Flames Next Steps – Get Competitive by 2016-17

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In this series we’ve already noted the Flames need to up their functional toughness and improve their blueline depth behind Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie in order to climb out of the Western Conference basement. This final part is more focused on the “when” than the “how”. Although I’m sure the team’s executives and fans would prefer sooner rather than later, the more realistic deadline for the club to be a threat again is two seasons from now: 2016-17.

Relative to some other rebuilds we’ve been witness to (ahem, Oilers), 2016 is a fairly aggressive and optimistic expectation. But it’s grounded in reality. 

Although players like Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett and Johnny Gaudreau are popularly considered to be the new core of the Calgary Flames, in truth the team already has three pillar players around which it can build: Mikael Backlund, Brodie and Giordano, which is what makes climbing the ladder within a few seasons somewhat reasonable.

The schedule roughly accords with the Backlund and Brodie’s peak seasons as well as the expected maturation of some of the aforementioned hopefuls. The implicit goal would be to get the team over the hump quickly enough so that organization doesn’t waste all of the B’s best seasons on last place finishes (not to mention Gio’s last few useful years as well).

Let’s take a look at how the key pieces and the kids are going to age…

Approaching the Peak

CoreAge

This table shows the age of each player during the season in question. I’ve arranged the tiers according to a rough approximation of each guy’s value – so current play drivers (the core), probable difference makers (future core), potential top six guys and then probable support players to one degree or another. Obviously the list isn’t exhaustive, so please avoid bemoaning the lack of your favourite darkhorse prospect in the comments.

I’ve highlighted some names to foreground the guys who will be entering the typical “peak scoring age” for NHLers by 2016-17. Studies into the matter have found points per minute of ice time peaks at around 24 and stays relatively consistent until about 29 for skaters. Of course, scoring rate isn’t an exact proxy for player quality, but for now we’ll assume it’s close enough for our purposes.

In three seasons, the Flames could have two of their existing core pieces operating more or less at the height of their powers (assuming no intervening injuries). In addition, Johnny Gaudreau will be 23 entering his third year of pro and Monahan, though just 22, will be a wily veteran of 250+ NHL games.

Beyond them, the club could have as many as 6-8 other guys poised to jump into the fat part of their career arcs. It’s probably unrealistic to assume all of them will make the team or still be with the franchise down the road, but even if only two players from the list (say, Granlund and Baertschi) are in the rotation as top-9 options, the franchise would then have no less than 6 guys playing meaningful minutes who are 23-27 years old. That doesn’t take into account Sam Bennett, who is a good bet to be on the team and ahead of the age curve by that time.

The other reason the Flames will want to start competing by 2016-17 is money. The org has a lot of cap space currently, but things are going to start getting expensive once all the kids begin to mature.

Dollar Bills

Ageprice

Here’s the same table, except with cap hit projections for each player. Obviously it’s a bit of a fools errand to try to predict any of the kids future contracts, but this is more about illustrating the Flames position than being perfectly accurate.

By 2016-17, Backlund, Brodie and Giordano will all need new deals. It’s an open question whether Gio would re-sign with the team or not, but if he has another season remotely close to the one he had last year, the Flames will have to pony up to keep him, assuming he chooses to stay (even at 33). Backlund and Brodie probably won’t break the bank, but they won’t be dirt cheap anymore either. It’s possible all three of them could cost north of $16M combined by that time.

Monahan, Arnold, Gaudreau, Baertschi, Granlund, Wotherspoon, Reinhart and Knight will also be past their entry level contracts. We can bet on at least two of these players getting significant pay raises in the interim and perhaps a few others getting 100%+ bumps as well. If that happens, we’re up to $33M+ for around nine guys. Sam Bennett would be in line for his raise the year after to boot in he makes the team as a 19 year old.

It’s probable my projections are going to be wildly off in a few directions for some of these players. If one or two guys blow up, then we’ll probably see some $6M deals land in there. If everyone crashes and burns, however, then they’ll still have plenty of cap space to work with (and will still suck, rendering this all moot). 

One of the worst tragedies of rebuilds gone awry is an organization emerging from its young players larval stage and then having to pay them all real NHL money yet still battling to get out of the basement. It’s one thing to be a lousy team with low cap commitments and a flexible budget. It’s another thing entirely to stink and boast a prohibitively expensive roster as well.

Conclusion

The Flames have core players in place and potential core players ripening on the vine. If a few coins land on heads, the club could have a whole slew of useful NHLers at or near their prime in a couple of years.

Ideally, 2014-15 will be the last bottom-5 finish for the club before it begins the ascension. I figure the the evolution could (will?) go: 2014-15, 25th or lower, 2015-16, 15th or lower, 2016-17, 12th or better. In terms of points improvements, that would look something like: 75 points, 87 points, 96 points or about a 10-point jump each season, give or take. It may not proceed in step-like fashion as illustrated, but the important thing is the end-point here.

This is an important consideration, because it will dictate how the management group runs the team for the next few seasons, assuming they agree with me. This season will be another evaluation and experiment year. The club can get a feel for what they have with a few of the kids and make sure the lead horses get some at bats in the majors so they have their legs under them by 2017. They can also judge which veterans to hold on to as the club progresses and what holes they’ll need to fill in each of the subsequent off-seasons. For instance, Curtis Glencross is making noises about getting an extension from Calgary once his current contract expires. He’ll have to prove he can be part of the solution going forward (rather than a guy looking to cash-in because he was grossly underpaid over the course of his last deal).

Treliving did the right thing this off-season by staying out of the bidding for any of the big names, but come summer 2016, the Flames are going to want to start plugging in one or two big time mercenaries that can help put them over the top.

Flames Next Steps Series

    • internuncial

      Kent didn’t say anything about 2016-17 being the “peak”. He said that that is when the Flames should start getting back into the playoffs.

      Or do you think Kent wants this to be a mere 96 point franchise again (conclusion: 2nd paragraph)?

    • Citizen David

      The article was about being competitive 2016-2017. Of course the Flames will get better each year after that but in three seasons the team must be back on track. Otherwise something went wrong.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Can’t wait!! Let’s hope manegment doesn’t blow thing up in the next couple of years in an attempt to make the playoffs earlier. I think this is going to be an exciting team to watch in the years to come. Maybe in a fee years the Flames can sign Iggy for one last hurrah and so he can have last run with the flames.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Kent,

    I don’t see Brian McGrattan, Deryk Engelland, Keegan Kanzig, Hunter Smith, or Mike Ferland anywhere on here. I’m starting to question the validity of this analysis.

