May 01 2014 01:15PM
Imagine a party at Ed Snider’s house that includes Brian Burke, Dale Tallon, Garth Snow, and that is hosted by Paul Holmgren. Pretty good recipe for some wicked antics, I think. Some crank calls to the Oval Office, maybe getting $500 worth of pizza delivered to Donald Fehr’s place, and you know Snow doesn’t go home that night without a wedgie.*
That is more or less what is shaping up to happen this summer in Philadelphia. The unpredictable Ed Snider/Paul Holmgren duo are hosting the NHL Entry Draft and Tallon, Burke (and recent hire Brad Treliving) and potentially Snow are all in the mix with picks in the top five.
Brian Burke hates long rebuilds. He also hates traffic jams, hipster jeans, those unlikely-animal-friendship videos and revisionist undergraduate theses on the Sykes-Picot treaty.
But he really hates long rebuilds.
His new GM is more of a blank page when it comes to this sort of thing. Having spent a significant portion of time working for the Phoenix Coyotes organization while they were a ward of the state, there wasn’t much room for roster moves by his former boss, Don Maloney. We’ll have to wait and see in what direction he takes this team. But about his new boss, Burke, we already know a fair bit.
So here’s some food for thought as the Flames wrap up the season and prepare for a pivotal summer (although, let’s face it, most summers are pivotal for NHL teams).
*Meanwhile, Burke stole MacTavish’s invite out of his mailbox and Garth Snow no longer returns Tim Murray’s phone calls.
The Flames' Needs
The Flames need elite young talent but have the luxury of being fairly well-built down the middle. Okay, that didn’t really sound right, but I you get what I mean. They have some decent centers in Backlund and Monahan with Stajan providing the sacrificial old-man power down the middle. On the wings they have some good complementary players in Hudler and Glencross.
After a solid first pairing of Giordano and Brodie, they are also limited by not having enough depth on their backend…huh, that’s two for two. (Is it just me or is hockey filled with potentially inappropriate innuendos? Moving on!)
Essentially, what this means is that the Flames are shopping for some defensemen in the numbers four through six range and good wingers who can slot in with Glencross, Bouma, Hudler, Colborne, Jones, Galiardi and others.
Those assets are relatively easy to grab – darn it, there I go again!
The Flames’ prospect chart, though, is somewhat lacking in a few of these areas, most notably in defense and right wing, and those prospects that are in the system are a long way off from the NHL. So, how does one acquire top-end talent at a young age without necessarily having to go through the draft-and-develop stage?
The What-If Machine
What if Brian Burke were to trade the 4th overall pick in this year’s draft to the Colorado Avalanche for Ryan O’Reilly? Would Joe Sakic make that deal? Perhaps. That is a high pick and the Avs have a collection of forwards such that they could afford to be patient with whomever they select. It offers them the chance to re-align their roster if they were to choose a winger, or even potentially improve if they feel that the prospect available at that position has a greater upside than the player they are giving up. It also means that they can take the money that O’Reilly is likely to ask for and redeploy it elsewhere in the roster to shore up other necessities, or re-sign veterans like Stastny, now that the emergence of Nathan MacKinnon has solidified their center depth.
There is the chance that the Avs would want a little more in the deal, so including Ladislav Smid to bolster their defence might fit, but if we go down that road I would then ask for Mason Geertsen in return as a depth defensive prospect. Geertsen’s junior comparable was often David Musil, and it is easy to see why: both are big bodies and defensive specialists who play with an edge. This isn’t meant to get too in-depth into this process, but just to show that values are relative and that both sides have things the other may value such that a deal could probably be made.
So, in the end the Flames would get a proven NHL player - a very good 2-way center as well as a defensive prospect - while the Avalanche get a high draft pick, a roster player and free up some money.
Is any of Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart, or Leon Draisaitl likely to be significantly better than Ryan O’Reilly? Not necessarily. Perhaps, but O’Reilly is a known commodity and a pretty darned good one at that. Those prospects could out-produce him over the course of their careers, but in examining the move one would have to factor in what the addition of O’Reilly does for the Flames versus the addition of a prospect who may need at least one more year of junior development before joining the NHL team as a rookie.
