Thinking About The Stages

In reflecting on the season thus far, I found myself repeatedly coming back to a concept expounded early last season by Brian Burke. In a press conference, he used a metaphor to explain a team’s progression through a rebuild and towards contention.

In short: a team crawls, then it walks, then it runs, then it sprints.

In terms of Calgary, the crawling season was last season. The Flames had serious, serious deficiencies – granted, partially from blowing the whole thing up – and the season was primarily used to identify some of those deficiencies and fixing them. In short: the team moved forward, gradually, and identified ways to become better.

You can make an argument that the team has progressed well into the “walking” stage. The club has fixed some of their deficiencies and are basically waiting for some of their key pieces to progress. Look at Sean Monahan: he’s gone from being a raw rookie to being a strong center. There are a few other players in key roles that are progressing, and the notion is that once the team moves from being “promising” and towards being merely “a good team,” they’re leaving the “walking” stage and entering the run.

A team that’s “running” is a good team that has a lot of things going for it. They’re a playoff team regularly. A “sprinting” team is one that’s scary-good and dangerous to play against. They’re a Cup contender, ideally.

Anyway, it’s a holiday weekend and this was a thought rattling through my mind. What do you think of this concept? Am I off my rocker? Do you have a different way of conceptualizing a team’s progression?

  • ville de champignons

    I think it’s a good metaphor, however, early in the stages you have to identify where any weaknesses or inefficiencies are. If you are walking and you find your knees are a bit weak you have to strengthen them before you begin to run. Hard to do mid sprint. For example, San Jose was a force for about a decade but they never had a good clutch performer in the playoffs. Washington was deadly but lacked a good shutdown defenseman, Vancouver was unreal in 2011-12 but always had a really stupid logo and terrible fans.

  • ville de champignons

    And it works in reverse too. Case in point: The Oilers. They’ve gone from sprinting in the 80’s, skipped right over the running and walking parts and went straight to the crawling, followed by that lovable toe-sucking stage.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Calgary is at the stage where they look like they can walk, but actually need a piece of furniture or something to hold on to. If they let go, they might take off, or they might fall on their butt.

    This is pretty much where Monahan was last year with his deceptively productive 20+ goal rookie season. He looked like he was walking, but we knew he wast as advanced as he looked. Most of us predicted that his production would decline this season, even though his advanced stats would improve. That would be the equivalent of falling on your butt… development is happening, even though it might not look that way to casual observers. Instead, he took off and is now chasing after the neighbor’s cat.

    That’s where the Flames are now. Their playoff position makes them look better than they are, and the advanced stats clearly back that up. They look like they can walk, but its only because they’re holding on to furnture. Next year, they could easily take off running (like Monahan didi), or they might fall on their butts and have to crawl back over to the couch again.

    But I don’t think they’re actually walking yet. But don’t sweat it. Theyll be walking soon. Very soon.

  • Brent G.

    I appreciate this is not likely to be a popular opinion.

    Given how the Flames have found success this year, I would likely deem them to be in the walking stage. They have some really nice pieces but also some very big holes in the team today. That being said, it honestly would not surprise me if the Flames take a step back next year. They are clearly over achieving today and their success reminds me of Ottawa from a few years ago. They squeaked into the playoffs and took a big step back since.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think this team is still 4+ years away from being at the running stage.

  • Burnward

    I dunno. I look at this team as having everything pretty much in place.

    Solid top four on the back end? Check.

    Solid goaltending? Check.

    Strength up the middle? Check.

    Skilled wingers? Check.

    Positive veteran presence? Check.

    Good coaching? Check.

    There aren’t a whole lot of reasons for me to believe they can’t be in a similar spot next season barring some major injuries.

    • Brent G.

      I think you are a bit optimistic. I do like the centre depth; the coaching and the goaltending is adequate.

      Hartley talked about what he had when he won a cup: three big minute eating defencemen. We are short one of those. With one, we can certainly live with Wideman/Russell/Diaz (or Wotherspoon) doing bottom 6 and PP duty. Smid and Engelland are still nightmarish in their own zone no matter how many shots they block or their quality in the room.

      The wingers may be skilled but the really skilled wingers, with the exception of Hudler, are pretty young. I don’t really regard Jones, Glencross or really anyone but Gaudreau as really skilled at wing. Baertschi, sure, but he’s young and even now he may not make it. I think the Flames are still weak on the wings, particularly right wing.

      I think the Flames are short a few pieces and I wouldn’t say they are near to running yet. Maybe next year, but they could still fall back on their ass too.

    • Brent G.

      Hudler is getting up there in age and is undersized (a poor mix beside Gaudreau). Guys like Raymond, Jones, Glencross can finish beside a star playmaker but they themselves are not pure “creators”.

