The Flames and the Forbidden Fruit – Considering Steven Stamkos and an RFA Offer Sheet



In April, I wrote about the primary dilemma facing Flames fans and management – persistent mediocrity:

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The Flames have exhausted all efforts to escape the NHL’s growing middle class since the lock-out, trying desperately to leverage the peak years of Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr and Miikka Kiprusoff, without success. "Solidly middling!" is the hypothetical critical reception of Darryl Sutter’s tenure – consistently able to beat up the lesser lights, never good enough to challenge the heavy weights. And now fans no doubt see the bright future promised by the 2003-04 cup run inexorably fading, the final step between their team and the venerated elite class of the league becoming insurmountable as their core stars age. 

As such, a different kind of hopelessness grips the modern Flame fan relative to those in the late-’90’s: the possibility of a never-ending cycle of mid-range finishes, mid-range draft picks and scrambles to make the post-season just to "see what happens". A gray, perpetual purgatory where ultimate success is denied but tantalizingly close enough to avoid sweeping away the vestiges of failed dreams to start anew.

In short: the club is too good to blow up but not good enough to become elite with no clear path out of the woods. With the big guns drifting ever closer to obsolescence and the dearth of elite talent in the system, the Flames seem destined to run aground as a matter of course.

The essential problem is the total lack of an elite forward to bridge the gap between the decline of Jarome Iginla to the ascent of some hypothetical future superstar who will be able to assume the mantle. Feaster tried to acquire the best forward available in Brad Richards this off-season, perhaps in part for this purpose, but the gamble was a pricey one and more band-aid than remedy. After all, Richards himself is 31-years old with on a few more seasons left of peak or near peak production before he too begins to ride towards the sunset. As such, I suspect the club would have ultimately regretted landing Richards for the price and length they offered.

The Flames true needs is a comparable or better player, but a decade younger. They need a kid whose peak has yet to be reached, who can claim the offensive torch from Iginla’s failing hands. There are only a few ways to acquire such talents: a trade, the draft…or a restricted free agent offer sheet.

Trading for a young superstar is next to impossible in the current environment (unless Paul Holmgren gets hungry for some change, I guess). It happens, but it’s rare and usually costs a bundle in terms of current assets to pull off. On the other hand, drafting a superstar requires a top-5 pick, some luck and/or a shrewd scouting department. Flames have been lacking in at least two of those factors for the last two decades. Cory Stillman stands as the best forward drafted by the organization since the team won the Stanley Cup. The last time the Calgary Flames drafted a generational type talent up front was 1987 when they took a chance on some squirt named Theoren Fleury in the eighth round.

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The final method for procuring young, elite talent is considered the forbidden fruit of the CBA: the RFA offer sheet. It’s costly both in terms of future assets (up to four future first round picks) and the wrath it conjures in other GM’s (particular those who are targeted). Proffering an offer sheet has the connotation of desperation and of dirty pool. I sometimes suspect the stigma associated with the act – rather the actual cost – is why GM’s so rarely employ this strategy. No one likes to walk around with a scarlet letter on their chest.

That said, successfully sniping a young, established superstar might be a way out of this conundrum the Flames organization finds itself in. The best possibility this summer is Steven Stamkos, who remains unsigned and therefore open to an RFA attack. At 21-years old, he has back-to-back 45+ goal and 90+ point seasons. He is already an elite player on the power-play and has taken steps forward at ES in each of his first three seasons. By the age of 24, he should be the full package – an elite, all around center with years left on the odometer. Like Ovechkin, Crosby and Parise, Stamkos is a good bet to be one of those rare players who is worth whatever he gets paid. 

Generational talents like Stamkos are easily worth four first-round picks, particularly to a team like the Flames whose draft history is less than storied. If Calgary inked Stamkos for, say, 10-years at $8-9 million per, they would lock up a future elite center for the majority of his peak seasons and a number of his UFA years. He would aid Iginla as he declines by resting the offensive burden from the captains shoulders and would become the focal point around which the team would build when Iginla finally moves on. 

There’s no such asset in the organization currently, and no guarantee nor obvious avenue to acquire one. Of course, Feaster would have to engage in some fancy footwork cap-wise to make a Stamkos offer sheet work this summer (Flames have about $3.8M in space currently), but I maintain the return could very likely be worth it, both in the short and long-term.


  • thymebalm

    I can’t say I disagree…

    We’re not talking about a guy like Penner or Vanek. We’re talking about a player who over the past two years has been neck and neck with the greatest hockey player on the planet in Sydney Crosby. The fact of giving away that many first rounders may be a little steep but again talent like Stamkos only comes about through finishing dead last and winning the draft lottery and with a ton of luck at that.

    If Feaster was to make such an offer I for one would understand why. It might be painful to see Tampa pick with our first rounder for the next couple years but I truly can’t see that pic as being anymore than simply a mid round pic anyways.

    Nice article Kent. Food for thought, anyways…

    Ps: can you explain exactly how compensation for an offer sheet works?

  • thymebalm

    Yup, Stamkos is one of the few players out there that I would consider putting forth the top level offer-sheet on. I’d go a step further and try to lock him in past his prime years (say to age 35-36) to lower the cap average some.