What if the Flames made that deal for Sean Couturier? If Ekblad were to fall to the Flames would you make that deal? I believe Holmgren would. But in either case, there exists the possibility that the Flames could have a valuable asset in that 4th overall pick and the time could be right for a deft move to improve the roster immediately without giving up anything terribly expensive or costly down the road.
Perhaps in the Couturier case one deals down from 4th to wherever the Flyers draft and picks up Couturier in exchange for adding another draft pick. Again, it depends on who is available. If Ekblad is there I think there is a chance Holmgren takes the swap without hesitation.
I’m not pointing out these two teams to bring specific deals to the conversation, just that there is a window of opportunity this June and perhaps more potential suitors than one might otherwise believe.
Now here’s the other shoe…
What if Burke were to trade next year’s 1st round pick and a prospect like Mark Jankowski to Winnipeg for Evander Kane?
Kane’s issues this season, and even some rumblings of disaffection earlier, have, if not forced the issue, at least opened a window of opportunity for a GM willing to offer what the Jets may feel is fair value and an opportunity to turn the page.
The former 4th overall pick is a young LW, 6’2” and 190lbs with a set of whitewalls on him that can embarrass many defensemen. He has averaged .62 ppg over the first 329 NHL games of his career thus far and one could argue that his point production has been hampered by playing for the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets for the last five years.
While he may not be an elite talent, he is signed long-term at a decent cap hit and is just 22 years old, meaning that the Flames could have him for what should be the upswing in his development.
Burke could be buying at exactly the right time.
For the Flames there is considerable risk as they would now have traded away two 1st round picks in back-to-back years, at the same time they have added significant assets to their top six forwards. And, as anyone familiar with the last two trade deadlines will tell you, 1st round picks can be added in surprising ways and from unforeseen assets.
Yeah, I know Flames fans have been sold on that McDavid draft thing for over a year now. But this past season was expected to be pretty bad and they still only made it to picking 4th overall with a slim chance of moving up to 1st. Is there any reason to expect that they are going to be worse, considerably worse, next year? Trust me on this, to draft 1st overall you have to be bad. Really. Bad. And when one factors in that under the new draft lottery scheme finishing with the worst record only give you a one-in-four chance of drafting 1st overall, then the value of that pick is largely perceptual rather than real. Are next year’s Flames likely to be worse than the Buffalo Sabres? The Edmonton Oilers? The Islanders? Not to mention any number of surprise teams who suffer an unanticipated collapse.
That’s another thing Brian Burke doesn’t like. Lotteries.
Back to the trades.
It is important to consider that neither of these trades would be with a divisional rival, the Flames would be addressing their own needs but also attending to the interests of the other team involved by giving them valuable assets at a cost that does not set them back on their own development path.
In the end, the Flames would be heading into training camp with a forward group built around Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, Sean Monahan, Sven Baertschi, Jiri Hudler, Curtis Glencross and Mikael Backlund with Bouma, Galiardi, Colborne, Stajan, Jones and Granlund in support. I’m no expert, but that starts to look an awful lot like the roster of a professional team in the National Hockey League.
There would likely remain holes on the wing, notably first line RW and third/fourth line LW which could be addressed via free agency. Ales Hemsky and Radim Vrbata as possible RW free agents and Nikolai Kulemin, David Moss, Jussi Jokinen or Steve Downie as LW free agents could add some valuable depth to the lineup. With the addition of Treliving as GM, can we just pencil in Vrbata and Moss now?
Oh, and for the record, I steadfastly resisted putting in any reference to or imagery from the "O'Reilly Factor" in this article. You're welcome.
Falling Down Blue
The blueline would need to be bolstered but with Giordano, Brodie and Wideman to start with and Smid and Russell as the bottom end of the rotation. That would leave very few spots and some very specific talents to shop for. Here there are some options available as well.
Putting together a collection of pending UFAs and a few
signed players, here is a look at some options available for the Flames:
These are potential blueline acquisitions ranked by CorsiRel and QualComp.
These are the same candidates ranked on CorsiRel and Quality of Teammates.