  • internuncial

    “The club can get a feel for what they have with a few of the kids and make sure the lead horses get some at bats in the majors so they have their legs under them by 2017.”

    Ya! Then, as long as they stay onside and don’t go off the track, it will be full-court press to start rolling some strikes and hopefully hit the jackpot.

    [/snark]

    Good piece.

  • cunning_linguist

    Boy oh boy do the Flames need to start getting some blue chip defense prospects. It’s terrifying, our future core (aside from Bennett) is already draft+2 and older. Assuming defense prospects were as quickly ready for the NHL as forward prospects, we would already be in trouble. The fact that they generally take longer makes this a ticking time bomb.

    “One of the worst tragedies of rebuilds gone awry is an organization emerging from its young players larval stage and then having to pay them all real NHL money yet still battling to get out of the basement.”

    If we don’t get some D prospects, the risk of this happening is an order of magnitude higher

    • Matty Franchise Jr

      My take on the Flames D sitch is that they could trade one of the blue chip forwards they have to another team for a blue chip D.

      A very quick glance at capgeek.com makes me think there may be something to make work with Carolina (I stopped looking after CAR so please don’t trash me for missing the obvious trade with team X). They need forwards and have a couple of young D in Faulk and Murray.

      • ChinookArchYYC

        I still think there’s a trade to be had along those lines between Calgary and New Jersey.

        IMO Faulk is a bit overrated and there’s almost no chance Carolina moves him anyway. Also, I’m really not a fan of Murphy–too useless in his own end.

        With New Jersey, there’s the chance that they’d be willing to move a good-upside blueliner on the promise of some help on forward–where they’ve got practically nothing in the pipeline. As long as the forward is good enough, of course, and they might want another defenseman back (they have to fill out a roster, after all).

        They’ve got Adam Larsson (perfect for the Flames needs, IMO, but maybe beyond their means), Eric Gelinas (who seemed to pass Larsson on the depth chart last year), and Jon Merril as guys who might have first pair upside (which is really what the Flames should be looking for).

        Meanwhile, they really ought to have some interest in Flames prospects like Baertschi, Granlund, and Klimchuk (forwards with scoring line upside) and the Flames have plenty of modest-upside defensemen to soften the blow of losing one of the top D. I really think an offer of Baertschi and Kulak (as much as it stings) is something the Devils have to listen to.

        I don’t like the idea of losing Sven, but the idea of Larsson as a Flame is just so tempting.

        • piscera.infada

          This is exactly along the lines of what I was thinking of in my post above. I completely agree, something’s got to give in order to balance everything out. Personally, Klimchuk is too intriguing a prospect to deal at this point. The more I look at his numbers and improvement, the more excited I get.

    • Although I generally agree with the theory you’re espousing, you seem to be dismissing ALL the Flames prospects currently in the Flames stable. I am not ready to do this.

      Between all the current crop of prospects I believe we’ll end up with at least 4-5 NHL’s, e.g. Wotherspoon, Sieloff, Kanzig, Kulkin…etc, not to mention the 2 we just drafted. I’m betting you’re thinking, yada, yada, yada how many 5D,6D,7D do we need but I can’t agree with that either, but time will tell.

      In addition we’ve currently got two young NHL D in Brodie and Russell just getting better and a top-level D in Captain Giordano who will still be top-level for many years.

      Yes we can use some more young, stud D (who can’t?) but if you’re fearing the reverse rebuild scenario of say, that team up North, we’re light years ahead of them currently in terms of D and rebuild structure (i.e. building from the middle out) and likely to remain so.

      • piscera.infada

        While I agree we’re in a better situation down the middle than our “friends” to the north, I don’t think we’re near them in terms of prospect depth on defense. Sure, in all likelihood, we have a bottom-four waiting in the wings – I would say the prospects you mentioned, Wotherspoon could likely fill a #4 role, and one of Kulak/Culkin/Hickey (eventually) being able to take on a #3 role. That said (and to @RexLibris‘s point), we don’t often take into account the amount of attrition that takes place between minor-pro, pro, and the first few years of pro.

        In terms of Centre depth, there’s the assumption that Monahan and Bennett will be able to fill the top-two roles. After that, we have enough depth to fill the bottom-two roles well in the future (even accounting for attrition).

        Likewise, our left-wing depth is similar assuming Gaureau/Baertschi/Klimchuk are able to fill out the top-two roles.

        Still, right-wing and defense seem to still have holes, not even accounting for attrition. As such, it will take some saavy moves (which we will have the ability to do in a year or two) with positions where the depth outweighs rosters spots.

        We’re still looking at a year or two of high draft picks to try and balance out this depth, but were also going to have to be ready for a time where some players in the stable will have to let go, hopefully to further balance everything out. This is where management will have to make hay.

        Interestingly, and on point, I was having an argument with a friend regarding Calgary’s prospect depth versus Buffalo’s prospect depth. I argued that outside of defensive prospects, Calgary has the edge. Oddly enough, they almost perfectly sync up with the weaknesses in each organization’s prospect depth – Buffalo has depth at defense and right-wing; Calgary at centre and left-wing (the centre depth is interesting, as the top-end centres are similar, but Calgary’s bottom-end is superior). Any thoughts?

  • TheRealPoc

    The really exciting thing for me? This analysis doesn’t include an almost guaranteed Top 5 pick from the 2015 draft, which seems to be one of the deepest first rounds in recent memory.

    Add a McDavid or an Eichel to this group…and wow, look out.

  • beloch

    I thought the Flames would finish higher than they did last season, but I was wrong. Strangely enough, I find myself making the same prediction again!

    Despite struggling early last season, Ramo’s season sv% was identical to Jonas Hiller’s 0.911. It’s possible Ramo could turn in a better season now that his adjustment to North American hockey is behind him, but even if these two guys tread water they should improve the Flames’ team sv% from 0.899 (third worst in the league) to 0.911(this would have put them around 17th). That would reduce the Flames goals against by 28 goals, raising them from 24th in that stat to 16th, one position ahead of the Red Wings.

