The Way Forward

 

 

In my paean to pragmatism last week, I noted the current iteration of the Calgary Flames are closer to the playoffs than the basement so it made sense for the organization to actively pursue the post-season right now.

Because the battle lines of the rebuild debate have become almost ideological in nature, my endorsement of a short-term playoff pursuit may have been misconstrued by some as advocacy for the status quo.

In fact, I am just the opposite in many respects – I have written multiple articles on the potential benefits of trading guys like Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff. In fact, I wrote them as long as two years ago when the Flames were only flirting with the 10th placed abyss. Long time readers know I am generally uninterested in tradition and convention as guideposts to success.

So I’ll state I am painfully aware of the club’s general downward trend over the last few seasons: that many of the Flames cornerstone players are aging and beyond their peaks and that the team has precious few assets in the pipeline who will be able to step in and carry the torch. My enduring analogy of Flames fandom to purgatory is not accidental – there is no clear, obvious path out of the wilderness for the org currently.

The imagery and nomenclature surrounding the term "rebuild" (scorched earth, tear it down, etc.) evokes certain images and connotes specific, unnecessarily extreme variants of that particular strategy. The long-time bungling of, say, the Edmonton Oilers or the New York Islanders pose as object lessons for why the rebuild should be eschewed, when it reality they are merely the twisted offspring of incompetence rather than the inevitable result of a particular game plan. In the end, good management finds, collects and retains good players. Bad management doesn’t, whatever the circumstances. 

The truth is a "rebuild" can be far more gradual in terms of player turn-over but far less extended in terms of failure than what we’ve seen out of the circus up north. The Flames may eventually run aground in the next few years as Iginla, Tanguay, Kipper and others age. Some form of improvement and resurgence if certainly required.

During the week, I plan to look in greater detail at how the Flames can marry their wish to remain competitive with their need to improve the top-end of their roster. I’ll try to redefine what a "rebuild" means versus the conventional understanding so the term isn’t associated with perpetually finishing 30th for years on end. We’ll see if there’s a way the Flames can stop running in place without falling off the treadmill altogether. 

  • I can’t even imagine a tear-it-down, Edmonton Oilers/New York Islanders style re-build with Ken King and Jay Feaster at the helm. It makes me cringe just thinking about it.

    You’re exactly right re: good management.

    • loudogYYC

      I dunno if what Philly did can be considered a model. I see it more as an opportunity that was presented and Holmgren made the best of it.

      I think Feaster has a similar situation/opportunity but after the Cammalleri trade it’s pretty clear Flames mgmt isn’t going to take that risk.

      I’m a little concerned about all the roster spots that need to be filled for next season. It’ll be really easy to overspend and potentially tie the club down with more Stajan/Sarich/Babchuk contracts. I’m really hoping they make smaller moves that bring new players to the team that can try out for next year.

      • Robb

        Interesting debate for next year. One could argue if the Oilers had a better calibre of veterans to compliment their top picks,there is no way they should be sniffing 30th place again Look what Ryan Smyth did at the beginning of the season. I expect Flames to ice a lot of young guys ala Oiler style next year, difference is, we have way better veteran custodians in the likes of Gio, Joker(which I bet money gets extended as soon as our season is over), Glencross, Tanguay, Cammi, JBO & if they’re still here, Iggy & Kipper. I think the spots are going to be open & it will be the kids that get pushed next year by a new wave of kids. So the likes of Byron & Horak will be fiercely competing with the likes of Nemitz, Reinhart & Baers. The 4th line will be another battleground for grinding wingers like Bouma & other kids that can play that role & need a sniff of big league competition. I see Feaster having lots of cap space next year & will evaluate exactly where the new face of the Flames will be this time next year. I see him maybe going after a 3.0 to 3.5 mill dman that could maybe slide into top 4. Otherwise, I see more rookies in our lineup & I see up in a 11th to 10th spot next year, very similar to this year but a new look.

  • Much like the cycle of life, the decisons we are debating today will evolve into events in the next 18 months. The speculation of today will become the what if’s in 18 months. The Flames Star Power “elite” are entering their twilight stages of their careers & really, we have Iggy & Kipper to thank for us being 2 points out of a playoff spot today. The UFA’s we have expiring this year & the fact Iggy has just 1 more year after this leads the discussion to not if we are rebuilding(some will argue we are now) but how should this rebuild go. It is very quickly upon us, embrace the horror. But on the fun side, we are about to see the birth of the new transition & I see Brodie as the first.

