Teardown time?

 

EDMONTON, CANADA - OCTOBER 16: Calgary Flames right wing Jarome Iginla  concentrates against the Edmonton Oilers at the Scotiabank Saddledome on October 16, 2010 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The Flames beat the Oilers 5-3. (Photo by Dylan Lynch/Getty Images)

With the Flames struggling to begin the season, talk of blowing up the team and the management group has started again, with the potential move of the captain as the beginning of that move. I have to question if people really get what a teardown looks like, though, and if their understandable desire to see the Flames improve isn’t blinding them to what has happened around the league as of late.

The last two Cup champs are routinely held up as exemplars of this approach. Chicago and Pittsburgh, as the tale now gets related, recognized their flaws as a team, then valiantly flung every old player in their midst off in an organized manner so that the race to the bottom could be achieved forthwith. Once at the bottom, it was a mere bagatelle to scoop up the young players at the core of their rebuild, and peace and happiness was achieved.

My answer to that can be summed up quite succinctly;

GIVE ME A GOD DAMNED BREAK

Chicago came out of the lockout signing Nikolai Khabibulin and Adrian Aucoin to big-money four year deals in order to add to their young core at the time, guys like Calder, Arnason, Tuomo Ruutu and Mark Bell. There was no master plan, unless you call misjudging the abilities of your young players and having those high profile UFA players be both hurt and not very good the mark of genius.

No team with an organized plan to rebuild signs a goalie to a 6.75M deal in a league with a 39M cap. DUI and Shinpad ate up more than a quarter of Chicago’s cap space that year. That’s planning? They did get a terrific player by trade that season, as they obtained Patrick Sharp from the Flyers, but he was traded for Eric Meloche and a third rounder, so it wasn’t as if he was a highly thought of young player cast aside for a good return. The Hawks got him for the price of a cast-off.

 

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 03: Jonathan Toews  of the Chicago Blackhawks skates to the puck against the New Jersey Devils at the United Center on November 3, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Devils defeated the Blackhawks 5-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

After a season where players fell like tenpins due to injury, the Hawks drafted their captain in 2006, but again, fate played a significant role. What if the Penguins took Toews instead of Jordan Staal with the second pick of that draft? Would the Hawk rebuild still have been as successful?

I have a lot of time for Staal as a player, and I’ve routinely noted that he’s done a lot of the heavy lifting in Pittsburgh over the last few seasons, allowing Crosby and Malkin easier circumstances. Is he as good as Toews, though? I’m not so sure about that.

Finally, the Hawks had a little drafting fortune come their way. Duncan Keith was the 16th defenseman drafted in 2002, going 54th overall. He might be selected a bit higher in a redraft, no? The same could be said for Hjalmarsson being selected as a 4th rounder or Byfuglien and Brouwer as late round picks in ’03 and ’04.

Other than the *cough* perfect *cough* Red Wings, no one actually knows if a late round pick has a hope in hell of ever playing in the NHL, and the Hawks sure didn’t know that about those gents.

WHAT I’M DRIVING AT

Is that luck is a much larger part of a successful team’s composition than we often choose to admit. Pittsburgh, the other team that gets this sort of treatment, obtained Sidney Crosby in 2005 via a weighted lottery that nine other teams had an equal chance of winning. If they get Bobby Ryan or even Anze Kopitar instead, do they win a Cup in 2009? I doubt it. If they draft Kopitar and Toews instead of Crosby and Staal, does that work? I don’t know about that either, but maybe it does.

 

PITTSBURGH - APRIL 30: Jordan Staal #11 of the Pittsburgh Penguins leaves the ice favoring one leg after a collision against the Montreal Canadiens in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 30, 2010 at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

That noted, the Pens did openly blow up their club once Jaromir Jagr decided he was done with Pittsburgh, and then proceeded to be dreadful for years running, drove most of their fan base off along the way and needed that stroke of fortune after the lockout to return the club to the top.

It certainly wasn’t pure planning, and as I noted, they might have slightly erred in the Staal choice and I’m not sure Marc-Andre Fleury would go in the top 20 of a 2003 redraft. Without lucking into Crosby, I doubt anyone is talking about the Penguins as a model.

Even if you draft highly year after year, you could be the Thrashers. Their four year run at the top of the draft netted them Stefan, Heatley, Kovalchuk and Lehtonen. One total bust, two very good forwards and one goalie that might be good if he can play a season or two with being hurt. None of them are in Atlanta, and they’ve started the rebuild again with one playoff berth to show for it, obtained in the worst division in the game.

 

DETROIT - NOVEMBER 11: Sam Gagner  of the Edmonton Oilers carries the puck as Valtteri Filppula  and Ruslan Salei  both of the Detroit Red Wings backcheck during their NHL game at Joe Louis Arena on November 11, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan.(Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

If you want another example of what can go wrong when you blow things up, take a gander at the team up Highway 2. Again, they didn’t plan a teardown out of principle. Lauren Pronger made that decision for them around Christmas time of 2005, and the Oilers have been suffering for it ever since.

Even if their three highly touted young guys make the leap to be good NHLers, that team stands every chance of being bad for 6 or 7 years running. The Oilers are no more guaranteed long term success from their accumulation of kids than Atlanta was or the Islanders are. The Thrashers likely drafted better players in Heatley and Kovalchuk than Edmonton has, and as I mentioned, that franchise is nowhere.

I get the desire for a large portion of the fan base to see the organization start over. The Flames aren’t a team that appears to be close to elite at the moment, and they can’t sell hope via a crop of kids. What I hope people are willing to accept is that the teams that everyone wants to emulate really didn’t choose to suck out loud.

