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Blame the Draft For Present State of Calgary

by Bill Placzek on Dec. 16, 2013

This week, Brian Burke’s Organizational Report Card for the last couple Calgary Flame seasons resulted in Jay Feaster’s dismissal and many want to understand the reason for the departure. Burke was vague in the ownership’s reasons and kept things close to the vest in saying there were many aspects, decisions, and moves that have stood in the way of a Calgary resurgence.

The Flames have been on the ropes for a decade, and here is why there hasn’t been a resurgence out of the depths of the standings:
1. The Flames have never had the luxury of picking in the top three in any draft. 
2. Team decision-makers were more than willing to try fix weaknesses with established players via trades and not UFA signings.
3. Calgary forgot that the crucial team rebuilding block is the NHL Entry Draft. The understanding of each draft year’s uniqueness, and where its draft tiers begin and end, is imperitative to having a successful draft.

Let’s start with the years when Darryl Sutter was in charge. He was active at acquiring veteran additions that he hoped would bring enough improvement to make the playoffs. He had no restraint with trading picks away. He was still of the mindset that every pick in the second round or later was more of a gamble and not a lock, because so many of the prior Calgary 2000 era drafts yielded putrid results.

When Jay Feaster arrived, there was already very thin organizational depth at most positions and there were few young hopefuls arriving soon in the system, with most far from ready to compete. So with the Flames moving away from the old stars, the team not only needed to secure solid prospects, but solid veterans to surround them. They needed to have strong veteran leadership and protection in place so the arriving youngsters are not asked to be the leaders, but to learn from them. However, that was not addressed well in the free agent or trade market.

-In 2008, Calgary and Darryl Sutter added Mike Cammalleri by trading their first rounder, the 17th overall pick (which was used to select Jake Gardiner), and their 2009 2nd round pick.

-In 2009, the Flames knowing they were already missing a 2nd rounder, and picking at slot 20 (not the most desirable place) in the first round, managed to add another pick from New Jersey in the 3rd round. They moved back a meager three places in the order, but that “additional” pick was actually a replacement pick, as Calgary didn’t have a 3rd rounder since they earlier had sent it to the Flyers for Jim Vandermeer.

-In 2010, the Flames did not pick until the third round. They traded their first for Olli Jokinen, and the second for Rene Bourque.

-The 2011 draft was one where the Flames went looking for offensive skill and in the first four picks, they took three forwards, all of whom were undersized and only one player close to 180lbs. It was clear that none had even close to a 200 foot game, and the first rounder that year was just sent down. It didn't help that they rushed him into a NHL role without a roster containing the player elements that would help support such an ascension.

-In 2012 the Flames were willing to drop seven spots and gain a second, because they locked in on a certain long shot prospect. This was a miscalculated gamble when you look at the prospects such as, Tomas Hertl, Tuevo Teravainen, Tom Wilson, that were chosen in the slots between 14 & 21.

All drafts are not equal and it is important for teams to understand where the various tiers start and end. The Flames staff needed be fairly certain that both that 21st pick and the 42nd were going to eventually make their hockey team, because the guy they would have gotten at 14 was.

Surely the prospects that were taken in the 2013 draft cannot be looked upon as poor selections at this point, as all had good size and promise. Coping with the lack of promising draft prospects during that five years drought is going to continue to be a monumental task. Maturing 22, 23, and 24 year olds are not in the farm getting ready to make the jump.

Some fans feel the Flames rebuild is easier than the Sabres, but the Sabres have many more prospects in the system that will get a chance to fill the gaps at the bottom while they attempt to improve. The Flames unfortunately have fewer.

This was not the fault of one person, and obviously improving strong scouting at the amateur and professional levels is the first step. All new deals and new signings must be ones that support the growth of the few youngsters they have, while continuing to build a team with a no-quit work ethic, and they'll see the beginnings of a qualitative jump in results.