A Modest Failure of Imagination



This weekend’s activities in Los Angeles passed by with the Flames doing very little. I’m not actually surprised that they didn’t move a body or two during the draft, largely because teams that have limited assets aren’t often able manufacture anything worthwhile. Making chicken salad usually does actually require the proper ingredients, if you catch my drift. That noted, even by Calgary’s standards, this weekend’s series of selections was straight vanilla, no chaser.

The shame of it all is that the Flames had a high-end talent staring them in the face when their turn to pick came around at #64. Kiril Kabanov, for whatever flaws as a human being may be present within him, is a proper talent. Ryan from Sports Opinionated asked a worthwhile question at M and G:

"Even if the guy was the 20th best talent in the draft, isn’t he worth a pick in the 60’s just on pure risk-reward?"

Well, that construction got me thinking. What are the odds someone drafted in the range of the 20th pick would turn into a serious player, like a top-six forward? What are the odds of a third round forward doing the same? With that in mind, here are the parameters I set:

First, I looked at every forward drafted in the third round between 2000 and 2006. 2000 is the year the league expanded to 30 teams, and I stopped at 2006 based on the premise that a CHL player would have been done with junior in the spring of ’08, then would have been able to have at least one full season in the AHL before cracking a NHL roster. Players drafted later were simply at too great a disadvantage in making that sort of leap.

Then, I looked at every forward drafted between 18-22 in the first round of the draft in the same seasons. The players I wanted to tag were guys that were proven top-sixers, or players that appear to be headed that way in fairly short order. Via HockeyDB, here’s what we have:

Third rounders: Total forwards drafted from 00-06: 131

The worthwhile players in that number are Plekanec, Sharp, Filppula, Lombardi*, Nielsen, Franzen, Regin. Of those 7 players, Plekanec, Sharp, and Franzen are established, no-doubt, top-six forwards. Nielsen is about one more year from being a no-doubter, IMO. Lombardi and Filppula are fringe top-six forwards, and Regin looks like a pretty nice player down the line. So from the drafted forwards in those seasons, 7/131, or a 5.3% chance of getting a top six forward. Lombo gets the asterisk because he was re-drafted. About double that number of players have played significant time in the league (200 games for the 00-04 draftees, 100 games for the 05 draftees, and 50 games for the 06ers)

Now, there’s been plenty of talk that Kabanov was a top-ten sort of player, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s presume that he’s really a player that should have been drafted around 20th on the merits. So, what do the numbers look like for players drafted in that range?

First rounders between 18th-22nd: Total forwards drafted from 00-06: 19

The worthwhile players are Frolov, Armstrong, Fehr, Getzlaf, Zajac, Wolski, Stewart and Giroux. Of those 8, Getzlaf is a franchise center, Wolski, Frolov and Zajac are proven commodities, Colby Armstrong has some pretty good pedigree against top-line talent, and Giroux, Stewart and Fehr will likely move up their respective teams’ depth charts over the next year or two. 8/19 is 42%. There are 3 more players that have played significant time, and a few others that have an ongoing career that suggests that they’ll play enough to get a pension if they stay healthy. 

I don’t doubt for a second that there may issues with Kabanov’s attitude, or father, or whatever. With that accepted, maybe he’s all or nothing as a pick, but his odds still seem greater to me than Max Reinhart’s, presuming that Paul’s kid has been accurately assessed in terms of his talent (3rd rounder). I look at things this way; if we put 100 ping-pong balls in a lottery machine and marked them with each player’s likely career path, they might well look like this:

Reinhart                                                              Kabanov

85-90 marked "non-NHL"                                50 marked "non-NHL"

5 marked "top six"                                             40 marked "top six"

10 marked "depth player"                                10 marked "depth player"

A player that was really a 20th pick as a forward would likely have about a 70% chance of being a viable NHLer of some sort, but Kabanov might well head to the KHL if he can’t be a high-end player. Even if you cut Kabanov’s chances down to 25% because you harbour mild suspicions he might be a sociopath, that still seems like the sort of gamble a team that could use a skilled forward or four should be taking.

If you’re only running a 10-15% chance of getting any sort of decent forward in the third round, why not take a shot?

That wouldn’t be the Flame way, though, because taking low-risk, low-impact players from a limited number of jurisdictions is what this franchise’s drafting strategy has been about. I understand the premise of thinking safety first in the first round or two because you really do need to get players from those rounds, but beyond that, a strategy of taking one forward after another seems like the best bet, and a team should always be willing to take a chance on skill.  

I’ll say one last thing about "red flags". Phil Kessel took a pounding in his pre-draft interviews, but I’ll be damned if I can see how that stuff has related to his very good career on the ice. Patrick Kane went from 20 Cent to champion in the course of a season. Again, even if every last terrible thing said about Kiril Kabanov has at least some grounding in the facts, he’s 18, and I suspect that like most high-end kids, he’s been given a lot of rope in his life.

