Similar Situations?

Calgary Flames vs Vancouver Canucks

I was thinking about this while having a conversation with a friend of mine who happens to have the unfortunate trait of cheering for the Vancouver Canucks. He was arguing about how much better shape the Canucks are than the Calgary Flames, and it hit me… the Canucks aren’t really all that far off from being in a similar situation than the Flames.

Let me preface this with a couple things. First, this is not going to be a post criticizing the work of Vancouver GM Mike Gillis. Fact of the matter is, he’s done a real good job of building this Canucks team and deserves a lot of credit for back-to-back Northwest Division titles. Also, I want to make sure that I’m writing this the right way in that there’s no guarantee the Canucks will be missing the playoffs in two or three years. I’m also not trying to frame a poor allocation of resources on the west coast.

Instead, I remember the analogy of "the window" being used for the Flames after some of their disappointing post-lockout playoff exits. As in, "well, that’s disappointing, but the window is still wide open" at first to "another disappointing exit, is the window starting to close?" I think we’re starting to hear that in Vancouver.

2004 was a dream playoff run for the Calgary Flames, and it set the bar high for the team going forward. The timing that saw the lockout follow Tampa’s Stanley Cup victory helped change the landscape for Canadian NHL teams. It was a big reason, but not the only reason, why GM Darryl Sutter and the Flames could start investing more resources into signing and re-signing players.

Following the April 2008 playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings, the Flames had a very defined "core" (oh no, not that word again) of players. Key cogs from the 2004 run: Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff and Robyn Regehr. A player acquired during the summer of 2004: Daymond Langkow. And a highly touted first round draft pick: Dion Phaneuf. Names like Tanguay, Huselius, Cammalleri, Jokinen and others had, arguably, been part of this core at different times…but entering last off season, those five were the long term, big money guys. Add in Jay Bouwmeester, and you had $34 million invested in a goalie, three blueliners, and two forwards.

But anyone reading this knows all that. How does this relate to those dastardly Canucks? Well, the allocation of resources is very similar. The cornerstones? $12.2 million annually to the cranium brothers, and another $6.75 million to their captain/goaltender. Add in another $5 million per year starting next season to Ryan Kesler, and it’s starting to take form. Alex Edler is signed through 2012/2013 for a 3.25 cap hit.

Again, that’s not to say any of those are bad contracts, or will be. Here’s where things start to get interesting for me. From the outside, the Flames are now starting to run into issues where sizeable money is being allocated to, depending on different opinions, diminishing results. While some hate Daymond Langkow’s contract, others wonder if if $7 mil to Iginla is too much. Fact is, regardless of what contract you believe to be the anchor, these longterm and big money contracts have limited flexibility somewhat for the Flames. And now, I believe it’s fair to say "the window is starting to close" on a good majority of the aforementioned Calgary core.

So, for Vancouver, what moves will GM Gillis make to keep that "window open"? A good chunk of money will come off this offseason as both Pavol Demitra and Willie Mitchell become unrestricted free agents on July 1. The following summer, Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo will both see their contracts expire. Admittedly, things aren’t identical: the Sedin’s (now 29) were both 28 when they signed longterm extensions while Iginla, Langkow and Kiprusoff were 30; Luongo is signed to a 12 year deal, far longer than any of the Calgary deals.

But with two straight disappointing playoff exits for the Canucks, is it fair to think the urgency level might be ramping up a little with this current group of cornerstone guys? The Canucks have a little flexibility, and I’ll be very intrigued to see what Gillis does this offseason. The right moves could keep this team dangerous right now without hurting them in two or three years; however, we’ve seen many times (and not just with the Flames), it doesn’t always work that easy.

  • The Canucks have a number of high quality prospects in the hopper that may help to keep the window open, so to speak. Cody Hodgson (assuming the animosity between him and the Canucks doesn’t cause an insurmountable rift), Michael Grabner, Jordan Schroeder and Cory Schneider are all good bets to become NHLers.