  • PrairieStew

    We don’t have a second this year and now not next year either. We do have a lot of assets that can move this year depending on where we are in the standings of course, no sense in tearing it down for the sake of tearing it down, if we are in a playoff spot I have no problem rolling with the current team for THIS year and not spending future assests on it. However if we do fall and fall hard, I have no problem gutting a few of the guys we can to acquire back some assests.

    The biggest issues I see with this team is the VERY marginal bottom end talent that we have that eats at the cap space. Babchuk, Sarich and Stajan. That is almost 10 MILLION IN CAP SPACE! For a guy who sits on the press Box, a guy who would be sitting in the press box if Smith was Healthy and a guy who has just completely given up. That 10 million could be spent on a 5 Million forward and 5 Million Defender. Ryan Kesler and Dan Hamhuis have a combined cap hit of those three and there is NO ONE, NO ONE AT ALL! that would ever take our trio of trash over those two.

    Iginla, Kipper and Bouwmeester are NOT the immediate problem. We need to find a way to keep some of those 2nd rounders we keep dishing out and draft and develop a few of our own guys that should help with cost of our talent. We don’t have a lot of those good self developed guys in the the 1.5-3 million mold that chip in with the 20 depth goals a year. We’ve had to trade a bunch of our assests to get guys like that and then even use MORE assests to get rid of them cause can’t assess talent apparenly.

  • Robb

    Hey Kent. I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the next week or so.

    I am writing this on my smart phone so please don’t assume I’m illiterate if auto correct guesses my swipes wrong lol.
    Here is my opinion…

    I do NOT want to trade iginla unless he wants out, at which point I completely understand and I wish him well. I truly believe that he is the best player this organization has ever had (especially when you consider who he played with) and if I had things my way, we’d build a statue of him after he retires. Him going down in history as “forever a flame” is worth one or two high 1st rounders to me. At this point, I believe his value to US as flames fans far exceeds the value he would have to any other team. People need to realize that at this point, glenx probably has a pretty similar trade value to iggy and while I personally think the organization is in much better position than people give the flames credit for, I’d be much more willing to part with guys like kipper, jokinen, glencross, and even gio than I would be trading iggy.

    I feel like I might regret saying this because I hate the trade iggy talk but why has nobody else considered doing what st. Louis did with keith tkachuk? How many assets did they bring in simply by trading him at the deadline, resigning him to a one year deal in the offseason, rinse and repeat. Iggy gets a chance at a cup, still lives in calgary for about 80% of the season, flames likely get a bit or even a lot more by trading him over and over again. He also gets to teach our young guys up until the trade deadline each season to pass on the ever important experience he has to our youth.

    I know some people may laugh at this idea – it sounds awkward, planning something like this, but it has been done before and by a team that seems to have built PROPERLY (unlike the joke up north), as st louis seems to be a fairly elite team now and seems prepared to stay a playoff team at the very least.

    Anyway, back to my OWN belief about what we should do…

    This whole notion of staying turret course being a “bad” thing is garbage in my opinion. I am the first to admit that I am an optimist and I do see things as glass half full, but people need to realize that the flames have made major strides this year to bring about a youth movement, partly due to injuries, partly planned. I am frankly overjoyed at how our rookies have responded. Irving looks like a possible future nhl starting goalie and brodie has, in my opinion shown that he is a 4-5 defenceman with the potential to be much more. Even the sporting cast guys like horak and byron show a level of confidence this organization hasn’t seen in young players in a very long time. They may not have the same “blue chip” status that I would give to brodie and irving, but I like how they have played. Derek smith has also played very well and seems an almost sure pick to someday be a full time nhler.

    It’s also pretty much impossible to argue that baertschi was a bad pick and I’m guessing if the draft was done over again theres not a chance he would still have been available at 13. What the flames prospect cupboard has seemingly always lacked is blue chip forwards. Baertschi could very well be that for us – I know thats a lot of pressure to put on the guy but nobody can argue that his potential has a very high ceiling.

    So yeah, for me, stay the course, don’t trade away any first round picks, rebuild while remaining competitive, maybe trade away a few veterans to get a couple 2nd found picks back, make a push for parise in the offseason similar to the one we made for richards, etc. I love our team and I love that we aren’t rebuilding the easy way. You do things because they are hard, not because they are easy. I want our team to model itself after detroit. Good drafting, excellent development, WINNING ATTITUDE, none of this one step back to go two steps forward b.s. from teams like edmonton. Those “rising stars” are learning how to lose and it’s only a matter of time before they pull a kovalchuk and grow tired of the losing. Even if edmonton does turn into a great team down the road, nobody will forget HOW they got there. The ten year rebuild (i have a magazine at home worth a cover titled “the future of the oilers” with sam gagner, cogliano, schremp. This rebuild for them is not new, it’s just much more obvious now. I find it funny that many flames damns want what that oilers are doing but if you listen to their call in shows in edmonton, the fans are mostly furious and tired of it. Their fan base is practically on suicide watch and some flames fans are begging for the same thing.

