After a shootout loss tonight, the hope for the current edition of the Calgary Flames gets slimmer and slimmer. Calgary is back down to 15th in the Western Conference, despite having as many as 2 or 3 games already played compared to the teams ahead of them in the standings. As we look at the days to come ahead, there has to be the realization that a rebuild is entirely possible, and some that may become necessary as time goes forward. Today I will attempt to discuss the many pros and cons of rebuilding.
First off, we all realize that a rebuild will not be a short term affair. As has been witnessed in the catastrophe that is the Toronto Maple Leafs, there is no such thing as a quick rebuild. If the Flames ownership group commits to a rebuild (a fact that I'm not entirely sure they will), then we are in for the long haul.
For those of us Flames fans who have been around the sun a few times, we remember the dark days of the 1990's and the early 2000's. The team as a whole jettisoned practically every player that had made the team successful during the 80's and left the team with absolutely nothing. The ownership group and management tried to promote a "Young Guns" theme, and it turned out so terribly that many fans still have shivers at the mention of the movement.
The Flames attempted to rebuild through prospects and the draft, and failed absolutely miserably. We drafted highly so many times, taking players like Daniel Tkaczuk (6th overall), Rico Fata (6th overall), Oleg Saprykin (11th overall), Brent Krahn (9th overall ), Eric Nystrom (10th overall). High picks historically have been terrible for the Flames. The last first round pick that worked out well for the Flames was Derrick Morris taken 13th overall in '96, and then the only other high first round that worked well for nearly a decade was Dion Phaneuf (9th overall in 2003). I'm sure how that played out is still rather fresh in our memories.
Drafting high does not always equal success in the NHL. There are many more modern examples of this that are very true. Florida, Columbus, Atlanta (though its changing now) all picked very highly for years, and still have yet to achieve any success. They've all had high first rounders fail. Look no further than Atlanta's first ever draft pick in Patrick Stephan, 1st overall, who barely had a cup of coffee in the NHL. There are plenty of high drafted players in recent years that have not lived up to their billet.
In the 2005 draft that will always be famous for being the draft where Crosby was awarded to Pittsburgh (conspiracy!), there are plenty of examples of the draft not working as planned. Taking a closer look, there was plenty of failure. Benoit Pouliot (4th overall), Gilbert Brule (6th overall), Jack Skille (7th overall), Brian Lee (9th overall) all in the top ten alone are fringe NHL'ers at this point and time. In 2004 it is similar as well. Cam Barker (3rd overall), Blake Wheeler (5th overall) and Rostislav Olesz (7th overall) have had some success in the NHL, but nowhere near the potential they were believed to possess. There is also Al Montoya (6th overall), Alexander Picarde (8th overall) and Boris Valabik (10th overall) in the top ten who aren't even NHL regulars. Some of the more recent drafts seem to have had much more success from its top ten picks, though it still early to judge many of them.
Drafting high in the NHL does not always equal success. However, for all the negativity that I just promoted, there is always hope as well. Take for example the Chicago Blackhawks, last years Stanely Cup Champions. On their roster they had Patrick Kane (1st overall), Jonathan Toews (3rd overall), Andrew Ladd (4th overall) just to name a few. When you examine teams that are considered up and comers such as the Los Angeles Kings with first round players such as Drew Doughty (2nd overall), Jack Johnson (3rd overall), Anze Kopitar (11th overall) and many more. There are teams that have had success drafting high in the NHL, and have become successful teams or at least are on their way to becoming so.
In summary on drafting high, you cannot assume that just because a player is ranked highly going into the draft that the player will turn out perfect 100% of the time. The Flames from 95-02 are a sad testament of that fact. Despite the negativity a rebuild can have, there is always hope, as the several of the more recent Stanley Cup winners can attribute.
For a team that is losing as much as they are, the Flames have some very valuable trade bait that could assist in a rebuild. There really aren't any players on the Flames that have fully negative value, and almost everyone could garner a worthwhile amount come the trade deadline. As we have witnessed in past years, the amount of teams that are willing to admit defeat by the trade deadline has gone down drastically, making it a sellers market. The Flames also know historically that sometimes it is better to trade a star player for a prospect and pray that the gamble works out for them. Jarome Iginla for Joe Nieuwendyk is proof of this stratagem.
