Time for a Deal?

burke.holmgren_070112

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
others.

Those assets are relatively easy to grab – darn it, there I
go again!

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?

What_if_Machine

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
unanticipated collapse.

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:

2014-04-29_12-45-33

These are potential blueline acquisitions ranked by CorsiRel and QualComp.

2014-04-29_12-46-02

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.

Sobriety Test

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
outrun you!”

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?

The 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
admirable.

In Review

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. 

  • Byron Bader

    Hey great post Rex!

    Excellent creative and original thinking. You bring a lot of value by providing an alternate view of the rebuild and a different path that could be followed.

    Regarding the detail of each trade proposed there are things I would change, but the concept of trading bold and large for immediate known quantities versus the risk entailed with drafting and developing is interesting even at this stage.

    While new ideas or proposals are easy to diminish or trash, I for one would like to hear more if the ideas are well thought-out, well-written, and have some overall strategic approach (rather than the usual lets-trade-our-crap for Crosby etc).

    Regarding the specifics of your plan I think it comes down to managing the risk/reward of each approach.

    One approach is a little more boring and patient by focusing on picks and development; the other is bolder and more immediate, using high picks to secure immediate assets.

    I tend to like the former, but your article gives me pause for thought that the second approach, while riskier, may also have some merit..:)

  • RexLibris

    First Burke should not be at the meeting, it should be the new GM treliving. However nothing would be done without consent. Keep us far away from Kane please, he seems like a lose cannon. Keep plugging away. Speaking of the new GM I wonder if he has any significant insights to diamonds in Phoenix organization also is there anyone that Phoenix would be willing to over pay from the Flames. If there was someway to get their first rounder I would love it.

  • RexLibris

    I like it. Really enjoyable article.

    I agree on almost all your thoughts, but I am a little scared on Evander Kane’s attitude and I like Smid as a 5-6 guy. Kane would more than likely butt heads with Hartley and doesn’t exhibit the type of Mark Giordanoish type persona that is the identity of this Calgary Flames team. Any time a really skilled 22 year old 1st line forward is being shopped, big red flags go up. In my head I keep seeing those photos of him in Vegas during the lockout holding his cash like a drug dealer. Not good. But who knows what he’s really like. His skill is undeniable.

  • Purple Hazze

    Why does it seem like the only 2 options are to suck and draft high and hope your picks work out or trade away our picks for immediate help.

    Like all things in life, the middle path is the way! If a young elite forward or D-man becomes disgruntled over the next 2 seasons you can bet Burke will be in the mix to obtain said player. I can’t see him making moves for the sake of making moves nor should we. Plus not all of our problems have to be solved with this summers free agent pool.

    Teams are dynamic and things are changing all the time, with some good drafting over the past few seasons we’ve got some assets that we’ll be able to deal should the right deal arise, with the right deal being the key word there.

  • Tenbrucelees

    Well written and interesting thoughts even if I’m not 100% sold on the particular deals suggested.
    I like entertaining the idea that nothing is untradeable and that all assets can be flipped for something better for the good of the team.

    Obviously looking to trade assets, be they draft picks, prospects or vets is more risky strategy than being shit for ten years but come on, where’s the fun in that? If you constantly terrible then you are basically doing a Tambelini. You need to know when to take a gamble.

  • RexLibris

    Unless Reinhart or Ekblad fall I’d be okay with moving this years pick for O’Reily, but next years pick for Kane, I don’t know about that.

    The only thing I think the Flames should do this year is pick up Niskanen in free agency for a decent contract to shore up our defence.

  • loudogYYC

    Not sure I get the point here, Rex. You mention D and RW as what they most lack, and then suggest mortgaging the future to pick up a LW and a C??? Those are the 2 positions the Flames are deepest at!

    It’s like suggesting the Oilers trade Hall and Eberle for first overall this year and defensive prospects.