    Of course, the Flames were 23rd in the league in terms of Goals For. Losing Cammalleri obviously hurts, but he put up just 45 points last season! Oddly enough, Mason Raymond also put up 45 points, albeit fewer goals and with cushier deployment and inferior possession stats. However, if David Wolf squeezes out McGrattan or Westgarth and Gaudreau lives up to sane expectations based on his ridiculously awesome career so far, the Flames could easily find themselves ahead of where they were last season.

    Also, we can expect to see progression in many of the Flames younger players. Monahan seemed to be doing well with less shelter towards the end of last season. Colborne started to look useful once he switched to wing. Byron didn’t move up to the NHL until the second half of the season. Baertschi or several other players may also jump to the NHL permanently and make an impact.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Backlund and Brodano combo is now firmly established as an elite possession unit. Giordano and Brodie weren’t a pair at the start of last season and Backlund had a horrible start, getting terrible minutes and even winding up a healthy scratch some nights. Can anyone imagine Hartley benching Backlund now?

    For these reasons, I’m going to predict that the Flames will either be a bubble team or just outside the bubble.

    • Byron Bader

      Based on these very same answers, I have a tough time believing the Flames will be a bottom 5 team again this year. One or several of Gio, Brodie and Backlund on the ice for 70-80% of the game for the whole year intrigues me. They can prop the team up by themselves.

      But then I look at all the other teams. Florida will be crap again as will Buffalo (by design). But I think Edmonton will be better this year, maybe not playoffs but they won’t be garbage anymore. Ottawa could be bad but who knows. Carolina? Maybe Winnipeg is junk? Toronto is probably a safe bet to be no good again. Nashville should be better, you’d think … especially if Rinne plays. NYI should be better with a healthy Tavares. All the playoff teams this year should hold steady or get drastically better. Colorado will probably fall off a little but still be a playoff team and teams like Tampa, Dallas and potentially Minny are going to be much better. NYR, PHI, MON will be mid-tier playoff teams again. LA, CHI, BOS, SJ, PITT, STL they’re all going to be real good. So although I’m optimistic (or not optimistic depending on how you look at it) the Flames will end up in the bottom 5 this year, I look at 90% of the teams and think “well they’re going to be worse than that team, and that team”

      • Don’t believe Flames will be lower than currently and could be as high as a bubble team. If I’m guessing I’d say 8-10 range. I expect we’ll continue to be better than Oilers, Buffalo and Florida, battling with NYI, Carolina, Ottawa, Nashville, Phoenix and TML and likely to be at the higher end of that group than the lower. A LOT has to go wrong/severe injuries to happen to get into the bottom 2-3 picks, but then again stranger things have happened.

  • RexLibris

    Interesting approach, and well-argued.

    Here’s my disagreement. There are some proverbial chickens in your list being counted before they have hatched.

    Take, for instance, your second tier of Monahan, Gaudreau and Bennett. Placing them behind the first tier of Giordano, Brodie and Backlund is entirely reasonable and the correct approach.

    But I believe it is so because the above three have proven themselves to be very good to very, very good NHL players, whereas the following three have not. They are the best of the remaining prospects, but are still largely unproven.

    Monahan will be entering his second NHL season while Gaudreau is about to play his first pro season and Bennett has only just been drafted.

    In your second paragraph you appear to conflate age with achievement, referring to your cited study on player peaks. There is a connection between a player’s peak performance and their age – the relationship does not hinge upon age but ability, which has been shown to deteriorate with age.

    This appears to me to take ability or skill for granted or as a propter hoc rationalization.

    This leads us to NHLE and the approximate expectations of potential skill range for the above prospects. Bennett, Monahan and Gaudreau have an NHLE that scores relatively well in approximating their potential. But when one includes the rate of attrition, development curve, and organizational circumstance (not to mention a fair share of luck), the one important factor not mentioned here is depth, and we are still dealing with a critical qualifier in the discussion: potential. This isn’t entirely leveled at you, Kent, but rather speaks to an assumption that I have noticed sneaking into the opinions and perspectives more and more on this forum.

    It is common practice to say that a rebuild requires more than the simple formula of drafting high, often and well to rebuild a team and then use, albeit on somewhat mistaken logic, the Oilers or Islanders as an example. Yet, to some extent the same approach is beginning to take root and has echoes in some parts of this article.

    You allude to this potential pitfall here

    If everyone crashes and burns, however, then they’ll still have plenty of cap space to work with (and will still suck, rendering this all moot).

    And the conclusion helps to temper some of the other aspects included.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to troll the article. I’m trying to suggest that the exercise is worthy and the discussion always valuable. but the premise at the outset seems to be a touch clouded by enthusiasm.

    As you say, the 2016-17 timeline is aggressive and optimistic, but I disagree with the following assumption that it is necessarily realistic based on the logical arguments that follow.

    Put it another way. Each player has three primary factors determining their place in the NHL: ability, age and salary.

    Your arguments lean very heavily on the latter two but appear to take the former, and most important, factor as given. The article glosses over this aspect and takes for granted that Gaudreau, for instance, will necessarily become a top-9 NHL forward. If he does not, how many prospect redundancies do the Flames have for his perceived skill set? What of the rest of the prospect group?

    In all, the best summation I can offer is that I agree wholeheartedly with your point

    It may not proceed in step-like fashion as illustrated, but the important thing is the end-point here.

    but take issue with the timeline and most notably the prospect forecasts and developmental assumptions.

    Hey, look. I’ve managed an old-timey Rex post! Alright, bring on the Trashes. Since everyone seems to love Lambert these days I suppose it’ll be my turn to wear the goat horns.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      Your concerns with the article are reasonable, but in fairness prognostication is a tricky business and a fools errand (no offence to the author intended). So, no matter what is argued it will be easy to take issue with many assumptions.

      Kent’s 2nd tier (or future core players) is a good and reasonable list of the Flames most impressive and likely candidates to ascend to become very good and maybe even great NHLers (go Johnny go!). I’m sure most of the people reading this implicitly understand that the list is not a given reality, but rather a reasonable hope for the future.