That doesn’t mean he can’t grow out of it, and even if he acts like a tool and then buggers off to the KHL, the worst case scenario is that you’ve lost a minimal chance of a real player. If he just needs to grow up, you’ve snuck a talent for cheap.

It’s an odd thing. Darryl Sutter took a significant risk when he acquired Steve Staios with considerable evidence available that the Steady One was cooked. That move will, at best, cost his ownership a nice pile of change if they bury Staios in the minors next year. With a low-risk/high reward scenario in Kabanov, the Flames couldn’t be bothered.

I do know Darryl Sutter would rather quit saying "to be quite honest" than draft a Russian, and I’m not arguing that this is some sort of fatal blow to the franchise, but the Flames haven’t drafted a forward that’s established themselves in any way since Lombardi, and you might have to go back to Cory Stillman in ’92 for the next one. Might be time for a new plan, don’t you think?

  • George.T.

    Bang on!! I really feel that a change on direction is needed. Personally i think this will be the last year for D. Sutter, and I hope that the next guy coming in cleans house.
    Building through the draft is what most cup winners do.

  • Phil Kessel took a pounding in his pre-draft interviews, but I’ll be damned if I can see how that stuff has related to his very good career on the ice. Patrick Kane went from 20 Cent to champion in the course of a season.

    One of the interesting things about Joyce’s “Future Greats” book is you get to see the degree to which players personalities and backgrounds effect their stocks during the draft. Joyce related one tale about Kane and Gagner being flown to a rival rink during the playoffs by the London Knights (ahead of all their teammates), obviously in order to give the stars a leg-up in the next game. Joyce told the story to Angelo Esposito who condemned Kane and Gagner at the time for not being “team players” because they accepted the flight.

    The implication of the anecdote was that Esposito might have superior “character” than Kane and Gagner. We’re a few years down the road now and we can see all the relevance that’s had.

  • Robert Cleave

    @Kent Wilson:

    Yeah, I keep thinking about Jordan Schroeder last year as well. He slid because of the same sort of thing. In his limited audition with Manitoba in the AHL this spring, he had 15 points in 17 total games(playoffs included), and I never heard that he was any sort of particularly bad dude.

  • Actually my previous reaction to this news was an overreaction. I believe the Flames can benefit from this if Kotalik’s replacement (i.e. at the same slot on the depth chart, I’m thinking Higgins) can be had for less than $2M.

    The cost in years 3-4 isn’t nothing, Lanks and Hagman come off the books but they are good players so they need to be replaced with high$$ forwards. But the reward in years 1-2 isn’t nothing either.

  • But, I’ll hold to this – the only reason we’re in this hole in the first place is that Sutter made the trade to begin with. In isolation I don’t mind the buyout but we never should have been forced to do it.

    And Sutter should be fired if Higgins can’t be signed. If we do buy out Higgins then it comes down to 1M in cap space and $$ x 4 years, for the right of first negotiation with Higgins. I like the guy, I doubt he’s that good though, and if he doesn’t get signed then it’s a complete piss-off.

  • Good article.

    Anybody remember when the Flames used to be ahead of the curve when it came to drafting/aquiring young talent?

    We were like the first franchise to really sign college FA’s, and we were one of the first to go overseas and draft/sign Russians and other Europeans.

    And, looking at the teams record in the 80’s, that didnt seem to hurt the team.

    Whatever Sutter. Maybe he didn’t want to draft a kid the next guy could take credit for.

  • This buyout is stupid. He has no protection. Send Kots down and pay him there. Sending him down costs the owners more money (2 million more I think) but it won’t hurt the cap.

    Billionaire owners shouldnt be cheap. That’s what a buyout is. It’s one thing if we were PHX but we arent. We can afford to send him down and save the million in cap space over the 4 years that the buyout would cost. That’s a freaking player, 1 million dollars!

  • Flames draft to their “strengths” and i use that term lightly. WHL players and players who played for former Flames or related, throw in the odd European. Rarely is there a talented OHL or QMJHL player selected.

  • I would have liked to see Daz take a chance on Kabanov too, but I don’t know how critical you can really be that he didn’t take him at 64. He was also available at 63, and 62, and 61… we weren’t the only team to take a pass on him. And the fact it was the Islanders that finally bought probably says a lot.

  • I think Darryl does learn from his mistakes and taking Kiril Kabanov would be repeating the Dan Ryder experience: A skilled forward reduced to robbing stores in the rock. Kabanov leaving Moncton early could have been the move of an 18 year old. What about his agent (PJ Byrson ?) and the Russian national team choosing to not deal with him? To me Kabanov is the Ferrari that does not run verses a Domestic Truck that does