    GFG.

    Robb

    • Robb

      you sir are a gem. well said.

      I wanted to add a piece however. It is my opinion that as the flames stand right now (as kent has stated ), the team needs to push for a playoff spot. not only becuase it makes the most sense for the team and fans but to show potential free agents that this org. remains competitive. Im sure that is worth something to a guy signing a contract.

      IMO the target for this team must be either develop Backlund into a Hanzel style player and have him go into the tough minutes role with better players OR sign one either through a trade or free agency. Seems to me that to be a legit contender in this league THAT player is the most important. Everyone in calgary is hung up on the NUMBER 1 center idea and while this player obviously has an upside, the true difference maker are the possesion monsters. notably the Kesslers , Bergerons, Backes’ of the world. This players plays the tough comp and always carries the puck north and put up points. which IMO is far more valuable then a 60+ PP producer. My sincerest hope is that we have a diamond in backlund to do majority of the lifting to allow our aging offense only players the high ground. We need to surrond backlund or player x, with the right players however and that to me, needs to be job number 1.

      also…. Baertschi looks like a stud

  • RexLibris

    Great article, Kent. I like your attention to the subtleties in the term rebuild.

    My only point of contention is the comparison of the Oilers with the Islanders, but I’ve already exhausted that rant.

    A very good read.

    Its a shame you cheer for the wrong team. 😉

  • Robb

    “The long-time bungling of, say, the Edmonton Oilers or the New York Islanders pose as object lessons for why the rebuild should be eschewed, when it reality they are merely the twisted offspring of incompetence rather than the inevitable result of a particular game plan.”

    This is one of the best sentences that I have read in a long time. Keep up the good work Kent!

  • “Going for it Now” or “Building for the Future”

    I just dont see how you can hope to accomplish both at the same time. If you are really going to go for it then put the future assets in play and make deals that provide you with the best team that you can put on the ice. If you want to rebuild then deal away those assets that can return the most and help to expedite that process.

    The best part of the Flyers example as a rebuilding model is trading Forsberg for two prospects and two draft picks and trading Zhitnik for a prospect. They recognized that the team needed to get younger and they sold off the pieces that were not going to help them win in the future. Granted there was no emotional attachment to those players by the team or their fans.

    For Calgary they have to decide which way to go. If you believe that Iginla and Kiprusoff are your best chance to win, and you want to win right now than why not put the best team on the ice possible? Why not give up your first round pick this year? Why not go after a Roy, a Stastny, or a Carter? Make this team as strong of a contender as possible. The first round pick does not matter because we are going to win now.

    If the decision is that we want to rebuild than Iginla and Kiprusoff are not only the oldest two players on the team but maybe the two best chances to recoup a solid return of picks and prospects to help with the transition. Now when I suggest rebuild, I am really only talking about trading two players on the roster; Iginla and Kiprusoff. I think that by keeping our defensive core intact, by keeping the majority of our front line players intact we can mitigate the drop that Edmonton is experiencing.

    Being in the middle says that we want to compete and we hope to be competative but we aren’t willing to sacrifice or do not truly believe that we are good enough to be a competative franchise. It also says that we are afraid of the unknown and are afraid to take chances. Along with saying that we would rather be mediocre than risk anything for the chance at greatness.

  • PrairieStew

    A full tear down will not happen in any case because that would involve Iggy, Kipper, Gio, Bouw and now Cammalleri. Way too many pieces.

    A partial might take place if the Flames go in the tank in February. That would involve moving all the healthy potential UFA’s to contenders – Stempniak, Kotso,Jackman, Jokinen,Sarich, Hannan and Moss if he does get healthy. That could generate a fair number of picks – 2 seconds, 2 thirds, a 4th and 5th probably. You might be only bringing back half of those guys regardless.

    If that happens and the Flames finish well out of the playoffs, exploration on trading Kiprusoff would begin in the summer when I believe his no trade clause modifies. He’s been good this year but his big cap hit only looks valuable to teams that might be struggling to get to the cap floor ( Islanders ?). That’s a limited market and therefore the return would be nominal.

