The Flames Rebuild Roadmap

 

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I think one of the big mistakes by rebuilding teams is to concentrate solely on draft picks and big whale hunts. Improving a team can also be done in smaller, incremental steps by making a series of good bets like buying low on the Froliks and Burmistrovs of the world.

I left that in a comment yesterday, but I think I should expand on it further since the idea could use some clarification.

As we’ve discussed previously, when hockey fans think "rebuild", they seem to think of the "scorched earth" variety where the organization simply liquidates any and all worthwhile assets over the age of 25 in an effort to gather draft picks and also be bad enough to finish in the lottery. 

Although I have been a vocal advocate of trading guys like Iginla and Kipper for a couple of years and admit the Flames org needs to improve its prospect base and find new cornerstone players, I am also adamantly opposed to purposely clear-cutting the roster and drifting to the bottom of the standings. In this, at least, I agree with Flames management.

The guiding principle for any NHL GM should be to find good players. More accurately, it’s to make good bets on players given their age, perceived value and contract. This principle, if followed correctly, will lead to a quality roster and success in the long-term. Although a GM’s short-term priorites might change depending on how close or how far his team is from contending, the need to identify and retain good players is axiomatic in hockey management.

*"Good", of course, is an on-going subject of debate amongst fans and decision-makers alike. We’ll assume a well understood, universal standard for the purposes of this discussion.

The Flames current reality is they have aging stars on expiring contracts, are not a true contender to win anything and have a lackluster prospect base from which to draw. Over the next 12 months, they will have the option to sell former star/cornerstone pieces like Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, Mike Cammalleri and Jay Bouwmeester to improve their stock of futures and leverage assets that are either depreciating rapidly or unlikely to stick around. These are guys a high-end contender might be tempted to hang on to in an effort to press for a cup (although I would argue a well run organization would consider moving them anyways), but that’s not in the cards for Calgary.

The common error at this juncture for some rebuilding teams, I think, is to throw the baby out with the bath water so to speak. On top of moving Iginla and Kipper, a scorched earth advocate would probably sell off Giordano, Stempniak, Glencross and Hudler, pick-up some draft picks and kids and watch the lottery tickets roll in. Getting the next "face of the franchise" or superstar often becomes a fixation for bad teams who are actively rebuilding, sometimes to the exclusion of all else. The Edmonton Oilers over the last 5 years are more or less an object lesson on how not to rebuild correctly – for example, they spent more than one summer engaging in fruitless whale hunts for the likes of Marian Hossa, Dany Heatley, Nikolai Khabibulin and Thomas Vanek, but have failed to retain, acquire or develop a meaningful collection of support players behind all of their showy draft picks. Which is why they still kind of suck despite boasting the likes of Eberle, Hall, Yakupov and Nugent-Hopkins.

Over that period, the club lost quality guys like Curtis Glencross, Kyle Brodziak and Raffi Torres, either to free agency or for magic beans. This deterioration was also accelerated by the Oilers continued obsession with "toughness" and collecting marginal ruffians to patrol the bottom end of the roster to "protect the kids" instead of actual NHL-level talent.

There’s no question the Flames will also have to go looking for new stars in the coming seasons, whether they retain Iginla and Kipper or not since neither guy is at the point in his career where he can carry the team. However, that priority need not override the guiding principle of finding or keeping other good players, even if they aren’t quite the difference makers the team needs so desperately. A universal truth of great teams in the NHL is they boast both elite players and quality roster depth and that both are essential to contend. Poorly run clubs and teams with limited budgets are typically those unfortunates that are stuck on the eternal treadmill of trading one for the other in an effort to get over the hump.

short version: even as the Flames enter a rebuild mode (whether the management calls it that or not) they shouldn’t stop making good bets on players at all levels of the roster. The goal should be to improve the team at all times, whether that be by hitting a homerun at the draft or simply knocking a single down the line. To extend the baseball analogy – you improve your chances of scoring by having as many runners on base as possible.