    • FeyWest

      Nahhhh I think you have a very well thought out and rational argument, it’s not like me where I missused a word in a comparative statement last thread (was worth the trashes even after I thought I fixed the problem…)

      But on topic here I can agree that Kent may have taken some developmental assumptions and such just for the sake of the article. He did mention we have to land a few heads and that the 2016 projection is a fairly aggressive assumption as well.

      It’s a fairly optimistic thread, but it’s nice to have something to be optimistic about for once! Either way great discussion and rebuttal Rex but it’s off to work I go…

    • The point of the article wasn’t to say this is an inevitable outcome. It was to point out two things:

      1.) The Flames don’t have to draft and develop a whole new core. They have core players peaking now.

      2.) Because of that and the potential maturation of other assets, it’s possible (but not necessarily inevitable) that they could be competitive by 2016-17.

      All rebuilds are built upon a foundation of chicken counting, which is why they are a risk. Given what we know about these players right now, this is the approximate roadmap I’d sketch out if I was Treliving (but with an understanding that there are large error bars associated with anyone below Backlund on this depth chart).

    • Jeff Lebowski

      Respectfully, your disagreement is nothing but veiled fears. However, it doesn’t make them inaccurate.

      Yes, the next tier has not proven anything to date. Full stop. Anything beyond this is conjecture…but that means no constraints. What is likely?

      This is where oiler fans become unglued. They know, deep inside, instrinsically, that their team has done it wrong.

      Now, the band aids have been applied and they insist they are still the shiniest of toys that will fulfill the promise (or pay back the pain of multiple bottom 3 finishes)of the story handed them. They have elite NHL talent.

      While this may be true, they lack direction, planning, culture and wisdom. These things are essential, are crafted and CAN’T be imported on a whim. It takes time to refine and put the protocols in place. Game day skates in CGY are teaching points – lots of learning – In EDM? Rolling over on the ice. While it is oft heard from oiler fans that they wouldn’t trade their roster for CGYs. Calgary can equally say we wouldn’t trade our culture (and coaching – to unleash the talent -) for theirs. We here in CGY feel pride in our jersey! I think these things matter, to the extent that tossing jerseys is a symptom of a larger disease. Apathy.

      When this is brough to bear PLUS the fact that there seems to be more late round gems in CGY prospect ranks – dating back to years where CGY wasn’t EDM bad but bad AND NOW when the draft picks are high and CGY is getting Monahan and Bennetts – again PLUS Granlunds, Gaudreaus etc – it seems….

      Like a fait au compli that CGY has already overtaken EDM for all intents & purposes wrt rebuilding.

      To an oiler fan, how can this be fair? They’ve been doing it for nearly a decade with nothing to show yet CGY only 1 year in seems poised organizationally to grind the oil up and spit them out on the reg.

      The Prospects Tourney in Penticton will show the true state of affairs.

      I assume, fans already know this. And it hurts so good.

      Basically, oiler fans are scared of what JG will do to their hopes and dreams. 4th round? AND your 1sts and 2nds (and 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths-Brossoit!!) are better, will be better and are cheaper. I get it. I’d be pissed too.

      • RexLibris

        Like a fait au compli that CGY has already overtaken EDM for all intents & purposes wrt rebuilding.

        Interesting assertion there.

        I’m curious as to how you have made this determination.

        While this may be true, they lack direction, planning, culture and wisdom.

        Proof?

        btw, fait accompli.

        • smith

          What do you mean how did we make that determination? The flames were 10 points better last season than the oilers. How is that not ahead in the rebuild. Combine that with more and better prospects, a better AHL team, far more salary cap space and of course Calgary is ahead of Edmonton in their rebuild.

          • A-Mc

            The Flames did finish higher, you’re right. But could it be true that the flames are on their way down, while the Oilers are (supposedly) on their way up?

            You may have a year or two of bottom feeding yet before the climb back up can begin. In this way, the Oilers are ahead: they’ve already hit the bottom.

          • RexLibris

            Okay, let’s put this assertion forth as a proposition and then explore the facts to see whether it can be qualitatively supported.

            The Calgary Flames are further ahead in their rebuilding process than the Edmonton Oilers. True or false?

            The Flames’ depth chart at C is expected to be: Stajan, Backlund, Monahan, Byron, Colborne, Granlund, Knight, Bouma, Jooris, Arnold, Reinhart, Bennett.

            For the Oilers the same reads: Nugent-Hopkins, Arcobello, Gordon, Lander, Draisaitl, Acton, Yakimov, Khaira, Ewanyk, Miller.

            Overall, advantage in NHL skill to Edmonton, NHL depth to Calgary, prospect skill and depth too close to call at this time.

            LW depth Flames: Hudler, Raymond, Glencross, Bollig, Baertschi, Gaudreau, Agostino, Ferland, Van Brabant, Kilmchuk, Poirier, Wolf, Turner.

            LW depth chart Edmonton: Hall, Perron, Pouliot, Joensuu, Gazdic, Moroz, Kessy, R. Hamilton, C. Hamilton.

            Advantage Edmonton per current NHL roster and advantage to Calgary in AHL roster/prospect depth.

            RW depth chart Calgary: Jones, McGrattan, Hanowski.

            RW depth chart Edmonton: Eberle, Yakupov, Purcell, Pitlick, Pakarinen, Pinnizotto.

            Advantage Edmonton in both NHL and prospect depth.

            Defense Calgary: Giordano, Brodie, Wideman, Smid, Engelland, Russell, Wotherspoon, Sieloff, Culkin, Ramage, Kanzig, Kulak, Acolatse.

            Defense Edmonton: Petry, Fayne, Nikitin, Shultz, Ference, Marincin, Aulie, Nurse, Klefbom, Musil, Simpson, Osterle, Gernat, Davidson, Hunt.

            Advantage Calgary by NHL roster, Edmonton by prospect depth and potential.

            Goal Calgary: Hiller, Ramo, Thiessen, Ortio, Gillies.

            Goal Edmonton: Fasth, Scrivens, Brossoit, Bachman, Rimmer, Bunz, Tuohimaa.

            Slight perceived advantage Calgary in 1st string goaltending, advantage Edmonton in 2nd string, quality of prospects advantage Calgary, depth of prospects advantage Edmonton. Overall, call it a draw in net.

