Year Three of the Rebuild
Now we enter the 2014-2015 season. I expect it to be unpleasant.
Based on these projections the Flames’ roster would feature the following:
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|3rd||Hudler||Cervenka or UFA center||UFA|
|Extra||Breen or UFA|
|Backup||Mason or Ramo|
Some notes on the UFAs listed above – Marcel Goc would be a reasonable range of targeted free-agent for the 3rd line center position, while Steve Downie is a comparable player for the 3rd line winger spot. Rostislav Klesla, Willie Mitchell or Nick Schultz are the style of players who will become free-agents in that year that would be fair targets for the roster spots opening up.
I don’t expect a playoff position from that roster. My expectations are that these players provide an honest effort and professional sincerity in their approach to the game that resonates with Flames fans, despite what the result may be. Based on development projections of other teams in the Northwest Division and to a lesser extent the Western Conference, this roster would likely finish around 14th to 10th in the West and could be in the bottom eight of the league overall.
At the end of the year Curtis Glencross would be a UFA and, depending on his performance and willingness to sign an extension, I would take a long look at trading him. Should he remain relatively injury-free, retain an NHL average shooting percentage, and continue to be a physical player, then the return could easily be a 1st round pick. We have seen other players of equal or lesser value be traded for as much so one could conclude that a GM with a need for Glencross’ skills might be willing to pay. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that I do trade him in order to make room on the roster for graduating prospects and to capitalize on his value.
Depending on the play of Horak I might also look at trading Boyd Gordon. The return may be in the range of a 3rd round pick.
Those roster positions would be replaced with call-ups from the AHL team of stop-gap players, ones that can be recalled and contribute enough over the course of two months. This period provides an excellent opportunity to evaluate and reward the progress of some of our AHL prospects. Again, due to the difficulty in forecasting this far ahead, I am not going to name specific players, but the prospect pool has been sufficiently restocked that short-term call-ups could be managed, with minimal detriment to the player’s long-term development.
I would explore buying out Dennis Wideman at this point. The cap hit would be $1.875 million over four years, and it is entirely likely that his poor defensive play would be hampering this team. However, the lack of defensive options available for promotion from within, and the fact that drafted defensemen usually take longer to develop means that I would most likely be forced to retain him until such time as a more suitable option developed either internally or through free-agency.
Draft Day 2015
Based on those trades, the Flames would again enter the draft with two 1st round picks, their own and one from the Glencross trade, two 2nd round selections (ours plus the Campoli pick), two 3rd round selections (ours and the Gordon pick), a 4th, a 5th, a 6th, and a 7th – ten selections in all. Assuming that the Flames again have their own selection falling somewhere around 8th or 9th, followed by another at approximately 20th, packaging those together along with a 2nd round pick or a roster player may be enough to move up to 2nd overall.
This is obviously entirely hypothetical, but in the event that I am unable to move up to draft in the top three overall, it would significantly improve the prospect depth of the franchise and help solidify the future core of the team. With the imminent influx of talent into the roster at the beginning of the 2015-2016 season, along with previous drafts that ought to have provided a much-needed infusion of prospects into the development system, the focus needs to be on the best player available with the highest potential impact. Depending on the depth of the draft and the position of the player selected the soonest that this player could make an impact is immediately, though perhaps more likely one year removed from the draft. At the very least, I would expect this player to complete their junior career before evaluating a move to the NHL.
Free agency 2015-2016
A free-agent defenceman will be needed at this point as a replacement for the now-departed Campoli. There are few defensive prospects in the Flames system that project to be ready any sooner than the end of the 2016 season and haven’t already been brought up. Based on the retention of Giordano and Wideman, as well as the presumed development of Brodie paired with Scuderi, a 3rd pairing defenseman is needed. A depth defenseman is a more attainable asset via free-agency than many of the other weaknesses in the roster, and should not prove to be an insurmountable challenge. The contract would most likely fall within the $1 million to $2 million range, depending on the caliber of talent acquired and with no restrictions or clauses.
My reluctance to promote a blueliner internally at this point is a reflection on the defensive depth of the Flames prospect system right now. As I have mentioned before, I intend to give each prospect a fair amount of time to develop in the minor league system and the bodies that have been collected thus far are, for the most part, works-in-progress.
My rationale for leaving prospects in the AHL until they are entirely ready is that, when handled in a well-managed system and backed up by proper development coaching, an extended period of apprenticeship in the AHL or overseas can help acclimatize and prepare a player for the NHL. Players are best promoted when they have excelled at a previous level. Some refer to this as the Detroit model but Detroit can do this because they have the NHL talent that allows them to be patient.
My plan institutes that same strategy without the corresponding NHL talent, yet exploits the resulting roster gap to acquire high draft picks and select impact players for the future core of the team. The goal is so that at the end of the process not only has a new core of impact players been assembled and developed, but a new process by which talented and prepared young players are ready to enter the NHL and join the roster. Once that core has achieved a level of play that brings success, this will reinforce the delayed promotion of more recently drafted prospects and allow them sufficient time to develop their skills and understanding of the game in the farm system before moving up.
Ultimately, I am trying to establish a system that will develop young skilled players to complement and occasionally replace the core so that a team can function and even succeed over longer periods of time without having to undertake a larger rebuild with the corresponding high draft picks.
By season’s end I estimate that the Flames salary cap will be below $55 million. It is still considerable, given the meager performances I am anticipating. However, until the bulk of the roster is made up of the new core players, the salary is going to be out of balance with performance.
It is a necessary measure to ensure that key positions are manned by veterans until the new core is ready to step into the lineup. Following that transition, the veterans will gradually be phased out and the new key players will step into those roles and that salary space.
The irony is that the Flames may well become contenders after their salary cap drops as the roster witnesses an influx of young talent.