Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Future Forecast: Flames in Five

As we inch closer to the trade deadline, we're soon to hit a crossroads for the Flames organization. Rather than basing these long term decisions on a small sample (like the success of the team over the next 10 games), it would help to look into what the future might actually look like. Just *how* desperate are the Flames to add young talent? How far are they from that cliff that forces them into NYI/CBJ territory? Can they save themselves from years of poor drafting, or have they done enough in recent years to salvage a promising future? Let's break it down to the *expected* roles of the Flames youngsters, in order to get a realistic feel for what the 2018 roster might look like.

FORWARDS (top-9)

Baertschi (LW)
Sven continues to adapt to the pro game in terms of physicality and consistency, but it's clear he has the tools to become a top left-winger. He has an NHL shot, while having the intelligence to protect the puck and set up teammates as well.

Ceiling: top-line LW
Floor: 2nd line LW
*Expected: top-line LW

Gaudreau (LW)
Gaudreau could be the most naturally skilled player in the organization. Of course, size will continue to be a challenge for him. Yet, as we've seen, Gaudreau has the ability to dominate older and stronger players. Provided he can continue to develop the smaller details of his game, Gaudreau's elite skill will land him a top-6 role in the NHL.

Ceiling: top-line LW
Floor: 2nd line LW
*Expected: 2nd line LW

Backlund (C)
Backlund continues to develop at a slow, albeit steady pace. The most impressive aspect of Backlund's game is his ability to play against high quality opposition. He generates scoring chances at a decent clip against top-sixers, yet his finish around the net lacks consistency. As long as he continues to build on his strong, two-way play and generate opportunities, he's a worthwhile young asset. Backlund isn't the sexy choice as a top-six centre, but he is slowly proving his worth as a young, versatile guy with offensive upside. For a team starved of this type of young player, re-signing Backlund to a multi-year deal at a reasonable cap hit would be a big boon for the next generation of Calgary Flames.

Ceiling: avg top-line C
Floor: above avg 2nd line C
*Expected: avg top-line C

Jankowski (C)
This prospect is still a long ways away from any of us knowing what he will become. For my money, Jankowski will fall somewhere between being a draft bust and "The next Joe Nieuwendyk" - (Flames mgmt). His strong two way ability and vision will push him into a top-6 role in 5 years, but a top-line C seems lofty at this stage.

Ceiling: #1 C
Floor: 2nd line C
*Expected: 2nd line C

Horak (C/W)
Like Backlund, Horak continues to progress slowly year-to-year, but has shown encouraging signs at the NHL level. His intelligence and awareness represent his greatest assets, while he has shown he can score in bunches in pro hockey. Safe to say many of us are pleasantly surprised at Horak's skill level 2 years into his career. Of course, he continues to work on consistency at the pro level, but that's not particularly concerning at 21 years old.

Ceiling: 2nd line C/W
Floor: 3rd line C/W
*Expected: 2nd line C/W

Arnold (C/W)
Playing alongside John Gaudreau at Boston College, Arnold doesn't get the same type of spotlight. Nevertheless, he's a big, solid, two-way C, and his offensive game continues to evolve. Early on, I heard a number of Ryan Kesler comparisons. Of course, it's unlikely that Arnold will have that type of impact at the NHL level, but from a style standpoint? It's not a bad comparison. Naturally a C, I do wonder if his skating will be an issue at the highest level. If so, perhaps transitioning Arnold to the wing would allow him to use his strength along the boards. He's an under appreciated prospect in the cupboard for CGY, and his size, strength and intelligence should see him transition to pro hockey sooner rather than later.

Ceiling: 2nd line C/W
Floor: 3rd line C/W
*Expected: 3rd line C/W

Ferland (W)
Michael Ferland's first stint in pro hockey from September to December was a disappointment. This had more to do with circumstances (lockout, roster logjam in Abby) rather than performance, however, and he's now back on track with the Saskatoon Blades. Ferland's upside is likely to be more of an energy role: a guy who can bang bodies and compliment skill players (a la Glencross). His hands and speed are impressive for a big guy, but his best asset is his ability to play a hard game.

Ceiling: 2nd line LW
Floor: 4th line LW
*Expected: 3rd line LW

Reinhart (C)
Max had a difficult start in Abbotsford as well, playing very limited minutes on a clogged Heat roster. Since mid-December he's turned it around, playing as a top-6 C and getting more ice time (5on5, PP). Reinhart's highest attribute would be his intelligence. He's not the biggest, strongest or most skilled prospect. However, he's shown that he can be a reliable pivot with his strong defensive play and the ability to chip in offensively. I don't expect he'll have the same offensive success in the NHL, but his playing style is very similar to Daymond Langkow -straight line skater, effective and smart. I expect Max to fit into the Flames bottom-6 very soon.

Ceiling: 2nd line C
Floor: 3rd line C
*Expected: 3rd line C

No one wants to read or write extensively about grit, so here are some expected 4th line possibilities down the road.

