This is a continuation of a series in which I propose a method of rebuilding the Flames organization. For a frame of reference, you can go to the first in the series here.
To date, the team has drafted a high-end center prospect within the top ten (estimated at 6th overall, at the 2013 draft and added another high-end pick, estimated at around 9th overall, either a forward or defenseman. The remainder of the draft would be run with an eye to skill and hockey intelligence at all positions. Seven selections were made, two in the first round.
Rebuilding the Flames – Year 2
At the end of year one and going into training camp for year two, 2013-2014, the roster looks like this:
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
Notable by their absence are Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kirpusoff, Jay Bouwmeester, Anton Babchuk, Matt Stajan, Cory Sarich, Leland Irving and Blake Comeau.
Irving currently appears to be facing a crisis of confidence within the organization and it would seem that his time as a Flame is coming to an end. I might be wrong, maybe he goes on a wild run to end the AHL season, but at this time he is the 3rd string netminder on an AHL team getting by with two non-NHL backstoppers.
On Cervenka, I have decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he can make a successful transition to the NHL. I have grave doubts about this in reality, but for the sake of argument let us suppose that he does rise to the challenge, however, I have still slotted him behind Mikael Backlund as the 3rd line center for the 2013-2014 season.
The Flames have added considerable depth to their prospect system and the plan now is to let that talent percolate and develop while the veterans continue to occupy the NHL roster spots.
There are new faces in management and scouting and new associate coaches behind the bench, all in addition to a new organizational philosophy. You can review those in the opening article of the series, the link to which has been posted above.
Let us begin year two, 2013-2014.
I don’t expect this season to be a smooth ride. However, I do expect that the Flames will be an entertaining team at times. This roster is not built to win immediately, but rather to put forth a solid effort, provide enough scoring balance such that they have, at the very least, a chance to win on any given night, and allows flexibility in the roster for eventual promotion of younger players. It is a roster filled with placeholders and temporary assignments.
By December I would expect the Flames to be anywhere from 7th in the West to 14th (have to save that 15th spot for the Oilers! There I said it. Feel better?) Over the short-term the results of this roster are unpredictable, as the team could spike in the standings similar to what we have seen in Colorado and Minnesota in recent years. However, the year-end result is much more likely to fall back into expectations, meaning a bottom five finish in the West.
Around this time I would be hiring at least one more person to the professional scouting team, if I have not already in year one. I have previously outlined my reasoning for this earlier, but to recap, there are currently only two professional scouts in the Flames system and the addition of at least one more experienced voice to the table is necessary.
Trade Deadline 2014
At the trade deadline I will have several expiring contracts to deal with. Chris Campoli, Lee Stempniak, Michael Cammalleri, Tim Jackman, Derek Smith and Blair Jones are all expiring UFAs. I would attempt to trade Campoli, Stempniak, Jones, and Smith. My asking price for Campoli would be a 2nd round pick, the same with Stempniak, depending on his level of play, while Blair Jones’ value may be as high as a 2nd round pick, depending on the desperation of the buyer and Jones’ season thus far. Smith’s price would be no lower than a 5th round pick in either 2014 or 2015, but perhaps as high as a 3rd round selection, again depending on the level of his play and the market for defenceman at the deadline.
I have all day for Tim Jackman in a depth role and, depending again on the level of play and potential injuries, would offer him a two-year contract extension with no restrictions or clauses at around $1 million a year.
As you can see, the return is meant to add more draft picks and thus more potential NHL players to the development system. I have faith in Troy Ward and his coaching style. Providing him, or his eventual successor, with a steady supply of young athletes is necessary to creating a strong and competitive farm system.
As for Michael Cammalleri, I would prefer a deal of perhaps two years in the range of Hudler’s $4 million/year. If a deal cannot be reached then he must be traded at the deadline for a pick. I suspect that he would be worth a 1st round pick to the acquiring team, however, for the purposes of this exercise I am going to assume that he can be re-signed. His numbers are within the range of Hudler, and as such I feel that a similarly structured contract would be negotiable. No clauses or restrictions would be offered.
My explanation for retaining Cammalleri isn’t that I believe he is worth keeping so much as that, if he goes, who on earth can I find to play first line minutes on this dreadful roster? The next players in line would be Hudler and Stempniak, neither of whom is capable of holding their own as a top line winger.
