Edmonton - June 11, 2014 - Looking at the Calgary Flames, it would appear they have a good foundation to grow off of. Good coach, in Bob Hartley, gets the most out of the players, and has plenty of experience including a Stanley Cup ring.
There is good leadership among the players, with a culture of positive work ethic, as well as some decent prospects coming up in support. Rightly or wrongly, they appear to over-achieve, rather than under.
And in management, a team of Brain Burke, (lots of experience, plus a cup ring) and a newly named GM in Brad Treliving , who comes from a solid if unspectacular organization and has done extensive executive work at nearly every hockey level.
But how exactly are things going to work? Normally speaking, the day to day operations and the short and long term direction is guided by the GM, with the support of his assistant, and scouts. The draft will be huge for Calgary as they continue to add bricks to the foundation, but equally as important, it will clearly illustrate just who’s running the team. And based on the decisions that take place at the draft, the answer should be fairly forthcoming. Will Treliving be actively putting his own stamp on the team? Or will he simply be a competent administrator, who’s decisions are constantly influenced by Burke's overbearing presence, always looming overhead like a modern day sword of Damocles.
I could be wrong ( I have been from time to time ) but the Flame's drafting direction on D-day will follow one of two paths, and depending on which one they take will clearly identify Treliving as a decision-maker, or administrator. The drafting tendency of the Flames, as communicated by Burke, is to make a priority on character. Certainly that was case last year with Sean Monahan. In this year's draft there are options that would allow Calgary to take a similar type of pick that would contribute to their hard working physical style of play. Del Colle strikes me as the most obvious choice because he has the combination of size and skill (albeit, he could be more physical) that Calgary could someday put to use. Virtanen is another name that has been bandied about, having played major junior with the Hitmen, so the Flames would be very familiar with him, although #4 may be a stretch considering Virtanen is ranked around ten. Arguably the most talented player in the draft, William Nylander, could easily be had by the flames, but that's not likely to happen. A one dimensional player with all offence isn't likely to fit in, but where Nylander is coveted could unveil who is pulling the strings with the Flames.
The Florida Panthers have made it well known they are open for business when it comes to trading down. With the least offensive top six forwards in the NHL, the Panthers would love to have a player like Nylander on their team. To give some perspective on how bad their offence is, the Panthers did not have a single player reach 40 points . . . that's bad. But Panther's GM Dale Tallon knows they could land Nylander anywhere from 3 - 6, depending on what happens on draft day. So, if they trade down they could pick up an offensive dynamo with NHL bloodlines (Nylander), get the guy they want plus a nice asset from the team looking to trade up. But would Calgary be the team looking to trade up? It's not an elite draft, so practically speaking they shouldn't be, but that could change is Burke is really the guy quarterbacking this draft.
Burke has first-hand experience in draft day bravado having jockeyed to land the Sedin twins in 1998, but which player would motivate Burke to push for draft day drama? I'm guessing it would be more along the lines of two players: Sam Bennett or Aaron Ekblad.
Aaron Ekblad would be an obvious selection because he is most likely to have an immediate impact and the majority of successful NHL rebuilds put an emphasis on center and defense. Considering what a man-child Ekblad is, and that the Flames get very thin on D after their top pairing, he is likely coveted by the Flames. Another bonus would be scooping the Edmonton Oilers who have arguably the worst D in the league and are crying for player like Ekblad. TSN 1260 broadcaster Alan Mitchell (aka Lowetide) has repeatedly stated he suspects a plot is brewing that that would involve Calgary leap frogging Edmonton in the draft and taking Aaron Ekblad.
Lowetide may be hitting the target with his suspicions, but is he hitting the bull's eye? The other player that may be of even more interest for the Flames is Sam Bennett. In this draft, Bennett's calling card is his uber intense competitive spirit. Apparently there is no quit in this guy and that fits right into the Flames' business plan. He's drawn strong comparisons to Flames' legend Doug Gilmour, and low and behold Gilmour is his mentor as GM of Bennett's junior team, the Kingston Frontenacs.
But what would the price tag be to move up in the draft? Burke has publicly stated they won't mortgage their future to move up, but considering the lack of fan fair around this draft, would they need to? Based on previous examples of moving up/trading down in the draft I'm going to suggest one scenario. The Flames package top prospect Sven Baertschi and a middle round pick to trade places with Florida and take the top pick. Why Baertschi? He shows a lot of offensive potential (Florida would like that) and he's drawn some criticism from Burke, who in many ways is like an American Don Cherry with an Ivy League education, preferring North Americans hockey players and the odd Finn rather than traditional European players.
So there it is, Treliving is a credible hard working hockey man who has earned his shot, but if the draft day goes anything like how I have described, he's not the guy calling the shots. The real person in charge will be Burke, the man prodding his GM to pull the trigger on the blockbuster deal. Dale Tallon has already publicly stated he has received a very fair offer for the first overall pick. Is the offer from Calgary? Maybe, maybe not, but I'm saying that because of Burke, the Flames will definitely be in the running, or, once again, I could be wrong.