At this years trade deadline, the Flames will have several players who are notable by the UFA status at the end of the season, garnering them the title of potential "playoff rentals". Craig Conroy, Anton Babchuk, Brendan Morrison, Alex Tanguay, Curtis Glencross, Steve Staios and Adam Pardy are the ones of note. Several of these players could potentially return mid round picks, if not better. I'll do a small breakdown on each player.
Craig Conroy - the oldest player on the Flames roster and one of those players who is hard to gauge in terms of value. In Conroy does in fact end up being traded, expect the return to be fairly minimalistic. A team like the Dallas Stars or the Chicago Blackhawks may have some interest in Conroy as a depth player or as a potential injury backup. A 7th round pick would be likely.
Brendan Morrison - as I stated in my last blog entry, Morrison is a bit harder to gauge. With the production that he has supplied at the cap hit he possesses (750K), he could be a valuable asset to a team lacking center depth either offensively or defensively, as Morrison possesses both. However last year his offense trailed off around the halfway point to the season. Assuming that his offense stays up, Morrison could garner a 2nd round pick at best, which is a pretty good return on a player signed after the preseason is over. I would once again imagine the Chicago Blackhawks being interested, as their bottom six depth is not quite what it used to be and their lack of cap space makes Morrison a great fit.
Anton Babchuk - an often underrated offensive defenseman, I believe Babchuk could net a rather nice return. Offensive D are something of a commodity at the deadline, as shown last year with players such as Leopold and Corvo providing very nice returns for their teams. Both the aforementioned players were traded for 2nd round picks, so it would be hopeful that Babchuk could get something similar.
Alex Tanguay - a player who has struggled with injuries and inconsistent play in the past two seasons, Tanguay has had a very positive start to the season. Tanguay is signed to a very cap friendly deal, and also plays very well on the penalty kill. The problem with Tanguay is his possesses a NMC, as he has stated that he would like to stick around in one place for a while, as he and his wife have a newborn baby in their lives. So it becomes entirely possible that Tanguay is not moved at all. However, there is potential for a Joe Corvo style deal from last year, where he waives his NMC to go to a contending team, and then re-sign in Calgary in the offseason. Tanguay with the way he has played could return as high as a 2nd round pick, and perhaps a prospect if a bidding war erupts. It is all conditional of course.
Curtis Glencross - Glencross is something of a fan favorite in Calgary. Then again, so was Eric Nystrom, and if the Flames are going into a rebuild mode, its better to trade him now than potentially lose him for nothing at the end of the season. Glencross is a pro-typical third line winger, with excellent speed, the ability to chip in 10-15 goals and great on the penalty kill. Unfortunately, his penalty kill time has been limited by the fact that he is in the box much of the time. Glencross could return a mid level prospect, or perhaps a 4th round pick. He is definitely an object of consideration for many teams looking to go deep into the playoffs.
Steve Staios - a bottom pairing shut down defenseman who has definitely seen better years. Renown for his leadership and steady play, Staios last year at the deadline went for a 3rd round pick, and I think management would be delighted if they could get as good a return.
Adam Pardy - another bottom pairing player who brings some grit and size to the blueline. I don't expect much of a return on Pardy either, though a 5th round pick is not entirely out of the question.
So that summarizes potential rental style players that could be on the move. There are a handful of others that could potentially be shown the door as well. There are several players would could attract considerable interest as well.
David Moss - while not really a big name, it is possible that he would attract some interest and potentially get the Flames a mid round pick, which would be a fair investment considering the Flames drafted him in the last round of the draft.
Robyn Regehr - one of the best bang for your buck shut down defenseman in the league, Regehr has had an excellent year so far. It is entirely possible that Regehr is interested in be on a contending team and has no interest in going through a rebuilding process, so he may be willing to waive his NMC. At his 4 million dollar cap hit, whatever team that trades for him will have to make sure they have space for him next season as well. Regehr would hopefully return a 1st and a prospect, though perhaps the pick may be later and the prospect may be better. It is very difficult to tell.
