A GM’s Carol: The Ghost Of Draft Schmaft

Wonderful images courtesy of Dirty Dangle

Jay Feaster, after a long night, had woken up to head to the bathroom to deposit the remnants of the liter of cola he’d had just before bed. Suddenly, his room started to fill with fog and a sense of lost opportunity washed over him.


"My name is Jay."

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"Oh yeah, Jaaayyyyy, I’m the Ghost of Draft Schmaft"

"What do you want with me?"

"I’m going to show you the damage that Calgary’s terrible drafting has caused."

With that the thickening fog dissipated and Feaster and the ghostly spectre have moved to a chilling scene.

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There wasn’t enough room to put Chris Chucko here

"What is this place?"

"This is the graveyard of players drafted by your Calgary Flames. This is but a small sample of the first round failures that your franchise have selected."

"Well, at least we didn’t trade two first rounders for Phil Kessel!" *Chuckles to himself*

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"No, you guys traded one first rounder for noted superstar Olli Jokinen and then moved your 2009 first rounder Tim Erixon for magic beans."

"Well, that was the last guy. He’s the one that dug this hole."

"And it is a massive hole. The organization’s prospect pool has been ranked 27th in the NHL by Puck Prospectus and 30th by Hockey’s Future."

"Hmmm, that doesn’t sound good."

"No kidding, under weaknesses they put ‘lack of talent’. I think that’s a bad sign."

"This is the team that drafted Al MacInnis, Gary Roberts, Paul Ranheim, Brett Hull, Gary Suter, Joe Nieuwendyk and Theoren Fleury! We must have picked up some good players since then."

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"Sure you did. Look at this list of your draft picks. The Flames have drafted a lof of NHLers like Chuck Kobasew, Jarrett Stoll, and Kurtis Foster."

"I don’t recognize those guys as Flames…"

"That’s because they all made their names elsewhere. Although, I have to admit, those prospect rankings were a little unfair. They said that the Flames don’t have any defencemen coming up through the system but that’s not true. You guys drafted a couple of players that will staples on Hockey Night in Canada for the next decade."

"Oh fuck you old man!"

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"Maybe you’d prefer a picture of Doug Gilmour?"

"That’s it, I am out of here."

"You’ll go when I’m good and ready to let you go and not a second sooner. Before I leave I want you to go through this spectacular NHL draft database in which all of the Flames’ mediocrity over the past 17 years is laid bare. You can see how during Darryl Sutter’s tenure the Flames drafted 47 players and have the fewest NHL points per drafted player. Flames fans will be able to work their way through it to see for themselves just how poorly their team has scouted, drafted, and developed their players."

"Please, stop it…" *weeps*

With tears streaming down his face at the horrors the three ghosts had shown him he looked around and the fog had dissipated. He was no longer in the graveyard of awful drafts past but was back in his room in a cement building in Calgary. Feaster raced to his window.

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"Why, it’s September 9th."

"So there’s still hope…"

And with that Jay Feaster sat down to plot his team’s future and plant the seeds of its resurrection. 

What would YOU do to help arrest Calgary’s decline?

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  • RexLibris

    This is the chapter whose comments I am most interested in reading. I’ve watched what bad drafting can do (my team traded down from Zach Parise to take Marc-Antoine Pouliot) and I’m curious to hear what Flames fans have to say on this matter.

      • RexLibris

        I would on ON, but different nation different rules. When in Rome.

        Further to someone’s comment about Nill, what he does so well that has gained him the reputation he has is that he is smart enough to realize the direction he wants to take and wise enough to know when to get out of his own way. He hires smart people and surrounds himself with them and values their opinion. Tambellini is trying to do the same thing here, hire good people who know how to do their jobs (MacGregor is a great example) and then get the hell out of their way. We’ll see if that can spread to the rest of the organization, but that attitude is 180 degrees from Sutter’s approach. I don’t think simply hiring Nill is the right answer (don’t get me wrong, it’s still be a really good move) but instead getting in someone with vision, patience, and a free hand to work without the owners breathing down their neck about winning now.

        While the Flames drafting has improved this year, I haven’t seen enough to say that they have turned the corner. Reviews of their 2011 draft were mixed, as most felt they took Baertschi because that’s where he was supposed to go and that, while committing to skilled forwards for a change, too often they were picking players according to where everyone else thought they ranked rather than using their own insight or making a bold “swind-for-the-fences” style pick. And don’t bother saying that the Flames could have or should have Mike Green. There were 26 teams that passed on him. Looking through old draft records is fun sometimes but too often becomes a game of coulda, shoulda, woulda.