For my money, I like Fayne, Niskanen, Orpik and Markov as UFA options to fill out the middle of the Flames defensive roster. Coburn would be ideal, but would probably require a significant payment for Holmgren to let him go. MacTavish burned a hole in the floor at last year's draft going back and forth trying to get him but the price was just too high.
This would give the Flames’ defensive depth chart Brodie, Giordano, Fayne (for example), Orpik (ditto), Wideman, Smid and Russell with Wotherspoon as a call-up.
Not too shabby and it pushes players like Wideman and Smid down the lineup.
I’m not saying that this will happen, or even that it ought to happen. What I am suggesting is that there are opportunities out there for the Flames to improve their roster and add elite-level players today. The Pacific division is changing and a window of opportunity has opened.
To illustrate, let me offer you a parable.
Two guys are walking in the woods. They come across a massive grizzly bear who looks a little ticked off and starts growling and coming at them. The first guy drops his pack and starts taking off his boots and lacing up his running shoes. His buddy looks at him and says, “You’re crazy! You can’t run faster than a Grizzly just because you’ve got running shoes on!” The first guy says “I don’t need to outrun the bear, I just need to outrun you!”
Thus is it with the Flames. Do they need to beat the Ducks, Kings and Sharks? Not necessarily. But they could beat the Canucks, Coyotes and Oilers and so long as they stay ahead or tied with teams like the Wild they could qualify as a Wild Card in the playoff race.
The Oilers are undergoing a significant transition under Craig MacTavish and Dallas Eakins and one suspects that they still have considerable hurdles to overcome to balance their roster such that any significant improvements can be made.
Meanwhile, the skies darken in Vancouver (they are sensitive people on the West Coast, they’re offended by words like “rain”), as they enter something like a rebuild, but more innovative and without all the negative waves associated with that outmoded paradigm. This is Vancouver, after all. How do hipsters rebuild? Isn’t shabby-chic their thing, or are they over that too?
Phoenix Arizona Coyotes appear to be set on the
status quo, and while there is a chance that new ownership will want to make a
splash in this free agent season, they have been more or less running in place
for several years now and I believe could be unseated by a team with a superior
skill set and a more aggressive management style.
The Flames can’t trade or draft their way out of the Pacific Division. They are stuck here and therefore the choices are to either get up and try to beat the California teams sooner rather than later, or sit back, get their heads knocked in and draft high for a few years in the hopes that they can draft high enough and well enough to collect the elite level and complementary talent at a rate greater than the rate of renewal amongst the Ducks, Kings and Sharks.
Weighing It Out
The Pros for these moves are that the roster is immediately improved with known quantities that are just entering their most productive years while only relinquishing potential assets (draft picks) and a single roster player and a single prospect. No one area of the organization’s asset wealth is exhausted exclusively (ie: solely trading draft picks) and the significant commitments are all being made to young players as they enter the peak of their careers.
It also means that when the Flames bring their young players into the roster like Gaudreau, Poirier, Klimchuk and Granlund they will be playing behind a strong top six, providing them with developmental shelter. It not only puts the current Flames roster in a position to succeed, but sets it up so that the next generation of drafted prospects can better acclimate to the NHL and hopefully find success.
The Cons of the deal are that the Flames would be putting a lot of stock into the 2014-2015 season and making substantial investments in a young core cobbled together with significant additions from other organizations with no guarantee of how those pieces might work together. It is very likely that the team could miss the playoffs next season with this roster if only because of the time it could take for the roster to mesh into a cohesive team. Also, this addresses neither the Flames’ defensive shortcomings nor their goaltending situation which remains relatively unsettled.
Still, when one considers the benefit versus the cost, I believe that the deals would make the Flames a better team almost immediately and arguably for at least five years onwards. In the modern NHL that would be admirable.
Out: 2014 4th overall pick (Leon Draisaitl, Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart, Aaron Ekblad or Michael Dal Colle), Ladislav Smid, 2015 1st round pick, Mark Jankowski. As well, additional signings of Andrei Markov and/or Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and/or Mark Fayne.
In: Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane, Mason Geertsen, and approximately $21 million in salary on O'Reilly, Kane and two UFA defensemen leaving the team with roughly $5 to $6 million in projected cap space.