Imagine a party at Ed Snider’s house that includes Brian
Burke, Dale Tallon, Garth Snow, and that is hosted by Paul Holmgren. Pretty good
recipe for some wicked antics, I think. Some crank calls to the Oval Office,
maybe getting $500 worth of pizza delivered to Donald Fehr’s place, and you
know Snow doesn’t go home that night without a wedgie.*
That is more or less what is shaping up to happen this summer in Philadelphia. The unpredictable Ed Snider/Paul Holmgren duo are
hosting the NHL Entry Draft and Tallon, Burke (and recent hire Brad Treliving)
and potentially Snow are all in the mix with picks in the top five.
Brian Burke hates long rebuilds. He also hates traffic jams,
hipster jeans, those unlikely-animal-friendship videos and revisionist undergraduate
theses on the Sykes-Picot treaty.
But he really hates long rebuilds.
His new GM is more of a blank page when it comes to this
sort of thing. Having spent a significant portion of time working for the
Phoenix Coyotes organization while they were a ward of the state, there wasn’t
much room for roster moves by his former boss, Don Maloney. We’ll have to wait
and see in what direction he takes this team. But about his new boss, Burke, we
already know a fair bit.
So here’s some food for thought as the Flames wrap up the
season and prepare for a pivotal summer (although, let’s face it, most summers
are pivotal for NHL teams).
*Meanwhile, Burke stole MacTavish’s invite out of his
mailbox and Garth Snow no longer returns Tim Murray’s phone calls.
The Flames’ Needs
The Flames need elite young talent but have the luxury of
being fairly well-built down the middle. Okay, that didn’t really sound right,
but I you get what I mean. They have some decent centers in Backlund and
Monahan with Stajan providing the sacrificial old-man power down the middle. On
the wings they have some good complementary players in Hudler and Glencross.
After a solid first pairing of Giordano and Brodie, they are
also limited by not having enough depth on their backend…huh, that’s two for
two. (Is it just me or is hockey filled with potentially inappropriate
innuendos? Moving on!)
Essentially, what this means is that the Flames are shopping
for some defensemen in the numbers four through six range and good wingers who
can slot in with Glencross, Bouma, Hudler, Colborne, Jones, Galiardi and
Those assets are relatively easy to grab – darn it, there I
The Flames’ prospect chart, though, is somewhat lacking in a
few of these areas, most notably in defense and right wing, and those prospects
that are in the system are a long way off from the NHL. So, how does one
acquire top-end talent at a young age without necessarily having to go through the draft-and-develop stage?
The What-If Machine
What if Brian Burke were to trade the 4th overall
pick in this year’s draft to the Colorado Avalanche for Ryan O’Reilly? Would Joe
Sakic make that deal? Perhaps. That is a high pick and the Avs have a
collection of forwards such that they could afford to be patient with whomever
they select. It offers them the chance to re-align their roster if they were to
choose a winger, or even potentially improve if they feel that the prospect
available at that position has a greater upside than the player they are giving
up. It also means that they can take the
money that O’Reilly is likely to ask for and redeploy it elsewhere in the
roster to shore up other necessities, or re-sign veterans like Stastny, now
that the emergence of Nathan MacKinnon has solidified their center depth.
There is the chance that the Avs would want a little more in
the deal, so including Ladislav Smid to bolster their defence might fit, but if
we go down that road I would then ask for Mason Geertsen in return as a depth
defensive prospect. Geertsen’s junior comparable was often David Musil, and it
is easy to see why: both are big bodies and defensive specialists who play with
an edge. This isn’t meant to get too in-depth into this process, but just to
show that values are relative and that both sides have things the other may
value such that a deal could probably be made.
So, in the end the Flames would get a proven NHL player – a
very good 2-way center as well as a defensive prospect – while the Avalanche
get a high draft pick, a roster player and free up some money.
Is any of Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart, or Leon Draisaitl
likely to be significantly better than Ryan O’Reilly? Not necessarily. Perhaps,
but O’Reilly is a known commodity and a pretty darned good one at that. Those
prospects could out-produce him over the course of their careers, but in
examining the move one would have to factor in what the addition of O’Reilly
does for the Flames versus the addition of a prospect who may need at least one
more year of junior development before joining the NHL team as a rookie.