  • (psst: pat —don’t bite on kent’s comment. take it from me: never mention jordan schroeder around these parts, unless/until tim erixon becomes a bonafide nhl d-man. kent will get irritated cause the flames coulda had’im if we didn’t trade for brent sutter on draft day, or if darryl ever drafted forwards).

    oh, and any comparisons between the flames and canucks should be avoided at all cost. except here where you’re basically saying “hey, nucks fans: your team is gonna suck as bad as ours in the next year or two !!!”


  • Similar situations is a wee bit of a stretch. I would say that the goaltending situation is about the only thing similar, with a mild exception to the drafting prowess of both teams.

    The Canucks and Flames should be better in net with the players they have in place, but between the forwards and defense, there is a clear separation and that’s the overall direction both groups are going in. The Flames have signed up all these players that haven’t meshed well together, while the Canucks found more chemistry as the season went on. The defense as a whole in Calgary has been suspect at best, while Vancouver has had a couple suspects in a playoff murder mystery, but at least have Ehrhoff and Elder making positive strides as top end defensemen.

    I wouldn’t be rushing to make the comparison between the two teams saying they’re similar… at least Canucks fans don’t want to lynch up their management… well, not the good fans, anyways.

    • I put the question mark beside the title because it was more of a thinking out loud piece…or thinking on screen.

      No question things aren’t identical, and I believe Gillis has done a great job of setting his team up for the future while still having a hell of a team right now.

      But, with so much talk (by some) of “big changes” after two playoff exits, it makes me very intrigued as to what he does next.

  • The pitfalls of the salary cap era. Have to gamble on long contracts just to keep some of your talent. A lot just won’t add up which keeps most teams having only these “windows” to work with before the end of these long deals. Some windows are longer than others but no one is immune.

    Luxury tax system should be looked at.

    • You’re right, and the trend right now is longterm deals to lessen the cap hit, in an attempt to keep that “window open”. What will be interesting to see is what things Mike Gillis does to sustain.

      There are good arguments for and against the luxury tax system and the hard cap…the problem with a luxury tax is disparity, as there will be a gap between a group of free spending teams and a group of teams unable to spend the same way.

  • Grant F

    I felt that this year the Canucks had an excellent opportunity to do some damage given how the Sedins were playing and the overall chemistry they seemed to have. What hurt them was losing Mitchell. But injuries are part of getting through a long playoff run.

    Regardless I think overall they are indeed in better shape than the Flames but the gap is not as wide as some Van fans would have you believe.

    On paper I also agree that their prospect pool is stronger – but it also has a lot of question marks.
    – Hodgson: certainly it appears there is a growing rfit between the player and the organization. Add to that some pretty serious questions about his back and he’s no longer the sure bet.
    – Schneider: good young goalie who is probably already an NHLer is almost any other organization. But the thing is that we’ve seen prospects don’t have great value on the trade market. So in terms of his actual impact on the organization – it’s not that high. They either slot him in as the back-up or flip him for lesser value. Either way – it’s not going to change how well Vancouver can contend.
    – Schroeder: One of THE most over-rated prospects out there. The guy dropped like a rock in the first round for a reason.

    That trio is why people like the Vancouver prospect base – but depending on how things play out neither of them may actually ever do much in Van-city.

  • Grant F

    IMO Gillis should be given a lot less credit for the two NW titles then Nonis who was responsible for putting this “core” together (Luongo/Mitchell/Kesler/Sedins). Gillis has now had two offseasons to restructure this defense and has done very little (with the exception of bringing in Ehrhoff which was a nice steal).

    He has made great strides however in the focus on drafting and scouting. “His team” will start to take shape next year and the coming years as those prospects begin to develop.

    I agree that there is a window for this ‘core’ but with the upcoming prospects and decent cap room this team is far from ready to implode. Moreover his focus on drafting and player development are what differs Gillis from Sutter. Sutter traded away countless picks since 2004 leaving the team with limited options on the farm.