    What I hope is that Feaster is closely watching the Nashville situation. They can’t keep Suter and Weber both with their budget. They should have one of them signed by the trade deadline. Calgary has tons of left shooting defensemen – Giordano, Butler, Brodie, Smith that I would be comfortable going forward with, but no right shooters of any note. As good as Boumeester has been this year on the right side I would offer him to Nashville in an instant for Shea Weber. This would be a win for Nashville as they still get a big minute eater, that is potential $3 million less than what Weber would ask for in the offseason and allow them to both remain competitive this year as well as provide a lower benchmark price to begin negotiations with Suter as well. They’ve got a couple of decent right side guys in Ellis and Klein, to go along with Suter and Bouw, I don’t think we’d have to sweeten that deal very much (Nemisz?) to make it happen. That’s the kind of deal that for Calgary is also both for now and the future, because it addresses a positional hole and brings back the better player. It crowns a new salary leader in Weber and you may have to commit 70 million over 9 years.

    • PrairieStew

      Love the thinking on the trade for Weber but there isnt a hope in Hades Nashville do that deal for just JBO & Nemitz. Rex will tell you that I for one tend to up the value of some of our guys so I’m not trying to be negative or anything. I think that deal would have to start at JBO & Backlund & then another pretty important prospect, maybe Reinhart & probably top it off with our 1st rounder to pry Weber out of them. Granted, Weber would be become our highest paid player & new franchise face, but wow, a deal for a guy like that could literally gut what little we have. If we are going to go for it, I would try to get Carter & give Winnipeg whatever they want for Begosian. At least these players just arent rentals but pieces for the future. If we want to go for it, I think we break another rule & see what we would have to give the Oilers to get Sutton. I like his game, experienced nasty, hits exactly what we need for a playoff run.

      • RexLibris

        I think all fans have a tendency to overvalue their teams players. Not many take it to the level of an art form like Leafs fans do, but nevertheless…

        That being said, if a trade for Weber is what the Flames were looking for you would probably have to offer Giordano and then some of the assets of which you speak. I don’t think you’d need to include Reinhart and a 1st, perhaps just one or the other.

        If I were drafting up a starting point for trade negotiations I’d probably look at Weber and a 4th round pick for Giordano, Backlund and a 1st round pick. This deal would also have to happen in the off-season and it would take a heck of a lot of sweet-talking from Feaster because right now the Predators and the Flames are basically in direct competition and look to be next season as well. The thing Nashville wants long-term though is to reduce their payroll, or at least balance it out, and return some prospect assets for the time and resources invested in Weber’s development. The fans in Nashville have an emotional connection to Weber that they would probably liken to Flames’ fans connection with Iginla. I don’t think management would want to let him leave town without exacting a heavy toll, at least for the fans’ sakes.

        Carter is likely an easier sell for the Blue Jackets but may come at a higher price because Columbus gave up a lot to get him in the pick that became Couturier. If Scott Howson keeps his job and is looking to make that trade (a lot of “ifs”) then he would be asking for a deal that at the very least would recoup what he felt he lost. Baertschi or Backlund, Giordano or Bouwmeester, and likely Irving (I can’t see any sane GM wanting to take another turn on the Merry-Mason-Go-Round).

        I don’t see the Jets trading Bogosian if they are this close to making the playoffs in their first year back in the ‘Peg. Or at least I don’t see Flames fans having the stomach to acutally make an “anything they want” kind of offer. That could be very costly if you let their GM dictate those terms.

        As for Sutton, as the saying goes: “Let’s Make A Deal!”. The Flames still have a 3rd round pick this year, although to make the roster work I could see a similar deal to what was done with Staios where the Oilers take back a UFA d-man in addition to the pick. I don’t see Feaster offering up a pick in a future draft year for a defenceman set to become a UFA this year. If he did he should have his head examined. Sutton for Hannan and a 3rd round pick this year? That might be market value at the deadline (crazy as it sounds) and then it would depend on the offers from other teams.

        I think that with the Flames making this playoff push Feaster will have to be extremely careful that he doesn’t decide (or is “persuaded” by ownership) to deal too many more picks for the next three years. The more picks he deals the longer any kind of rehabilitation (better word than rebuild?) will take once the team begins to change over.

        • PrairieStew

          I do agree, especially what it would take to score a Weber. We would definitely have to be in the playoffs for sure before I give a 3rd for a rental like Sutton too. Thing is, should we be buying at all?? & I think if Feaster can find a way to be a seller but keep things interesting to the end to challenge for that 1 playoff spot that 5 teams are fighting for, then that would be the route to go. Buying rentals this year would be just foolish.

          • RexLibris

            I’m thinking Feaster may be maxed out on the number of draft picks he moves this season. While I understand the appeal of moving some of those expiring UFAs, I don’t see many that a GM would part with if he is planning on making a playoff push. Depth at defence and centre are a must, so the only body that I see as a possible “sell” is perhaps Brendan Morrison and he, in my opinion, would have very limited trade value (a 5th round pick might surprise, but not shock me). Even Moss I can see being kept for depth as I don’t think the return would be worth the risk of moving him.