        I would also like to add that, while maybe it’s just the people posting here, over the last two months of summer I’ve noticed that fan opinion has transitioned from defensive optimism to pragmatic realism and desire for change. I’m not saying Flames fans have jumped on the rebuild bandwagon, but that it seems like more and more are asking for direction, any direction, rather than just the status quo. Tell me if you think I’m wrong, I would like to know if fans have noticed a change in attitude and whether it is due to the action/inaction of the team, or just because it’s the off-season and emotions have begun to wane.

  • Danny Gray

    Great work Trips. It’s always tough for teams to rebuild, especially when they have a second half like the Flames did last year. Hopefully it’s not too late for them.

  • RexLibris

    What’s to say?

    When the Flames were the toast of the League and Cup champions we drafted and developed as well as or better than anyone.

    Then we got rid of guys like Tom Thompson and Ian McKenzie and our drafting tanked and we didn’t give a rat’s arese about proper development and now we are where we are.

    Anyone else see the correlation?

    This is why the flames are scared to do a rebuild. they know they suck in those 2 areas and rather than address it adequately they figure it better to just bury their heads in the sand and ‘hope’ for another 2004 miracle (worst thing that ever happened to this team in some ways).

      • I don’t know all the names now. Tod Button is still in charge though. The decline started when Flecther left and it never recovered.

        I don’t think all of the drafting was super-terrible, I think development also has a lot to do with it. Just listen to the Jason Bonsignore interview on Nation Radio. It blew me away. I’d have knocked Sather’s block off.

        To me, it’s 100% drafting AND 100% development. We’ve haven’t done our young players many favors over the years. Teams get desperate and just exacerbate the problem by rushing guys in. Then they don’t perform and so the coach turns them into 3rd and 4th liners.

        Short-sightedness soon turns into a viscious circle as Michael pointed out.

  • Michael

    It’s simply a vicious circle, our first and second round picks don’t pan out, so we a/ either have to overpay and sign UFA’s or b/ trade away future picks just to fill the ranks.

    The result, the Flames can find mid level talent, but miss out on the high end / impact players. If you don’t draft them, the cost of acquiring / signing a true high end talent is out of reach.

    Trading for players or signing UFA’s is also a gamble… you have no idea how the chemistry is going to work, or how well a certain player will react to say playing in another conference, or under another coaching style.

    Having good draft picks to work into the line up allows you to see what you have, and to simply plan ahead.

    • Jeff Lebowski

      Bang on. This is exactly the legacy Sutter left behind. He then paid lengthy contracts to the likes of Bourque and Stajan.
      On the Flames roster there are not many homegrown talents. On any roster there are not many former Flame drafted players.
      This is the philosophy change that Feaster has talked about. I really like what he did with his first draft in terms of the type of player identified. We have enough grinders. This organization NEEDS homegrown top end skill. for the sake of showing that they can simply identify top talent alone. They need to invest in scouting especially European scouting. At some point Tod Button and his staff have to be held accountable. The tired excuse that it’s 18 yr old kids and it’s hard to see how they will develop can NOT be used anymore.
      All those draft busts and mistakes (ie not taking Mike Green) don’t apply. What they show is a philosophical decision to go in another direction (Grinding winger Chris Chucko).

      I want a scouting department that fights for the best talent to be drafted. Hopefully Feaster does too.

      • Vintage Flame

        “At some point Tod Button and his staff have to be held accountable. The tired excuse that it’s 18 yr old kids and it’s hard to see how they will develop can NOT be used anymore. All those draft busts and mistakes (ie not taking Mike Green) don’t apply. What they show is a philosophical decision to go in another direction (Grinding winger Chris Chucko).”

        Can you really blame Button for those moves or lack of moves, or missed draft picks though when it was D. Sutter controlling the draft… rather than Button?

        • Jeff Lebowski

          You could be right. I don’t know how a GM controls a draft. What I sense is that Darryl would pick grit over skill. The philosophy was if two players went into the corner for a puck he’d draft the kid who he thought would come out with it ie the harder competitor.
          I think that’s why a Mike Green wasn’t drafted. He was available and a Calgarian but not a farm boy work ethic. That’s why we drafted the Brandon Prusts, the JD Watts and the Matt Pelechs. The hard to play against identity over ruled everything. We need a hard to defend against identity now. Calgary is 6 years behind organizations who put a premium on skill. Obviously you have to skilled guys who work cause I don’t want a bunch of Zheredevs either.