Miikka Kiprusoff - the savior of the franchise, and the man who helped the Flames reach the Cup finals in 2004, would undoubtedly be of interest to several teams if he were made available. Kipper is also in possession of his own NMC, so he would have to agree to wherever he would be traded. It is hard to predict the return on goalies nowadays, as the goalie market seems to be flooded with talent. The return on Kipper would have to be a good one for Flames managment to move him, so short of a solid offer, its likely that the earliest we'd see Kipper move, if at all, would either be at the draft or in the offseason.
Jay Bouwmeester - the 25 year old defenseman is the definition of a minute muncher, and with his speed helps provide stability both in the defensive zone as well as the offensive zone. When Bouwmeester refused to re-sign with the Florida Panthers, he made it clear it was because he wanted to go to a contending team. If Calgary decides to go through a rebuild, then Jay may consider waiving his NTC to go to a contender. Finding a team that no only has the cap space but the money to afford such a high salary may leave Bouwmeester on the Flames until the offseason.
Jarome Iginla - the heart and soul of the Flames franchise, trading Iginla seems unthinkable at times. However, as the trade that brought him to the city, fans have to realize that it may be better to get something in return for Iginla. As with Bouwmeester, Jarome carries a rather hefty cap hit and any team trading for him would likely have to send significant salary back to Calgary. For the Flames to trade Iginla, it is likely they would be looking for a top prospect and a 1st round pick as a starting point. Again, the offseason or the Entry Draft is a much more likely time for Iginla to be moved, assuming he would waive his NMC if management asks him to.
There are several other players that could be moved as well, including Cory Sarich (whom has a NMC and is still signed for next season as well), Ales Kotalik (with a limited NTC and signed for next season), Olli Jokinen (NMC, along with another season on the books) and Niklas Hagman (another season left) who could all garner some interest. However, all of these players returns would be limited by their salary and are much more likely to be moved in the offseason, if at all.
There is also a big question of whom would lead the rebuild? Many fans believe that if such a rebuild were to indeed happen, that the Sutter clan would finally get the boot from the Flames organization. A replacement is so readily apparent. Assistant GM Jay Feaster is a likely candidate, and as a fan it worries me slightly. Feaster has one of the worst drafting records in the NHL as a GM, so I'd be hesitant to suggest his name. After successfully recruiting from the WHL Calgary Hitmen last off season in the form of Dave Lowry, it is entirely possible that Kelly Kisio, the GM of the Hitmen, could be a candidate as well. There are always a few long shot options out there as well, such as past GM's and media types such as Pierre McGuire. Personally, it would have been nice to snag Jim Nill, the assistant GM in Detroit, but he just signed a 5 year extension with the club, so hopes on that front are practically nil.
If Darryl Sutter gets the axe, its highly likely that his brother, Head Coach Brent Sutter would suffer the same fate. Who would replace him as head coach in the interm? Jim Playfair, ex head coach of the Flames and current head coach of the AHL affiliate Abbotsford Heat, is a possible choice. However, he has had his chances and he may not get another. Dave Lowry is a potential coach as well, since he has much experience developing younger players during his days in the WHL. Some fans have suggested Ken Hitchcock, though I'm extremely hesitant with the idea after seeing how he butted heads with top prospects in Columbus.
As a die hard Flames fan, who has already suffered through some rather painful years as a fan, a long term rebuild does not seem like a appeasing prospect. However, I think the proof is in the pudding. This current Flames core has had ample amounts of opportunity under a variety of head coaches, and have failed to achieve anything. Its time for this team to be dismantled, and due to fear of turning into a Toronto, its time to build this team through the draft. The way the team is playing at the moment, there is potential for a top five draft pick, which could be a great way to jump start the process. I never want to see the Flames lose as an organization, but perhaps it is necessary for the team to be able to compete for the Stanley Cup, which has been absent from our great city for more than two decades now.
My next blog posting will likely be about current Flames prospects, as well as an early outlook on the potential picks the Flames could make in July, assuming there isn't any drastic difference in placement in the standings. The halfway report card will also likely come up around the 41 game mark.