Draft Day 2014
At the 2014 draft I expect that the Flames would again be drafting in the top ten. Because this draft is so far away and prospect evaluation at this point is essentially academic, I will simply say that the instructions to the scouting team would be to take the best player available not based solely on that point in time, but the one with the highest potential ceiling in three to five years’ time. Preferably one whom we have seen in high-levels of competition and, barring any surprising sliding in the rankings, a forward.
Once again, I am not drafting an immediate impact player. None of these prospects will be rushed into the NHL, but rather allowed to return to their respective leagues to continue to develop.
Provided that all of the UFA trades go more or less as outlined above, that would give the scouting crew eleven picks in the seven rounds – one in the 1st, four in the 2nd, a 3rd, a 4th, two in the 5th, a 6th, and a 7th. That is the upper-limit of the number of draft selections I would ever try to accumulate in a single year of a seven-round draft. In fact, depending on the depth of the draft, I may attempt to trade two of the 2nd round picks for a 1st round pick somewhere after 17th overall.
As a general rule, I would try to limit my draft picks to no more than ten and no fewer than seven. This allows for a focus on restocking the prospect pool, but mitigates the chances of losing a promising prospect in three years due to restrictions on the 50-man reserve list.
Prospects need to be spaced out and my ultimate goal is to create long-term stability and a steady stream of young players graduating to the NHL at an even pace.
Now we head into the summer of 2014 and our RFAs are demanding attention. The defensive core may begin to take shape behind Patrick Sieloff and Ryan Culkin as the key future prospects. James Martin may or may not still be in the organization, as he could just as likely be replaced with an equally effective AHL veteran. As well, I am leaving open the possibility of signing AHL free agents to help man the blueline.
Ben Street is likely to be retained, based on his AHL career to date and the need for offensive depth on the farm team.
The development of Joni Ortio would determine if he is to be retained, but for the sake of argument, let us imagine that he is playing well and deserves to be signed and to play in the AHL. Laurent Brossoit will have finished his junior career and would be assigned to the ECHL for a season of professional development before moving to the AHL.
Roman Horak would become an RFA as well, however, the players drafted in the summer of 2013 would be entering their final year of junior and may need to play on the AHL team. For that reason I would retain Horak at a modest increase for only one more season. His value may not exceed that of an AHL veteran, yet as drafted prospects begin to enter the farm system it will be vital to equip that roster with veteran talent to help bring them along, or continue as a depth NHL forward. Horak fits that bill.
Ramo would likely be coming off of his second contract at this point and would need to be re-signed. Based on the development of Irving and Ramo’s play overseas I am going on the assumption that Ramo will be the better goaltender at this time and will need to be retained. My contract offer would be two years at approximately $2 million to $2.5 million a year. No clauses or restrictions. The intention here is for Ramo to perhaps unseat one of Mason or Niemi. This is a long-term project as the position has been woefully understaffed for years, with only Irving emerging with even the possibility of becoming an NHL regular. While I do not expect Ramo to become the next franchise goaltender, I do expect that he will at the very least be able to perform at an NHL average as a backup until the emergence of Ortio or Brossoit can deepen the talent pool.
John Gaudreau and Bill Arnold are each entering the final year of their NCAA careers at this point, and either may yet decide to turn professional. As such, they would either finish their college careers or be signed to entry-level contracts, barring any Justin Schultz-like escape clauses, and then go to Abbotsford. Mark Jankowski will have just finished his second season in the NCAA. Michael Ferland, Max Reinhart and perhaps Turner Elson will be entering their third year in the AHL. Mikael Granlund will have come over from Europe and would be assigned to the AHL squad as well. This would quickly fill up many of the roster spots available on the farm and limit the roster spots for AHL veterans at forward.
None of these players will yet have any impact on the NHL team. Their apprenticeship will be gradual and paced. Introducing a 23-year old Jankowski with four years of NCAA hockey and a season in the AHL under his belt to the NHL is likely to be far more beneficial to the Flames organization than to rush him along any sooner.
Ryan Howse and David Eddy would not be retained.
On the free-agency front, I would need to sign a right-winger to replace Stempniak. I would look for comparable talents, responsible players whose style and abilities complement their likely line partners and fit into the responsible, puck-possession philosophy that now governs this franchise.
