, 11:32AM
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HongkongHockeyFan wrote:

As it looks like the Flames could end up with a top 3 pick or even the number 1 pick, I'm just wondering what is the projected ceiling on Sam Reinhart? A first-line or second-line centre?

Or put another way, how does compared to recent top drafted centres? Will he be more like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? Nathan McKinnon? Tyler Seguin?

If Sam Reinhart dropped to us, I would be thrilled, but if we were to have a choice (getting 1st or 2nd overall) I would have no qualms with drafting Ekblad. Would be nice to see us develop him into our version of a Weber or Suter. The following year we go after McDavid or Eichel :}

Of the UFA's I would only try to resign Russell in advance. I don't see why he wouldn't consider a 2-3 year deal @ 2.5-3.0 mill per. Flames have given him the minutes he needed to get for his breakout, I think Flames have built up a bit of loyalty/home town consideration. I would have to think twice before trading Hudler, the offer must be incredible. I would trade Wideman before I moved Hudler. There may be a decent market for Wideman as well.

Maybe I'm watching different hockey games but I have had no issue with Colborne. Yes he is not a superstar but he has shown me enough with his size to be worth keeping for the next 1-2 years to see if he can break out ala Russell. I love his shoot outs, that alone buys him time on my team. He wont be expensive & all likelihood we can get him inked to a 2 way contract.

Gotta stop fretting, criticizing & losing sleep over the Monahan decision. It's done. He's got the tools at the NHL level & a sure fire brick in the start of our new rebuild.

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#15 piscera.infada
January 07 2014, 11:43AM
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Kevin R wrote:

If Sam Reinhart dropped to us, I would be thrilled, but if we were to have a choice (getting 1st or 2nd overall) I would have no qualms with drafting Ekblad. Would be nice to see us develop him into our version of a Weber or Suter. The following year we go after McDavid or Eichel :}

Of the UFA's I would only try to resign Russell in advance. I don't see why he wouldn't consider a 2-3 year deal @ 2.5-3.0 mill per. Flames have given him the minutes he needed to get for his breakout, I think Flames have built up a bit of loyalty/home town consideration. I would have to think twice before trading Hudler, the offer must be incredible. I would trade Wideman before I moved Hudler. There may be a decent market for Wideman as well.

Maybe I'm watching different hockey games but I have had no issue with Colborne. Yes he is not a superstar but he has shown me enough with his size to be worth keeping for the next 1-2 years to see if he can break out ala Russell. I love his shoot outs, that alone buys him time on my team. He wont be expensive & all likelihood we can get him inked to a 2 way contract.

Gotta stop fretting, criticizing & losing sleep over the Monahan decision. It's done. He's got the tools at the NHL level & a sure fire brick in the start of our new rebuild.

Yes to all of this except the Wideman bit. He's been playing to his contract and it's not like there's anyone really ready to take his spot. With the current top-four (when healthy), you have to like our backend, with the ability to start slotting younger guys into the bottom two. If one starts to push, then you can look at moving a guy like Wides.

I'm also more positive on Colborne. It seems like a lot of the distaste towards him has to do with the Backlund business earlier in the season, as people couldn't separate Colborne's increase in minutes from Backlunds decrease. I have noticed him playing a lot bigger than he did at the start of the season, and I'm interested to see if he can keep it up. I have zero problem with him as a young player - he isn't a world-beater, but he's still young enough to develop into something. The way I see it, his draft pedigree isn't really this organization's concern, it's more about seeing if he turns into something.

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#16 PrairieStew
January 07 2014, 12:30PM
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Agree on Stempniak, he has been a consistent guy in the league for several years and can continue to be a leader for this group. Not many RW ready to step in yet.

On Stajan I like what he has done but with Corban Knight and Markus Granlund both having very good rookie pro campaigns I think the return you can get for Stajan at the deadline is probably worth the move. (Byron, Reinhart can also play centre and Bill Arnold coming).

Cammalleri is a definite trade, making room for Gaudreau ( sign him now) and or Sven.

Russell should be offered a contract, but one should not overreact to a decent 30 games. Butler, and Smith should be moved for late to middle round picks that could be used as chips to move up in the draft. O'Brien too, but he has another year on his deal. If Russel asks for too much and he can return alot in the trade market ( 2nd rounder ?) you have Chad Billins killing it in Abbotsford, and remember he is only 2nd year pro.

I am OK with Colborne as the 4th centre so far. Remember his NHL experience has more than doubled since he arrived here. Qualifying him should be easy.

Other guys you need to qualify include Berra, Bouma, Byron and Breen.

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#17 Kevin R
January 07 2014, 01:03PM
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PrairieStew wrote:

Agree on Stempniak, he has been a consistent guy in the league for several years and can continue to be a leader for this group. Not many RW ready to step in yet.

On Stajan I like what he has done but with Corban Knight and Markus Granlund both having very good rookie pro campaigns I think the return you can get for Stajan at the deadline is probably worth the move. (Byron, Reinhart can also play centre and Bill Arnold coming).

Cammalleri is a definite trade, making room for Gaudreau ( sign him now) and or Sven.

Russell should be offered a contract, but one should not overreact to a decent 30 games. Butler, and Smith should be moved for late to middle round picks that could be used as chips to move up in the draft. O'Brien too, but he has another year on his deal. If Russel asks for too much and he can return alot in the trade market ( 2nd rounder ?) you have Chad Billins killing it in Abbotsford, and remember he is only 2nd year pro.

I am OK with Colborne as the 4th centre so far. Remember his NHL experience has more than doubled since he arrived here. Qualifying him should be easy.

