The Flames Age-Gap Challenge


Patrice Bergeron
– pic via Lisa Gansky


When you watch the NHL’s conference finals from a Flames perspective, it’s hard not to get a bit jealous. The four teams involved have recently been incredibly smart – and, let’s face it, lucky – drafters, but they’ve also managed to build their clubs in a specific way. The teams are young, fast and strong, but aren’t horribly green or inexperienced. They boast some older veterans, but aren’t old and slow, either. They have players of almost every age and their youth is distributed carefully throughout their rosters.

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In short – the challenge for the Flames during their rebuild/reload/retool phase is to fill in their age gaps smartly and efficiently.


The Bruins are marginally older than the Flames were to open this season. But take a look at how their age is distributed, sorted by birth year. Key players (top 6 forwards and top 4 defensemen) have been highlighted.

1972: Jagr

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1974: Pandolfo

1977: Thornton, Chara, Redden

1979: Ference

1980: Kelly

1981: Seidenberg

1982: Peverley

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1983: Campbell, Johnson <– 30+ years old

1984: Paille, Boychuk

1985: Bergeron, Horton, Soderberg

1986: Bourque, Krejci, McQuaid, Khudobin

1987: Rask

1988: Camper, Daugavins, Lucic, Marchand, Bartkowski

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1989: Svedberg

1990: Caron

1991: Krug

1992: Seguin

1993: Hamilton

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The bulk of the key Bruins players were born between 1985 and 1988. Sure, they have some older players (notably Jagr and Chara on the far end), but the core of the team is right in the meaty part of their career arcs. Boston is elite because those guys are nicely complemented by some strong older and younger players.

A Look at Calgary


Here’s how the Flames compare, based upon the roster they’ll likely begin with – presuming no UFA pick-ups or trades:

1978: Begin, Sarich

1979: Tanguay

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1980: MacDonald

1981: Jackman, McGrattan

1982: Cammalleri, Glencross

1983: Stajan, Stempniak, Giordano, Wideman <– 30+ years old

1984: Hudler, Smith

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1986: Jones, Butler, Ramo

1987: Street, Berra

1989: Aliu, Backlund, Bancks, Byron

1990: Bouma, Hanowski, Brodie, Cundari

1991: Horak

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1992: Baertschi, Reinhart

As you can see, there are some younger players, but the majority of the key piece (aside from Brodie, Backlund and Baertschi) were born in the early 1980s. This is a simple way of showcasing Calgary’s most glaring roster deficiency – it’s not that the team’s “old,” the issue is that the team’s most relied-upon players are generally post-apex age-wise (also – not a single player on the roster is elite).

The roster’s tilted in a manner that’s demographically unsustainable. Many of the Flames key players are getting worse, not better.

Of course, we’ve known about the Flames roster hole for some time around here. The primary cause is the mid-to-early Darryl Sutter years, where the club completely failed to yield any meaningful organizational assets from the NHL entry draft. Between 2003 and 2006, Calgary selected exactly one player who falls in the top-6 forward or top-4 defenseman designation – Dion Phaneuf. And he was moved along for a handful of magic beans by Sutter in 2009.

Over that time frame, the second best NHLer picked by the Flames was Brandon Prust (twice traded for Olli Jokinen), while Adam Pardy and Dustin Boyd fall a distant third and fourth.

The most problematic stretch was the 2005 and 2006 drafts (1987-1988 birthdates), where the Flames garnered exactly zero NHL caliber players with 16 picks, let alone any above average players. The best of that bunch so far is Brett Sutter, who has appeared in 37 NHL games.

The good news is, things seem to have at least marginally improved on the drafting front starting in 2007 with Mikael Backlund, TJ Brodie, Sven Baertschi, Tim Erixon (gone, but probably going to be an NHL player), Johnny Gaudreau, etc. all selected by the club since then.

The challenge moving forward – and it’ll be tough to do in any way but via trade, or the draft for the patient approach – is shifting the balance more towards a younger core like the Bruins (and Hawks and Kings) have done, while effectively supplementing them with capable veterans. As we’ve seen up north, simply losing a bunch of games every year and picking high in the rotation at the draft isn’t necessarily a guarantee to suceed.

If you take a glance at the various age groups of the Flames prospects, there are a few players that could help tilt the balance, but there’s no guarantees here. 