          • RexLibris

            The draft history is full of scouts and GMs who out-thought themselves. As I understand it, how a draft is run depends on the organization, but for the most part a GM asks the scouts to identify players who fit a certain criteria, outside of the top-ranked players of course. Then the scouts go out and gather info about players who fit that description (D. Sutter = grit and two-way play). When the draft is being run some GMs prefer to be hands on, others leave it to their head scouts as a sort of reward for all the work they’ve done. When Tambellini made MacGregor the HS he placed a premium on finding players with size, skill, and character. He wanted players who would contribute to team chemistry. That selection criteria has been helped by their draft position, but nevertheless. Another example is Washington’s commitment to taking Russian players, knowing that skilled Russians can often be available late in the first round Washington is willing to take a chance on them knowing that many will do whatever it takes to play with Ovechkin. My gut tells me Feaster is lookinf for skilled forwards, regardless of size (see Gaudreau, John) and that he is placing a premium on talent and offensive ability for the time being. That’s just my guess based on whom the Flames selected this past year.

  • RexLibris

    Ditto for the Oilers. Fraser did a pretty good job in ’79, ’80, and ’81, but then there are drafts like ’90 where things go horribly wrong. The comparison between recent Flames history and the Leafs is uncanny though. It seems odd that Fletcher, someone who had built teams through the draft, so casually tossed it aside in TO. Either way, the strategy of “mortgage the future for a slim chance of happiness today” seems to be applicable for both the Leafs and Flames organizations under Fletcher’s and Sutter’s watch, respectively.

    Given the Flames close association with the WHL it’s surprising that they haven’t used those ties to improve their amateur scouting crew.

  • Michael

    I have to admit that I think that the drafting has improved the last couple of seasons, but the philosophy of the draft needs to change. And maybe it has a bit since Darryl left. The draft cannot be a tool simply for finding players that can play in the NHL. Each summer you can find bottom six forward and bottom three defensemen on the free agent market or swing trades to bring in depth. The draft needs to be a tool to bring in the type of players that you cant trade for or sign without having to give up huge money or a big chunk of the future. The draft needs to be the biggest opportunity to add skill (elite caliber, top six forward/top three defensemen skill) to the organization. Every scout that goes to watch a game needs to be evaluating players based on what is their upside and do they have the raw talent to get there. I am not saying that character does not count, because skill without heart gives you Daigle. But heart without skill gives you Kostopoulos and these are not the type of players we need to be drafting.

    I like the pick of Bartschi, Grandlund, and Gaudreau and was okay with Reinhart and Wahl and really liked Howse as a pick. Where I have a problem is when we use a second round draft choice on a player like Wotherspoon who is described as a potential 5-6 defenseman in the NHL. This to me is a waste. You can find 5-6 defensemen everywhere. I would rather have taken a look at St Croix or Lowry since they have top six potential.

    The draft has to be about big plays. You need to swing for the fences and look for players that have that special skill and ability on the ice. You cannot teach somebody how to score goals or how to make great passes, those players just have that gift naturally. They can be taught defensive play and responsibility, so why draft players that only have those skill sets. A team of third and fourth liners is not good enough. You need as many draft picks as possible. You need to focus on talent.

    I would double my scouting staff and would poach the best people in hockey and pay them what they are worth. And I would expect that from every second or draft there should be one top tier player drafted. You dont really need more than that. One high end level player every second year and you are a contender every year.

    We are talking about a team that since Sutter took over could have a lineup with Green, Stastny, and Lucic. Let alone the pieces we could have still had if he had not been such an idiot at asset management. Keep track of scouts evaluations and promote, demote, or fire those scouts that just cant pick the players with skill.

    Second is you need to improve the development programs for these players. They need more attention from the moment they are drafted about things like conditioning, psychology, and nutrition. Go out and find and hire a guy like Gary Roberts to show these guys how its done and what it means to be a pro. Hire guys that have just left the game as consultants to act as mentors to these kids. Guys that were skilled and guys that had to work their butts off to make the NHL. Teach these kids that its a tough, long road and that they are not guarenteed anything. Lastly, take your time with the prospects and put them in situations where they can learn, develop, mature, and excel. Having a skilled prospect playing five minutes a game on the fourth line does nothing but destroy them. Increased competition in practices and higher competition on the ice does not overcome the fact that the players are one not getting enough playing time, and two are not being used in situations that are going to hone and develop their skills. These prospects are better off spending their time playing top three/six mintues in the AHL than they are in the NHL. Let them grow and play the PP and PK along with last minutes of the game winning or losing. That is how they will develop into proper NHL players. In my opinion we should have seen a lot more from Lombardi, Kobasew, and Boyd than we did based on their skill sets. I think that we ruined them with our development (or lack thereof) system. And if they dont give Backlund opportunities to learn, grow, and develop they are going to stagnate him into a career third line player.

    • Michael

      I agree with absolutely everything in here except for one small detail and that would be finding an impact guy every second year. Probably a little too ambitious, but you’re right, the team that did it would definately be a perennial contender.

      I’ve said before that even if Calgary had just found 1 impact player every 5 years they’d be well off. Think about it, that’s 3 more superstars than they currently have since about the time Iginla came into the NHL!

      Agree, swing for the fences within reason and get the difference-makers.