For Example…

To take this out of theoretical, here’s how things would probably work for the Flames over the next 12 months if I was in charge:

2013 deadline

– Auction off Jarome Iginla for package of picks/prospects and a roster player(s)

– Investigate market for Roman Cervenka, Anton Babchuk, Cory Sarich, Chris Butler, Blake Comeau and Matt Stajan

– Move Cervenka and company for anything, but retain Stajan in absence of worthwhile offer

– Look into asking prices for Burmistrov, Grabovski, Couturier, Frolik and Gardiner

2013 off-season

– Investigate market for Kiprusoff at draft. Trade him if quality offer emerges, keep if not

– Target UFAs like Alex Semin, David Clarkson, Damien Brunner, Patrik Elias, Viktor Stalberg, Nathan Horton, Clarke MacArthur, Val Filppula, Chris Higgins, Ryane Clowe, Ladislav Smid and Stephen Weiss, depending on availability and price

– Avoid overpays and long-term deals, however

– Re-sign Mikael Backlund and TJ Brodie for 3+ years each

– Sign Karri Ramo

2013/14 season

– Re-sign Lee Stempniak half way through year for 3 years at reasonable raise if performance is close to current levels

– Investigate Jay Bouwmeester’s willingness to stay with team at approximately $4M/year for 4 years or less. If interest level is low, auction him off at trade deadline

– If Kiprusoff is still with team, trade him at deadline

– Investigate Cammalleri’s interest in staying with team at $3.5M/year for two years. If low, auction him at the deadline with Kipper and Bouwmeester

– Investigate market for Stajan if he’s still with the team. Ditto Derek Smith

– Gauge Alex Tanguy’s performance/decline. Determine whether to keep or trade at deadline

The above would be my roadmap for the team, assuming no unforeseen changes, speed bumps or opportunities. In this scenario, the club leverages certain expiring assets, some of which should bring decent enough returns while others might get you middling prospects or picks. However, the club is still actively pursuing other decent options from the UFA market and retaining good bets from within the org as well.

  • I like this approach. If by next yrs reboot we could get a decent return for Iggy, a good top ten draft pick of our own, a return for 2 or 3 of Babs Sarich Comeau Stajan (add McBackup or Taylor with the goal propects coming in), aquire one of Burmistrov, Grabovski, Couturier, Frolik or Gardiner, and bring in one good UFA, we would be vastly better in 2013. It is not unrealistic. Especially if Ramo proves to be a find.

  • Once again you nailed it Kent. A sensible plan that starts moving the team away from mediocrity without unnecessarily destroying the team.

    I like your use of the Oiler’s example. I think the biggest myth perpetuated up north is that being terrible the last five years has been part of Tambo and co’s plan. If you look at the moves they’ve made its pretty clear that they were trying to be competitive and just failing at it. Not saying I wouldn’t love to have Hall or Eberle or Yak or the Nuge, merely that the idea that the Oiler’s bottomed out on purpose is totally bogus.

    If I was an Oiler’s fan I’d be most frustrated by the fact the Oil have wasted their top talent’s ELC years on terrible teams. One of the best ways teams can “game” the system in the new CBA is to maximize what you get out of your stars in their ELC years where their cap hit is way less than their actual value. So far the oiler’s have completely failed to do this. Once the Hall and Eberle extensions kick in plus what they have to pay Yak, the Nuge and Schultz the next coming years, we could see an exodus of talent, ala Chicago, probably (hopefully) without the Cup win to soften the blow.

  • Kent…well thought out credible plan! I would suggest a stronger immediate focus on the goaltending plan. Given Kippers age and most likely reluctance to play beyond 2014 I would trade him at the 2013 deadline. Also Ramo is not proven at NHL level and would propose a risk without an effective succession plan.
    Dany Taylor impressive and in need of development time so let’s not waste our time on an aging backup like Macdonald.

    Strongly agree with your comments to lock up Brodie and Backlund long term as they are critical to the Flames rebuld plan. Also somehow the acquisition of a top 4-5 veteran big tough defenseman needs to be worked into the plan somehow.