1988: Lamb

1989: Eddy, Breen

1990: Nemisz

1991: Howse, Martin, Ramage, Ortio

1992: Agostino, Arnold, Elson, Ferland

1993: Deblouw, Gaudreau, Granlund, Culkin, Wotherspoon, Brossoit

1994: Gordon, Jankowski, Kulak, Sieloff, Gillies, (2013 picks)

1995: 2013 picks

At this point, most of these 1988 to 1991-born players are generally known quantities at the pro level. The exception is John Ramage and maybe Joni Ortio. The 1992 and 1993 age groups have shown some promise at the levels they’ve been playing at – Arnold and Agostino have been very good college players, Gaudreau has been elite, Wotherspoon and Brossoit have been very good as well – but it’ll probably take two to three seasons for these players to start cycling into the Flames roster and there’s no guarantees that the younger players that replace the Tanguays, Begins and Jackmans in the interim (probably guys like Bouma, Reinhart and Aliu) will be significant upgrades to their predecessors.


The other major demographic challenge is taking a team that finished sixth from last in the NHL and making it both significantly younger and significantly better. There’s no point in embracing a youth movement if the team’s going to be stuck in mediocrity (or worse).

So what can they do to fix the problem? There’s no magic bullet solution, but trading away Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester for a combined six younger assets was a good start. It’s too early to tell if those assets will be useful at the NHL level, but it’s heartening to see the team finally acknowledge the problem and begin to cycle out older bodies.

As for the rest, targeting players that fill holes in the roster and help bridge the age gap (ideally born between 1984 and 1987) will help transition the Flames to a younger core. But as we’ve seen happen in a lot of cities – like Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles – building a strong team takes time, patience and a bit of luck.

  • Rockmorton65

    Interesting read….. I wonder how the other teams in the final 4 compare age wise? And the previous cup winners? Every year it seems trendy to dissect the teams of the latest cup winners and mimic them. Last year LA was the rage, now they are considered too big and slow (by some). I wonder if the age makeup of a team really matters or if this is just a cherry picked stat/example from a very small sample size. Besides having great elite players, is it even possible to establish trends from cup finalists??

    I’d argue that the #1 factor in every single elite team is elite players. And no matter if your team is filled with 20 year olds, 30 year old or 40 year olds if you have zero elite talent you will be a middling or worse team no matter how big, mean, tough, fast, smart, tricky, strategic, sandpapery or age spread out you are.

    No amount of tinkering with you team will matter if you don’t have a few Toews, Kane, Doughty, Kopitar, Chara, Malkins or Crosby’s on your team. We have none…. If anything I’d suggest the playoffs showcase how we need to tank this thing for a few more years because 1 high draft pick isn’t fixing anything.

    • mk

      I don’t think the age distribution of a team will make a direct difference on the on-ice product at any one point in time, but that as an organization the distribution is VITALLY important to ensure that the team can transition constantly.

      In other words, there is no sudden drop-off over a couple seasons where all the core players decline because of age – as each piece declines, they can be replaced one-by-one. Much easier/smarter to do that than have to build an entire new roster at once (like the Flames).

    • Robear

      Not sure I buy all that you are selling here. Far be it for me to quote Dutter on anything but he had some wisdom on this subject a couple years back that made sense then and still does now, at least to my mind. Hopefully the source doesn’t completely sour the words.

      I’m ad libbing here but it followed something like “to win a championship, your best players have to be your best players, and some of your role players have to have career years”.

      I think this is especially true in a salary cap era when you cant just load up on superstars anymore. Every year CUp winners have role players that step up with exceptional play, IN ADDITION to stars shining. Last year it was LA’s 4th liners. They beat the tar out of anyone who went into the corners with them and also potted an unsustainable number of goals.

      So having elite players doesn’t guarantee anything (Read OILERS!) You need both.

      • This is true. Elite teams don’t only have elite talents (although those are required) – they also have more or less complete rosters (ie; no glaring holes or boat anchors).

        Which is why the Oilers efforts this year to shore up their perceived toughness/size deficiencies with terrible players like Mike Brown was exactly backwards: you can’t improve your team by adding lousy players, whatever their style of play may be. Being big and tough can have it’s advantages, as long as they aren’t completely undermined by a guys talent level. You gotta be big (or fast, or whatever) and also be able to get the puck out of your end of the rink sometimes. Being the first without the second is counter-productive.

  • Rockmorton65

    It sure does seem like a daunting task to try and get younger and stay competitive in Calgary. Some days I find myself excited about some of our great prospects and others down on the fact that we have a less then stellar bunch of owners / gm / front office.

    I sure hope that more players get the chance to step up, as its been really hard in Calgary with all the crappy 3-4th line vets we try and sign.

    God’s speed Calgary

  • Parallex

    Not really much to be done here to improve the situation other then just waiting.