            This isn’t to say that Feaster won’t make a move, but the classic sell-a-UFA-for-a-pick move is one that I don’t see happening much here. He’d have to make a Cammaleri-like move in a player-for-player trade. Using Hemsky as an example (as a scoring winger) Feaster would have to move a pick and a prospect (my guess is that this will be the average asking price by most selling GMs). The best option for Feaster were he to try and land a body like that would be a 1st round pick and either Michael Ferland or Blake Comeau.

            Buying while selling is tough and you can only move in one direction at a time. If the Flames move out UFAs then they would likely be taking back signed players. If they move out veterans they’d be taking back youth. This is why I said that the Flames would have been better served had they crashed this season and then been able to fully capitalize on this windfall of expiring contracts. Imagine for a moment that Feaster hadn’t traded the 5th rounder for Letourneau-Leblond. Then the Flames have every pick save the 2nd they included to move Kotalik (that trade had to happen). Now, imagine the Flames are in 13th in the West and are 12 points out of a playoff spot at the trade deadline. You would have an opportunity to trade Stempniak and Jokinen for a 2nd round pick each (conservative estimates). Then you could trade Hannan and Sarich for a 4th round pick each. Then you have players like Kostopolous, Morrison and Jackman that could garner a 5th or later round pick. You wouldn’t have to move all of them, but even moving the first four names would have taken what fate gave you and remade the team in one draft. You’d have a 1st (in the top ten), two 2nds, a 3rd, three 4ths, a 5th, a 6th, and a 7th all in a deep draft. That kind of draft windfall is exactly what the Flames development system needs. One draft like that can mean the difference between a long-term rebuild and an abbreviated stay in the league basement.

            However, we can file that all under “coulda’, shoulda’, woulda'”.

            So here’s the question Flames fans haven’t dared to ask yet: would Feaster consider putting in an offer sheet on Weber this summer if it comes to it? The compensation would be four first round picks.

            My guess is the answer would be a resounding “no”.

            One more note on Sutton: if his skating were to improve I think that he could become a much more effective player. He has displayed some good hockey sense and surprisingly quick hands for someone with his reputation. Three times this January I have seen him take the puck at the point and dance past the covering forward(s) and get to the slot to shoot.

  • PrairieStew

    I think it is a unique situation because they either have to get both guys under contract, or they will want to find a replacement for one of them right away

    I don’t know if anyone else could or would offer a player of Bouwmeesters calibre that would solve both of Nashville’s challenges – staying competitive this year and setting the market to resign Suter.

    If they choose to resign Weber at 9 per year Suter then asks for at least 7 – then they have to trade Suter now and their team is worse for it this year, because as a pending UFA they dont get a stud back that plays now. In acquiring Bouwmeester, this keeps Suter as the 2nd best defenseman on the team and they could make the case for a 6 m deal for Suter.

    If they decide to sign Suter first before doing anything with Weber, at 6 or 7 or whatever, the arbitrator has to go higher than that for Weber, which they won’t afford and Weber’s trade value drops in the summer because he is looking at a one year deal only, then UFA status.

  • RexLibris

    Unless it’s an actual true Hockey Deal and not a trade deadline deal I have no problem with a little Feaster trading. But being buyers at the deadline for UFAs and Rentals and wasting more of our future assests is a fools errand for this team. Giving up a 3rd for Sutton isn’t gonna change this teams fate in the playoffs with the teams current make up.

    We can try to be as competitive as possible with this team, however wasting more assests on talent that isn’t gonna be sticking with us past this season is gonna put us into that Oilers/NYI place that Kent mentioned. And most players you could acquire at the deadline are usually not the guys you want long term investments in anyways as there is a reason the team that had them gave them up in the first place. Rather than acquiring UFAs at the deadline, it’d be better served for this team to wait till summer or the draft and use the assests instead for finding and getting players then, when the market is as stupid as the trade deadline.

    We have cap space this summer, we don’t have a lot of picks as is, and we can hopefully move a couple players that just don’t fit on this team anymore(Babchuk for example). We ride this season out and start moving forward in the summer. At worst we fall out of contention and sell off a bunch of players at the deadline and use those to start a rebuild(not a blow it up Edmonton style). Rebuilds don’t have to be a sell everything(Bouwmeester, Iggy, Camms, Tangs, Kipper) but you move your expiring assests if we turn out to be sellers, get new assests and maybe use those in the summer in a package or something to get players that you can build your team on.