The Calgary Flames already have plenty of draft picks, but the ‘Dallas model’ requires more

Photo credit:@NHLFlames on Twitter
Mike Gould
1 month ago
If Craig Conroy is going to follow the “Dallas Stars model” for retooling this Calgary Flames team, he’s gonna need a lot more draft picks.
During his “garbage bag day” media availability on Friday, Conroy spoke at length about how the top-seeded Stars are the team he’d like to emulate in his efforts to bring the Flames back to the playoffs on a consistent basis.
“You’re trying to look at a team like Dallas,” Conroy said. “They had a good veteran core. They’ve added really good — hey, they had a great draft, they really did, the one draft with Heiskanen and Oettinger and [Robertson]. It’s one of those drafts.
“You have to have some drafts. They brought in some free agents. Even this year, you look at the guys they’ve brought in. They’ve made some trades. So it’s not just to go to the very bottom. Like, everybody says, ‘OK, go right to the bottom.’ Because the one thing, in my opinion, if you go with a completely young team, how do they get to learn to win in those close games?
“Hey, you might lose games. My philosophy is, guys like Zary, Pospisil, Coronato, Wolf — they need to take a step next year. They were in the NHL this year, they know what it is, now they need to take a step.”
So, the Flames aren’t looking to bottom out going forward — at least, not intentionally. That’ll make it tougher to start building their new young core, but it won’t be impossible.
Because of the conditions on the Sean Monahan trade with the Canadiens, they have a clear incentive to be a bottom-10 team once again next year if they want to keep their own 2025 first-round pick. But there’s nothing in what Conroy said to suggest that the Flames will aim to sink to the lows we saw this season from teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks.
Here’s the thing: Dallas had a great 2017 draft, as Conroy mentioned. That’s a once-in-a-generation draft haul. Every team enters the draft looking to pick three All-Stars in one fell swoop. Almost none of them succeed. That’s not the type of thing anybody can bank on.
Dallas also enjoyed a bit of luck in 2017 that the Flames have never once had. The Stars were originally slated to pick eighth overall that year before winning the lottery and moving up five spots. They ended up getting Heiskanen at No. 3; had they remained at No. 8, they would’ve had their pick of Casey Mittelstadt, Michael Rasmussen, and Owen Tippett. Good players, but not cornerstones.
Maybe this is the year the Flames win the draft lottery for the first time in their existence. Wouldn’t that be something? Getting a player like Macklin Celebrini would solve a whole host of problems around these parts. Don’t bank on it, though — there’s a 95 percent chance it doesn’t happen.
Make no mistake, the Flames have a solid scouting staff. That said, if picking stars was easy, everyone would do it. For that reason, drafting can be just as much about quantity as it is quality, especially in the later rounds. And given how few picks the Flames made at certain points under the previous management regime, they certainly have room to add more players to their reserve list.
The Flames hemorrhaged picks for years during Brad Treliving’s tenure overseeing the hockey operations department. When Treliving departed for the Toronto Maple Leafs last spring, he left the Flames with just five picks in the 2023 NHL Draft — and they’d previously made just three picks in 2022.
Conroy picked up a 2023 third-round pick as part of the Tyler Toffoli trade with the New Jersey Devils, bringing his total for last year’s draft up to six. The Flames eventually used that selection to add winger Aydar Suniev.
Nevertheless, the Flames will finally begin to offset their long-standing pick deficit at this year’s draft. After making fewer than their original allocation of seven picks in 2023, 2022, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2015, and 2014, the Flames currently possess nine 2024 draft choices.
That’s pretty good, particularly when considering that the Flames currently possess three top-41 picks in 2024. That’s not far off from what Dallas managed in 2017, when they took Heiskanen at No. 3, Oettinger at No. 26, and Robertson at No. 39.
The Stars made seven picks in 2017. They made 10 (!!) in 2021, when they nabbed Wyatt Johnston and Logan Stankoven with their first two selections. For the Flames, who are particularly low on prospects after essentially punting on the 2022 draft, they could stand to be closer to 10 picks than seven over the next few years.
As of right now, the Flames have the reserve list of a prospective contender, not a rebuilder. Here is the Flames’ full list of unsigned draft picks to whom they currently retain the exclusive rights: Jake Boltmann, Axel Hurtig, Jaden Lipinski, Cade Littler, Etienne Morin, Arsenii Sergeev, Aydar Suniev, and Yegor Yegorov.
There are good players on that list. Half of them will get NHL contracts, if not more. But it’s just not nearly as robust a pipeline as what other teams have to offer. The Flames have already started taking steps toward addressing that problem — acquiring and signing Hunter Brzustewicz was quite the statement — but they still have plenty of work to do.
What kind of draft pick(s) could the Flames acquire in a potential Jacob Markstrom trade? We might just find out this summer. It’s also worth considering what the markets for Andrew Mangiapane and Andrei Kuzmenko might look like. The Flames could also try to flip players like Dan Vladar, Kevin Rooney, Dryden Hunt, and potentially A.J. Greer ahead of next year’s trade deadline to recoup some picks in the later rounds.
The “Dallas model” calls for both a strong young core and a strong veteran core. In Nazem Kadri, MacKenzie Weegar, Blake Coleman, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Mikael Backlund, the Flames have the latter. They don’t have to subtract from that group to add more picks to their collection.
If the Flames play this right, they could end up having their cake and eating it, too. With a few more picks, they’ll be on track to build one of the strongest young foundations in the NHL.
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