The Flames Need To Rebuild (An Oilers Blogger Perspective)
Just over a year ago, I sat inside a tube on the Okanagan, sipping one of many drinks I had that day while writing a blog about what I believed was the Flames impending rebuild. Calgary had just come off of a hugely disappointing season where they missed the playoffs in what was a wide-open Canadian division. Overall I was trying to have a bit of fun at the expense of the Calgary fanbase but my beliefs were honest; I felt that Calgary needed to rebuild in order to build a truly competitive team moving forward.
My advice for the Flames was as followed:
1) Don't let players walk
2) Build a prospect pool by accumulating draft picks
3) Don't miss your trade window
4) Balance the roster with a combination of youth and capable veterans
Now to Calgary's credit, they proved me wrong in the short term as the team would have a fantastic 21/22 campaign, finish first in the Pacific Division, having arguably the best line in the NHL in Gaudreau, Tkachuk, and Lindholm. Calgary looked like a team that could go toe to toe with anyone in the playoffs until they were eliminated in five games by the Edmonton Oilers which was sadly a real kick in the net... I mean pants... to conclude an impressive season.
However Flames fans are now seeing the result of dealing in the short term. Johnny Gaudreau bolted to Columbus, even after Treliving offered him a contract that would have made him one of the highest paid players in the league. To make matters worse, the organization have taken Matt Tkachuk to arbitration which will result in a one year deal, walking him to Free Agency. A trade seems imminent.
Things look bleak in Calgary and I feel for that fanbase. They just finishing watching a great season and should have been discussing all summer what kinds of additions Treliving was going to make to an enticing core of Markstrom, Gaudreau, Tkachuk, Mangiapane, Lindholm, and more. Instead they are left alone at the altar wondering what the heck just happened.
Calgary needs to embrace a full rebuild... not retool on the fly and try and squeak into the last place spot in the West. Since 06/07 the Flames have finished 7th or worse in the Western Conference 13 times (including the Canadian Division). In the past 16 seasons, Calgary has only finished above that 3 times. Once in 08/09 where they finished 5th in the West, 18/19 where they finished 1st in the West, and in 21/22 where they finished 3rd in the West.
And before you ask, the Oilers have finished above 7th in the West 4 times in that same span. They finished 4th in 16/17, 5th in 19/20, 5th in 20/21 (2nd in their Canadian Division), and 5th in 21/22. After years of floundering, Edmonton finally was able to build a competitive team and for the past three straight seasons they have finished high in the Western Conference and look like they will continue to do so.
This tweet came across my feed a couple days ago:
I know Flames fans like to try and insult Oilers fans, saying they only got good because they tanked and collected so many high end draft picks... yeah obviously. Most of the best teams in the NHL right now; Tampa, Florida, Edmonton, Colorado, Toronto... all got to where they are after several bad seasons in a row, resulting in high draft picks which now lead their team. Over the same period, Calgary has not been good enough to enjoy any real playoff success and they haven't been bad enough to reap the rewards.
Gaudreau is gone and there is a chance before this blog is completed that Tkachuk will be too. Calgary could trade Tkachuk to the Blues in a deal that results in Kyrou returning, use the extra money to go after free agents like Niederreiter, Evan Rodrigues... maybe even find a way to bring in Kadri and with Darryl Sutter at the reigns could probably get the team into the playoffs once more... but what about the next year?
The 22/23 NHL Draft is supposed to be the deepest since 2015, a draft which not only saw McDavid and Eichel go #1 and #2, but also saw Mitch Marner, Timo Meier, Mikko Rantanen, Matthew Barzal, Kyle Connor, Brock Boeser, Thomas Chabot, and so many more high end players get selected in the first round. Bedard is obviously the headliner but other names like Michkov, Benson, Fantilli, Halttunen, Dvorsky, Allen, and Stramel are projected to go in the top 10. Collecting even a couple more first round picks would give the Flames a high chance at some elite players that could play for the next decade or more.
I'm not going to sit here and play armchair GM too much with the Calgary roster but it is in the long term best interest of the Calgary Flames to trade Tkachuk now for the highest possible return, move out guys like Toffoli and sadly maybe Backlund (who if he stays should be captain, the guy is all class) who will not be here when the team is ready to compete, and start bringing in prospects like winger Jakob Pelletier and Connor Zary to start to get an idea of what they can bring.
Oilers fans may swear profusely at me for this but I would love if Calgary tanks and wins the lottery to draft Connor Bedard. Having a Bedard/McDavid Battle of Alberta matchup for the next decade? Sign me up. Going the rebuild route will be painful for the Calgary fanbase but if the team wants to find a way to be a top contender year after year in the West I believe it is the only option that makes sense.
Thanks for reading!