Random Thoughts – Rebuild Phase 2

random thoughts

The offseason is almost over and so is the first phase of the Flames rebuild. 

Calgary has picked inside the top six three out of the last four drafts and is starting to assemble a young core of talented (and potentially expensive) players. Once Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk are contributing meaningfully at the NHL level, Treliving has little else to do but fill in the gaps at forward and defense (err… and figure out the long-term goalie situation).

Sounds easy, but this is actually where a lot of rebuilds go off the rails. It’s one thing to flounder at the bottom of the standings and pick a bunch of highly rated prospects – it’s quite another to develop the team around them into a competitor. Sometimes it works (Chicago, Pittsburgh) and sometimes it doesn’t (Edmonton, Edmonton). 

– Treliving’s tenure is entering a transitional phase this year. Not only are the expectations for the club (quite rightly) raised, but the sins of the past are almost totally gone. Although this regime is still feeling the pain of ill-conceived Feaster acquisitions Dennis Wideman and Ladislav Smid, any errors remaining on the books after this season will be Treliving’s alone. 

Pretty much every GM who ascends the throne after another guy’s failed tenure enjoys a few years of lowered expectations and the benefit of the doubt. Landing high draft picks and selling future hope is an easy marketing solution for a time, but it wears thin quickly. 

When the kids get expensive and the budget problems begin, that’s when the mood starts to turn. Finishing in the basement with a capped out club and a roster full of pricy 20-somethings is usually an impetus to start making bad trades. 

– Not to say the Flames need to be instant competitors this season, but a fundamental step forward must be the expectation both internally and amongst the fans. There are no lousy goaltenders to blame this year and Treliving has now installed his own coaching staff. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan will probably make north of $13M combined and Sam Bennett is poised to get more expensive in the upcoming offseason.

– Part of Treliving’s mission this year will be identify and nurture cheap internal replacements for the bottom end of the rotation. Wideman (5.25M), Smid (3.5M), Deryk Engelland (2.92M) and Brandon Bollig (1.25M) will be coming off the books in the summer, freeing up cap space and roster spots. 

I’m hoping the club resists the urge to fill up depth roles with aging, expensive vets and doddering tough guys. My rule of thumb for the fourth line and third pairing is simple: low risk, moderate reward contracts, roster specialists (special teams or shootout) or developing kids with a chance to improve.

If you’re spending more than $1.5M on players in those roles, you’ve probably made a bad bet. Every year there are fairly decent depth guys available for a song, not to mention a vast array of replacement level AHLers who would play for league minimum. Don’t spend too much on support players who can be swapped in or out of the lineup easily. It makes signing your stars that much harder.

– On the Gaudreau negotiations, I don’t think there’s reason to panic quite yet. The Flames are motivated to keep his long term cap hit as affordable as possible, but in the end this regime can’t really afford to start the year without him. Gaudreau has rapidly become the Flames’s most dangerous and identifiable player. Not to mention the fact that the club is dangerously thin on scoring talent on the wings behind the mighty mite.  

I fully expect Johnny Hockey to be in the fold by Oct. 12th. 

  • Cam Notlaw

    Here is a random thought:

    Does anyone have Wotherspoon ahead of Kulak or even Engelland on the depth chart? (Not to mention Nakladal or Russell) Does anyone ever see him becoming a regular 5-6 defenceman before Andersson or Kylington over take him?

    Am I missing something?

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      We saw a short stint of Kulak in NHL action last season. We lost every game he played in except one (3-2 OT win against VAN), during which he had zero points.

      One pre-season game where he scores two goals does not put him above Wotherspoon. Also, they are different types of players. Spoon is more of a shutdown player, while Kulak is more about offense.

      • everton fc

        Our goaltending, as well as the pairing of Hamilton and Russell, is what lost us so many games. Kulak and Engelland actually played well together. Not to mention we didn’t show much offence in those early games.

        Kulak’s ready. Wotherspoon is like Poirier. Or maybe Agostino. But I think he’s close, and w/Nakladal, played well.

        • Baalzamon

          Hamilton and Russell weren’t together yet at that point. The pairings were:

          Giordano – Hamilton

          Russell – Wideman

          Kulak – Engelland

          Hamilton and Giordano were both struggling at that point (not just Hamilton), and Russell – Wideman was one of the worst pairs ever conceived by man. Plus none of the goalies could stop a beach ball (except Hiller on rare occasions).

    • flamesburn89

      Wotherspoon has been NHL ready for at least one year IMO. I believe that he could be a 5-6 on this team and no one would bat an eye. I have him above Engelland on the depth chart, although I don’t think management does.

  • cberg

    Kent, just wondering, how many Gaudreau predictions is this one? Personally I’m wondering if it has gone this far why would it not go 3-4 games into the season to REALLY put the pressure on whichever side loses relative to the team’s performance? Which is to say if the Flames flounder the outcry for Gaudreau will be deafening, whereas if they start strong and prove they can win without him the pressure will be all on Johnny.

    Well, at a $7.5mm contract each game lost is $92,000, so staying out is also getting costly.

    • cberg

      Come to think of it, Johnny on the sidelines for 7 games would pay for a full season of FHamilton, Wotherspoon or Kulak. Hmmm, that’s one way to get around Salary Cap issues. If the rest of the team can win its a possibility.

  • Just.Visiting

    Thank you so much for this article.

    There are individual players that people pay money to watch and supporting players who can make a very nice living playing a supporting role.

