Meister: Poor drafting to blame for Calgary’s recent woes

By: Sean Meister, Contributing Writer
@SeanyMeist

Calgary’s three-year playoff drought will grow longer if they can’t draft young talent to replace their aging veterans. (Hawk Eyes/Flickr)

Sometimes negative reputation is unfair and unfounded. Unfortunately for the Calgary Flames, that isn’t the case when talking about their reputation for poor drafting.

Drafting NHL players certainly isn’t an exact science. There are so many factors that affect young hockey players. From unexpected injuries, to personality, to the franchise’s development system, top prospects can easily fall out of the picture.

In the case of Calgary though, it seems that they either trade away top picks in ultimately poor moves, or draft players that just don’t pan out.

For the Flames, a big part of the problem is the perception that they draft players based on hometown more than potential. The old saying of taking the best player available doesn’t seem to be the mantra for Flames management over the last several years.

But is that fair? Is it just perception, or is it reality? And most important, is the focus changing under Jay Feaster? Are priorities shifting?

Let’s delve into an examination of the drafting record since the lockout, and see what their history truly is.

From 2005-2010, the Fames have had 40 draft picks. In that time, they’ve had as many as eight picks in one draft, with a low of five picks in 2007.

Of those 40 draft picks, only six have been in the first two rounds, and only one of those six was a second rounder. There is no arguing that missing out on those second round picks is a huge hit to prospect depth.

The big question is did the Flames actually draft a higher percentage of western Canadian born players, as their reputation is? To be clear, the western Canadian definition is including Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.

Of the 40 draft picks, 45% of the Flames picks were western Canadian born players. In comparison, of the 1,286 draft choices made by all 30 teams from 2005-2010, 20% were western Canadian born players.

But it doesn’t matter where the players are from, so long as they make an impact. That situation doesn’t look much better for the Flames.

Mikael Backlund is the only player in this time period to be playing a regular shift in the NHL. Keith Aulie, with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and TJ Brodie, with the Flames, are likely to be NHL regulars beginning next season. Tim Erixon also has a chance, but the New York Rangers depth could slow his assent to the NHL. Outside of Backlund, Aulie and Brodie, these Flames picks have played a total of 126 NHL games.

All these statistics taken into account, the Flames from 2005-2010 had a 0.75% success rate in drafting NHL players.

If Sven Bartschi can crack the roster next season, and stick with the big club, Jay Feaster will have already surpassed the success rate of the previous six drafts.

Spin it however you want, these numbers prove a scouting system that has been ineffective, at best. When a roster is one of the oldest in the NHL, this prospect system should be huge cause for concern.

The new Flames management can’t change the past, but they can learn from it. And it would seem that changes are being made. It all starts with the diversity in drafting. A scouting team that spreads out, exploring the leagues across the globe, are going to identify the potential picks that deserve more attention.

In the 2011 and 2012 entry drafts, the Flames dropped to 33% of their 12 picks being from western Canada. At the same time, 33% have been from American developmental leagues. This is up from 17% in the 2005-2010 time period.

An area of concern continues to be European drafting for the Flames. Of the 52 Flames picks from 2005-2012, only eight have been European born. There have been no Russians drafted in that same time, but that is in line with an overall sense of hesitation in the NHL to draft young, talented Russians who have the KHL knocking on their door.

There are plenty of issues for the Calgary Flames franchise. The team has an aging core, with contracts nearing an end, and few players waiting to take top line roster spots.

Feaster has been playing a balancing act between old and young. Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff appear to be staying put, but there is a subtle movement to youth. The Flames are becoming more active in the NCAA free agent sweepstakes, and there is a willingness to explore the KHL option, as seen with the signing of 26 year old Roman Cervenka.

Many of the most recent Stanley Cup champions continue to reinforce that effective drafting is an integral part of building a winning team. There is no denying that the Flames have had a lot of misfortune in their drafting. Whether it be an over commitment to western Canada, or just plain bad luck, their draft picks haven’t developed into NHL players. Feaster’s main goal is to right the ship when selecting prospects.

GMs and scouts have hardly had a chance to filter out of the CONSOL Energy Center, but the 2012 Entry Draft is a positive step for Calgary. Although the 2012 picks are admittedly risky, and potentially several seasons away from reaping any potential rewards, the Flames scouting team has branched out.

They have broken the mold and are moving away from the habits that made the Flames a punch line for draft jokes with NHL fans.

Is everything fixed, and the Flames are on their way to a wave of youthful, talented stars filling their roster? Not at all, but they are making the moves that demonstrate an awareness that winning starts on the draft floor.

Prospects don’t need a 403 or 780 area code to be successful, and it looks like the Flames are finally starting to recognize this fact.

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Comments

  1. John Rosenberg says:

    . I am a Caps fan and don’t follow the Flames much..BUT judging by their performances–or lack thereof–over the past 10 to 15 years, this information serves to confirm my thoughts. The Caps have drafted several Western Hockey League players over the past decade. Eminger, Sutherby, and Fehr were major busts. Only Alzner has been outstanding.
    John Rosenberg Fairfax County Virginia USA

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