Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Flames need to develop their own depth players

Depending on what benchmark you choose to adhere to, the Calgary Flames began their rebuilding when they traded Jarome Iginla in March 2013. Since that point, the Flames have been fairly successful with their drafting and development in the sense that players they have selected in recent drafts have jumped right into the National Hockey League and become productive players. But over the past four years, the Flames haven’t been amazing in finding role and depth players to fill out their roster.

That said, the Flames are probably closer than you realize to having a critical mass of potential depth players in their system. If they can transition some of those players into their NHL roster, they may be able to take the fabled “next step” in the club’s progression from the league’s outhouse to its penthouse.

Drafting big guns

A quick glance at the past few years of Flames drafting reveals one key aspect of their system: they’re not screwing up on the early picks the way that they used to. There was a stretch in the late ’90s when the Flames were, to be blunt, bad. Their leveraging of their high draft picks to find NHLers was also, to be blunt, bad. Names from the 1997-2002 period of mediocrity included Daniel Tkaczuk, Rico Fata, Brent Krahn and Eric Nystrom.

The recent regimes have been significantly better. 2013 sent Sean Monahan to the NHL. 2014 sent Sam Bennett. 2016 sent Matthew Tkachuk. Heck, the 2015 first rounder they traded away netted them Dougie Hamilton. That’s four NHLers produced through utilization of their first round selections in four straight seasons.

But beyond that, the Flames’ drafting has been pretty iffy since the club snagged Mikael Backlund in 2007 or T.J. Brodie in 2008.

Paying for depth

Who was the last solid depth player that the Flames drafted and developed? It’s probably either Lance Bouma, taken in 2008, or Micheal Ferland, taken in 2010. In the absence of being able to draft and develop players internally – who carry with them the benefit of usually being inexpensive and/or waiver exempt (or both) – the Flames have had to head out into the marketplace to find players to play with their good players.

The results? Some really rough contracts for complementary assets. Deryk Engelland got three years at $2.917 million annually. Dennis Wideman was traded for and signed to a five-year, $5.25 million deal. Troy Brouwer got four years at $4.5 million.

When the Flames haven’t gone out to the free agent pasture to overpay for a complementary piece, they shelled out assets on the trade market to grab them from some other team – though this was primarily before Treliving arrived in town. The Flames offered up assets for Corban Knight, T.J. Galiardi, Shane O’Brien, David Jones, Kris Russell, Ladislav Smid, Joe Colborne and Brandon Bollig. Let that sink in: they burnt future assets for the rights to these players. All of them.

Developing your own depth players is, in so many ways, a lot cheaper.

Depth developed

The good news for the Flames is it seems like they may finally actually have some homegrown depth players on the verge of being ready for the NHL. They’re all bottom six, third pairing and potential backup players, but that’s kind of the point.

Pushing for bottom six forward spots are Mark Jankowski, Morgan Klimchuk, Garnet Hathaway and potential professional pain-in-the-butt Ryan Lomberg, who makes up for his lack of high-end talent with a high-end motor and the ability to hit anything that moves. Brett Kulak and Rasmus Andersson are both ready for primetime, while Oliver Kylington may need just a little more fine-tuning before he is, too. Heck, the Flames trotted out both Jon Gillies and David Rittich for late season auditions and while neither looked ready to start 50 games in the NHL, both seemed capable in a pinch.

In other words: the Flames finally have credible internal options for the spots they used to have to spend big to fill. As the team moves through this summer and, in particular, the 2018 offseason, transitioning to their own internally-developed depth players will free up a ton of money going forward and open up a lot of interesting possibilities for the Flames as they try to become a playoff contender rather than a team that’s just happy to eke in.

  • Dutch

    This is exactly what the Flames need to do. In the past too much money spent on depth players both in free agency and internally. Free agency money should only be spent when you need that one piece to put you over the hump to compete for a cup (Hossa). Spend big money on core players, rotate in depth players from the farm.

  • al rain

    Good article. I agree. Right focus.

    But the last three Big Guns we drafted (Monahan, Bennett and Tkachuk) were all no-brainers so I’m reticent to give too much praise there – I could have called out those names. Unless there’s something to that whole faking out Vancouver and Columbus to pick Juolevi and Dubois? If there’s any truth to that stuff then our GM might be a genius.

    • BurningSensation

      I (and most, if not all publications) had Jesse Puljujarvi as at worst the third best player in his draft year – a ‘no-brainer’ when he slipped to Edmonton, who now looks well behind the others in his draft year.

