On Rebuilding and such



While the Flames are still battling the fates to squeak into the playoffs, the topic of trading major assets and going into "full rebuild mode" currently dominates most Flames fans discussion. From sports radio to twitter, the real concern is for what the team is going to do beyond this season.

The poll at right suggests a majority of fans is ready for scorched earth: tear it all down, trade any and all marketable assets, gather the futures and begin again. There are, of course, risks associated with such a strategy: there’s absolutely no guarantee that tanking for draft position and moving players for picks will garner you a future Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin. Patrik Stefan isn’t a guy you want to stake the future of your franchise on, for instance. What’s more, rebuilding properly requires more than simply acquiring notable kids in the draft. The outfit up north probably has three of the best forward prospects under 21 in the league right now. However, the comic duo of Tambo and Lowe still have to prove they can competently build around their various pillars in order to drag the Oilers out of the basement. If all it took to make an elite NHL roster was to suck hard for awhile, well…the NY Islanders would be a juggernaut.

I am, of course, painfully aware of the Flames current predicament having tirelessly cataloged the previous regimes various failings: no cap space, aging roster, limited prospects, bad contracts throughout etc. I’d like to emphatically deny a couple of things at this juncture however:

1.) That the rebuild necessarily be of the "scorched earth" variety

2.) That trading one or more of the perceived core of the club represents the aforementioned.

I’ll posit here that "rebuilding" doesn’t have to equate stripping a club to it’s foundation. It is only perceived as such because the highest profile "rebuilders" engage in the great purges and purifications. Often because they have no alternative – they are terrible in whatever iteration they take, meaning there is nothing to lose from napalming the roster. The Oilers were a cap team last year after all. The scorched earth narrative/strategy was only deployed when it became clear that Tambellini had assembled the worst team in the league by accident.

The Flames, with all their faults, aren’t the Oilers. They battled for the playoffs this year and last and probably will next season. They are competitive if not favorites. There are quality players here of all stripes and at various positions. It’s true there’s no real marked improvement to be assumed going forward, but the club is miles away from falling off a cliff as well.

A rebuild, therefore, may be able to proceed in a gradual, step-wise fashion. Prune the bad contracts where possible and replace them with better value ones. Play and promote notable prospects in a manner that puts them in an environment to succeed and ensures development. Finally, consider which big contracts have the most value in the market and contemplate dealing them for returns. This can occur in a slow, measured fashion wherein returns are maximized and mistakes avoided or limited. Meaning: the Flames don’t have to trade Iginla et al. all at once, nor do they have to move them simply for the sake of change. But they should certainly entertain meaningful offers.

The reluctance to move Iginla at al. springs from the apparent void their absence would cause in the line-up. One question I’m often asked when discussion trading Kiprusoff, for example, is – "who would you replace him with"? This, of course, is a query emotionally loaded with all that Kipper has meant and accomplished as a Calgary Flame: the 2004 cup run, a Vezina trophy and countless highlight reel saves. That all seems irreplaceable. The mind panics when contemplating a future without Kipper in net. Like stepping into a car without brakes.

The truth is, what Kiprusoff has done as Flame will never change – his accomplishments remain indelibly burned into our collective consciousness and inscribed in the past. However, what he was shouldn’t be confused with what he is currently: a 34-year old goalie with a couple of years left on his his contract and a mediocre save rate in three of his last four seasons. He costs the club more than $5M in cap space a season. The goalie market is saturated and plentiful. Replacing Kipper’s past results is impossible. They remain fixed. His current results and likely those he’ll manage as he approaches retirement are another matter entirely. 

The same is – or will be – true of Iginla and Regehr now or at some point in the near future. The Flames organizational cornerstones are capable enough players, but past their prime and are no longer nodes to build around. They are big money deals more than core players at this point. "Five Dollar milkshakes" to use an old short-hand concept. Their pasts are immovable, irreplacable, but their futures are not. Dealing all of them is certainly not a necessity going forward. Nor, though, is keeping all of them.

"People build teams in certain ways. I’ve always traded for futures – not pasts." Said Sam Pollock, the architect of the Canadiens dynasty. He wasn’t talking about "the fall for Hall" or any other version of tanking either. Few GM’s in league history struck the balance between grooming players to their peak and then leveraging their resumes for notable returns (all while maintaining the club’s ability to win games) like Pollock.

As such, I think there’s a mid-point between status quo and scorched earth. It’s that sort of balance I’d like to see the organization strike going forward.

  • everton fc

    We lack depth. Depth in Abby, and depth up here. Both offencively and defencively. Compare Mikkelson and Carson to Boynton. The Flyers picked up Boynton for depth, with a very low cap hit. We picked up Carson…

    Look at Modin. We picked him up for depth. He’s gibbled, one of the walking wounded who can’t string together more than a few games in a row without a breather for “maintenance”… Yet, we picked him up… For depth… While forcing Conny into the press box.

    So what do the Flames do?

