Flames Rebuild – Year Four, the Grand Finale
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.
At the beginning of the 2015-2016 season the roster will have shifted so that many of the traditional veterans will be sharing ice time with and sheltering a larger contingent of young players.
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|3rd||Tanguay||Drafted center from 2013||UFA|
|Starter||Ramo or Ortio|
|Backup||UFA, Ramo, or Ortio|
To add to the table, some of the player-types I would pursue for the third-line right wing position would be Patrick Eaves, Jared Boll or George Parros comparables. Likewise, the fourth-line wingers would be based upon players in the range of Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak and so on. Defensively, I would be looking for free-agents in the range of players like Shane O’Brien, Johnny Boychuk, or Barret Jackman.
Players such as Gaudreau, Ferland, Reinhart, the 1st round pick center from 2013, Granlund, and others will be on or close to making the NHL roster. Over the course of the year the leadership of the team will gradually be transferred to this new core group, with the veterans providing leadership and guidance along the way.
By this time I also expect to see the emergence of at least two young defenders who can enter the lineup and begin the year rotating in the 3rd pairing/ 7th defenseman role. Amongst Sieloff, Wotherspoon and Culkin history would suggest that one of them becomes an NHL player, at or above replacement-level.
Antti Niemi’s contract would have expired in July of 2015 leaving Karri Ramo as the starter. Joni Ortio may be ready to graduate to the NHL as backup to Ramo, or perhaps is beaten out by Laurent Brossoit. I know this seems vague, but goaltending is so difficult to predict that I am relying on safety in numbers at this point.
The team may yet again miss the playoffs, but the development system will now be stocked with a large collection of prospects developing at a reasonable pace in their respective junior leagues, overseas, or in the AHL. Many of these players will be on the verge of making the jump to the NHL and as such a great deal of roster flexibility will need to be maintained to allow for that graduation.
Looking Into the Future
Keep in mind that the roster shown above requires that a surprisingly high percentage of the Flames current prospects successfully make the jump to the NHL. In reality this is unlikely, however, I include them here to mitigate one factor that I have deliberately omitted up to this point: luck.
Teemu Hartikainen is currently being discussed as a top six forward for the Oilers. If the team didn’t already have Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Gagner, Yakupov, Hemsky and Paajarvi, then Hartikainen in that role wouldn’t fit. He was a 6th round draft pick and his development, coupled with the twists and turns of fortune that have filled out a roster with so many skilled players, means that he now does enter that conversation. He certainly wasn’t drafted as one when he was taken in the 6th round. Luck.
In the same way, while the Chicago Blackhawks were rebuilding, and had already added numerous pieces to their future core, they won the draft lottery and moved up to select Patrick Kane. He is the one who scored the game-winning goal that netted them their Stanley Cup, and therefore, without that magnificent piece of luck, there is perhaps no championship for the Blackhawks that year. No strategy or preparation could have allowed for that kind of good fortune.
In the course of this exercise I have omitted any reference to surprise developments by drafted players or signing college free-agents or finding walk-ons that win a roster spot out of camp, like Dustin Penner or Dan Girardi, simply because one cannot plan for fate. However, to compensate, I have been, in my view, very generous in my development assumptions of Flames prospects.
The franchise will now be structured around a healthier framework with a more inclusive and informed management system and a prospect system at or near the top of the league standards. A new core will have been identified, developed and inserted into the roster with an available supply of complementary players and veteran support. The prospects will have spent time on the farm team learning to create success and how to achieve it. These lessons can be transferred to the NHL level and foster a sense of pride, high expectations, and work ethic in the dressing room.
The stage will have been set whereby going into year five, the 2016-2017 season, the team would have high-expectations to turn the corner and grow from this point on. The new course will have been set and a youthful group, backed by a few able veterans, will now be able to develop and progress together. The roster will have been rebalanced such that a strong core of talented young players can be relied upon to grow and compete while management spends its time working out the complementary players needed to help the team succeed.