      Yesterday’s ‘no-brainer’ is today’s ‘we took who where?!’

      A good example is Daniel Tkazchuk, once upon a time he was the ‘no-brainer’ for Calgary at #6, and he barely scratched the NHL.

  • Cheeky

    All good teams allow their prospects opportunities. Look at Pittsburg as an example….BT and GG need to give these kids the opportunity (not the ” if they beat out a vet” as contracts talk then) and my guess is they will do just fine. Hopefully BT loses his phone on July 1 with power and phonelines going out at the Dome same time…

    • Just.Visiting

      Agree totally. We have a tendency to overlook our own prospects in favour of a bandaid veteran who will never be a key cog in a top contending team. Even the Lazar acquisition saw us chasing a new shiny thing instead of exploring our internal options more fully.

  • mcardoza

    Is it just me or is no one looking at shink. Last year everyone had him penciled inot the line up this year he’s not mentioned.. also whats up with emile p any word?

  • everton fc

    Agreed. Pay Backlund, Brodie, Bennett, Ferland… Tkachuk… and build around them. The Pens are a perfect example of this model. The Red Wings were also able to do the same, for years.

  • Raffydog

    There’s a bunch of talk on here about how the Flames window opens up next season, but I don’t see it happening. The roster isn’t going to be much different from this year, maybe a new goalie and a couple depth signings, but other than that, it’s essentially going to be the same team. I predict the Flames will once again be a bubble team next season that may or may not make the playoffs. And if they do somehow get in, it will be another quick first round exit

      • Raffydog

        Ya I don’t know, Monahan and Gaudreau peaked last year, so they will start regressing, Backlund had a career season, but now he’ll be another year older and another year slower, Brodie was a disaster, so it looks like he peaked, Gio another year older and slower, Bennet was a hot mess, so his best is behind him, Frolik is getting old, and nobody on the farm gives me any hope for optimism. Maybe another rebuild needs to happen before they will be competitive

          • supra steve

            Yes, and McDavid has obviously peaked, it’s all downhill from here. And don’t get me started on Draisaitle, after the year he’s had…yikes, he’s got a long way to fall from his high perch. Puljujarvi, trending to be a turd in the AHL. Does it sound any less ridiculous when I do it vs. when you do it?

        • Azim

          Yep, our 24 year-old, 23 year-old and 20 year-old forwards have all peaked, and will all regress. Either your the most pessimistic human on planet earth, or you’re a troll.

        • PrairieStew

          The Flames were 5-10-1 in early November as they adapted to new coaching systems. They ended at 45-33-4, so were 40-23-3 – a .680 team for the last 4/5 of the season. Sure – they were swept by Anaheim – but outshot the Ducks in 3 of those 4 games. It’s alot closer than you think Oiler fan.

        • T&A4Flames

          Wow bro, Backlund at 28 is going to slow down already? GMAB. Here are no signs he is getting that old already. And Miny and Johnny “peaking” at 22 and 24? Great positive outlook you have.

  • Raffydog

    Every player on the Flames, with the exception of Backlund and I’ll toss Dougie in there for the sake of argument, took a huge step backwards this year, and I see no reason to believe it was just a hiccup in their careers. And yes they had a decent middle of the season, but the team we saw for the last 10 games and playoffs is a truer example of the team we have. And don’t call me an Oilers fan, I f’in hate the Oilers, I’m just a jaded pessimistic Flames fan

    • T&A4Flames

      Hamilton had a career year. Yup a sign of a big step backwards.
      And, uh, people are just calling a spade a spade. If it looks like it, smells like it and acts like it…

  • BlueMoonNigel

    What I am seeing here are a lot of comments about why the club should cautiously sign free agents, yet these same posters are on different threads saying the team needs to go after a true 4th defenceman, a true #1 goalie and possibly even a top 6 forward with some size, skill and nastiness.

    Team has done a rotten job growing its draftees into NHL caliber players. Does anybody really know for certain if Wortherspoon or Kulak are really NHL defencemen? Have the Flames kept prospects in the minors too long in order to try and squeak into the playoffs 2 of the last 3 years? I also wonder why Lazar was given ice time, including in the playoffs, ahead of guys like Janko and Vey who had really good seasons in the minors.

  • freethe flames

    I have said for a long time that teams need to have a plan to integrate their young prospects in but coaches unfortunately are hired to win now and frequently want to play veterans at the expense of player development. Next year the Flames could if they choose to acquire a starting goalie and have Gilles and Rittich alternate months as the back up. They could also possibley do the same thing on the 4th line LW with their prospects.