    The Flames are in the very unique position of clear needs, high draft position, oodles of cap space and relatively low STH & fan base expectation. If Burke and Treliving want to accelerate the rebuild the smart thing to you is take advantage of the situation by offering cap relief to teams that need it, for a price; use at least 3 of their top 5 picks and use the 2 others as trade chips, and then address the remaining areas through free agency.

    If the Flames take Havlat, Lupul or Booth on trade, they would address 2 major areas of need: NHL wingers and additional top 90 draft picks (likely the price SJ or VAN would have to pay to dump expensive players). Not only do they address the need for a RW who’s probably equal or better than any available-to-Calgary RW UFA, they also pick up a trade chip for next seasons deadline.

    Players expendable at the 2015 deadline will be necessary for 2 reasons: Flames need to continue stocking up on draft picks and prospects, and they have to create spots in the line up for their up and coming prospects who will be gearing up for 2015/16. That’ll be when Gaudreau, Reinhart, Poirier and Knight should be called up.

    • RexLibris

      If Kane was a RW this would be easy.

      They need RW and C, O’Reilly scratches one of those itches, adding Kane is extra and pushes Baertschi down the ladder a touch or protects Gaudreau for a short time.

      If you can’t find a RW trade that makes the team significantly better, go the UFA route. It only costs money and, if properly negotiated, doesn’t have to hamstring your salary cap in future years.

      The cap relief idea has been mentioned many times in countless online forums and it very rarely happens. With the cap increasing marginally this off season, and many teams still having one or two of their cap-compliant buyout options available this isn’t that easy a sell.

      Again, I’m not saying the Flames should do this. But they could, and the team would arguably be immediately improved as a result.

      • seve927

        Would shifting Kane or another winger to the right side be out of the question?

        I don’t think we need to focus to much on which side a winger plays on.

        Top teams build from defence and center.

      • loudogYYC

        Unless they can land a Seguin type C, I don’t see the point in another defense-first C like O’Reilly. Between Backlund, Stajan and Monahan that position will be covered for years.

        If the Flames trade top 90 picks at this point it should be for a 2nd pairing Dman or a RW like Neal or Simmonds. Anything else would be a part time solution and those are available in the UFA market.

        The cap relief idea hasn’t happened yet, but there are 3 teams that have already used up their 2 compliance buyouts and will be in cap trouble in the summer. Something has to give.

        I like your idea of swinging for the fence with a trade, but it’s too early in the rebuild stage to be trading a 1st round pick.

    • RexLibris

      Ten months ago he was the Holy Grail of young prospects and every fan was wracking his brain trying to come up with plausible trade scenarios to acquire him.

      He had a bad series. He isn’t alone, and the Flames would be a far better team with him on it than not.

      • BurningSensation

        Re: Couturier, O’Reilly

        While both are very nice players (VERY nice), neither actually addresses an existing need.

        I’d be thrilled to trade for either, but the holes in our roster would still need to be fixed.

        Personally, I’d prefer deal with Wpg to bring in Bogosian (big, young, mean 2 way defender with lots of upside.

        And as long as we are pilfering Philly’s roster, Voracek would be my target.

      • T&A4Flames

        I assume we’re talking about Couturier. I’m not saying he’s not a good player, I’m just saying, he’s no longer what we need. Where does he fit when we still have Monahan, Backlund and Stajan with guys like Granlund, Knight, Arnold and Reinhart waiting in the wings. Like you said, we need RW and D. We should focus on those needs if we’re going to make trades.

        And I agree that the proposals you mentioned make us better immediatley, Long term I think it hurts us. It’s like we cut the rebuild off before we are even 1/2 way there. Orgnaizations like DET get years of success because their foundation is strong and constantly have a rotation of prospects going through when others are ready to make the jump. We havent even started the begining of the cycle. When Guys like Baertschi, KNight etc are graduating, others should be moving into their spots. That takes a few more strong drafts.

  • T&A4Flames

    Nice article Rex. I have a few comments.

    1) If Ekblad or Reinhart fall to 4, that pick goes nowhere!

    2) That 2015 1st rnd’r HAS to be lottery pick protected.