    Really though, I think it’d be more likely that Feaster would offer to trade the equivalency to Tampa for Stamkos’s rights like Burke did for Kessel before going the RFA route. That way he could avoid wrath and shed at least some of the salary needed to make the Cap work.

    Offer Say… Four 1st Round picks + Stajan + Howse?

      • the-wolf

        Not so if we had done it at last year’s trade deadline.

        It’s also still possible at the mid-point this year. Tanguay being re-signed increases his worth. To me, if we’re in the same boat at Christmas this year as we were last year, I don’t see any better option.

  • the-wolf

    I’ve maintained for awhile that if Calgary does not intend to do a complete rebuild (now largely past their chance to a partial) then the player that best fits their criteria – a #1 center who will contribute immediately and click with Iginla, but not too old and potentially available – is Jason Spezza.

    Yes, we’d probably lose Backlund or Bartschi and more picks, but as stated above, pulling a Holmgren-type minor rebuild on the fly is no longer realistic for Calgary. They’re now at the point where they have to decide between major rebuild or going all-out to win before Iggy needs a walker. Spezza gives that option at a cheaper price and a younger age than Richards would have.

    The third option is what Kent states. A middling club that is eventually forced off of a cliff.

    However, I don’t think anyone in the Flames org. has the samosas to make a decision either way. The middle ground is the safe, comfortable road of the coward and I fully expect option 3 is what fans will be subjected to.

    • Prairie Chicken by-the-Sea

      Spezza? Really? Given his current contract he would cost nearly as much as a Stamkos offer sheet and give us a an indifferent, fragile princess that plays 60-70 games per year and only cranks it up late in the year when his team is eliminated and there’s nothing on the line.

      Kent, regarding a blow-up, I disagree with your assertion that we would not beat NYI or COL to the bottom. Iginla and Kiprusoff are the only things standing in the way of a lottery pick – move them and the radical rebuild begins.

      • the-wolf

        If you want a guy who is anywhere close to a #1 centre and can contribute right now and still be around for several years, then yeah.

        Also, the real hit in dollars is substantially less.

        I’m not advocating that route, I’m just saying if you want to win now that’s all I can see as a realistic option to do what I listed above. You’re not going to get Stamkos, because the Lightning will match , plain-and-simple.

        Frankly, I agree with your 2nd paragraph and have been advocating a rebuild for years now.

  • thymebalm

    Good article. I agree with the whole thought process here. If I was Feaster, I’d have been as aggressive towards signing Stamkos as I was towards Richards.

  • RexLibris

    Good article Kent. I have to say that, as an Oilers fan, the destiny you described for the Flames would be a dream come true – perpetual mediocrity. I think I can only wish that on a team because for about a decade that was our fate. And it sucks. That aside, an RFA sheet on Stamkos resulting in a cap hit of $8-9 million over 10 years would mean making a tonne of cap room on your team (moving Bouw + for likely little return because other GMs would know your in a bad cap situation and try to take advantage). It’s definitely a high-risk, high-reward move and I’d credit Feaster & co. if they had the stones to do it. The risks include, however, the character of the person coming over. Imagine you hand over the 4 1st rounders, and two years into his contract Stamkos gets tired of playing in a crazy hockey market (read: Canadian city) and demands a trade. My point is that with RFA offer sheets you can’t scout their character, so the talent is there, but you’re not sure if your getting an Gary Roberts-type leader or a Dany Heatley-type princess. Then again, maybe he signs, takes flight, and CGY wins two cups in his tenure there. Like I said, high-risk, high-reward.

    A quick note on the rebuild idea: CGY has an advantage in a total rebuild that probably 26 other teams in the league don’t. They have a knowledgeable, hockey-mad fanbase that isn’t going to lose interest in hockey because you take 5 or 6 years to start over. Teams like Nashville, Columbus, even Toronto to some extent, don’t have that luxury.

    Oh, and Fleury was good, but generational?

    • Oh, and Fleury was good, but generational?

      He’s no Sakic I guess, but in his day Fleury was indeed elite. One wonders what kind of career he would have had had it not been derailed by his personal issues.

      • RexLibris

        When I watch Omark I’m reminded of Fleury in that he’s someone who plays the game his way despite his size, and uses an opponent’s underestimation of him to his advantage. (No, I’m not saying Omark will post the same kind of #s as Fleury). Were Fleury drafted in 2005 rather than 1988 I think he’d have been a far more dominant player. It’s a credit to him that he accomplished as much as he did during the era in which he played.

      • Prairie Chicken by-the-Sea

        I agree with your label “generational”

        Fleury certainly was that, and although he was no Sakic, the comparison is quite unfair.

        Sakic was taken in the first round 15th overall, and although he was a “small” player at 5’11” 195-200lbs, he’s the same “small” as Daymond Langkow.

        For a hockey player that’s small, but it’s also like saying @6’6″ Jordan was “short”.

        If Sakic was small, Fleury was tiny, and being taken in the 8th round there is about a 2% chance of him making the NHL solely based on draft position.