What if the Flames made that deal for Sean Couturier? If
Ekblad were to fall to the Flames would you make that deal? I believe Holmgren
would. But in either case, there exists the possibility that the Flames could
have a valuable asset in that 4th overall pick and the time could be
right for a deft move to improve the roster immediately without giving up
anything terribly expensive or costly down the road.
Perhaps in the Couturier case one deals down from 4th
to wherever the Flyers draft and picks up Couturier in exchange for adding
another draft pick. Again, it depends on who is available. If Ekblad is there I
think there is a chance Holmgren takes the swap without hesitation.
I’m not pointing out these two teams to bring specific deals
to the conversation, just that there is a window of opportunity this June and
perhaps more potential suitors than one might otherwise believe.
Now here’s the other shoe…
What if Burke were to trade next year’s 1st round
pick and a prospect like Mark Jankowski to Winnipeg for Evander Kane?
Kane’s issues this season, and even some rumblings of
disaffection earlier, have, if not forced the issue, at least opened a window
of opportunity for a GM willing to offer what the Jets may feel is fair value
and an opportunity to turn the page.
The former 4th overall pick is a young LW, 6’2”
and 190lbs with a set of whitewalls on him that can embarrass many defensemen.
He has averaged .62 ppg over the first 329 NHL games of his career thus far and
one could argue that his point production has been hampered by playing for the
Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets for the last five years.
While he may not be an elite talent, he is signed long-term
at a decent cap hit and is just 22 years old, meaning that the Flames could
have him for what should be the upswing in his development.
Burke could be buying at exactly the right time.
For the Flames there is considerable risk as they would now
have traded away two 1st round picks in back-to-back years, at the
same time they have added significant assets to their top six forwards. And, as
anyone familiar with the last two trade deadlines will tell you, 1st
round picks can be added in surprising ways and from unforeseen assets.
Yeah, I know Flames fans have been sold on that McDavid
draft thing for over a year now. But this past season was expected to be pretty
bad and they still only made it to picking 4th overall with a slim
chance of moving up to 1st. Is there any reason to expect that they
are going to be worse, considerably worse, next year? Trust me on this, to
draft 1st overall you have to be bad. Really. Bad. And when one
factors in that under the new draft lottery scheme finishing with the worst
record only give you a one-in-four chance of drafting 1st overall,
then the value of that pick is largely perceptual rather than real. Are next
year’s Flames likely to be worse than the Buffalo Sabres? The Edmonton Oilers?
The Islanders? Not to mention any number of surprise teams who suffer an
That’s another thing Brian Burke doesn’t like. Lotteries.
Back to the trades.
It is important to consider that neither of these trades
would be with a divisional rival, the Flames would be addressing their own
needs but also attending to the interests of the other team involved by giving
them valuable assets at a cost that does not set them back on their
own development path.
In the end, the Flames would be heading into training camp
with a forward group built around Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, Sean Monahan, Sven
Baertschi, Jiri Hudler, Curtis Glencross and Mikael Backlund with Bouma,
Galiardi, Colborne, Stajan, Jones and Granlund in support. I’m no expert, but
that starts to look an awful lot like the roster of a professional team in the
National Hockey League.
There would likely remain holes on the wing, notably first
line RW and third/fourth line LW which could be addressed via free agency. Ales
Hemsky and Radim Vrbata as possible RW free agents and Nikolai Kulemin, David
Moss, Jussi Jokinen or Steve Downie as LW free agents could add some valuable
depth to the lineup. With the addition of Treliving as GM, can we just pencil
in Vrbata and Moss now?
Oh, and for the record, I steadfastly resisted putting in any reference to or imagery from the “O’Reilly Factor” in this article. You’re welcome.
Falling Down Blue
The blueline would need to be bolstered but with Giordano,
Brodie and Wideman to start with and Smid and Russell as the bottom end of the
rotation. That would leave very few spots and some very specific talents to
shop for. Here there are some options available as well.
Putting together a collection of pending UFAs and a few
signed players, here is a look at some options available for the Flames:
These are potential blueline acquisitions ranked by CorsiRel and QualComp.
These are the same candidates ranked on CorsiRel and Quality of Teammates.