    I know there is interest from several teams on Evander Kane. However, I would rather use that distraction to go after a young player that is a better fit now, Charlie Coyle or even Alex Chaisonn.

    I know people on here are down on Wideman and see him as a potential buy-out candidate, which I just dont get at all. If you’re willing to spend that money, just retain some in a trade. Wideman at $3.75 per is a pretty decent value for a legit top 4 guy that has good career offensive #’s and can play big minutes. MIN needs help on the PP as well as getting another D that can play big minutes to give Suter a break. I would try to structure a deal to get Coyle from MIN using Wideman + Maybe Wides and Byron.

  • acg5151

    It’s doubtful that the Flames get a top 5 pick. The Islanders and Oilers are probably going to hold onto their picks. The Sabres and Panthers will demand a king’s ransom for their picks, if they’re in.

    The Flames have nothing that is really worth a high pick. Glencross is worth a late first rounder. Smid is worth like a 3rd or a 4th maybe. UFA rights have been going for 4th rounders so if they decide to trade his UFA rights, the best they will get is maybe a third.

    Hudler would also be worth a late first rounder and Stajan would in all likelihood go for a second round pick at most. That doesn’t leave the FLames with many assets to trade.

    They could trade some younger prospects but I don’t think that’s a good idea. It would probably be best if the Flames didn’t make a trade, drafted smart, picked guys off waivers, signed reclamation projects to smart deals and then flip them or dump them, or keep them if they’re really good, and consider trading later in the rebuild if something good comes along.

  • BurningSensation

    If Burke has the opportunity to land a guy like O’Reilly or Couturier he should do it. I don’t thinking adding one of either of those guys is a step backwards or hampers your organization long term. Both guys are already established NHLers, the Avs were not thrilled with having to pay O’Reilly more than they wanted to.

    Long rebuilds are bad, people say Chicago and Pittsburgh were really bad before that. In the case of the Hawks it’s truer they missed the playoffs 5 straight years before the 08’/09′ season and only qualified once between 1997/98′-2008/2009. However, Pittsburgh missed the playoffs 4 straight years but did make the playoffs every year from 1990-91-2000-01. Both of those teams landed supremely talented players in the draft (Crosby, Toews, etc.) In the last 13 years the Bruins only missed the playoffs twice.

    On the other side, the Panthers have only made the playoffs twice in the last 15 years, the Isles have made the playoffs 5 times in the last 20 years. They’ve had some quality draft picks but a lot of poor goaltending, defence, basically the Oilers syndrome.

    I think the goal these days is to extend that window of winning a championship. You need a core that can not only consistently make the post-season but one that can challenge for a Stanley Cup year in and year out. I don’t disagree that you need size to compete in the West and Pacific division but you need talent with that size.

  • prendrefeu

    I just don’t see how those moves help us really…

    Do we need two more average sized left handed forwards?

    And unless we get Niskanen I don’t see much in the UFA defensive pool to be too keen on.

    Don’t get me wrong O’Riely and Kane are great players but like you said our organizational weaknesses are elite talent and RW and top-4 defenseman.

    I don’t really see how any of those guys fill any of those holes.

    Kane and O’Reily are high end guys but are still more complimentary pieces as oppossed to primary pieces.

    Point is draft and develop our own talent.

  • Michael

    Everything should always be on the table depending on the return.

    Still, the Flames are further ahead one year into their rebuild than the Oilers are after 8 years (a low blow Rex, but it had to be done!).

    The Flames als have a glut of prospects at the forward position that could be moved for more depth at D.

    Agree with Michael that I’d rather grab a Couturier than a Spezza though and with Parallex to just stay patient.

  • Michael

    Burke loves big moves at the draft, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see our first rounder ‘available’ at the draft. I would much rather use it for a younger talent like ROR / Couturier than thrown in for a older established vet like Spezza.
    The rebuild ends this season, this club has a mandate to be in on the playoff hunt next season, so I am expecting some big moves this off season. Trading away our 2014/2015 first rounders should be on the table, provided the return is strong enough.