            Let’s stop here to review, and we’ll recall that your assertion was that the Flames were further ahead in the rebuilding process, therefore preference will be given to NHL competitive advantages over prospect advantages.

            C – NHL Advantage Edmonton in skill, Calgary in depth.

            LW – NHL Advantage Edmonton.

            RW – NHL Advantage Edmonton.

            D – NHL Advantage Calgary.

            G – Draw.

            We could move on to development and coaching, but rather than pore over tonnes of AHL stats and rosters, for the sake of brevity we’ll call it a draw for now. If you want to delve further, we can grade the two teams based on the NHL talent they have fed to the parent team the past two seasons measured by games played.

            Cap space – effective July 19th, 2014, Calgary has $18. 563 million in available cap space with no core players signed to long-term deals and four core players requiring RFA contracts between now and the next two seasons (Backlund, Monahan, Gaudreau, Brodie) and one core player set to become unrestricted in two seasons’ time (Giordano). Projected cap space for the next two seasons following 2014-2015 is $28.8 and $49.8 million, respectively, based on a static cap.

            Edmonton has $8.782 million in available cap space with three core players signed until 2019, 2020, and 2021 at $6 million a season and three principal RFAs to sign within the next season (Yakupov, Schultz, Marincin). Projected cap space for the next two seasons following 2014-2015 is $19.3 and $38.2 million, respectively, based on a static cap.

            Based on the usage of cap space to effect a winning record contrasted with salary structure and the competitive advantage of long-term, low cap-hit contracts on core players, and the flexibility to use spare cap space to attract useful, complementary free agents to fill out a roster – advantage Edmonton.

            ————–

            The Flames are at the beginning of their rebuild. They have few competitive advantages over the Oilers at this stage.

            None of my comments leading up to this point have been intended to contrast the Oilers with the Flames in their rebuilding process. Unfortunately, most of my comments are perceived as being those of a reactionary Oiler apologist.

            I have repeated it more time that I can count now, every team that chooses to rebuild their roster does so in their own particular fashion suited to their unique circumstances.

            The Flames are not ahead of the Oilers in the process. They are at different stages.

            The Flames have had some advantages during the process that have been exploited. Assets such as Bouwmeester, Iginla, Giordano, Brodie and Backlund are organizational strengths that I respect.

            The Oilers are no paragon of sports management. Neither are the Flames. My comments are not some petulant, parochial zero-sum perspective that if the Flames are doing something wrong the Oilers must therefore be doing it right and/or better.

            That being said, all the evidence suggests that the Oilers are further along in the process of rebuilding the roster and putting together a capable NHL team than the Flames.

          • beloch

            One thing that’s bugged me about the Oilers for a while now is that they look a lot better on paper than on the ice. There might be a flaw in gauging the strength of a team by adding up their assets as you, and most others, typically do. Perhaps looking at a team’s worst players is just as important. Those terrible players have to be out on the ice at least some of the time, and that’s time their opponents can take advantage of.

            Consider the Kings. They have some good top-end players, but not that many. Their worst players are still very, very good though. They were able to roll four lines against anyone. If you add up the Oilers’ depth in any given position, it’s not that terrible thanks to years of picking first overall. However, when you look at the Oilers’ bottom lines there are several players who have no business playing in the NHL at all, now or ever.

            Us fans probably underestimate the importance of the competent bums that round out every team’s roster. These guys have to be good enough to hold quality opponents at bay but cheap enough for teams to afford. Perhaps that combination is rarer than is commonly thought.

            The Oilers haven’t really addressed their bottom lines yet. Unless some competent bums are brought in over the remainder of the summer, I suspect they may continue to underwhelm in spite of (hopefully) continued development from their top kids. The Flames have less (and less developed) top-end talent at present and they also have some pretty awful players on their bottom lines, but this might be the result of team philosophy more than a lack of suitable players. e.g. Are there really so few wingers in the Flames system that both Westgarth and McGrattan need to play on a given night? Even with those two in the lineup, the Flames bottom lines look better than the Oilers’, and that might be why the Flames did slightly better last season.

            The Flames are going to require a few years to develop their top talent while the Oilers top talent is now entering their primes. It’s reasonable to argue that it’s easier to acquire competent bums than speed up time, so the Oilers are closer to being competitive. However, being closer doesn’t get the job done if those bums aren’t actually acquired!

          • ChinookArchYYC

            I agree with this. The Oliers and Flames problems are mirror images of each other. The Oliers have more high-ceiling players, but the Flames have more and better low-ceiling NHLers.

            While you make a great point about the Kings having a few top players and balanced with a lot of only-good players. The Blues may be an even better example of this. Aside from Petrangello they have no elite-level players, but a lot of good to really good players.

          • beloch

            Some very good points and something to ponder, but I believe an even bigger reason is that most people make their judgements of player value or greatness or elite based almost solely on counting stats like points, while ignoring other aspects like defence and intangibles and team play which in reality are just as important to success.

            The problem is that are no good ways to measure those things so we default to the obvious and then are left to wonder why a team with such great “talent”, like the Oilers can consistently do so badly? Perhaps it’s because the players are no where near as talented, overall as they are given credit for, due to some good scoring points!

            This is why we can so easily be deceived by superb one-dimensional talents, like Ovechkin and his adoring protege Yakupov who do one thing immensely well but have a disdain for other things and either refuse to do them or put in such a lackadaisical effort their overall value to the team decreases sharply.

            Look at the Oilers vs Flames last year. One played hard and tough and never gave up, in almost every game, setting a league record for close games. The other setting a record for home shutouts and getting blown out time and time again, despite their supposed talent. Look at the Flames 8-1 blowout at Oilers last season, was that because we took advantage of their 4th line? Not so much, we took advantage of their 1st and 2nd “talented” lines if I do recall.

            It’s time to put more value on non-counting stats and give more value to those that deserve it, e.g Backlund, St Louis Blues, as well as Flames management who seem to put a premium on intangibles, character, effort, consistency AND skill to get a better balance of what it actually takes to win.

          • beloch

            Possession stats do fill in the blank spaces a little bit. Last season, Calgary was a slighly better possesion team than Edmonton. That was almost entirely due to the efforts of Giordano, Backlund, Brodie and a couple others to a lesser extent, such as Cammalleri and Byron. If the Flames had a few more players like these and an enforcer or two who can actually play hockey they’d be in excellent shape. Hopefully that’s what they’ll have in a few years as rookies like Monahan, Baertschi, and Gaudreau develop.

