In looking at the Chicago Blackhawks, New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues – four clubs who were able to rapidly improve their underlying numbers in the space of two seasons – we were able to determine some common factors that led to their big gain.
Coaching changes, elite draft picks, home run trades, internal development and decent UFA signings were common factors to one degree or another across each of these teams. In this final article, we’ll look at how the Flames compare to these clubs in an effort to determine if Calgary can be the next “Big Gainer” over the next couple of seasons.
The 5 Factors
Here’s how things broke down for each team during the period of their big gain:
Elite draft picks – Cornerstone talents picked by the team around which the rest of the roster was built.
UFA signings – Players signed near the onset of the big gain that provided quality (top-6 forwards, top-4 defender), veteran depth to the roster.
Internal development – Either existing quality players developed by the organization or support type players who emerged during the big gain (or were traded in aid of the gain).
Homerun trades – Lopsided deals during or slightly before the big gain.
Coaching change – A swap of bench bosses that spurred a turn around in possession rates.
– The Chicago Blackhawks were the team that boasted the biggest turn around of those listed and as you can see they ticked all the boxes above – multiple elite draft picks, multiple internally developed players, multiple homerun trades, a coaching change and at least one impact UFA signing.
– One interesting factor is homerun trades and how much influence they seem to have for each big gain. Although every team in this list picked elite players in the draft and had a large contingent of internally developed depth, they also garnered at least two or more high impact guys via trade.
– The least important factor seems to be UFA signings. Two of the four big gainers didn’t sign a single UFA of note, while the other guys listed (Campbell, Kuelmin and Grabovski) were mostly decent, if expensive, depth. This goes to show how rarely high-end players make it to free agency.
– The large contingent of internal development for each big gainer is also noteworthy. In each case, not only did the team grab elite talents from the draft, they also had a sizeable chunk of either existing or developing support players who were able to fill out the roster (or were traded for depth/homerun addition).
– The coaching change factor is the most obvious. For the Blackhawks, Blues and Kings, going from a marginal or merely decent bench boss to a high calibre coach goosed the club’s underlying numbers and helped put the roster over the top.
What Does This Mean For the Flames?
1.) Calgary has a strong collection of potentially elite drafted players in Monahan, Brodie, Gaudreau and Bennett. That said, it will take some time and development before we can say any of them are in Toews, Kane, Tavares, Doughty, Kopitar territory. There’s no guarantee that any of them will ever reach that level, in fact, though the early returns are good.
A big gain for the Flames is likely the most dependent on this factor and it’s one the decision makers currently have the least influence over. It’s just a matter of waiting and hoping.
2.) The Flames also have a couple of established internal development pillars in Mark Giordano and Mikael Backlund who will be instrumental in any potential rapid improvement. The wild card here is how the rest of the organization’s developing depth turns out. Right now, the club has a lot of potentially decent NHLers bubbling to the surface, ranging from Paul Byron, Lance Bouma and Josh Jooris to Markus Granlund and Bill Arnold.
Calgary will likely need more than a few of the fringe kids to establish themselves as average or better top-9 NHLers in order to spur a big gain. Again, there’s some encouraging early returns, but nothing is for sure.
3.) The one area Calgary seems to be lagging is the homerun trades factor. That said, Dougie Hamilton is such a major addition that his acquisition alone may be enough to kick things in to high gear.
That said, I’d like to see the team make at least one more impact trade or signing (Cody Franson?) in the next 12 months.
4.) We won’t really know if a coaching change is warranted until the off-season of 2016 at best. While Bob Hartley won the Jack Adams this season and his tactics were somewhat dictated by the roster he had, it remains to be seen if he can move from a “collapse and counter-punch” strategy to a true puck possession style as his roster improves.
Big Gainer Series
Part 5 – Calgary Flames (?)