It just happened to them. Every last one of them was far worse off than the Flames currently are, and even if the Flames decide to unload every older player on the roster, there’s no assurance that the club will even be as good as the current team at any point down the line, whether it’s with Darryl Sutter in charge or someone else.

If the Flames go down the road of a teardown, just be prepared for the fact that it’s as likely the team will spend a good number of years in the wilderness as any other scenario you might imagine.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Let me make sure I understand PStew:

    15 years ago:

    1.) We had a bunch of elite players.

    2.) Traded them away in their peaks at their highest possible value

    3.) Sucked for maaaany years with our best teams fielded eventually late the next decade (07/08 and 08/09).

    And today:

    1.) Have one elite player and a bunch of other pretty good ones.

    2.) Trade the elite guy in his mid 30s and the other guys too, most at low value.

    3.) …

    What goes in that last line? You seem to think the reasonable expectation is something other than “suck for many years”.

    Which is absurd on its face, sucking is pretty much guaranteed when you swap all your veterans for kids who don’t have experience playing the man’s game.

    • the-wolf

      Couldn’t agree with this more.

      Except… we have an Elite player?

      We’ve got a very unElite forward who hasn’t been elite for years, is relatively one-dimensional, but is a great face for the game.

      We have a quite full-value stay at home defender, but he sure don’t score.

      We have a borderline elite goalie, who longer history convincingly says is top3 to top5, but recent history says flirts with that range more than he does occupy it.

      What we do have are a number of players with Elite reputations, one of whom does what’s expected, one who works his ass of to preserve that rep, and one whose reputation defies reality.

    • the-wolf

      The problem with your argument is that one, you obviously haven’t read mine about how things were handled back in the 90’s (hint: there was no rebuild; and two is this: “2.) Traded them away in their peaks at their highest possible value”

      No, no they didn’t. They half-assed and mismanaged it (see above). But keep on dreaming that Iginla is some kind of superhero who flies around in a cape in his off days and rescues cats from trees.

  • T&A4Flames

    A lot of really good insight and thoughts on these posts.
    I hate to see Iginla and Regehr get traded but I think the org owes those guys the chance to win if they want it. The good thing is that we don’t have to be in a rush to make a move. Both of these guys are signed for a few more years so Sutter can take his time, and hopefully he will, to find a great deal. It’s not like these guys are in the last year of a contract and we can’t sign them (Kovalchuk) and need to get whatever we can. If there is no deal that keeps us competitive now and better for the future, don’t make a deal.
    As for Kipper, unless there is a deal that brings back a VERY promising young goalie that is already getting NHL playing time, we keep him. Goalies, I think, have longer shelf life and I don’t really see Kip slowing down. Frustrated maybe, but not slow. If we can get Bernier/ Quick, Price, Neuvrith or Rask, sure, a deal can be looked at. Just my opinion.

  • the-wolf

    While I do agree that the Oilers are not a guarantee with the three young kids.. they have a lot of other prospects coming that look good like Marincin (ripping it up in the Dub), Pitlick, Lander, Oliver Roy and of course Mister 5 goals in a game… Nothing guaranteed. But at least they have potential coming up through the draft. If I was a Flames fan.. that’s what I would be concerned with because they don’t have that. And they are talent laden with veterans and have been for several years and have done nothing since the run prelock out. The Oil have never been laden with talented veterans like Calgary has. They continue to spend money on big name guys that do nothing for them or hire back guys that had supposed issues with coaches and mgmt and they aren’t helping either. Flames fans have a right to be pissed with the team and what they are doing. I’d want it blown up too the way it’s going… if Boston got a couple first rounders for Kessel just imagine what Calgary would get for Iggy.. 2 first rounders plus a roster player and a high end prospect I’d guess.. it’s a good place to start and makes sense… you’re currently 7 points out of 8th and have a 5 game road trip coming that could potentially have you in the 12-15 point range out by December. The way the top teams are playing, that will be next to impossible to catch up to. He’s not on my team so it’s easier to say, but trading Iggy for a good return makes sense to me if you want to start the rebuild. Just trade him to the Eastern Conference please. 🙂

  • Couldn’t agree less.

    If Pittsburgh drafted Kopitar, Staal and Malkin (playoff juggernaut who Mr. Cleave fails to mention), they would still have 3 excellent centres and the makings of a cup contender.

    Last I checked, Calgary isn’t even close to that calibre at center. Those players all went to their teams because of regular season futility.

    First of all, in order to even be in the conversation about “Crosby or Kopitar,” “Crosby or Ryan,” or “Toews or Staal,” you have to be in a rebuild mode. Those are the kinds of dilemmas any GM would want. Calgary hit uber-home-runs with Pelech and Irving.

    Leading to the second point, which is that draft picks – even in the mid or late first round – become more of a gamble the lower they go. If you want to talk about luck, talk about maximizing your odds by getting into the top five. I would argue that without Datsyuk and Zetterberg it is Detroit that would not be the model. They are the ones who got lucky, not the Pittsburghs, Washingtons, Chicagos, Tampa Bays or LA Kings of the world.

    the-wolf hit the nail on the head by saying that Chicago and Pittsburgh WON the cup. Washington is a perennial contender, and with good reason. And what, by your definition, has gone wrong with the Edmonton Oilers rebuild? The Oilers long suffered with mediocrity and the struggle to get to 8th place, while being overtaken by the Avalance (textbook rebuilders), and others. Now they are following that model, which requires that a team be horrible for a span in order to dominate for a long time. They’ll have the chance to make the kind of choices we talked about before because of it.

    The annual entry draft, as with any kind of gambling, works more in your favor if you maximize your odds of hitting the jackpot.