    That and lotto tickets like aggressive use of the waiver wire, cheap pick-ups of upside guys labelled busts, NCAA free agents, and scouring the euro leagues for their undrafted star players (The Brunner, Cervenka, Maanta’s of the world). With only a limited number of reserve list slots the Flames would need to be content with the farm team probably not being very good since those would preclude having any AHL vets on the roster.

  • Jeff Lebowski

    I dislike the oilers as much as the next guy but they are going to be good. They already have the hardest pieces to acquire (offense). They just need to find complementary parts blah blah blah.

    Calgary needs to acquire elite talent. If they draft it, it’s best because of controllability and price. Buying it is cost prohibitive (who lets go elite talent? When you get them how many elite years are left?). Look at who the Rangers bring in via FA?

    The reality Feaster I hope understands but publicly denies is they need to either unearth great talent throughout a draft, find it elsewhere (both of which have not panned out yet) or suck for about three years and get/develop top draft picks.

    All those teams in the conference finals suffered lean times. Ok Boston got 2 leaf picks but they had a player to coax those picks out.

    This is stating the obvious but the Flames should just embrace it. This draft will likely yield the complementary pieces to the elite talent the next few drafts will hopefully bring (barring a trade up to the elite talent this year).

    • piscera.infada

      I don’t think the Feaster-Weisbrod-Conroy braintrust has denied that they need to acquire elite talent through the draft. In fact, in the recent Conroy interview on The Fan as well as the recent NHL interview with Weisbrod, they both outright said they have to draft better, and they have to develop those guys correctly. I don’t honestly know if upper management has turned this corner, but it seems (at least to me) that they are embracing it slowly.

      I agree with the way management and ownership have handled this by not simply stating the organization is going to stink it up for 4 years. I would actually be more choked at the situation if they said that.

      Don’t take that as if I think they should be making stupid moves to become a playoff team – because that is not my point at all. I just don’t believe you can run a professional sports organization correctly when your mindset is not to win, let alone to lose more than anyone else in order to draft high.

      • Jeff Lebowski

        You are right. I was referring to Feaster’s comments that they don’t want to be bad for three years…basically this blatant we aren’t going to do it like the oilers comments.

        I also agree with the notion of winning culture. However, the Gio’s, Glencrosses etc will be good for how long? I believe Feaster said to them they are going to turn things around quickly to take advantage of their good years.

        I actually like Feaster, Weisbrod et al. I like the kind of players they are trying to bring in (skill). But now that Calgary is here (rebuild) I don’t want them to take shortcuts and I want them to build the right way.

        I think we are thinking the same way on this. Feaster sometimes says things I cringe at.

        • piscera.infada

          I understand the sentiment, however I don’t know if doing it ‘different than the Oilers’ necessarily equates to ‘doing it wrong’.

          I’ll be the first to admit, barring any unforseen events, with some competent GM’ing by MacT, the Oilers will be good.

        • Rockmorton65

          Speak for yourself…this teams done nothing under Feasters control except play softer and miss the playoffs. It will have to be a balance of signing quality free agents and drafting the right players. We should have enough cap space to sign or trade for some talent. I don’t think getting much younger (bringing in players under 25) is the answer, if that’s what you consider building the right way.

          • Robear

            I’m with the Lebowski on this one. I think that Feaster et al have really been given a fair shake so far, at least by FN readers.
            Tough situation he walked into post Dutter with an ageing core and a bare cupboard. I think he may be guilty of selling hope a little bit hard with some of his statements, but I still feel that if his actual comments are viewed in context and in their entirety, he doesn’t come off as dumb as some of the sound bites make him out to be.

            I bet when he came in he sold the owners on a multi-pt plan.
            1) Continue to add pieces around Iggie and Miikka and hope for a miracle playoff run, until they both fell off the cliff;
            2) Put a priority on drafting and growing the prospect pool, during that time;
            3) Continue to rebuild prospects and farm system post Iggie-Miikka
            4)keep the team competitive while re-tooling (ie not “Failing for Nail”) in order to keep a winning atmosphere (this part probably also has more of a “keep the money rolling” framework for the owners)

            In my mind, the next 3 yrs will be the measuring stick on Feaster. Some high draft picks and cap space to make some good deals if they are available.

  • Jeff Lebowski

    great read, maybe post apex will be replaced by yet another used car salesman sctick from McFeaster. something like players in the negetative gravitational forces stage of career. in other words goin downhill fast.

  • Rockmorton65

    With all due respect, I’m tired of hearing how the Oilers are somehow the “rebuild standard”. Its simply not true. I think the Oilers are going to be a bad team for a long time.

