Revisiting Calgary’s Age Gap Conundrum

About a year ago, we spent some time looking at the Flames’ age structure.

Back then, the Flames were still somewhat mired in a problem: they had a lot of older players, and a handful of younger players, and not a lot of NHL-ready players in that middle age group. To be successful or, heck, just to survive the aging of your roster, you want to have a reasonably balanced age structure with younger players coming up at a fairly steady rate to spell off your declining and departing veterans.

The Flames have improved a bit in this area just over the past 13 months – through two free agent signing periods and an entire regular season.

Bolded players are established players who are locks for the NHL roster. Underlined players are names I expect to see at some point on Calgary’s roster in 2014-15 but who aren’t locks yet.

  • 1981: McGrattan
  • 1982: Glencross, Engelland, Hiller
  • 1983: Stajan, Giordano, Wideman
  • 1984: Hudler, Jones
  • 1985: Raymond
  • 1986: Smid, Ramo
  • 1987: Bollig, Russell
  • 1989: Backlund, Byron, Wolf
  • 1990: Bouma, Colborne, Brodie, Hanowski, Jooris, Cundari
  • 1991: Van Brabant, Ortio, Ramage
  • 1992: Agostino, Arnold, Baertschi, Elson, Ferland, Reinhart
  • 1993: Gaudreau, Wotherspoon, Granlund, Gilmour, Culkin
  • 1994: Monahan, Carroll, Harrison, Jankowski, Poirier, Gillies, Sieloff, Roy
  • 1995: Klimchuk, Smith, Kanzig, Rafikov
  • 1996: Bennett, Ollas Mattsson, McDonald, Hickey

Ignoring late birthdays for simplicity, the Flames have 7 NHLers over 30 – not shockingly, the majority of the team’s formal leadership group. They also have 6 NHLers 25 or younger; and these including possession monster Mikael Backlund, emerging defensive star T.J. Brodie, bottom-six functional grit maven Lance Bouma, and wunderkind Sean Monahan.

Last year’s “tweener” NHLers are all gone, and these guys (Joey MacDonald, Chris Breen, Derek Smith, Ben Street, etc) were all significantly older than this season’s crop of probable “tweeners.” If you presume that Tyler Wotherspoon is the team’s probable sixth/seventh defender – and that’s not a bad bet – and that the team’s last two forward spots go to an underlined guy, suddenly the team’s age balance tilts towards the younger end of the spectrum, which you would probably expect it to early in the rebuild.

Most interesting is the team’s group of players aged 26-to-30: Brandon Bollig, Kris Russell, Ladislav Smid, Karri Ramo, Mason Raymond, Jiri Hudler and David Jones. In other words: your middle-pairing (or so) defenders, and three of your top nine forwards, but nobody that you look at as potential first pairing or first liners. In essence, these are your middle age/talent players; they’re not expected to progress much more, but they’re the pretzels in the Chex Mix that is your roster – filling things out and hopefully providing some substance over time.

Over time: the older key players regress and become your middle group (or disappear entirely as younger players supplant them), and your younger players either (a) become your top players and push the older guys down (or out), or (b) the younger players top out in the middle group and settle out there. In other words: a cycle of aging and progression that didn’t really occur for the Flames much between 2008 and 2012.

Looking ahead a bit, some age observations: Man, that 1991 group is thin, showing how bad 2009’s drafting was. Not much of an age gap, though, as the 1992 and 1993 age groups are likely going to be well-represented this year, and there are a bunch of potential NHL regulars there. Beyond these guys it’s too early to tell, but the team is hopeful that (at the very least) Emile Poirier, Morgan Klimchuk and Sam Bennett become NHLers. If a handful of the remaining 1994-96 players become tweeners in the next few years, the age balance of the team will likely be retained as the team inches away from being “rebuilding” and towards being “competitive.”

      • FeyWest

        Dangit Ryan making me want some Chex Mix…. good article though, it’s nice to see we’ve got a good flow of new blood coming through the pipes to replace some of the older vets when it matters! And we’re keeping your newly minted monikers for the kids.

        Side note: not sure if it’s just me but the link you put for the age gap challenge isn’t working for me.

      • Lordmork

        Looking back at the 2013 article makes me realize just how much this team has changed since then. Back then, we still had Tanguay, Sarich, and Begin. And compared to this time last year, the number of guys born post-1990 who might impact the roster is a lot bigger, as well. Seems like positive progress to me.

      • FeyWest

        “Over time: the older key players regress and become your middle group (or disappear entirely as younger players supplant them)…” The Stajan contract gives us an idea of how this is supposed to work. He gets paid less each year, and I’m guessing ideally Burke and Treliving would like to see him slide down the roster:

        2014-15 – #2-3C (behind Backlund, and increasingly, Monahan)
        2015-16 – #3-4C (with Bennett stepping in)
        2016-18 – a utility forward, plugged in where required

      • Stitch

        Excellent article. Agree on all counts except….Johnny Hockey will never see the AHL.

        This guy is far more talented than you give him credit for and will easily make the starting roster. He will be a huge surprise in preseason to justify a starting roster position.

        This guy is Mr. Elite. If he was a couple of inches taller we would not be having this discussion. Regardless he is shifty and knows how to protect himself and play with the big boys.

      • Greg

        “that 1991 group is thin, showing how bad 2009’s drafting was”

        Just noticed it’s not only 1991. Every guy of note on the list, all the way back to 1984, was acquired via signing or trade (with the obvious exceptions of Backlund, Bouma, and Brodie). So it wasn’t just 2009’s drafting that was bad, it was all of 2003-2009.

        I mean, we’ve always know the Sutter years were bad for drafting, but I don’t think I fully realized the extent of it until just now. That’s stunning.

        Thank goodness we managed to get out of it with those 3 Bs. We’d be jealous of the Oilers rebuild right now otherwise.