1. What do the Flames need most?
With Brad Treliving now having completed his whirlwind media tour to assure the world that the Flames are going to be run competently, and the team having already put its farm club in Glens Falls (I have a hilarious note on that in a minute), the focus now turns to the coming draft and beyond.
Treliving, as any new GM of a team in full and bald-faced rebuild mode would, takes the gig with a lot of stuff already sitting on his plate. The first of these, I think, is the most evident is addressing the Flames’ NHL roster for the coming season, for a couple of reasons.
First and foremost, the team’s focus should be on getting the young players in particular more experience at the NHL level if they deserve it (i.e. don’t just “pull a Monahan” and plug whoever gets drafted No. 4 overall into the big club’s roster for the year just because you feel like it’s a good marketing strategy), and spending as little as physically possible while doing it. The fact of the matter is that this team is unfortunately going to have to overpay some veterans just to get to the cap floor, which is fine, and I really hope you guys are amped to see Dany Heatley pull $5 million a year because it’s 100 percent going to happen.
But those players cannot, because of their status as veterans or the size of their paychecks, be given preferential treatment over the younger, better players on the roster. Which, by the way, gets into that whole philosophical thing about, “How much should you pay young players,” and that’s a debate for another day. (The answer is “as much as they deserve.”)
2. Young forwards
The Flames’ focus in the offseason should start with targeting and acquiring forwards under the age of 27 or 28 or so who can therefore be expected to contribute for more years of their possibly lengthy deals than the ones that will happen while the Flames are still rebuilding. Even if you think this is a team that can “rebuild on the fly” (you’re wrong, P.S.) the fact of the matter is that competing for anything resembling a deep playoff run is still at least a few years away. The team will need top-six guys at that point, and they’re not all coming from the current prospect pool.
The other thing to keep in mind is that this is not going to be a prime free agent destination, and therefore trying to grab guys like Paul Stastny, while a good idea, is pie in the sky fantasy stuff. Guys who fit that category and can probably be had by a team like Calgary probably include Mason Raymond, Benoit Pouliot, Nikolai Kulemin, et al.
All are bound to be bargain guys who the corsi crowd loves because they drive possession, and teams seem to undervalue consistently. A few years for each, a little more money than other teams would offer, and they’ll happily sign with Calgary, thus bolstering the team’s offensive numbers and still providing some “veteran presence” or whatever you want to call it. If you believe that older players teach younger ones how to succeed in this league, you should want a team of guys like this to impart that specific brand of wisdom.
3. Young defensemen
There frankly are not a lot of guys who fit the young-ish UFA mold in this regard who will not have a line out the door for their services. Matt Niskanen, for instance, played very well in Pittsburgh this year but seems likely to re-sign there, and even if he doesn’t, he’s not going to come to Calgary because of the offers he’s very likely to get from other teams. Period.
And frankly, there just aren’t a lot of possession defensemen out there who fit the “younger guy” mold. Anton Stralman, I guess, but he already had one kick at the can in Calgary and got 86ed. So you have to look at puck-moving D who don’t score a ton but who tilt the ice in their teams’ favor and are a little bit older.
One of these days I’m going to write something about market inefficiencies in the NHL today that the Flames can exploit, and the poster boy for that type of defenseman is going to be Tom Gilbert. Raw deal in Edmonton, went to Florida of all places without a contract, earned a one-year deal, played first-pairing minutes with Brian Campbell (another defenseman who’s criminally underrated in this league because of the price tag on a deal he signed a million years ago), and dominated opponents. Again, this was for Florida, so it’s not like he had a lot of help in getting the puck to the far end of the ice. He did it anyway. Ron Hainsey also fits into this mold, though he’s already 33.
It might also be wise for the Flames to target a few guys who might be out of favor with their current clubs (Dustin Byfuglien, Jake Gardiner) in trade, though obviously that wouldn’t be cheap or necessarily easy to pull off. It’s not quite saying, “It would be good if the Flames traded for Alex Ovechkin,” but it’s not all that far off either.
4. To be bad
All of this, though, needs to be done with an eye toward continuing to be in the bottom one-fifth or -sixth of the league. The good news is that if they add those guys, and a few other, more costly veterans, they’re not going to get appreciably better in the standings. These are guys who make a difference for the team, but they’re not Difference Makers, if you understand my meaning.
The improvement over this past season’s performance isn’t likely to be substantial, but it’ll be there, and it’ll be a good foundation to build on when the team is ready to take a more significant step. And that, I think, is what a legitimate rebuild is all about.
5. And finally
Just a quick, funny note that came out of the Heat’s move to Glens Falls: Calgary wasn’t the first choice. Not that this should come as any great surprise, I guess, because of the geographic considerations (i.e. no one in upstate New York cares at all about the Flames) and also the fact that the Flames aren’t exactly a “hot” brand in the league right now. So no, of course they weren’t the first choice to take the Adirondack Phantoms’ place.
But the Heat also wasn’t the second, third, or even fourth choice for the city. It was the fifth choice. None of those teams were named in the article, but one flat-out refused, and three more said, “We’ll think about it.”
As for the Flames, “Their interest in Glens Falls resurfaced at the last minute this year.” Wonder what sparked that sudden new interest… Oh right, Abbotsford told them to take a hike. Right right right.