    The management of their assets has been terrible. They were so desperate to capitalize on their first overall picks, they never thought to give any of their “franchise players” time in the minors to develop & play together. They just threw them to the wolves and now you’re seeing the result. They have created a culture of losing and its going to be very tough to turn that around. This seems to me the reason that FA’s dont want to sign there, the organization, the players and their fans all accept losing, thinking that one day it will turn into winning. Thats a very dangerous gamble, in my opinion.

    I dont think Lowe replacing one former teammate with another is going to change the culture of that team. Until they stop accepting losing and doing what’s necessary to win, they will continue to get high draft picks and try to sell their fans on “someday”, while setting up shop at the bottom of the league.

  • Rockmorton65

    As far as their “Kids” go…I think they’re in trouble.

    Hall – have you ever seen this guy go into a scrum? He leads with his face. How many head injuries has he sustained? He reminds me of the Lindros boys. Talented, yes, but plays a dangerous style. I think he’s out of the game by 30 due to injury.

    RNH – The kids got some talent, but he’s made of glass. Especially that shoulder of his. I think one or two more separated shoulders and he will join his buddy Taylor in early retirement.

    Schultz – from what I’ve seen he’s got some offensive skill, but doesnt want to develop the defensive side of his game. You cant anchor a defense if you dont excel in both areas of the ice. I see the term “power play specialist” in his future.

    Eberle – This kid is the real deal. Of all the “kids”, he’s legit. Looks like a true leader. He’s a keeper.

    Yakupov – Havent seen a whole lot of him, to be honest, but listening to interviews, he strikes me like the kind of player who wouldnt have a problem going back to Russia, if the Oilers rebuild takes too long

    If I were the Oilers, I’d trade Hall and RNH to get proven winners who can turn the culture around. Expecting these kids to teach themselves is asking too much, I think.

        • Rockmorton65

          The ‘injury-prone’ thing with Taylor Hall is a myth. He had a nagging shoulder injury from junior that he never got properly fixed until a few summers ago. And then he got his face stepped on by a team mate in pre-game warmup while they were skating around with their helmets off smiling at the ladies. It was a 1 in a 1,000,000,000 freak accident. Zero concussions.

          I don’t understand why fans here like to bag on Hall and the other Oiler kids and say they aren’t good or suck. Its jealousy in my opinion. The kid is sick and is the Oilers Iginla for the next 15 years. Who wouldn’t want that?

          Don’t get me wrong, I agree with you that the Oilers rebuild isn’t the “proper way”, or “only way” or whatever. We can do it quicker and smarter. Hopefully…. I do question if we’ll ever be able to get to the elite level the Oilers will, but we can get back to competitive quicker, no doubt.

          But bagging on their superstars and saying they suck, and Taylor Hall is crap, and Nugent Hopkins is a wussy etc just makes us look like sore losers. Its sort of like Bruins fans chanting “Crosby Sucks”. Ummm, no. He doesn’t suck. I get why fans do that, but when doing analysis of your team and strategy moving forward and comparing to other teams it doesn’t help to go all fan and start being irrational.

          • piscera.infada

            I agree with you for the most part, with one major caveat. The Oiler’s aren’t elite yet.

            I know, the Oil should and likely will have a great team (I admitted that above). But they haven’t done anything yet. I believe the whole “culture of losing” in Edmonton thing is over-argued – we just don’t know yet. But that kind of uncertainty cuts both ways. A great deal can happen in the unforseen future that could make that team not-elite.

            Thus, as sick as I am of people coming on here and bashing the Oilers’ stars (for nothing more than jealousy, as you say), I am also sick of people anointing them as ‘the next dynasty’, because in all truth all they’ve done is sucked a fat one for the last 3 or 4 years.

            Before I get flooded with Oilers fan hatred – I’m not saying the Flames are better, they aren’t (by any stretch of the imagination). Just to bring this back to my original point – and what I agree with you on – the Oilers’ rebuild should not be the gold standard.

          • piscera.infada

            completely 100% agree. I’m not anointing the Oilers elite yet. I’m just saying they have an elite ceiling right now, and could get there.

            Their rebuild also has been executed terribly and may in the end work because of a complete fluke. Without Justin Schultz their team makeup may be a complete flop, and today they likely would be trading away one of the ‘big 3’ for help on the back end. That was manna from heaven, and not something you can copy or plan for.

            My point was just that bashing them irrationally makes us look bad IMO.

            PS They still and always will suck in my mind. I loathe everything about that cursed oil drop. But I just don’t like when we start to look like the whiney outcast kid trying to make fun of the cool kids at school. It just makes things worse….