1. 25 years on
It seems as though Calgary made something of a big deal over the weekend of the fact that it was the 25th anniversary of the Flames winning the Stanley Cup. I lump such celebrations in with the kinds seen in Vancouver this past winter, which looked fondly back at the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1994: Tedious garbage.
It’s all well and good to look back fondly on things, I guess, but to have a full-fledged celebration of things that happened more than, say, two decades ago, is needless. In much the same way the Flames crassly peddling “hope” to sell tickets is disgusting, so too is peddling nostalgia. People have their happy memories and that’s fine, but no one needs to hear all about the Crazy Stuff that the team went through up to and after it won the Cup.
Now, the obvious argument here is that Vancouver didn’t win a thing and Calgary did, and clearly I understand that. However, it’s a distraction from what you should think of the state of the team today, which in both cases is far below where anyone would like them to be.
So yes, think back fondly when you want to, but be wary of big celebrations. Winning a Cup is a big deal, obviously — and the Flames arguably could have done it more than once had they not been in the same province as the most impressive NHL team of the post-expansion era — but having won it 25 years ago is pretty much the opposite of a big deal.
2. A model to admire
It’s a little bit trite to say that the Flames should look to the way in which the Los Angeles Kings, who are looking pretty good to win their second Stanley Cup in three years, are a team upon which to base one’s philosophies, but here we are. The Flames should look at what the Kings do, in every aspect of their approach.
Now, a lot of people would tell you that the Kings have never been truly terrible — further refutation of “you gotta tank to be good” for those who still believe that — and that really isn’t true at all. From 2004-09, they picked in the top 11 every year, including never picking lower than fifth from 2007-09. Drew Doughty was the No. 2 overall pick in 2008, and he’s the only guy from that latter group left on the roster. Thomas Hickey (2007’s No. 4) didn’t pan out, and Brayden Schenn (2009’s No. 5) was traded to Philadelphia with Wayne Simmonds for Mike Richards.
Another guy from that group who worked out pretty well is Anze Kopitar, the No. 11 pick in 2005. Lauri Tukonen came in the same spot the year before (another miss), and Jonathan Bernier is doing very well with the Leafs, but was probably traded at a point when his value wasn’t particularly high. Trevor Lewis, meanwhile, was the No. 17 pick in ’06.
The Flames might not be as bad next year as they were this time around — though one can hope, for their sake, that’s not the case — but even if they’re picking in the 10-12 range, there’s value there. The Kings are showing that. They do occasionally miss (Tukonen, Hickey, Colten Teubert, Derek Forbort) but when they were bad, they loaded up on assets and were right far more often than they were wrong. That’s the smart play.
The Flames have a long way to go. At least currently. Sven Baertschi (on the fence) and Greg Nemisz and Tim Erixon and Leland Irving. Eesh. The only first-round pick the Flames have made since Dion Phaneuf that’s really proven himself at the NHL level over a long period of time is Mikael Backlund, and even then, it took until this year, when he was 25, to break 30 points in a season. You have to have high hopes for Sean Monahan, but again, that’s a ways down the road before it’s a sure thing.
3. What else do they do well?
Where the Kings really make hay, though, is their second-round picks and beyond. Picks Nos. 31-61 are where they got Simmonds, Slava Voynov, Kyle Clifford, and Tyler Toffoli. Later selections include Alec Martinez, Andrei Loktionov, Jonathan Quick, Dwight King, and so on.
All but Simmonds are players who are making major impacts on the entire roster, and more importantly keeping it pretty cheap so that the Kings can continue paying their true stars the money they deserve.
At some point you have to say that drafting is luck; the Red Wings, for example, aren’t drafting geniuses because they got Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg with sixth- and seventh-round picks. They threw darts at a dartboard more or less blindfolded and hit the bullseye. The Kings’ late-round picks don’t seem to be anywhere near the caliber of those two (i.e. not “surefire first-ballot Hall of Famers”) but they’re getting a lot of value in rounds 2-5 or so, and that’s where leagues are truly won and lost.
It must be said that the Flames are doing, well, only-okay in this regard. The number of mid-round picks they’ve taken in the last 10 years with more than 100 games of NHL experience is only six. TJ Brodie was a massive win, Lance Bouma might end up being a decent NHLer. And the rest are not really big difference-makers, nor are they with the organization any more: Brandon Prust, Dustin Boyd, Adam Pardy, and Keith Aulie.
It’s fine to trade guys, of course. But no one is going to mistake Brandon Prust for Dwight King.
There is, though, room for improvement here. Within the next few years, Joni Ortio might be a good NHL goalie. Max Reinhart and Bill Arnold could turn out alright. Markus Granlund put up solid numbers in Abbotsford this year. Tyler Wotherspoon may be something. And it seems like both the Johnny Gaudreau and Jon Gillies picks could end up being home runs.
But with the Kings, the late picks are proving the team has had success in this regard, and their first-round picks are panning out as well. Often, good drafting is all you need to succeed, as evidenced by…
4. Working the phones
It must be said that the Kings are very, very shrewd on the trade market. They haven’t traded a high-quality prospect and really had it come back to bite them. Would they like to have Wayne Simmonds on the roster? Obviously. But they’re not exactly bumming about having Jeff Carter, even if he’s playing his worst hockey in years right now.
The Kings seem to be best at getting guys when their value is lowest. Jeff Carter desperately wanted out of Columbus, and was therefore snagged for the low, low price of Jack Johnson and a first-round pick. Worked out great. So too, it seems, will the Marian Gaborik-for-Matt Frattin, a second-round pick, and a conditional third.
Or how about getting Justin Williams for Patrick O’Sullivan and a second-round pick that they’d already acquired from Calgary?
In fact, let’s put it another way. Here’s a list of guys the Kings signed as free agents who are important to the cause today: Jake Muzzin and Willie Mitchell. And Muzzin was a free agent signed out of junior.
Go down the whole list of guys not yet mentioned in this column who played even one game for the Kings this year. Robyn Regehr? Trade. Jordan Nolan? Seventh-round pick. Tanner Pearson? First-round pick two years ago (No. 30). Matt Greene? Trade. Linden Vey? Fourth-round pick. Colin Fraser? Trade. Martin Jones? Undrafted free agent. Andrew Campbell? Third-round pick.
The Flames do this to some extent, but not to any great effect. The only free agents on the Flames’ roster as it stands today are Jiri Hudler, Mark Giordano (again, undrafted free agent), Dennis Wideman, and a few other minor contributors. But this is a team that’s rebuilding, and in the heights of its power, such as it was, that number was considerably higher. That has to be the path going forward in a cap world.
5. So here’s an idea
Fire Treliving, hire Lombardi. No problem at all.