            Not one player on the Oilers who played more than 10 games drove possession against their competition above 50% CF. Not one! Their top end talent is great at scoring when they have the puck, but are just as feckless as the rest of the team at getting the puck and moving it forward. It might be the case that some of their forwards would have better possesion stats if they weren’t playing in front of the hot mess that has been the Oiler’s blueline, but still, how can not even one of these guys be on the right side of 50%?

            Taylor Hall is especially frustrating to watch. He clearly has the tools to be a two-way player, but just can’t be arsed to help out in his own end half the time. If I were MacT, I’d bury Hall in defensive zone starts and take away his PP time until he figures it out.

          • Jeff Lebowski

            Interesting premise. Let’s look at it in another way.

            Both squads iced teams last year, Calgary finished 10 PTS better. Advantage Calgary.

            D prospects, slight Advantage Oilers (Marincin already on team)

            C prospects, large Advantage Calgary (Monahan already on team)

            R prospects, Advantage Calgary

            L prospects, large Advantage Calgary

            G prospects, large Advantage Calgary

            Net changes from last years year-end teams, advantage Oilers

            Coaching, large Advantage Calgary

            Management, advantage Calgary

            Team culture established and demonstrated last year, large Advantage Calgary

            Clearly overall Advantage Calgary. Ratings based on prospect NHLE, Prospect Futures, #s, etc… Should be fun next year, let’s review again in the New Year.

          • smith

            You seem to be missing a couple key points here.
            1. The oilers scored less than the flames last year. (how can they have better centre’s and wingers when they score less? and allow more goals?)
            2. There team allowed more goals than the flames
            3. They were lower in the standings than the flames.

            As such – they are behind the flames in rebuilding their team. The question is can the oilers catch up to the flames rebuild. The flames have more prospects coming, but the oiler young players may be able to grow enough to pass the flames this year before the flames prospects can make a large difference to the flames.

          • RexLibris

            Those metrics don’t tell the whole story.

            Put it this way: describe for me expected the forward and defensive core of the Calgary Flames for the next two seasons and their sum total of NHL experience.

            I count Baertschi, Backlund, Monahan, Gaudreau, Hudler, Giordano (UFA after next season), Brodie, Wideman.

            Of those, I would suggest that there are three that can be expected to be core team members by the end of that period: Backlund, Brodie and Monahan.

            Will Gaudreau replace Hudler? Unknown. Who will replace Giordano as he gets older or leaves as an Unrestricted Free Agent? Will Baertschi develop into a top-six forward? Wideman isn’t at a stage in his career where one expects sustained improvement and when he begins to trail off which blueline prospect is going to fill in? Will it be another free-agent?

            There are a lot of questions that the Flames need to answer over the course of the next two seasons because they are at the beginning of the process.

            That they had a better season than the Oilers doesn’t really mean anything. The Avalanche had an abysmal season in 2013, and the Oilers finished higher than them in the standings and had a more efficient powerplay (8th overall to Colorado’s 24th) and penalty kill (9th overall to Colorado’s 20th).

            Edmonton also scored 82 5v5 goals that season, tied with Colorado, and allowed fewer, 91 to 99.

            Was Colorado further behind in their rebuild, despite beginning it one season earlier (2009) than Edmonton? At the end of 2013 one could have made that argument, while at the end of this season no one would have entertained the thought.

            Is the entirety of the difference due to Nathan McKinnon? Patrick Roy? No.

            The Avalanche rode a .927 sv% and a ridiculous sh% this season that is likely unsustainable. Their addition of Stuart isn’t going to help a blueline that boasts only one decent defender in the bunch – Tyson Barrie.

            The Flames had a .510 win rate in one-goal games last year, 10th in the league ahead of Detroit, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Boston, Phoenix, Ottawa, Washington, and the New York Rangers, to name a few. Chicago was 27th on that list at .425, while Edmonton was 28th at .424.

            Does that mean that Calgary was better than all those teams? Of course not, because that is a single statistical category that doesn’t illustrate the whole story.

            Sample size and context.

            How did the Oilers have better wingers than the Flames and yet manage to score fewer goals last season? Probably an effect of coaching change (again), poor schemes (the swarm), a dysfunctional powerplay which led the league in short-handed GA, and injuries in their top six.

            Even if it were none of those, the Flames also managed to outscore Los Angeles, Minnesota, Vancouver, and New Jersey and those teams have some fairly good talent at forward.

            The items you mention aren’t critical to determining which team is further along in the rebuilding process. They are the equivalent of player boxcars, interesting but they don’t tell the whole story.

        • Jeff Lebowski

          I agree these are assertions. But my thinking towards them went like this:

          -the oilers current problems are traced back to the final Pat Quinn year as hc. He was very negative. For the introduction of young players they needed a gentler voice from hc but also removal of Souray and his views from the incoming impressionable youngsters.

          Enter Renney.

          The problem became one of swinging the pendulum in the opposite direction. Nothing was wrong, there is no reason to be critical. Smile and keep positive. It sounds good but if you tolerate mistakes you accept mistakes you cement mistakes. Since not wanting to upset, there was ZERO ACCOUNTABILITY. Only tacit acceptance.

          Bad habits became cemented. Gagner focused only on what drew him praise- offense. What happens when you don’t discipline children? You don’t have to spank them but at least getting them to think about what they’re doing and why or is there another way is, in my opinion, crucial.

          Every subsequent year and coach repeated this. Brent Sutter would’ve been more appropriate, although no guarantee – he demands the attention to detail that often results in rounding out of games or becoming 200 ft players. As Hartley is doing, has done, will build on…

          There was no teaching therefore no learning therefore core players were expected to just figure it out. When what they really wanted was to be shown how to go about things.

          If that wasn’t bad enough they further cemented the lack of accountability by signing guys to big money too fast. Where is the incentive to improve? Derived from their stellar character? I won’t disparage but look at the comments and record.