Other guys you need to qualify include Berra, Bouma, Byron and Breen.

I think Russell has stepped up more impressively with the extra minutes & has a bit of a Brodie clone to his play. I love these kind of dmen, they don't destroy players with hits but they do move the puck up swiftly & intelligently. I know Brody has had some tough games & the mob is getting restless with him but man, he just finished his ELC, has been getting top 2 minutes & learning some other aspects of the game now that he has already established himself in many ways. Expectations are way higher for him & that`s excellent. I see Russell right behind him. A 2nd round pick is nothing for him, I would rather roll the dice, ink him to a decent 3 year deal & if he duplicates his performance next year, we have a way higher return on that investment. I say sign him.

As for Breen, he does nothing for me & I would cut him loose & make room for Kanzig in the near future.

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#18 wineeditor
January 07 2014, 04:27PM
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@piscera.infada

I agree with your take on Colborne.

I took a quick look at the nhl rookie scoring race. It appears that the average forward rookie approximates 23 years old . Colborne is 24. He lost a year of development through his wrist injury.

He is 24th in rookie forward scoring. He is 3rd in rookie faceoffs (minimum 100 faceoffs)

He has played about 1/2 of his games this year on the 4th line (least minutes played per game of Flame Centers) which affects possession stats adversely.

Is there work needed to his game? Yes, but on the whole given his age, what he has shown, his improvement over the year, his salary (rock bottom) and the fact he wants to be in Calgary, he should be one of our 3 center icemen next year with Stajan being the odd man out. Swap him, Stemp and Cammy for bigger, talented winger prospects and try the UPF market for a few more and all our centers will look better next year.

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#19 SVENSANITY
January 07 2014, 05:13PM
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Just based on UFA/RFA status alone. Here's what I'd do if I were GM and could ultimately land everyone I wanted (of course I realize this is entirely idealistic).

Stempniak - Backlund - Hudler Raymond - Stastny - Glencross Byron - Grabovski - Hanowski/Granlund Bouma - Berglund - Ferland/Bolig Westgarth

Out: Stajan, Cammalleri, D & B Jones, McGrattan, Galliardi, Colborne

IN NHL: Stastny, Berglund, Grabovski, Raymond, Bolig IN AHL: Monahan, Baertschi, Gaudreau, Arnold, Agostino, Gillies +1 Junior: Poirier & Klimchuk

After 1 year: out: Raymond, Grabovski, maybe Bolig In NHL: Monahan, Gaudreau, Baertshi, In AHL: Poirier, Klimchuk

I would prefer that the Flames get rid of Westgarth all together.

Limitations: This team is dependent on Berglund not being qualified by St. Louis (which is doubtful) or the Flames offer sheeting him (under Burke unlikely to happen). So they may have to look elsewhere or make trades for that to happen. Mason Raymond may get a more longterm deal from Toronto with the increase in cap, however, if he doesn’t the flames should bring him in. If Toronto resign him or decide to let Kadri go I’d recommend the Flames try and trade for Kadri to provide some scoring for now (again an unlikely scenario but hey why not dream).

I really think of Grabovski, Raymond and Bolig as place holders (2 year contracts would be the max I’d offer here) allowing Monahan, Baertshi and Gaudreau the opportunity to play a full season in the AHL and mature properly into the NHL. The same way that I see Stempniak and Hudler as placeholders for next year. I suspect that Burke will need to move them around trade deadline next year and either move or let go of Raymond Bolig Grabovski in the summer or the following trade deadline.

Thoughts?

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#20 Greg
January 07 2014, 08:39PM
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I agree with keeping some of the UFAs - the flames forwards for next year look horrendous if you subtract all of camalleri, Stajan, and stempniak. That said, the other factor though is what can you get for them?

I think camalleri goes regardless, but if someone offers a 2nd + for either Stajan or stempniak, you'd have to consider that.

Ditto Russel. I hope they resign him, but if he wants to go to a better team in the offseason and someone offers a first or a 2nd +... Would be sad to see him go but converting a 5th into that is good asset management at least.

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#21 Greg
January 07 2014, 08:48PM
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On Monohan, I'd suggest the flames should send him back to junior on the condition he gets traded to a playoff team. The contract year is burnt already anyway, might as well give him a chance to compete for something.

That's assuming the flames and himself think that's what's best for his development. If they believe he's better off to keep struggling here then so be it.

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#22 piscera.infada
January 08 2014, 08:38AM
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Greg wrote:

On Monohan, I'd suggest the flames should send him back to junior on the condition he gets traded to a playoff team. The contract year is burnt already anyway, might as well give him a chance to compete for something.

That's assuming the flames and himself think that's what's best for his development. If they believe he's better off to keep struggling here then so be it.

No way you'd see the Flames send him back to junior at this point. Like many have suggested here, once Ottawa's season is done in the OHL, he's free to be sent down to Abby. I doubt that happens as that point in time will likely be after this team sheds assets.

In my perfect world, however, you send him to Abby when that time comes to play alongside Sven, Granlund, Knight, and whomever you can sign out of college (let's call them the 'upper tier prospects) and let them develop some chemistry and play meaningful (albeit, AHL) playoff hockey. Bring up a few of the guys like Street, Hanowski, etc. (let's call them 'the bottom tier prospects') to fill out the roster. This way, you see what you have in the "lower tier", while developing some chemistry and confidence among the "upper tier". All the while, you have iced a pretty poor NHL roster, minimizing the risk of the draft pick status being compromised as it was last year.

Doubt the team does this, and I hate myself for suggesting the full-on tank of the NHL team (although it's bound to happen anyway), but this is something that could benefit all facets of the rebuild.

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