Saturday, 2 February 2013

Why Not Rebuild?

I often wonder why NHL general managers choose to "re-tool" when their team is an eighth seed or worse at best. While the core of the team may certainly be strong, sometimes a major change is needed in order to change the fate of the organization. This change can be in attitude, personality, or leadership, but sometimes things need to get worse before it gets better. There are examples of this throughout hockey in recent memory, and the evidence is recent success by a number of teams.

If you look at the image above, it's clearly in the colours of Lego, but there's also one hockey team that wears this colour combination on the ice. If you guessed the Calgary Flames, you'd not only be right, but you may have seen the game against Chicago last night on CBC. While I appreciate the idea of keeping the core of the Flames happy, players like Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, and Jay Bouwmeester have not gotten the Flames any closer to a Stanley Cup than when they lost in the Stanley Cup Final in 2004. Are they good players? Absolutely, but it might be time for the Flames to be honest with their fans and tell them that it's time for a full rebuild.

People will say that rebuilds are not the way to develop fans. I say these people are wrong. If you don't believe me, ask fans in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston, and Manhatten about changing the internal workings of a dressing room through a full rebuild.

People will say that no one wants to cheer for a losing franchise, and I'd have to agree with you. But if a handful of lean years leads to a decade of playoff appearances and some long playoff runs, I'd be inclined to say that most fans will take a few years of missed playoffs for playoff payoff.

The Calgary Flames have only one top-ten draft pick in their lineup this season, and that player - Jay Bouwmeester - was drafted by Florida. Chicago has three top-ten picks, but none of their picks were higher than 16th overall. Pittsburgh has three top-ten picks as well, and five of their seven first-rounders were no higher than 18th. Boston also has three top-ten picks in their lineup, and the New York Rangers carry three first-rounders as well.

Of course, you can point to the standings and say, "Teebz, the Rangers aren't in a playoff spot this season", and I'd agree with you. I'll point you to last season's standings, though, where the Flames finished in ninth-place. The Flames had 16 overtime/shootout losses - the most in the Western Conference - and missed the playoffs by a measly five points. You change five of those 16 losses in extra time to wins, and the Flames make the playoffs as the eighth-seed by virtue of having more wins than the Los Angeles Kings. Suddenly, history changes dramatically.

The reason I point this out is that the Rangers were 12-7 in overtime/shootout games last season for an additional 12 points. Calgary was 5-16 in overtime/shootout games. Normally, you send your most skilled players over the boards when overtime and the shootout are on. Even this season, the Rangers are 1-0 while the Flames are 0-2. It might be time to start looking at why the Flames are missing the playoffs by a handful of points while teams like the Rangers are winning President's Trophies.

So why do I speak of rebuilding when looking at overtime and shootout points? The vast majority of players you see on the ice in overtime and lining up for shootouts are highly-skilled players who, most times, are early first-round picks. Don't believe me?

2011-12 Shootout Leaders
Scorer Rank Goals/Attempts Drafted
Ilya Kovachuk
1st - 2001
Evgeni Malkin
2nd - 2004
Zach Parise
17th - 2003
Frans Nielsen
87th - 2002
Matt Cullen
35th - 1996
Sam Gagner
6th - 2007
Alex Burrows
Jason Spezza
2nd - 2001
Milan Hejduk
87th - 1994
Ray Whitney
23rd - 1991
Patrick Kane
1st - 2007
Tyler Seguin
2nd - 2010
Patrik Elias
51st - 1994
Daniel Alfredsson
133rd - 1994
Matt Hendricks
131st - 2000

So looking at this table, we have eight first-round picks of the top-15 players, and two legitimate superstars from Europe in Elias and Alfredsson from draft years when it was harder to bring over European players. Calgary's top shootout player last season? Olli Jokinen at 53rd overall with three goals on eight attempts. Despite Jokinen being a first-overall pick of the Los Angeles Kings, the Flames simply don't have the talent to win many shootouts.

The leader in overtime goals last season was Steven Stamkos with five, but New York's Marian Gaborik was the next best scorer in extra time with three. New York's Ryan Callahan had a pair of overtime winners. Calgary's Matt Stajan and Blair Jones scored the only overtime goals for the Flames last season, and it's easy to see why the Flames grabbed 16 charity points rather than earning the second point available.

While I'm not suggesting that the Flames begin dealing their superstars away for early first-round picks, I am suggesting that if they would like to continue retooling, they need to invest heavily in scouting and development. Being a mediocre team isn't delivering superior young talent in early first-round picks, and the talent they are developing isn't pushing this team to new heights.

If anything, they just need some good young talent to help them pick up a few additional points in the standings. In a short season, every point is valuable, and losing to Chicago tonight in the shootout isn't going to help them make the playoffs.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Peter Santellan said...

The problem with the Flames rebuilding is their history of developing players, as in it's been horrible since they won the Stanley Cup in 1988. Of the players they have drafted in the first round since that time, only Dion Phaneuf has found success with the Flames. Others that have found some success (and odds are I'm being rather generous when I say successful) like Derek Morris and Eric Nystrom all found success after leaving Calgary.

I think the real problem here is that they need an overhaul of the way they develop their young talent. It's one thing to draft players that can help, but it's another to actually develop that talent into something more.