          Calgary is ahead in rebuilding because of the process and culture plus the requisite leaders (guys who have ability to be competitive against top lines) to insulate. Young players have to earn their stripes and contracts through continuous improvement. EDM handed this out because mgmt forethought was missing.

          So it’s a matter of trajectory and extrapolation. You are correct, can’t today prove the future but we can look at recent history and trends.

          Tons more can be said about what the oilers continue to get wrong, namely drafting after the first round.

          As I mentioned it is conjecture but I see it like this. I suspect some oiler fans do as well. Hence the game day jersey tosses, the pages of lament.

          I believe CGY has crafted a more thorough and intelligent path for development, insulation and learning/improving – in a way that lessens pressure on the kids.

          Therefore CGY rebuild is ‘ahead’. Just being smarter by avoiding what EDM chose. Can anyone realistically say EDM has proven to be doing things the right way? Proof?

          I agree, saying not EDM is not equal to right. But it’s a better idea. Time will tell soon enough.

          In short EDM has given. CGY is demanding things be earned. I think the eyes up north have finally recognized this and will copy CGY. Ramsay. Also, you listen to the oilers and they talk of competition and not giving things out now (only now). Is it too late for some of them? It seems EDM is now focused on more ‘undoing’ than ‘rebuilding’ so CGY has moved ahead.

          -One person’s opinion.

          • RexLibris

            Okay, I’ll try to keep this brief, because I’ve tried to write a response before and it was getting way too long. Even for me.

            Coaching – Oilers did well hiring Renney who tried to shelter the young players as best he could, given the pathetic roster he inherited. Fault there goes to the GM who failed to even provide the basic level of talent required for the team to stand a chance.

            Drafting – Oilers have the worst record, historically, of 1st round draft picks in the NHL dating back to 1979. 42% of their 1st rounders went on to play 200+ NHL games, lowest in the league by a wide margin. Since 2008, with the promotion of Stu MacGregor, they have selected Eberle, Pajaarvi, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Klefbom, Yakupov, Nurse and Draisaitl.

            Eliminate the 1st overalls if you wish, and that still leaves you with a very strong draft record. So what you suggest:

            [t]ons more can be said about what the oilers continue to get wrong, namely drafting after the first round.

            seems a bit presumptuous.

            Accountability and culture: with all due respect, these terms are thrown around like candy in today’s society, be it sporting, political, corporate, or what have you. They mean nothing because they are too often applied as post hoc rationalizations or as talking points designed to obscure specifics.

            The Oilers signed Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins to long-term deals at a cap hit of $6 million a year. John Tavares signed for less at a slightly lower cap hit and Steven Stamkos signed for one heck of a lot more for a shorter term. All those players (aside from Eberle) were 1st overall picks playing for bad teams, coming off their 1st contracts, and hadn’t yet proven they could single-handedly drag a defunct franchise into the playoffs.

            Based on the financial landscape today, those contracts look like terrific bargains and of those three franchises the Oilers sit in the best position for at least the next five years.

            Hall has finished in the top ten in scoring the last few seasons, Nugent-Hopkins is an outstanding two-way talent with elite playmaking ability and Jordan Eberle has a 14% sh% over his career and has averaged a +4.55 CFrel playing for a team that bleeds chances like a hemophiliac stigmata.

            They’ve all proven themselves worthy of those contracts.

            Where is the incentive to improve? Derived from their stellar character? I won’t disparage but look at the comments and record.

            You really need to support this statement. What comments? Where? This is kind of a drive-by.

            Trajectory and extrapolation: I hate to say this but the Flames are headed downwards and have gotten significantly worse this off-season. What algorithm are you using to extrapolate them turning things around this year? Will Bennett play the season and post 60 points to replace Cammalleri? Will Monahan replicate his sh% from last season? Will Gaudreau make up Stempniak’s lost offense?

            The Oilers have improved their roster in virtually every category deemed lacking at one point last year save their C depth by adding Fayne and Nikitin on D, Fasth and Scrivens in net, and Pouliot and Purcell on the wings as possession players with size.

            History would suggest that any money bet on the Oilers drafting in the top five is reasonable to pay out, but at least the data suggests that an improvement is in the cards.

            I believe CGY has crafted a more thorough and intelligent path for development, insulation and learning/improving – in a way that lessens pressure on the kids.

            What path is that? Gaudreau is already listed on the Flames’ NHL roster http://flames.nhl.com/club/roster.htm as is Arnold, Van Brabant and Wolf. What intelligence is there in signing Engelland to a three-year deal? Who on earth is he going to shelter amongst the D-corps and to what effect? And if his role is to provide “shelter” of another kind, then I think we can safely put aside assertions of intelligence and craft amongst Flames management.

            Looking over the Flames roster this season there is virtually no shelter anywhere save for Backlund, Brodie and Giordano. Stajan is going to be fed to the bloody wolves on a nightly basis and on the road Hartley won’t be able to get his matchups and teams are going to key in on Monahan.

            Raymond, Backlund and Hudler might be the best bet this season for an actual NHL line and while I respect Hudler and would kill to have Backlund as an Oiler, frankly that isn’t a first line on 28 other teams in the league.

            Even going line-by-line, the item that many Flames fans held as one advantage over the Oilers these past few seasons, bottom six depth, is eroded.

            The Flames have one significant thing in their favour in Brodie and Giordano, but there is so little by way of talent coming to support those two that I expect this advantage to be short-lived.

            You have stated your opinion, and I respect that. I disagree and have put forth my reasons as objectively as possible.

            I look forward to the season in order to test our assertions.

          • smith

            I actually feel you are probably right about the oilers being better this coming year, but I do feel there is quite a love affair with inadequate forwards. The oilers have been one of the worst offensive teams the last 5 years. Why? Because there forwards are not good enough.

            Yes the flames lack good players, but they do have three players who can shelter the youth. Who do the oilers have to shelter youth? Boyd Gordon? He is a fourth line centre!

            This has been a recurring problem with the oilers. No high end possession players thus putting their youth (who have a lot of talent) in no win situations. The oilers are counting on RNH sheltering the German kid. How is that a good situation? I believe that the oiler forwards would be a lot better by this point if they could have slowly been put in tougher situations rather than put out in hard minutes right away.

            Last year the oilers had virtually no injuries to top 6 players (Gagner does not count as is more of a negative in the line up than a positive). What happens this year if 1 or more of the top young oiler players get hurt? Bottom 5 in draft again!

