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.

  • Kent,

    I think your approach is exactly correct insofar as the approach to take in evaluating which pieces to hold onto, which to move and which to acquire.

    I disagree with your characterization of Iginla as solely a big money contract and not a core player. While his contract is a big money ticket, and I don’t think he can be characterized as a “value” contract under the cap system, I don’t see his contribution declining over the next two seasons such that the Flames are more likely to be a better team if he is traded.

    My thought experiment is this – if Iginla were to be traded for anything less than another team’s current or probable future “core player” (I am looking at you Brayden Schenn), would the Flames be a better team? I don’t think the answer to that is “yes” for the next two seasons.

  • I floated this out on ON a while back.

    J-Bou for Souray plus picks/prospects (Teubert plus the King’s first?)

    Obviously it would depend on what the picks and prospects were for both sides.

    J-Bou’s contract is one that the Flames would likely want a do-over on given his lack of offensive production. Simply put he is too well paid to be a defensive shut down guy (and some would say he’s not even that).

    Souray could play minutes next year but his cap hit is gone after that. The Flames gain 1.2 M in space next year plus have a guy who can play minutes (also at a bloated contract but the actual cash is lower next year) and then save 6.6 M a year for the next three years after that.

    Basically Souray on the Oil is a lost cause. They’ve shown that they won’t play him and are willing to eat his contract. He is kind of a throw in to give you a guy who can still log some minutes and would be a good PP guy (he or Babchuk would be the shot from the point on either PP1 or PP2 depending on what happens with Babchuk.)

    What the Flames get with this deal is a lot of cap space. They are hamstrung by bad contracts and NMCs and NTCs. If J-Bou had a better contract or the Flames didn’t have the cap mess that they do now then obviously they would get more of a return for him. He is just south of being Brian Campbell but with a longer term deal (of course I think Campbell is not quite as good as J-Bou but it is comparable). Right now they have 18 plus M committed to 4 players on the blue line next year (one of whom is Sarich). The Flames wouldn’t want to deal with the Oil if there was a ton of money or term coming back (like Gilbert) but the three years of cap relief gets them out of the mire they are in.

    The Oil has cap space to burn right now.

    I know J-Bou has a NMC but he certainly hasn’t got what he bargained for in coming to Calgary either. I doubt when he signed he really thought the flames would miss the playoffs last year and (likely) miss them again this year. He might not want to go to the Oilers but that would depend largely on what TambLowe are able to do this summer. He is from up there originally so he might not have the same Edmonton hate many players do. Bringing J-Bou speeds up the Edmonton rebuild significantly but also helps get Calgary of the cap mire that Dazza created.

    If ownership and J-Bou buy in the experiement can be written off as a failed Daryl signing. Most of the fans likely wouldn’t bitch too much about it (unless the Oil came on like gangbusters).

    Probably a pipe dream but the Flames did trade for Staios.

  • thymebalm

    I definitely dont agree with the “scorched earth” rebuilding process. There are examples of teams that have rebuilt through this method but really unless you are getting a crosby, ovechkin or Toews it doesnt work. Hall, Eberle or Pajaarvi will never be confused with any of the three aforementioned players and thats why this rebuild hasn’t shown any improvement for Edmonton and likely wont until they get a player of that ilk.

    Fact is, to have a team that will grow and improve you need established NHLers to build around and help teach the kids. Watching Edmonton trade away any good player possible doesn’t make sense. It still baffles me why they would trade Visnovsky for Whitney. Both are years beyond being considered a prospect yet they moved Visnovsky to save $$$ I assume but got a much less player in return. The Oilers would have gotten a lot more competitve having Visnovsky around to play as well as teach the current D on the roster.

    That all being said, the Flames should entertain offers for the big three players. I dont think they should trade them all but would certainly look to remove Kipper from the mix and likely Regher as well. At this point trading Iggy isnt better for the team but it is likely better for Iggy. They were talking about this on the Fan 960 this morning and they were right. How many players would rather have a Stanley cup than a HHOF induction? Iggy is likely in this category. Luckily for him he wont have to choose between the two but he does want a cup. This wont happen on Calgary for several years from now and it would be a shame for him to pass up the opportunity to win now.

    Iggy deserves a trade to a contender! Thank him for everything but he is too nice of a guy to ask for it and they need to realize its the best thing to ever happen to him.

  • thymebalm

    You said that people balk at trading Kiprusoff asking who will replace him, but I think it’s a fair question.

    Karlsson, Irving, and Ortio are not ready to be NHL starters, and beyond two star goalies in Bryzgalov and Vokoun who will likely go to contenders, who’s left in the Free Agency pool that can keep this team competitive for the next 3 seasons?

    And if the goalie market is truly saturated, how do you trade a high salary long contract goaltender without getting screwed over by diminishing returns? Who is going to give you top dollar if goalies aren’t worth top dollar anymore?

    Is 6.3 million that unreasonable between the pipes when the salary cap continues to rise?

    In the Jenga game of rebuilding, pulling out the goaltender piece could leave us like ottawa, or edmonton, or columbus or st louis or toronto or tampa bay any of those other teams endlessly searching for consistency from a starter.

  • Gange

    Agreed. I could see Kipper going however I fear worse results but so be it.

    Trading Iggy at this point seems like folly. He’s going to score 40 this year and I’m not sure how to replace that. My thought is to bring in a high level prospect and have Iggy mentor like Steve Yzerman did in Detroit.

    The question is, How do you get that prospect?

    I’d dangle Bourque out there.

    • I’m not too interested in getting into specifics before the off-season, but…

      Bourque probably doesn’t get you a high-level prospect. His career high is 27 goals and 58 points, he’s injury prone and he turns 30 this year. He also has a NTC.

      That said, if he could net the team a high-level prospect, I wouldn’t say no after the season he’s had.

  • JBlow needs to go to. If your trading the real players off this team, there is no reason to continue paying the guys 35 million. It would be like paying a closer big money on a team with no chance, just a waste of money.

  • icedawg_42

    The truly sad part lies not in what the Flames may have to move to secure a better future – but in what they will be unable to move, thereby securing a painful future (cough cough Hagman/Stajan). Has Jay Feaster (if he does indeed become the full time guy) done anything in his past that suggests he’s the type of guy to part with the big pieces? He’s on record saying he will not mess with the “core”

  • marty

    I agree Kent. To me it comes down to what bad deals can you get rid of? (Kotalik,hagman,stajan,sarich,) via whatever means (khl,abby,buyout or trade) that would be step one. Step 2 is who of the core do you trade? Maybe if you can get rid of enuff of the bad contracts you can keep them all. Looking at the goals for this team if tangs is re sign can score enuff but the goals against must come down. Depth defensmen seem to be what this team needs. Sarich,staios,pardy,mikkelson were either playing more mins then they should or were playing limited roles so the top 3 had to play more. If the team can find some better depth a d it would help. Also langkow in the lineup could help out the top line and the pk in regards to defensive play. It will once again be a very interesting off season and the beginning of a new gm stamp on the team let’s hope its a good one.