The most important week in the entire history of the Calgary Flames concluded yesterday at 1 PM local time. The face of the franchise is now playing for Pittsburgh. The best defenseman on the team is now a Blue. Even Blake Comeau was moved over to Columbus. There has been some debate over what we received, verses the perceived value of those players, however, the return is somewhat besides the point. The most important thing is that a new chapter has begun.
The Calgary Flames are in a strange situation as they pretty much have a blank slate from which to start building a new team. The plan moving forward from today will determine both how long this rebuild will be and whether or not it was done properly. To evaluate how to rebuild this team properly, one has to look at the teams that rebuilt their team successfully and how each of them achieved that.
The Pittsburgh Penguins rebuild did not start until the 2001-2002 season, but they laid the foundation for their success starting in 1999, when they selected Ryan Malone in the 4th round and followed that up with selecting Brooks Oprik with their first pick in 2000. Once their team began to miss the playoffs, they added Ryan Whitney (1st) and Max Talbot (8th) in 2002 followed by Marc Andre Fleury in 2003. With those selections, they acquired a solid foundation by acquiring what developed into a pair of top 4 defensemen, a pair of solid character forwards and their cup winning goalie. In 2004, they added Malkin, Goligoski, and Kennedy followed by Crosby and Letang in 2005. They finished with Jordan Staal in 2006, and then proceeded to become a playoff team and eventual champion.
Staal and Malone are 6’4, with Malkin, Whitney and Orpik all being 6’3. The shortest of the bunch is the best of the bunch in Crosby. So having defense and goaltending first with adding players with size seemed to work for them. What about Chicago?
The Blackhawks underwent an unsuccessful rebuild and began again. Their relaunch started in 2001 selecting Tuomo Ruutu, followed by acquiring Duncan Keith (2nd) James Wisniewski (5th) and Adam Burish (9th) in 2002. In 2003, they added Brent Seabrook (1st) and Dustin Byfuglein (8th) followed by Barker (1st), Bolland (2nd) and Brouwer (7th) in 04. It seems like there is some similarities between the Hawks and the Penguins. They acquired 4 defensemen, two of which became their first pairing, just like Pittsburgh. They also, added an abundance of quality character players. very similar to the pens. The only difference between the two lists in essence was scoring forward Tuomo Ruutu, but he was traded to Carolina for Andrew Ladd right before the Hawks became a cup contender, and he is one of the better character players in the league.
They continued missing the playoffs a couple more times, as a result, they acquired Towes and Kane similar to how the Penguins acquired Malkin and Crosby and they never looked back. They didn’t have a solid goalie in their cup run (Niemi) but with the team they had, they didn’t need one.
Byfuglien is 6’4 Seabrook Barker, Hjalmarsson and Brouwer are 6’3 with Toews coming in at 6’2. Similarly with the Pens, the shortest player is the best guy with Patrick Kane coming in at 5’10.
These two teams were comprised in almost the exact same manner. What about the Bruins?
Boston was strong through most of the last decade, after they drafted Joe Thornton in 1997. They created their team mostly through smart cap management and good free agent signings. When it became apparent that Joe Thornton would not carry them to the cup, they traded him and used his cap space to sign Zdeno Chara. Additionally they added their starting goalie, Tim Thomas, through free agency as well. However, they too drafted their character players in the years prior to them becoming a cup contender. In 2003, they drafted Patrice Bergeron and followed that by drafting David Krejci the year after, both in the 2nd round. When they ran into difficulties in 2006 season, they added three big pieces to their cup run, Phil Kessel (1st) Milan Lucic (2nd) Brad Marchand (3rd).
Kessel was not part of their cup run but was traded for several pieces that should help them if they want to make another run in the future.
The Bruins were a bit different, as they built effectively through both the draft and with using cap space effectively. It shows that there are different ways to get to the end goal, but there are still some similarities, both in acquiring character players and players with size.
Lastly, lets look at the Los Angeles Kings.
They drafted Dustin Brown in 03, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick in 05. They followed that up by adding Simmonds and King in 07, and finished by adding Doughty, Voynov, and King in 07. They built their contending team using both their skill in drafting, but also through smart trades and free agent signings. Acquiring Justin Williams, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll amongst others through trades and free agency. .
By going through the list of the last 4 champions, you get to see some similar threads between all of them. They all drafted character guys and they all drafted players that were both skilled and had size. They had some differing approaches, some through plenty of free agent signings and trades, others with fewer. However, each team had top end picks that ended up injecting some elite skill into their already solid team foundations.
Where does that leave the Calgary Flames? Actually, they have a decent start to building a foundation similar to those teams above.
TJ Brodie has emerged to become the Flames best defenseman this season and he’s just 22. They also have several other players who could become solid defensemen in their own right. Tyler Wotherspoon, Patrick Sieloff and Chris Breen all have potential to become solid 2nd or 3rd pairing guys. I’m not sure the Flames have a franchise calibre defenseman in their system right now though.
Ben Hanowski, Bill Arnold, Akim Aliu, Max Reinhart, and Lance Bouma are all players that profile to be possible 3rd and 4th line players that have size and some skill and could be the character guys that we can definitely use.
Additionally, the Flames have some players with top 6 potential. Sven Baertschi, John Gaudreau, Mark Jankowski, Markus Granlund, and Ken Agostino all have significant skill. Jankowski and Agostino have certain skills that could cause them to become really good 3rd line players, which would mean that our team would have a large amount of depth.
Between the pipes, the Flames have several good prospects. Laurent Brossoit, who was signed today by the Flames, and Jonathan Gillies have both dominated their leagues and both have potential to become starters. Reto Berra and Karri Ramo are two of the better goalies in Europe and their abilities may be able to transfer over. Time will tell with each of these guys.
The Flames will have one of the top 4 picks in this draft, another in the middle of the first round, and one near the end of the round. With those picks, the Flames will have the ability to radically change the foundation of this organization, hopefully for the better. If they pick the right players, this team could evolve into a contender in a few seasons, just like those 4 teams above.
All I, and all Flames fan hope for is our team to try and emulate the good examples from above and build this team right. They have no obstacles in their path, all they have is time to scout and choose wisely. It will be nice to see what comes of this. At the very least, we as fans have something to look forward to.
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