          • RexLibris

            Absolutely.

            One quibble, losing Gagner meant they didn’t (or at least felt they didn’t) have a 2nd line C.

            The only place they can afford an injury in the top six is the RW, and even that is contingent on Yakupov rebounding.

          • SydScout

            “What intelligence is there in signing Engelland to a three-year deal? Who on earth is he going to shelter amongst the D-corps and to what effect? And if his role is to provide “shelter” of another kind, then I think we can safely put aside assertions of intelligence and craft amongst Flames management”

            May have a misguided view of what Flames brass are trying to do, but becoming systematically worse via contracts, that have a negative impact on the team’s performance for the next year or two, will allow one possible two more top flight draft picks to enter the system. It’s broadly commented here that free agency is a very difficult route to accumulating these players.

            Correct me if I’m wrong, but Deryk’s contract is tanking without tying the team to him long term.

            Btw, if this is the chosen path of team management, the kids should play significant portions of the next season in the AHL, for both culture reasons (don’t get used to losing) as well as keeping the team near the cellar.

            And that contract gets them to the cap floor I think

  • piscera.infada

    Great article Kent and totally agree however…one important piece is missing to bring all of this together that will include a competitive team well beyond the 2016/17 season….one of McDavid or Eichel!

    Never again will this franchise be so close to securing a “Sidney Crosby”ish type player that will be it’s pillar for the next 15 years. Somehow BB/BT need to make this happen and I am not suggesting they throw the 2015 season! They can figure it out as did the Penguins and Blackhawks when they were in rebuild mode!

    • ChinookArchYYC

      I’m willing to bet that 90% of Oiler fans are hoping you are right. Six reasons why that’s not going to happen 1. The Flames have proven NHL vets to bridge the gap. 2. They won’t fire the coach every year for the next 5 seasons. 3. The have a competent management staff. 4. The Flames drafting outside round 1 are already providing better results in the last 3 years than the Oilers past 5 seasons, 6. There is no culture of failure in the Flames current DNA.

  • Michael

    The only way you can pay Backlund the $4.75 million per year listed under ‘Dollar bills’ is if he is a legitimate second line center.
    I think the jury is still out as to whether he has the offensive punch (not just the potential) needed to earn second line money.
    It’s time for Backlund to step up and prove that he is an NHL second liner, not just a default second liner on a weak Flames squad.
    The Flames have the money and contract space to reward his success, so all Backlund has to do is to stay healthy, drive play and put the puck in the net.

  • Derzie

    My point on the trajectory and the peak being later is that being ‘competitive’ by my definition means in the mix for the Stanley Cup. With parity, all teams are competitive in that any team can win on a given night. Making the playoffs has two flavours: 1) you’re here but the 2nd round is out of reach, 2) you have a chance to win it all. Those in category 2 are teams with a mix of youth, experience, skill, grit and goaltending. The article here shows 1, possibly 2 of the 4. We’ve got youth covered. We have some experience but won’t have enough in the short term without moves. Not sure how much grit we will have (face punchers don’t count. Grit means skilled hockey players that have tenacity). We may be in playoff category 2 by 2018/19 with some nice additions along the way.

  • Byron Bader

    Agree with all points of the article. I see the money being shelled out in 3 years to be drastically different for a few guys though. I see Gaudreau being in the 7M-8M range. Monahan 5M-6M perhaps higher if he takes off. Bennett will probably be in the 7M-8M range when he comes due as well. The second contract is gone. You go right from entry level money to big money these days. Kane, Toews, Eberle, Hall, RNH all got in that 6M range for their second contracts. If any of the fellas mentioned above in the “future core” produce close to those guys then they’ll be making north of 7M for sure. The bucks for Gio, Backlund and Brodie look about right. I think if the Flames get on Backlund and Brodie early this year and sign them long term they can shave 0.5M – 1M off of each of those contracts. If they’re not signed until next summer I see those contracts as absolutely dead on.

  • 1979

    I’m not sure how this rebuild is looking much better then the Oilers other then stronger center depth. Your prediction has the Flames offense maturing similarly to the Oilers rebuild with only a possibly over the hill D-man in Giordano to anchor the defense. Goaltending looks also similar. Bring in a decent veteran to hold things over and mentor the young guys aka Habby. The problem being none of the Flames goalie prospects are more of a sure thing then Dubnyk was and we all know how that turned out.

    The Flames talent pool was depleted similarly to the Oilers and will likely take a similar timeframe, convincing yourself otherwise is a bit of a fools errand.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    I really wish people would stop considering RW and LW as separate positions (when discussing organizational depth). I realize I’m starting to sound (read?) like a broken record here, but almost all wingers can play on either side.

    That line of thinking has led people to propose the Flames trade away LW depth for RWers… why? Why bother? We have wingers, we have centers who can be moved to the wing, we don’t need more wingers. We need defense.

    • RexLibris

      I don’t entirely agree, but with some exceptions.

      Some players can switch from L to R. Some can’t.

      Take the defense for instance.

      Lots of talk in Edmonton about the team drowning in LD players and prospects, and a severe shortage of RD options.

      Now, as prospects go, Musil and Simpson can play the right side as LD and feel perfectly comfortable.

      Andrew Ference, on the other hand (see what I did there), was tried on the right side and it didn’t work.

      The Oilers at one time played Randy Gregg, Charlie Huddy and Craig Muni all on their off wing without significant issue.

      However, many players aren’t comfortable moving from one side to the other. They just can’t make the adjustment. Even Ovechkin complained about making the LW/RW switch and said that it took him nearly half a season to adjust.

      I think that the distinction about a player moving from one wing to another depends greatly on the person involved.

      It also depends on a coach’s deployment. Eakins moved Perron and Yakupov to alternate wings because he prefers that a winger play in a position so that his stick falls naturally against the boards.

      While you are right to say that the LW/RW distinction isn’t set in stone and it is premature to suggest that a player be traded simply because he shoots one way or another, it isn’t something that should be entirely disregarded either.

      Many players have habits and comfort zones that they simply can’t break out of and perform to the same degree. Moving one from one position to another needs to be assessed on an individual basis with the understanding that it doesn’t always work out.