Before setting out on a project one first needs to establish an end goal as well as a series of markers that help to measure success.
One way of doing this is to mock up a roster with available players and best-bet prospects in their most reasonable positions, see where the gaps are, and craft strategies to acquire the missing assets.
Below is a rough sketch of what the Flames’ roster might look like this October…
A year or two ago, during a discussion about FlamesNation favourite Mikael Backlund, I had made the argument that his possible ceiling was as a 2nd line center but that the Flames needed to develop enough roster depth so that Backlund could be deployed as a 3rd line center. His offense suggests that this would be an ideal slot for him and my personal opinion is that he could well rate amongst the league’s top end in that range of role player.
What will follow is an estimation of the Flames roster in a few years’ time with the gaps displayed. I’ve decided to focus primarily on the younger players, slotting them in to where I feel they will fit in two to three years from now and then adding the veterans who are most likely to still be on the roster in that time. Kids are in bright red, veterans in a darker red (see what I did there?) with the intention of identifying the best roster depth for prospects and the most likely areas that will need to be addressed.
What Does the Future Look Like?
You’ll notice that I’ve left goaltending off entirely. Simply put, there is no point in trying to guess what that is going to look like two years from now. There are too many intangibles and too many untested candidates.
Those grey gaps that remain can be filled one of three ways: by free-agency, trade, or internal development and promotion by a current prospect or one acquired in the intervening period.
The next step is to slot in some depth positions that stand a chance of being filled by current prospects over the course of the next few years. However, rather than call out specific names, I’ve chosen a slightly different approach.
I’ve broken down the Flames’ current list of prospects into groups under the premise that, while some roster spots will be filled internally with existing prospects, naming specific players at this stage in their development leaves too much room for debate and opinion. Instead it is a better bet at this stage to suggest that at least one name from a group of three or four may develop enough to eventually claim a specific roster spot and to moderate expectations to a general ceiling from that group.
The above is a list of Flames prospects with a measurable chance of becoming a bona fide NHL player within the next several years. I’ve separated them into groupings based on several criteria: overall chance of success, redundancy within the prospect group, level of talent, and distance from the professional game. The list is more representative than comprehensive, so don’t get too uptight about some exclusions (talking to you, Keegan Kanzig fans).
The reason for approaching the young plyaer/prospect list like this comes down to chance.
It happens on occasion that someone comes out of nowhere to take a spot higher than has been anticipated. It also happens that prospects developed and groomed to become key contributors fail to achieve their expected potential. The latter is obviously more common than the former, so I have adopted this conservative approach to temper expectations and exclude hyperbole. Rather than suggest that I can predict the future of every Flames prospect, I have instead grouped them and suggest that odds are at least one manages to develop to a certain level in the roster.
Disagree with where I’ve slotted someone on the list? Great. If you’re right that means the Flames end up with a higher-than-expected development curve from one of their prospects. So if I’m wrong the Flames win, but better to prepare for a modest development curve than start banking on every draft pick exceeding expectations.
Is This What Tomorrow Looks Like?
So here is the rough sketch, then, of how this roster may yet develop and the holes are apparent: the Flames need to invest in finding some RW talent or moving someone from port to starboard. With luck a high draft pick this year or next can become a bona fide 1st line center, and, of course defense, defense, defense.
Dark red are veterans, bright red represents those recognized today as the new core, and black are those players who represent unknowns.
Obviously not all of the positions will be taken by internally-drafted and developed players. There will be trades and free-agency is a useful way of adding a body or two to the bottom rotation, either at forward or defense so the names on the passenger list today are almost guaranteed not to arrive together. Eventually a replacement will be needed for Giordano and Hudler, and those roster spots, taken along with the ongoing effort to acquire elite-level players, means that the organization may yet have to work even harder at the draft in order to fill in all the roster spots with competitive NHL-level talent. They have a jump on a key defenseman, some center depth and a handful of left-wingers, but the trick is to keep working on the renovations while making sure the existing structure doesn’t begin to fall into disrepair.
The franchise has acquired a decent number of forward prospects now, enough to begin at last the long process of rebuilding. This collection will eventually begin to be whittled away by injury, attrition and stalled development, but these are factors intrinsic to the business of professional sport. There remains a long way to go before there are enough options to flesh out an NHL roster capable of challenging for the playoffs, let alone winning a championship.
What the above exercise offers is at least a graphic inventory of relative strengths and weaknesses, the key areas that need attention, and the distance remaining in this rebuilding project.