For my money, I like Fayne, Niskanen, Orpik and Markov as
UFA options to fill out the middle of the Flames defensive roster. Coburn would be ideal, but would probably require a significant payment for Holmgren to let him go. MacTavish burned a hole in the floor at last year’s draft going back and forth trying to get him but the price was just too high.
This would give the Flames’ defensive depth chart Brodie,
Giordano, Fayne (for example), Orpik (ditto), Wideman, Smid and Russell with
Wotherspoon as a call-up.
Not too shabby and it pushes players like Wideman and Smid
down the lineup.
I’m not saying that this will
happen, or even that it ought to
happen. What I am suggesting is that there are opportunities out there for the
Flames to improve their roster and add elite-level players today. The Pacific
division is changing and a window of opportunity has opened.
To illustrate, let me offer you a parable.
Two guys are walking in the woods. They come across a
massive grizzly bear who looks a little ticked off and starts growling and
coming at them. The first guy drops his pack and starts taking off his boots
and lacing up his running shoes. His buddy looks at him and says, “You’re
crazy! You can’t run faster than a Grizzly just because you’ve got running
shoes on!” The first guy says “I don’t need to outrun the bear, I just need to
Thus is it with the Flames. Do they need to beat the Ducks,
Kings and Sharks? Not necessarily. But they could beat the Canucks, Coyotes and
Oilers and so long as they stay ahead or tied with teams like the Wild they
could qualify as a Wild Card in the playoff race.
The Oilers are undergoing a significant transition under
Craig MacTavish and Dallas Eakins and one suspects that they still have considerable
hurdles to overcome to balance their roster such that any significant
improvements can be made.
Meanwhile, the skies darken in Vancouver (they are sensitive
people on the West Coast, they’re offended by words like “rain”), as they enter
something like a rebuild, but more innovative and without all the negative waves
associated with that outmoded paradigm. This is Vancouver, after all. How do hipsters rebuild? Isn’t shabby-chic their thing, or are they over that too?
Phoenix Arizona Coyotes appear to be set on the
status quo, and while there is a chance that new ownership will want to make a
splash in this free agent season, they have been more or less running in place
for several years now and I believe could be unseated by a team with a superior
skill set and a more aggressive management style.
The Flames can’t trade or draft their way out of the Pacific
Division. They are stuck here and therefore the choices are to either get up
and try to beat the California teams sooner rather than later, or sit back, get
their heads knocked in and draft high for a few years in the hopes that they
can draft high enough and well enough to collect the elite level and
complementary talent at a rate greater than the rate of renewal amongst the
Ducks, Kings and Sharks.
Weighing It Out
The Pros for these moves are that the roster is immediately
improved with known quantities that are just entering their most productive
years while only relinquishing potential assets (draft picks) and a single
roster player and a single prospect. No one area of the organization’s asset
wealth is exhausted exclusively (ie: solely trading draft picks) and the
significant commitments are all being made to young players as they enter the
peak of their careers.
It also means that when the Flames bring their young players
into the roster like Gaudreau, Poirier, Klimchuk and Granlund they will be
playing behind a strong top six, providing them with developmental shelter. It
not only puts the current Flames roster in a position to succeed, but sets it
up so that the next generation of drafted prospects can better acclimate to the
NHL and hopefully find success.
The Cons of the deal are that the Flames would be putting a
lot of stock into the 2014-2015 season and making substantial investments in a
young core cobbled together with significant additions from other organizations
with no guarantee of how those pieces might work together. It is very likely
that the team could miss the playoffs next season with this roster if only
because of the time it could take for the roster to mesh into a cohesive team.
Also, this addresses neither the Flames’ defensive shortcomings nor their
goaltending situation which remains relatively unsettled.
Still, when one considers the benefit versus the cost, I
believe that the deals would make the Flames a better team almost immediately
and arguably for at least five years onwards. In the modern NHL that would be
Out: 2014 4th overall pick (Leon Draisaitl, Sam
Bennett, Sam Reinhart, Aaron Ekblad or Michael Dal Colle), Ladislav Smid, 2015 1st
round pick, Mark Jankowski. As well, additional signings of Andrei Markov and/or
Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and/or Mark Fayne.
In: Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane, Mason Geertsen, and approximately $21 million in salary on O’Reilly, Kane and two UFA defensemen leaving the team with roughly $5 to $6 million in projected cap space.