      When you read a book like Future Greats and Heartbreaks it’s amazing how poorly scouts are often treated and how egotistical GM’s overrule a year and a half of player evaluation over 1 or 2 games where they either fall in love with or hate a player. Why have scouts at all then? Stupid.

      Ergo, I love the idea poaching the best guys around the league, of treating them with respect, better pay, giving them something longer than a 1 year contract and not threatening them with their jobs every 2nd day.

      Evaluate the talent of the talent evaluators and have more of them and pay them better.

      The same should be done on the development side. It’s a small drop in the bucket when you compare it to even one bad contract.

  • Michael

    What would i do? wait the year till Jim Nill is available for negotiations then back the truck up to him and ask “HOW MUCH?” Give it to him and walk away. I believe he is a drafting and scouting genius. Fill the front office with hockey guys. Stock the shelves. Unfortunately Feaster is not a guy i would trust with scouting or drafting.

  • Michael

    I agree that feast isn’t the guy to do the scouting and drafting but he also isn’t trying to either. The thing feaster is doing right is brining in people to do those jobs. I like the agm he brought on, im curious how that impacts the future. I liked what players we drafted this year.

    The question to me is how does jay deal with trading and signing. I like what he did with the erixon mess, the regehr trade is tbd at best (and im leaning on the positive side because I think we over valued regeher in Calgary based on market conditions) and for signings we have seen the nmc/ntc for 3 players, and I can only hear an argument that two of them may of deserved it.

    While the feaster era is still young, im reserving judgment for the year end. Its too early to tell in any capacity in my mind, but I think feaster will mire than likely be the GM who sets it up real well for the next guy

  • Section205

    The trouble with comparing to the Leafs organization is that they came from totally different situations. Leafs came from huge (wasted) advantages, whereas the Flames had many disadvantages to overcome.

    The Flames had a 15 year old problem that turned the corner about 4 years ago. You won’t see most of the positive results for another 3 years. The primary issue is that our NHL roster desperately needed to improve over a complete cycle:

    -1997 to 2003-BRUTAL, We weren’t even close to making the playoffs. Other than a blue-chip Iggy and a young Regehr, we had a skeleton roster and a only a few prospects worthy of the NHL. We didn’t have our own farm team. There is precious little to show for many years of top ten draft choices. On top of that, economics prevented the Flames from competing with other teams for free agents.

    -2003 to 2007-RESPECTED, Out of necessity, we traded a lot of 2nd round picks to fill the roster. We built a strong roster that makes playoffs every year (one glorious cup final), but still left with very weak prospects pool. The picks we did make were mostly late-in-round picks, but the selections were still not good. The drafting strategy changed significantly in 2007 for the better. Less bias towards “WHL” power types and more emphasis on “Euro” skill types.

    By 05/06, the economics and new CBA allow Flames to be competitive in the free agent market (for better or worse).

    -2008 to 2010-CUP GREEDY/DESPERATE, Our drafting is sound, considering that the picks are still late in each round. While improving, we still do not have a full compliment of NHL prospects. The development of most players is slow, except for the few prospects that show themselves to be NHL ready.

    But at this time the team opted to compromise on prospect-building in favor of loading up for the playoffs, in consecutive years. A perennial playoff team that still struggles in West Conference playoffs against Det, SJ and Chi. GM rolls the dice hoping to raise the team to a cup contender, trading picks/prospects for players that fail to make the difference. The team actually regresses to 90 points, missing playoffs and the GM is fired when the team fails to rebound (35pts in next 37 games).

    -2011-LICKING OUR WOUNDS-The same team goes on a .670 clip over final 47 games. New GM’s focus is “retool”, but aging veterans and cap space are a concern. The prospects from 2007-onward are coming along, but few are NHL ready. New GM trades 2 of the 4 core veterans (both waived NTCs) for younger assets and clears cap space for future moves. Furthermore, the new GM has invested significantly in new resources to provide decision makers with more information and analytical tools.


    We are now in position to keep our picks and build up prospects because our core roster is strong and deep enough to make playoffs. There should be no panic urgency to give away roster players that we like, to buy other teams prospects/picks. Stay on track with what we have. God forbid if we have one Leafs (re: bad) year in 2015 if our prospects take an extra year to develop. Then we get a top 10 pick (does Fata have any kids playing hockey?)

    The team notably lacks an elite 1st line player to match the legit cup contenders in the West. The team has one year before 11 non-core contracts expire. The GM will determine if the .670 team can play at least .6oo hockey in the first half of the year. If it does he could take on a large contract to improve the team, either at the deadline or in the off-season as part of the retooling of a playoff team.

    If the team does not perform well in the first half, GM can consider selling UFAs at the deadline to acquire a few additional picks or prospects.