Shiny New Toys

During last night’s broadcast of the Bruins Hawks game, Elliott Friedman on CBC stated that the Flames made an offer to the Colorado Avalanche that would have sent all three of our first round picks for the number one overall pick. Undoubtedly acquiring Nathan MacKinnon would be a good thing as he is the best player in the draft. My concern is that the difference between Mackinnon and the players that would likely be available at number six are not vast. Therein lies the problem, trying to take shortcuts instead of being patient. While Mackinnon is the best player in this draft, as a prospect he is not in a different stratosphere from players that would be in the top three the following few drafts.

One of the main problems the Flames have is a lack of quality youth in the system. On the current roster, only Sven Baertschi and TJ Brodie look to have any quality with John Gaudreau and Mark Jankowski being the most likely NHLers in the prospect pool. Beyond that there are long shots and players that fit mostly into 3rd/4th line roles. Necessary players for sure, but not the impact players that are necessary to be a contending team. Having three first round picks at 6, 22, and 28 in a solid draft, the Flames will have a good opportunity to address those needs. As strange as it sounds, getting a shiny new toy like Mackinnon is actually not the right way to go where we are currently as an organization.

The Oilers similarly acquired players that were the shiny new toys in Hall, Nugent Hopkins, and Yakupov. The problem they are currently facing is that they too have very little depth beyond their star players. The problems start to arise once those players contracts expire as they cost a lot of money to retain. Normally that isn’t a problem, but with the cap, you can’t spend 30+ million dollars on 5 players and remain competitive for a cup, although you should make the playoffs. It becomes a circular problem as they will need to shed one or more of their star players in order to try and address their depth problems, which will take away from their abilities to contend. Eventually it will mean that they will have to rebuild again in earnest, wasting everybody’s time.

With Chicago, they used their draft picks in the 2000-2005 years, none of which were in the top five, to select a lot of surrounding cast players like Crawford, Seabrook, Keith, Bolland, Ruutu, Byfuglien, and others. Then once they had these players in their system, the NHL team continued to struggle, which allowed them to acquire Kane and Toews. Because the star players came last, they were able to afford the supporting cast players in addition to the young superstars, which allowed them to win the cup. They have continued to be a quality team even though they have needed to move several of their depth players due to the cap and may win a second cup next week. That shows that under this model, it is possible to have sustained success.

The Flames, as they are currently, are not in a position where they are looking like they will contend for a playoff spot again soon. With the possibility of picking in the top 5 the next couple of season looking virtually guaranteed, it will be possible to acquire Nathan MacKinnon type prospects in the future. Looking ahead to next season Joshua Ho Sang, Aaron Ekblad, and Sam Reinhart are all in the same conversation with Mackinnon as of now. Each draft has a couple players that are better than the rest. As Toronto Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopolous once said “each year I get older, but these prospects all stay the same age”. It is true, there will be other MacKinnons, some slightly better, some slightly worse but all of them are good players. Toews, Kane, Staal, Stamkos, Tavares, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, and Yakupov are all in the same conversation, some better, some worse.

With this rumour, I am concerned the Flames are attempting to follow the Edmonton Oiler model of collecting shiny toys and being awesome at everything except winning a game of hockey. Trying to expedite a task that cannot be done any quicker leads to errors and frustration. You need to have the foundation poured and in place before you can start arranging the furniture and hanging the pictures. That is one of the main reasons why the Canadian teams over the past twenty years have not been successful. They take shortcuts trying to get back to being a playoff team as soon as possible because the fans get frustrated too easily (ticket sales drop – finances suffer etc.) instead of taking the time to do it right. I’m sure every Flames fan would rather have an extra season or two of being mediocre if it meant that we would have a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup, instead of just being an also ran like we have been since 1989.

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