That’s what it would have been, had the Colorado Avalanche not matched the offer sheet the Calgary Flames sent Ryan O’Reilly’s way.
For all the good fortune that has been bestowed upon the team since finally accepting the need to rebuild, the Flames would have suffered a major setback had it not been for Greg Sherman. The goal was to get a quality centre, and while O’Reilly was the target, Sean Monahan was the end result: a result that would not have happened if Sherman had simply let O’Reilly go.
Thank goodness that’s not what happened.
Nothing to show for it
In that fateful lockout season, Calgary was a bad team. They’d been a bad team for years, but with the shortened season, there was less chance of hiding it. And staring a fourth straight season without playoffs in the face, not to mention Jarome Iginla about to be a free agent, the Flames were left with little choice: it was time to rebuild.
Before then, though, the Flames were still trying to trick themselves into thinking they could compete. Adding Ryan O’Reilly to the lineup would have provided an instant upgrade, and given Iginla that quality centre he so desperately needed to play with. All it would cost the Flames was a first and a third round pick.
And O’Reilly himself, because he’d played in the KHL when the NHL went back to work, meaning he’d have had to go through waivers to join a new team’s roster.
O’Reilly would not have made it through waivers.
The Flames were a single Greg Sherman away from losing both O’Reilly and Monahan: two potential number one centres, gone from their grasps, just like that.
Two number one centres, given away for free with nothing received in return. That would have been even worse than what the Vancouver Canucks got for two starting goalies.
The 2013-14 Flames were bad, but without Monahan – who scored 22 goals in his rookie season – they would have been that much worse. Maybe they still end up with the fourth overall pick, maybe they make up the 10 point difference to drop into the top three; either way, there’s a fair chance the Flames would have gotten Sam Bennett, regardless.
Bennett… and no Monahan. The playoffs certainly don’t happen in 2014-15, and Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler never find their perfect centreman. The Flames almost certainly end up with a high pick in the 2015 draft, but they still aren’t Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel levels of bad. Maybe Noah Hanifin bad. Dougie Hamilton probably doesn’t happen, though – and unlike Hanifin, he’s proven.
The Flames would be going into the 2015-16 with Bennett and Mikael Backlund as their top two centres, which would have been fine. It’s just nowhere near as good as what, thankfully, actually happened, pushing Backlund down to that third line spot.
Not having Monahan would have been a huge blow to the centre depth Calgary is finally building, and the rebuild would be taking that much longer.
A delayed rebuild
One of the best ways to get quality players is to get them via high picks. The Flames’ best chance at getting one with their own draft pick would have vanished, instantly. They wouldn’t have been able to trade for another. Calgary really would have had only one goal without their first rounder: make the playoffs.
It was a team that couldn’t do it, but it was also a team that had been trying to fool itself for years. In an attempt at saving face, #goingforit would likely have continued on strong. It would have been the only option.
Jay Bouwmeester still had another year left on his contract, so the Flames could have afforded to wait to trade him. But Iginla was a free agent… and trading Iginla is what signalled the rebuild. Trading Iginla would have been admitting defeat. And you can’t admit defeat if you don’t have your own first rounder.
Do the Flames lose Iginla to free agency? Does he re-sign for a one-year deal out of the goodness of his own heart, so Calgary can trade him the next year? Or do you trade him anyway when it becomes clear?
Even with Bouwmeester and Iginla, the Flames were still clearly not a playoff team. Maybe their first rounder wouldn’t have fallen to as low as sixth overall, but they still likely would have been missing out on a top 10 pick, and not choosing anybody until the fifth round. Five straight years with no playoffs and no picks until the fifth round would have been inexcusable.
It’s not just no Monahan; it’s no Emile Poirier, either. Morgan Klimchuk maybe still happens, if you do decide to bite the bullet and trade Iginla, but that’s it. The 2013 draft would have come up empty.
That said, the 2014 draft may have had more fruit to bear. With Bouwmeester certainly traded in the expiring year of his contract, at least one additional first round pick is gained; maybe even two, if Iginla did re-sign after all. The Flames wouldn’t have gotten Monahan, Poirier, and Klimchuk, but they would have gotten Bennett, perhaps Robby Fabbri, perhaps Kasperi Kapanen or David Pastrnak.
They still wouldn’t be as far along as they are today. But out of the 2014 draft, they still would have, in theory, collected an additional first rounder, and there were some pretty decent prospects to be found in the late first round.
Getting nobody (or next to nobody) out of the 2013 draft would have been tough to swallow, though.
How much sooner would heads have rolled?
It took nine months from the O’Reilly fiasco for Jay Feaster to be fired: from March 2013 to December of that year.
As massive a blunder as the move potentially was, Colorado did end up saving the day. Feaster’s excuse of having a different interpretation of the CBA was acceptable only because no harm befell his team. If the Flames had signed O’Reilly, though, and subsequently lost him and their first rounder… well.
A different interpretation wouldn’t have flown. That’s a franchise altering mistake.
Feaster is maybe fired immediately; maybe he’s given until the end of the season to see things through and try to justify himself. But he probably isn’t left until December 2013 before finally being dismissed.
Someone would have had to be the GM, though. John Weisbrod was the assistant general manager at the time, and the Flames had developed a recent history of firing their actual general manager and then promoting the assistant (which is exactly how Feaster himself landed the job). However, Weisbrod still may have been let go alongside him, especially if he’d had any involvement in the decision to offer sheet.
Brian Burke didn’t join the Flames as their President of Hockey Operations until September 2013. Maybe he’s brought on, not in that position, but as general manager, after being fired from the Leafs in January 2013.
Maybe he stays on as GM. Maybe the Flames aren’t in the hunt for a new one come the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. Maybe Brad Treliving never comes to Calgary.
Maybe Burke takes the elevated position and simply acts as a general manager in the meantime, regardless. Maybe the Flames are on the hunt for a new GM the summer before the 2013-14 season, and maybe Treliving isn’t available then. Maybe Calgary ends up with somebody completely different.
Giving Feaster all that extra time at the helm certainly did give the Flames time to have an extended search for a new general manager, though. Considering how Treliving has done this offseason, it’s worked out perfectly. But if Feaster had been let go earlier, there’s a chance it might not have.
A lot of pieces in play
So many things would have changed if the Flames had signed Ryan O’Reilly, only to lose him to waivers.
The front office could look completely different. The awareness and generally wizardry Treliving has displayed may never have reached Calgary. Maybe they go after Tim Murray, whose extreme tanking abilities were very much noted in Buffalo over these past two seasons; maybe they pick up Jim Nill, hired a year before Treliving was; maybe they do something silly like try and pry Jim Benning away a year earlier than he ended up leaving Boston.
What would almost certainly look completely different, though, would be the Flames’ prospect pool. We ranked Poirier as the Flames’ third best prospect, and he wouldn’t be there; Fabbri could be, though.
Where it really hurts is centre depth, which would be badly damaged. At this point, Monahan is, potentially, the best pick of the 2013 draft; as it stands after two seasons, it’s between him and Nathan MacKinnon. Imagine one team getting both of those players, while another is left with nothing.
Thank goodness things turned out the way they did. The alternate universe is interesting to think about, but it’s one I don’t want to live in.