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Calgary Flames’ draft capital a balancing act heading towards 2022 trade deadline

Friends, let me let you in on a little secret: hockey people love the annual NHL Draft. When the world’s normal-ish, all 32 teams (and a horde of media) descend on a city for a week for meetings, dinners, general camaraderie, and the selection of over 200 brand-new faces to the NHL family.

The more on-ice momentum (and draft capital) your franchise has, the more fun the draft week ends up being. And as the Calgary Flames march towards a supremely important 2022 trade deadline, their draft capital is something they really need to balance.

Both Jay Feaster and his successor Brad Treliving inherited rather lean farm systems, in part because of some bad draft luck prior and in part because of Darryl Sutter (when he was general manager) frequently trading around high-end picks. Generally-speaking, the best prospects are taken earlier in the NHL Draft and so it’s a lot tougher to fill out your farm system if you never draft in the first two or three rounds.

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But Feaster and his assistant John Weisbrod overhauled the scouting system with head scout Tod Button, and Button refined those overhauls with Treliving and the result has been the Flames consistently find actual NHL players in the NHL Draft.

The Flames dressed 18 skaters in Saturday’s win over the New York Islanders. Half of them were homegrown Flames draft picks, representing six different draft classes:

  • 2007 (Mikael Backlund)
  • 2011 (Johnny Gaudreau)
  • 2013 (Sean Monahan)
  • 2015 (Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, Andrew Mangiapane)
  • 2016 (Matthew Tkachuk, Dillon Dube)
  • 2017 (Adam Ruzicka)

Now, two things to notice right away. First, only three of those nine guys are past first-round picks, which speaks to how effective the Flames have been finding good players in later rounds. But two, three of their four regular centres were drafted by the team, along with two of their top four blueliners and three of their top four wingers.

Simply put: unless you want to do trade or free agent market somersaults, teams are built through the draft. And those key pieces don’t come around too often: Jacob Markstrom is basically a unicorn, because top goalies don’t become free agents very often, nor do key young players like Noah Hanifin or Elias Lindholm.

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The Flames have been lucky enough to stumble upon such opportunities, but those opportunities were enabled by their roster otherwise being chock full of cost-controlled, homegrown players.

The Flames have had a mixed record using picks for trades rather than using them to draft players. Three players on the current roster were acquired by trading picks: backup goalie Dan Vladar, third pairing defender Nikita Zadorov, and oft-injured forward Tyler Pitlick. You could easily argue that using the picks at the draft would’ve been a more effective use of the assets than spending a third-rounder on Zadorov or a fourth-rounder on Pitlick, though. But even historically, it’s challenging to argue that spending a first-rounder and two second-rounders on Travis Hamonic was the ideal resource allocation given his impacts, even with Hamonic being under contract when he was acquired.

The Flames currently own five picks in the 2022 NHL Draft – their own first, second, fifth and seventh-rounders, plus Florida’s second-rounder – and their own picks in all seven rounds of the 2023 NHL Draft.

Right now, the Flames are second in the Pacific Division and arguably in their best position to make a playoff splash in years. They also have some draft capital and salary cap room so that they can be a significant player prior to the trade deadline on Mar. 21. But given the state of their farm system – they have some good players, but very few that project to make big NHL splashes – they need to balance the needs of right now with the needs of the future.

Otherwise, not only will they face challenges filling out their roster in the coming years, but they might have to sit around awkwardly with no picks at this year’s draft in Montreal.

THIS ARTICLE BROUGHT TO YOU BY DAILYFACEOFF

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