Insight into Flames drafting



I had the opportunity to attend an event on Tuesday night held by the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto at the Palliser. The event was part of their Leadership Speakers Series and featured author Jason Farris, who’s also an executive with the Dallas Stars, and Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster. Feaster is one of 35 general managers featured in Farris’ new book, Behind the Moves: NHL General Managers Tell How Winners Are Built. 

A Change in Philospohy

In addition to discussing the book and swapping hockey stories, Feaster chatted with members of the audience following the formal Q&A part of the evening. Since we’re headed towards the draft, I asked him about the retention of Tod Button. (I’ve previously written here about Button’s performance as head scout).

Feaster explained that a lot of the rationale lies in how players were being evaluated prior to past drafts. Right now, the Flames are looking at maximizing assets and getting the best player available – he cited a hypothetical: if the Flames thought a 5-foot-9 player was the best available, they’d take him even though they already have Paul Byron and Johnny Gaudreau in the organization, because not everyone is going to play for the Flames and assets can always be moved.

In addition, the Flames reportedly used to draft based on perceived need. In a past draft, for example, the Flames decided that they needed to draft an eventual replacement for an aging Rhett Warrener. (This could be referring to the 2005 drafting of Matt Pelech, although the Flames have drafted many big/physical/clunky d-men in the past.) Considering that the draft is such a crapshoot (and that drafting the “best player available” isn’t a guarantee that you’ll produce an NHL player), it’s a bit unsurprising the Flames had such marginal success in the draft that they did considering the limitations they seemingly placed on themselves.

In this context, both the retention of Button and the Flames apparently improved drafting make a bit more sense. It’s hard to conclude that Button (and his staff) weren’t good at their jobs if they were given such narrow parameters to find and recruit players.

  • I’ll second that. It’s impossible to evaluate scouts without knowing how involved the GM, etc, are in the decision-making processes.

    In Future greats and Heartbreaks, for example, the author talks about how GMs would show up to only 1 or 2 games, maybe the WJC, for example, and either fall in love or hate a player based on those 1 or 2 games despite opinions to contrary derived from the year and a half previous that scouts had just spent watching said player.

    Best player available is the only option as far as I’m concerned. As hard as drafting is, it’s even harder to predict how long it will take a player to develop, if at all, and as stated, assets can always be moved.

    I’m sure Tod views his continued employment as a chance at personal redemption.

  • while i agree that drafting the best player available is a good strategy it should it should not dictate everything. Best player should be used in the early rounds, the later rounds for “role” players. However, in Edmontons case the best player available may be a skilled Russian forward but they “need” a d-man. In cases like this you take that “asset” and trade it to get into another position. That is why the team should have “tanked” thus getting a better draft choice and then deciding is the best player available the best fit or can they turn it into something else. Getting small Euros is not always going to work, in fact small forwards rarely work in todays NHL.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    I fully support the best-available strategy for the reasons stated by Feaster, with the caveat that if that player is not very likely to make it to the NHL (Russian for example), that should affect the choice.

  • RexLibris

    The problem with the BPA statement is that it doesn’t elaborate. Saying someone is the best player available is one thing, but given that the top 30 in a given draft year can vary widely from organization to organization, it would stand to reason that the variance for the rest of the draft class would vary as much, if not more so.

    Prioritizing skill over size is a step in the right direction, in my opinion.

    The Oilers drafted M.A. Pouliot ahead of Zach Parise because they felt that Pouliot was part of the Crosby equation as a linemate in junior, similar to Nemisz and Hall in Windsor.
    The Oilers felt they already had two small centers in Comrie and Marchant and didn’t want to draft another.

    Drafting by skill would have seen them select Parise and either leave him in junior or trade one of their other centers (Marchant was a pending UFA at the end of the year and left for Columbus with nothing in return for the Oilers) for further assets.

    All thanks to Kevin Prendergast, current head scout for Hockey Canada.

    I suspect that the Flames will have their hits and misses in the draft, as all teams do, but the change in philosophy and priorities ought to at least raise their prospect depth to a respectable level and with any luck they can find an occasional franchise player in the mix.

  • RexLibris

    @ Rex – I suppose a person could come up with any number of different titles for draft strategies, but I think there’s really only two that matter: BPA or By Position. Everything else is basically just depends on how teams prioritize different criteria. BPA just makes way more sense for reasons and examples already stated. Don’t fret, Calgary moved the 19th pick that became Zajac and then took Chucko. And they played together on the same team.

    As far as criteria, IMO, speed and skill are the top 2. If you can’t keep up, you can’t play, period. And guys with no skill (even those with speed), are easily acquired through other means.

    After that it becomes size and character in no particular order.

  • MattyFranchise

    I would very much prefer that the Flames draft in any way other than what ever the heck it was they were doing before. Personally, I see BPA as a solid strategy. If the player doesn’t exactly fit the teams needs but if he has a ton of skill then you stand a better chance of using that player as trade bait to fulfill your teams needs.

    I hope that made sense, night shift sucks and I’m very tired.