C: Jones, Olson, Deblouw
W: Aliu, Bouma, Bancks, Elson

Notable exclusion? Markus Granlund. Between his poor season, lack of size and the struggles of his older (superior) brother in the big leagues, he's a long shot. He may be a late bloomer and eventually make the show (Cervenka), but I don't expect he'll be Flames property by that point.

DEFENCE (top-4)

T.J's efficient skating and puck skills have been a positive sign for Flames fans over the last few years. This season, however, he's shown he can perform in a top-4 capacity at the NHL level. At 21 years old, this is very encouraging. I do have my doubts about his ability to become a top-pairing guy, as he lacks that physical, shutdown element to his game.

Ceiling: top-2 D man
Floor: 3/4 D man
*Expected: 3/4 D man

Of course, it's hard to view Chris Butler as a prospect, but he has shown he can play a top-4 role at 25 years old. Butler wasn't a popular player last season, but was over his head in terms of the role he played. He's a perfectly capable 3/4 D man, and young enough that he could still be considered a future piece. I don't expect him to elevate his game to a top-pairing contributor, however.

Ceiling: 3/4 D man
Floor: 5/6 D man
*Expected: 3/4 D man

Expected bottom pairing D men:
Wotherspoon, Culkin, Kulak, Breen, Ramage, Sieloff


I'm not doing this section because 1) I know nothing about the position, and 2) I know nothing about the goaltenders to be considered. Even Ramo, the Flames next starting goalie, is a complete mystery to me. He seems, like, sorta good though... Or something.



Wildcard: Street

(Sieloff, Kulak)

The expected line-up in 5 years is, not surprisingly, below average on the upper rotation of the depth chart (top line C, RW, D).

On a positive note, it's not as bleak as it's made out to be on the whole. More recently, the Flames have done well to stockpile depth and make hay with their 3rd-7th round picks e.g. Ferland, Gaudreau, Arnold, Reinhart, Bouma.

Of course, certain shortcomings can be addressed via free agency. However, as the Flames have learned over the last number of years, franchise players are seldom made available in the market. Here's what the team will need to *draft* or acquire in order to compete in 2018:

-More potential top-6 Cs (because putting all your eggs in the Jankowski/Backlund basket is terrifying).

-2 or 3 potential franchise Dmen (easy, right?)

Despite the drafting record over the last 10 years, the Flames are still in a position to save their own asses. Explain?

1) This is a bad season for the team, to the shock of no one. The schedule is only going to get more difficult, too.

2) It's the last year of Iginla's contract, in case you hadn't heard that from any of the Toronto-based networks.

3) This is a short season. Therefore more tolerable for fans/season ticket holders to tolerate a losing team. I'm okay with 20 games of bad hockey in order to watch a stellar first round of Flames drafting in June 2013.

4) Again, the season = short. Therefore more teams believe they're still in the race. That means a larger market to auction off your assets to. And, if you were to acquire a 1st round pick from Philly or New York, for example, who knows where those teams actually end up? They could be battling for a playoff spot in April and find themselves bottom-10 in the league by May. Reminder: that's great for the acquired first round pick.

5) This season has illustrated that "trade Iggy & Kipper" doesn't have to mean "rebuild." The team isn't considerably worse on the ice without either. If you can find a home for those two PLUS one additional top-6 fwd or top-4 D man, you could find yourself with 3 first round picks and another young piece or two. You still have a semi-competitive (ish) team on the ice, while inching closer to playoff contention next season.

6) This is "the best draft since '03." That *could* mean that a mid-to-late round pick (1st or otherwise) is more valuable than in past years. More acquiring teams + higher value draft picks = good for sellers.

7) There are enough decent players on this team to transition into a new era. Moving forward: Cammalleri, Backlund, Baertschi, Glencross, Hudler, Tanguay, Cervenka, Stempniak, Bouw, Gio, Butler, Brodie, Wideman, Ramo, McDonald. You don't have to love these guys, nor commit to all of them long-term. This group can help bridge that gap alongside a top 5-10 pick & some acquired young pieces. Doesn't a line of Tanguay-Barkov-Hudler sound intriguing? What about Glencross-Backlund-Baertschi? It's not perfect, but it can't be much worse. Admit defeat for this year and hit the refresh button (as OTT, MTL, NJ did). The Flames don't want to rebuild? That's fine, they don't need to burn it all down. But continue on the same path as the last 10 years, and a rebuild will surely smoke them in the face soon (EDM, CBJ, NYI).

As I see it: two weeks until Feaster & crew need to make decisions on their trade deadline status (leaving 1-2 weeks to work the phones). Between now and then, the Flames play LA twice, SJ, ANA, DET, NSH twice, DAL, STL & CHI. In terms of games in the "should win" department, the list is as follows:


By March 26, we should have a pretty good idea of what to expect at the deadline. By then, I hope we see the start of legitimate change. Any other direction would be considered "intellectually dishonest."

For another view on the Flames top prospects, here's Corey Pronman's take (Hockey Prospectus):


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