    The fundamental problem with the cost structure is that teams are routinely overpaying for the role players, with July 1st of each year being a prime example of that.

    Of course, it doesn’t help salary structures when the NHL pays Gary Bettman a total comp of over $9.5MM per season.

    • Stu Cazz

      Not sure how you relate Bettman’s salary with the players salary structure? Anyway’s relatively speaking Bettman is cheap when comparing to NFL Roger Goodell’s >$40M annual salary and bonus…

  • reidja

    Here comes 2016/17 folks,

    A Calgary Flames fan can not help but enter with both hope and trepidation. On one hand looking to improved goaltending, very promising young forwards, and a very solid (and competently active) defence.

    On the other, we cheer for a team/franchise that has consistently shown a predisposition for mediocrity, and some may say the hold-out of the phenom Johnny Hockey is yet another indication.

    The fact, as Kent states well, is that we are headed down the road that current managment has to date been largely tied to, not one that they have taken us down. However, that is changing and recent moves may indicate that our future direction is clearly divergent from the franchises of Flames past. As you all have, I have to been watching closely, and this is what I see:

    Patience

    Those of you who do not remember the moniker “Young Guns” are lucky, those of you that do would have been justified in sceptisim of rebuid around a core group of mediocre to good prospects, a ghastly step below the Edmonton Oilers of the past five years or so. That is where this franchise was at one point. Trading on hope with little promise of return.

    The era Jerome Iginla in between, my team and yours, has gone through an impressive renaissance. Fuelled only by statistically average drafting, and a recognition of the need to build from there, this franchise finds itself in the enviable position of the top 10 current prospect pools, by most objective sources.

    Say what you will about a sophomore professional coach in Huska. He has both a great opportunity and challenge in his immediate future.

    Measured compromise

    What type of right winger do the Flames need to fit within their core? A vet with a proven track record. A 30 goal man would be nice. But at least one that can work with the Flames core four scoring forwards of Gaudreau, Monahan and Bennett. What’s that worth? $6MM x 6 years for a 30 y/o (on the record from this offseason).

    When Treliving compromised with Brouwer he showed that he is not willing to chase the tail of an established player. Furthermore, there are clear opportunities on this team for players like Hunter Shinkaruk, Emile Poirier, and the like, to fill a need.

    The opportunity invented must look nice. Especially for Hunter who seems ready and able to step into a support scoring role.

    Hard bargaining

    Here is an existential question: Do great players win championships or do great teams? That is the conundrum that the Flames find themselves within. Johnny Gaudreau is a great player, but what about the team? I ask anyone to refute that the former is the case… Great players win championships and Johnny Hockey is a great player.

    My two cents. Onward and upward my compatriots.

  • everton fc

    Depth guys who are cheap:

    Ferland, Chiasson, Vey, Freddie H, Hathaway, Shinakurk, Pribyl… Bouma is slightly higher than this group.

    Tkachuk’s only 925K…

    (Amazing Arnold and Ramo can’t find anyone to sign them)

  • reidja

    Here comes 2016/17 folks,

    A Calgary Flames fan can not help but enter with both hope and trepidation. On one hand looking to improved goaltending, very promising young forwards, and a very solid (and competently active) defence.

    On the other, we cheer for a team/franchise that has consistently shown a predisposition for mediocrity, and some may say the hold-out of the phenom Johnny Hockey is yet another indication.

    The fact, as Kent states well, is that we are headed down the road that current managment has to date been largely tied to, not one that they have taken us down. However, that is changing and recent moves may indicate that our future direction is clearly divergent from the franchises of Flames past. As you all have, I have to been watching closely, and this is what I see:

    Patience

    Those of you who do not remember the moniker “Young Guns” are lucky, those of you that do would have been justified in sceptisim of rebuid around a core group of mediocre to good prospects, a ghastly step below the Edmonton Oilers of the past five years or so. That is where this franchise was at one point. Trading on hope with little promise of return.

    The era Jerome Iginla in between, my team and yours, has gone through an impressive renaissance. Fuelled only by statistically average drafting, and a recognition of the need to build from there, this franchise finds itself in the enviable position of the top 10 current prospect pools, by most objective sources.

    Say what you will about a sophomore professional coach in Huska. He has both a great opportunity and challenge in his immediate future.

    Measured compromise

    What type of right winger do the Flames need to fit within their core? A vet with a proven track record. A 30 goal man would be nice. But at least one that can work with the Flames core four scoring forwards of Gaudreau, Monahan and Bennett. What’s that worth? $6MM x 6 years for a 30 y/o (on the record from this offseason).

    When Treliving compromised with Brouwer he showed that he is not willing to chase the tail of an established player. Furthermore, there are clear opportunities on this team for players like Hunter Shinkaruk, Emile Poirier, and the like, to fill a need.

    The opportunity invented must look nice. Especially for Hunter who seems ready and able to step into a support scoring role.

    Hard bargaining

    Here is an existential question: Do great players win championships or do great teams? That is the conundrum that the Flames find themselves within. Johnny Gaudreau is a great player, but what about the team? I ask anyone to refute that the former is the case… Great players win championships and Johnny Hockey is a great player.

    My two cents. Onward and upward my compatriots.

  • freethe flames

    Second phase of the rebuild? New head coach, new goaltending tandem, and new FA forward; I would think so. The question is are they ready for the next step. Star forward unsigned, no real top forward to round out top 6, 2 overpaid and thankfully last year of contract placeholders on d still playing; there is still lots of work to do.