Because steps have been taken gradually, and the often up-and-down development curve of our prospects has been insulated from the NHL team by having them spend time in the farm system, as well as acquiring contingency prospects for key positions, I feel it is likely that this roster would build on its successes.
The area of the roster that boasts the most strength and depth will be the same one that has plagued the organization for nearly two decades: center. By the same token, its weakest is the one at which the previous regime excelled, the right wing. There will be significant room under the salary cap to acquire the necessary veteran complementary talent to outfit the rest of the roster and help to guide and support the new young core.
The Flames would also be well under the salary cap with room to re-sign all of their key players as they develop.
I’ve drawn up an approximation of what the roster could look like by year five.
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|1st||Baertschi||Drafted center from 2013||TBD|
|3rd||Sieloff or Culkin||TBD|
|Starter||Ramo or Ortio|
|Backup||Ortio, Ramo or Brossoit|
A few notes on the lineup – I have Jankowski listed at wing. He has played a few games there this season in college and by the time he turns pro he could be playing at either position, my putting him there was simply for the sake of brevity. The third-line winger UFA is one I don’t feel needs to be too rigidly defined at this point.
Through four years I will have instituted a new working dynamic to the organization, extending to every aspect of the Flames organization and its affiliates.
Overall, a new system will have been put into place whereby skilled players will be identified in as many junior development leagues as possible around the hockey-playing world. A premium will be placed on retaining draft picks, as well as leveraging redundant assets to acquire draft picks and prospects that will feed into the team’s development system.
The development system itself will be proactive, establishing contact and relationships with all prospects immediately after their draft and creating a working relationship with their coaching staff so as to help guide their maturation and aid their acclimation to new surroundings. Nutrition, translation when necessary, coaching, fitness advice and guidance, and regular personal contact are all a part of this approach that will be taken by the personnel in charge of player development and periodically followed up by the General Manager.
Professional scouting will be second only to amateur scouting in terms of resources committed by the organization. Finding the best players that fit into the Flames system and whose play may be sub-standard due to a poor fit within an organization rather than ability is a key process to building and maintaining a strong franchise over time. When surplus assets must be traded for more immediate needs, that trade must pay the franchise dividends if not immediately then in the days to come.
Accountability and professional commitment to the team will be the standard by which every player is measured. The whole must be greater than the sum of the parts and this extends beyond the ice. This will be a theme throughout the entire organization that every player experiences from the moment they enter the first affiliate to the moment they leave the Flames organization. This also extends to the management team, from the General Manager to the amateur scouts and training instructors.
The organization’s structure will have been expanded to incorporate a greater level of coordination between the AHL team, as well as the WHL franchise whereby the team can exert more control over some draft picks and better collect information on potential players.
In the end I hope to have built a stronger, more stable and successful franchise, both on the ice and in the head office.
Or I might have crashed and burned, leaving behind me a smoking husk of a franchise that will spend the next five to ten years trying to undo my horrifying legacy.
So that is my plan on how I might restructure the Flames over the course of four years. I don’t imagine it will convince anyone to give me a job as an NHL GM. In fact most people now probably wouldn’t even trust me to run a fantasy team. My goal was to envision the moves needed to create a sustainable, rejuvenated franchise with depth and elite-level skill based on a system of puck possession and team play. If I have been vague in some areas, or seemingly avoided others altogether it is not from any desire to mislead or a flippant approach to the task, but instead simply an oversight in what has been a long and complicated exercise. I apologize for any glaring deficiencies you may have noticed.
I imagine that at some point I’ve done or said something that you find idiotic or naive. Please let me know and we can discuss it all.
Either way, I thought I’d give it a go and try to offer up something creative to the conversation.
I hope you enjoyed it.
I know this was a long read, and there has been a lot of heated debate over many of the moves I have layed out. Thank you for reading, commenting, and offering up your opinions. In return, I leave you with this little bit of Flames glory!
Rex’s Flames rebuilding Plan