    • Given Kippers age and most likely reluctance to play beyond 2014 I would trade him at the 2013 deadline.

      I considered that, but then you’d be selling Kipper at a record low level thanks to his really awful numbers this year. In addition, his high cap hit remaining for next year will curtail interest since the cap is falling next year.

      If he can stick around one more season, split time with Ramo and put up at least average numbers, maybe you can deal him half way through the season or at the deadline in 2014 for a better return.

      • ChinookArchYYC

        Well written and argued. (Or maybe it’s hard not to like work that reflects exactly what I’d like to see).

        I have 2 questions:

        1.) It appears that you have given up on the Cervenka experiment? Is this the reason that you’re looking to trade him?

        “- Move Cervenka and company for anything, but retain Stajan in absence of worthwhile offer”
        Personally, I’d like to see more in order to get a better sense of what Cervenka is.

        2.) I wonder about the use of the One Time Buyout option available to the Flames next season. Is a team able to buyout a player and then sign him to a new contract?

        If this could be done, I’d look to use it on the Tanguay deal, by buying him out and offering him the league minimum for the next 4 years and remove the NTC in the last 2 years of the deal. It would create a lot of cap space. I’d do it for Bouwmeester as we’ll, if he’d sign for a longer term at $2M per season for another 5 years.

        • icedawg_42

          Personally I think that Cervenka has some NHL level talent, and plenty to like. I do NOT like the way he bails out on physical play. Frankly, I don’t think he’s going to get the chance to work out his North American game so long as he plays for Hartley. Better for him to be moved on, and hopefully get something in return.

      • icedawg_42

        Good read Kent…

        My only question is if there is an example of a team not going scorched earth and turning a titanic situation into a contender. I realize there are examples of turning a terrible team into a playoff team quite quickly. Ottawa for example.

        But are there examples of an organization turning a 180 from the pits of despair to being a true powerhouse? Thats what I want, not just being happy to be a perimeter playoff team hoping to sneak in perpetually and catch lightning in a bottle.

        Pittsburgh, LA, Chicago – the real powerhouse teams went through extended burn it to the ground rebuilds. Teams like Ottawa or Toronto or even Montreal haven’t. Montreal is great and all, but can they really expect to beat Pittsburgh except by lightning in a bottle. They certainly aren’t a powerhouse favourite.

        I don’t really know the answer, I’m just asking. Personally I’d rather go through 3 years of pain to be a powerhouse instead of 1 year of pain to get back to being a middling fringe team with not much hope to really win the big prize.

        • icedawg_42

          It would be interesting to see one of the mods do a counter-article to this piece, on why Calgary should (as Lambert puts it) “nuke their roster from orbit.”

  • I think a lot of the ‘rebuild’/scorched earth mentality is an aesthetic thing more than a practical thing. People are frustrated by what has been a pretty average team for a long time, and just want ‘change’. I can’t imagine too many people rationally think we would be a better team in 3 years if we traded anybody of value on the team for draft picks.

    • MC Hockey

      Me too…however the Leafs may be realizing that Gardiner is recovered from concussions and worth keeping. But is he worth the risk for Flames given the head injury history? I have other radical ideas to add like:

      -JBo + checking forward to Oilers for Gagner and Smid. Why? They get top D-man who would waive NTC for Edmonton and a support forward and we get offensive Centre and good underrated shutdown D-man to help replace JBo minutes

      – Iggy to Chicago for 2013 1st round or 2nd rounder (1st if Iggy re-signs in Chi) plus good young centre or Centre prospect like Shaw, Pirri, Kruger, or McNeiil…Feaster’s will not get more than this I believe. Why? Obvious for both teams I think.

      – Kipper + DSmith or (ironically) Butler for Ryan (Dumb Comments) Miller? Why? Buff loses complainer (Miller) and shore up G and D for two years (assuming Kipper re-signs with Buff) as Enroth improves and Flames get new starting G.