With not a single pick in the top 60, expectations could not have been that high for the Flames at this year’s entry draft. The rumour mill buzzed with far-fetched rumours about players like Jordan Staal, Jason Spezza and even Ilya Kovalchuk that some desperate Flames fans (including myself) ate up. But all the Flames came away with after two days in Los Angeles was a possible solution to their backup goaltending problem, and six generally Sutter-like, unexciting prospects. (Please note, the draft is my area of least expertise when it comes to discussing hockey. Please take what I say with a grain of salt, as I am operating on second-hand information.)
The most notable name to come out of the Flames’ draft was a player they didn’t draft. You typically can’t expect great potential with a third round pick, but there Kirill Kabanov was at number 64, practically begging to be taken. And indeed a fair number of Flames fans following Day 2 of the draft probably were begging Darryl Sutter to take the gamble. I knew going into the draft that there was no chance Darryl would take the enigmatic Russian, even if he was available, but I am still a bit angry. If there ever was a time for the Flames to take a gamble on a guy like Kabanov, it would have been this draft. With no top-60 pick, and the primary organizational need being top-end offensive prospects, nobody would have blamed Darryl for momentarily overcoming his Russian prejudice and swinging for the fences. Instead, they picked an ex-Flames’ son, Maxwell Reinhart, about 10 spots off the board, who I have not yet heard has top-six potential. Kabanov went to the Islanders the very next pick, who are certainly another team that can’t be blamed for it.
The best prospect the Flames came away with on paper appears to be Bill Arnold, taken at #108 in the fourth round. It could be a steal, as Arnold was ranked 36th among North American skaters. Kent Wilson of HockeysFuture and FlamesNation.ca says that Arnold’s comparable is Dave Bolland. Certainly, if he reaches that potential, the Dustin Boyd trade will not look bad anymore (Arnold was picked with the 4th rounder Nashville gave the Flames for Boyd). Joey Leach, taken 73rd overall (about 40 spots ahead of rank) looks like an enigmatic defenseman; his most attractive quality is his +33 rating. Probably a worthy gamble, but I just question the need for more defensemen in the system with Matt Pelech, TJ Brodie, John Negrin, and others showing promise, and with the cupboards comparatively bare up front. John Ramage is the other defenseman taken, at #103, and shows less promise on paper than Leach. (On the other hand, Andy Strickland reported that the Blues would have taken him with the next pick. St Louis has been one of the better drafting teams, so perhaps he will turn out alright. Again, though, I must question the need for more defenseman). John Ferland, taken in the fifth round, projects as mostly a fighter. Not much can really be added. Their seventh-round pick, Patrick Holland, is a raw forward taken around his ranking.
The Flames’ lone trade came when they dealt their sixth round pick to the Sharks for goaltender Henrik Karlsson. He has decent enough numbers in the Swedish Elite League, and a sixth round pick is little to give up. Darryl Sutter seems to believe he’s found a solution to the backup goaltender position. This year’s flooded goalie market means that many veterans could have been had at cheap prices, but good on Darryl if he indeed has solved this persistent problem. (I should note, Karlsson has already signed in the KHL, hopefully that won’t be a headache). However, it is only one problem, and of considerable less urgency than the immediate issue of the Flames’ salary cap situation and need for more scoring.
By far the most troubling thing to come out of the draft for Calgary, at least in the immediate sense, was Darryl Sutter’s inability (or unwillingness) to move any big contracts. Cory Sarich, Steve Staios and others remain on the cap. This means that the Flames, unless something drastic happens in the next three days, will go into July 1 with no money to spend. Ian White and his arbitration eligibility, as it stands, eat up most of the Flames’ cap. With this year’s extremely weak UFA class, it’s possible some players may have more value in trades once the first wave of free agents are signed, but until then Flames fans are looking at a team virtually the same as last year’s.
Still, I have to maintain some optimism, so I’ll hold off on officially writing off the 2011 Flames for now. Salary dumps may or may not happen, but I’ll return with an offseason wish list blog soon.
(Addendum: I advise all Flames fans who haven’t already to read Kent Wilson’s review of the Flames 2010 draft for more information on their picks this year. I took some information from there for this blog, and didn’t get into too much depth so as not to shamelessly copy…with Steve Yzerman’s risky, off-the-board first top pick, one has to momentarily reconsider whether he would have been a great GM here…what should be entertaining on July 1 is seeing how much Matthew Lombardi will get overpaid…with Jason Spezza apparently staying in Ottawa, the only top-line center available appears to be Mike Ribeiro. Can’t say I’d mind him at all, but I do wonder about the asking price.)