As outlined in the first of this series, advanced analytics would play an important role in the decision-making process alongside the input of an expanded professional scouting team. Depending on the development of Nemisz, I may need to acquire two players for this wing. The right-wing is the absolute weakest area of prospect depth for the Flames and under the new development system there are unlikely to be any immediate reinforcements available.
Potential UFA targets for the right-wing in 2014 would be players like Ales Hemsky, Mikael Samuelsson, or Nikolai Kulemin – skilled players who can complement their linemates and whose veteran experience would enable them to fit readily into a lineup, on either the 1st or 2nd line. Each one has a skill set in line with a puck-possession strategy.
Another area of concern on the NHL roster is now the center position with the imminent expiration of Scott Gomez’s (infamous) contract. This is the one area that cannot be remedied easily on the open market but does require the most significant investment of resources, even if only in the short-term. There may exist trade options at this time but as some of you may have noticed, outside of Gomez, I have yet to make mention of a trade to acquire a player. To be honest some of this is due to my own reticence to engage in even more subjective trade-scenarios. I can control and extrapolate my potential moves under various circumstances. I cannot offer opinions of what other managers might do in completely different circumstances this far into the future.
To that end, I have no solution for the center position other than to offer a two-year contract to a defensively responsible, veteran center capable of logging 1st line minutes and chipping in some offense. For this position I have to be willing to overpay to counter the shorter contract term, somewhere in the range of between $6 million or even $7 million a year. Because we are casting two years into the future at this point I am not going to offer specific names, but the style of center that I would consider signing is in the range of Joe Pavelski or Paul Statsny.
Neither is a top-shelf 1st line center, but for a short time, and on a team with limited immediate expectations, they would suffice. Part of my selling the contract to the free agent would be in offering them the chance to sign a lucrative deal, over a short period, in order to prove that they can be a 1st line center in the NHL, with the potential of then turning that into an even larger deal in free-agency. I feel that this argument, coupled with an Alex-Semin-type short-term arrangement would be enough to lure a suitable player.
That being said, depending on the effectiveness of the free-agent signings, the result might be that the 2014-2015 season could be the worst in recent Flames history. With Karri Ramo or a UFA backup (Chris Mason, as mentioned) and Antti Niemi in net, a suspect defense, center depth that boasts sophomore Roman Cervenka and Mikael Backlund as the best options – even with the addition of the above-mentioned UFA – and limited options on the wing, this isn’t a team that inspires much confidence. This lineup, in my eyes, bears some resemblance to the current Winnipeg Jets, with more question marks and placeholders than NHL players slotted into their most appropriate positions. As such, I believe a similar outcome can be expected.
At this point I could expect to see the torches and pitchforks make their early-season debut.
The prospect pool, by contrast, would paint a very different picture. Max Reinhart and Bill Arnold would be entering their third season of pro. By the end of the year, Joni Ortio may be ready to step into the NHL in a backup role should the goaltending picture become clearer. Laurent Brossoit would be ready to move from the ECHL to the AHL as the potential starter. Mark Jankowski would be entering his third year in the NCAA while John Gaudreau and Bill Arnold would be finished their college careers, or would have been playing the past season in the AHL. The 1st round selection from 2013 would be leaving junior and entering the AHL for their first season of pro, in addition to many of the other junior players drafted in that year. The farm team’s defense would feature players like Tyler Wotherspoon, Pat Sieloff, Ryan Culkin, and others drafted in 2013. The right-wing position might still be weak, though perhaps less so.
The prospect depth chart might look something like this: center – drafted center in 2013, Jankowski, Reinhart, Granlund; left-wing – Gaudreau, Ferland, Coda Gordon; right-wing – likely at least one drafted prospect from 2013, perhaps two. Defense is too vague at this time to outline, but based on the number of selections attained and the draft order in the 2nd and 3rd rounds it is likely that there would be at least two decent defensive prospects, in addition to Sieloff, Culkin and Wotherspoon. Goaltending has already been discussed, but the pipeline would also likely have been replenished after two years of targeting the draft.
By season’s end I would estimate the Flames payroll would be sitting at approximately $54 million, which, based on pessimistic projections of league revenue following the lockout and with the new split of hockey-related revenue, may be near the salary cap. Much of this is due to remaining inflated contracts for players such as Wideman, Tanguay and Niemi and will be corrected as the roster evolves.
Your turn to tell me what you think of the direction thus far. I’m all ears, figuratively speaking.