      We definitely need more wing firepower… Hopefully a guy like Poirier, Baertschi, Granlund, or Jankowski can be a long term solution flanking Monahan, Bennett, and Backlund.

      I also disagree that we have a solid Top 4 D. We have a fantastic Top Pairing and a steep falloff below. Russell is a good #4 or #5 beside a big strong physical #3 or #6 but as-is he’s an undersized #3 which won’t get the job done. Ask yourself what Wideman is offering when his slap shot isn’t going in (i.e. 93% of the time) and it’s simply not enough for a middle pairing guy.

      • Burnward

        I can see that point of view, for sure. Huds is still on the good side of 30 though and doesn’t play a game that takes a huge toll on his body.

        I do think Russell is rock solid, however.

        • piscera.infada

          Russell’s been good, so I agree with you on that (even though his underlying numbers don’t really support it). Even still, ideally and on a contending team, I think he’s a 4th defender paired with a good to great 3rd defender (which Wideman isn’t). I’ve been to a fair number of games this year, and while I notice Russell doing good things every time, he spends a good amount of time and effort covering for Wideman. Remember, this was a player that came out of junior with a very solid offensive pedigree.

          There’s a lot to like about Russell as a player: good first pass, great skating, decent vision, and a good understanding of when to pinch and when not to. That said, I still believe that in order for Kris Russell to truly play “his game” he needs a solid partner that will allow him to use all of those abilities night in, night out throughout the entire game.

          Granted, the guy will be 28 in May, so there may still be some growth there, but again, if the goal is to build a contender, you want him firmly entrenched as a number 4 defenseman, in my opinion, of course.

          I still think this team needs to be in the market for a number 3 defenseman, as well as young defensemen on the verge of breaking in at the NHL level.

          As far as wingers go, that’s one area that I’m not too concerned about. Your bottom-9 can generally be stocked through trade, free agency, and young players taking unexpected leaps forward. The top line however, needs to be largely stocked in-house, and I firmly believe that when Hudler is ready to slide down the depth chart, at least one of Poirier, Baertschi, Klimchuk, or a draft pick this year, will be ready to take the ball with Gaudreau-Monahan/Bennett and run with it.

          Frankly, I agree with most on here, the team is learning how to walk. Even if they take a tumble next season, the important thing is to not mistake walking for running. As long as management realizes what “stage” the team is truly at, moves can be made, and the weaknesses can be addressed in a pragmatic fashion.

          • Burnward

            Agreed on all counts. I’ve always had a soft spot for Russell though, so I imagine there’s some personal bias creeping in. Saw him plenty when he was in juniors and was one of my favourites to watch.

  • prendrefeu

    Last year: crawling
    This year: walking, slowly.
    Next year pre-circus break: walking, faster (almost a jog)
    Next year post-circus break: confident jog
    Next year post-season: faster jog, Stan Lee Bowl winners*

    *Yeah, you’re thinking “but wait, won’t the sprinters be more likely to make it to the SBF?” it’s true, they’re more likely. But sprinters also get shin splints, and injuries, and Bettman’d.

  • ngthagg

    I’ve long believed that the ideal is to get away from the rebuild/contend cycle, and instead be in a state of constant improvement. (Not an easy task obviously, but one that can be managed by buying low and selling high.)

    The challenge of this is how to break out of the cycle, and I think Burke’s stages fit well here. A well managed rebuild will supply a team with the quality prospects to reach the sprinting stage.

    At that point, management should realize that no one can sprint forever, and be willing to dial back a bit and accumulate resources for the next sprint. In practice this means trading players that are high performing but past their peak in return for young players, prospects and picks.

    • KiLLKiND

      This is the Detroit model and I would love if Calgary could follow it. No more trading away 1st or 2nd round picks. Is the first part and allowing our prospects to develop at their own pace as we are doing quite well I would say. The tough part is to try and be Stanley Cup contenders without trading away too much of the future.

  • RedMan

    OK, according to this analogy,

    Flames are in a fast power walk that demonstrates excellent cardio

    Oilers are still in diapers crawling, poop dribbling down their legs

    Vancouver wants to run, but mom won’t let them cause its not safe

  • Burnward

    I would tend to relate the current stage of the Flames to one quite aptly depicted in Forrest Gunp; walking, albeit only due to the help of leg braces.

    Thing about braces though is they host assist and hinder your development. In the Flames case, hard work, conditioning, and opportunistic scoring (luck for all the analytic types) is helping them to walk.

    The lack of high end skill and our gritty, game but often overmatched bottom rotation defense is holding them back.

    The key will be to correct the brace issues holding us back before the brace elements that are propping us up weaken and fail.

    From what I have heard from BT I have cautious optimism that he will make the moves necessary to allow us to break free of the braces, and truly run.