    I agree JBo needs to go. For the price, he’s not worth it. Reggie and Gio are the leaders on defence – not JBo. Why people want to move Regehr still boggles my mind. Same people who wanted to move Moss… Iginla… Who called Jackman Thing 1 (or was he Thing 2?) Regehr is a perfect building block. People just don’t get it…

    Sarich… as a 5-6 guy, he’s good. I have always like Sarich. He makes the odd mistakes, but he comes to play, hits hard often… He’s a decent guy, and I think a good leader. We need more good leaders…

    Still don’t see Backlund as more than a third line guy… But Malhotra has done well in that role over his career. As long as the organization doesn’t get their hopes up to high with Backlund…

    I lvoe Langkow, but please tell me next year is the last year of his contract! Like Conny, he should get a job in the organization. We could certainly use some decent scouting…

    Which brings me to the root of our problems for years, and the only way to rebuild – we need better scouting. We have drafted poorly. Feaster’s deadline moves did nothing for us – we are one of the hottest teams in the league, and if we can/could have got into the playoffs, I think we would (could?) see a little more than a first-round exit. We need to rebuild via the draft and trades for young talent. JBo, perhaps Glencross if he decides to play hardball, perhaps Karlsson, if Irving is ready… We are probably stuck with the likes of Hagman and Stajan, and I think Olli didn’t disappoint. If we can maintain our second line of Glencross/Jokinen/Moss, we have something right there to build on, short term, as all three are getting up there in years…

    I think we need to give Brodie and perhaps Erixon a chance. Bouma deserves a long look as a fourth-line guy – we’d have a fourth line I’d trust with him sandwiched between Kosto and Jackman. Or is Jackman a third line wing? I wonder sometimes…

    Like some have said, our present core is respectable. We obviously need someone to centre Iggy and Tanguay. Could JBo be the bait? And we need a better defined third line. I see Morrison as one third line wing – he is too old to be a centre – less skating on the wing. He said this himself – he’d prefer the wing, at this stage of his career. Could he help Stajan become a decent third line centre? Perhaps. Could putting Jackman on one wing help Stajan “grow a set”? Perhaps…

    Can we afford Hagman as a fourth line wing? We might have no choice. Kosto/Bouma/Hagman may be our fourth line…

    What we need, as fans, is a bit of patience, so all these bad contracts can run their collective course. In the interim, we do what we can to dump baggage and bad salaries, be it the waiver wire, for low picks, or off to Abby.

    Last thought – if we had a better start… Think of where we’d be now, with the current cast of characters… At least we now have solid second and fourth lines. As good as any, I think.

  • NateBaldwin

    Oh Todd, it’s fans like you that prevent me from cheering for Vancouver. It’s a shame because they really are a fantastic team, but I just can’t bring my self to associate with certain types.

  • everton fc

    One more comment:

    If our centres were Langkow,Jokinen,Backlund,Stajan – In other words, Stajan becomes a fourth-line guy, if we can’t move him… So, lines like this, in a rebuild year, abandoning the scorched-earth philosophy, which will not work:

    Bouma/?? as filler (Hagman waived)

    Defence(Assuming JBO can be moved for a high pick)

    Does this work under the cap? Sure, defencively it’d be a risk… And having that much salary as a fourth line centre – not good, but so what? It might be our only option.

    I’d watch this team… and rebuild around it. Who says Stajan doesn’t have a comeback year, and then has some value?

  • NateBaldwin

    Note to Flamers: Nobody is gonna trade for Kipper, his best days are behind him and he makes a fortune. Sutter is no longer a GM so shipping old guys to him is impossible….And Tambo’s got Khabby…..

  • NateBaldwin

    Note to Flamers: Nobody is gonna trade for Kipper, his best days are behind him and he makes a fortune. Sutter is no longer a GM so shipping old guys to him is impossible….And Tambo’s got Khabby…..

  • everton fc

    Note to Flamers: Nobody is gonna trade for Kipper, his best days are behind him and he makes a fortune. Sutter is no longer a GM so shipping old guys to him is impossible….And Tambo’s got Khabby…..

  • RKD

    Kent, there are a couple things I dissagree (respectfully) with you about.

    1) Tambellini assembling the worst team by accident.

    I think Katz and Lowe were fully aware that the fact that they could get away with taking full advantage of the edmonton oilers for a 5th consecutive season without losing a single seat in the house. So they purposely went 10 M under the cap and dressed an average age of 26.7 (including 2 players averaging 38). Why, i believe the average nhl games of experience per players the oilers dressed against vancouver was 91 games.

    2) The Islanders would be a juggernaut of a team. The Islanders made SEVERAL years of terrible draft picks, and are spending 20M under the cap as it currently stands. If you look at capgeek.com – the majority of teams in contention are all spending to the cap right now. So Not a fair comparision for the flames OR the oilers.

    I guess you could say the same thing about Atlanta, however, Atlanta has done a tremendous job trading away all of their top draft picks over the years – which goes against a rebuild strategy.

    I think you’ve made one of the most fair assessments I can think of for this hockey team. It’s too bad most of the fans just want to tear the place down. When Smyth was traded from the Oilers, Edmonton was 3/4 points out of the playoffs with 21 games left. The only won 2 games in the remainder and went from 9th to 13th.

    If the Flames trade Iginla, I would suspect that the heart and soul of this team will fall apart – as it did in edmonton.

  • RKD

    We know Sutter was obsessed with getting a #1 center and finally did with Jokinen. I believe he got Jokinen a year too late. If Feaster is given the reigns, one has to wonder if that need for a #1 center is still top priority. Maybe he will go after a Carter or Spezza in the offseason. I’ve heard buzz about J-Bo and Bourque to NJ for Parise and Zajac because or the Sutter connection but moreso the fact that NJ cannot sign both guys because of the Kovalchuk deal.

    • RKD

      I like that trade very much. I’m getting wet just thinking about it. NJ needs a puck moving D-man; haven’t had one since Scott Neidermyer. What a great way to move money off the cap.