        Add to that his physical size, it’s nearly impossible.

        Add to that a horrifying skate injury when he was 15? the odda are less. Chron’s Disease… even less….His past? Yikes.

        The fact he even made it to the “cup of coffee” level is astonishing.

        Then when you consider he scored 1088pts in 1084games through some of the worst Flames years, was a 7 time all-star and is legitimately a hall of famer, we could go another 40 years before we even see someone who compares to that.

        How many players have even played who are 5’6″?

        I mean, Henri Richard was 5’7″ and scored 1046pts in 1256 games (.83ppg) on a dynasty and no one questions his immensity. (Granted it’s different generations, but…)

        Theo Fleury certainly is a unique guy in many ways, but could be one in a million on the ice.

  • I’ve never been a fan of offer sheets, usually doesnt pan out. But if you look at it, Stamkos would be that one guy I think would be better than 4 1st rds (considering the Flames ability to draft). He wont be that much older than a draft player and will be an immediate impact for years. The problem in the past is guys like Toronto, give away 2 1st rounders and a 2nd for an above average forward (Kessel) when they’re already in the toilet.

  • Oyo

    I would love to see an offer sheet to stamkos. First of all as Kent points out, we probably arnt bad enough over the next 3-4 years to “compete” for the first overall pick and even if we dis get it there is no guarantee he will be anywhere near stamkos’ level. He is a special player and I would be giving those picks up in a heart beat. Then as we move forward acquire picks and prospects and players by moving kipper + bourque. Leave Iggy here to mentor and hope backlund and baertschi and reinhart, are the players we hoped for. Best case scenario IMO the flames can put themselves in now

  • Oyo

    Interesting Kent. I even heard that Stamkos would like to play for one of the Canadian cities, just rumours though. I would rather go the sign & trade route with Tampa. I didnt like what Edm did with Penner & Vanek & always felt that what went around will come around & Edmonton will get there’s back. They just never had any situation that put them vulnerable that way. But the day is coming & I see a lot of top prospects that will give Oilers a handful of problems that will be exploited by the likes of Burke & Buffalo gunning after.

  • Oyo

    Why is everyone always talkin about Iggy declining? He has shown no signs of slowing down and if it weren’t for his personal turmoil at the beginning of the season, he woulda put stamkos to shame in the goals total department. Iggy will be a monster for years to come and he has slapped out all of his doubter along the way! Kipper is still a top 5 goalie in the league and in my mind Giordano is one of the best all-around dman. Langkow should put up atleast 50 points along with Jokinen. If Hagman bounces back to a 20 goal season (contract year), we will have Tanguay, Glencross, and Bourque as 20goal plus category with the possibility of Moss and Backlund joining that group. My only concern is defense and I don’t think we are as bad as many people think we are.

  • Your making it sound like he’s done being a superstar, which he is not, and if he can hold on to being great for 3 more years the team can make significant changes with him involved.
    There is an un-written rule amoung GMs when it comes to throwing offers to RFA’s. When Penner was poached by the Oilers there was an uproar about it in the NHL GM community. Doughty and Stamkos would have received mulitple offers by now, if that weren’t the case.

    • the-wolf

      Fact is Iggy and co. are already deployed against 2nd line comp. He’s a great goal scorer, but one-dimensional and can no longer take over games against elite teams.

      • Wow someone who plays against weeker competition can score 40 plus goals? Why don’t other teams do that? And Igyy DOES play against top competition. One does not play 20+ minutes a game and not see the likes of Getzlaf and Perry…

        • the-wolf

          Not even sure what you’re saying with that first sentence. Get over the hero worship. Head-to-head against top team’s best lines Iginla is outclassed.

  • Fun topic for discussion Kent! I just don’t see a flames GM ever pulling a K.Lowe because Calgary has class and honors the code. I can’t wait for Buffalo & Toronto to poach one of their top RFA’s and stick them with a monster contract also.

  • Prairie Chicken by-the-Sea

    You’d have to commit a ton of money for a long time. He’s a world-class talent, but I would be concerned about that cap hit for the next 6-9 years.

    Doughty & Stamkos would be out of our price range. We could make it work, but would it be worth it?

    My preference would still be Bogosian. Comparable player to Doughty when he was drafted, faced some tough minutes in ATL, and wouldn’t command the same type of salary. I would offer-sheet Bogosian at 4mill * 5yrs. You would be overpaying slightly, but he’s a 20-year old D man that can already play a top-4 role and be effective. We desperately need top-4 talent, we desperately need youth, and we desperately need to make smart cap decisions. He may not reach elite star-status like Doughty, but you won’t have to pay 8+ million for him a year. Capitalize on the Jet’s financial restrictions as a budget team and go hard after Bogosian.

  • CitizenFlame

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned the Calgary connection with Stamkos (unless I missed it) training with Gary Roberts in the summer. Roberts has been a huge influence on Stamkos and one of the main reason the kid has had such success so early in his career. Roberts had some of his best years here and won a cup here. It probably isn’t realistic, given the cap space and “the code”, but otherwise maybe not so far fetched.