Nathan MacKinnon, Steven Stamkos, Connor McDavid, and Alexis Lafreniere have two things in common. They made it to at least the third round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they were drafted with the first overall pick at their respective NHL Drafts. The NHL has often been looked at as being one of the less star driven major professional sports leagues, but over the past few years its been looking very apparent that any true contender consists of at least a couple of elite talents likely found near the top of the top draft.
Because of that many Calgary Flames fans have come to the decision that in order for the Flames to succeed in the aftermath of the departure of Johnny Gaudreau, management needs to give up on the team as it’s currently built, and tank next season.
Why? Well it’s simple, whoever gets the first overall pick in the 2023 draft gets Connor Bedard.
The new Connor in town
Like Connor McDavid before him, Bedard is already being looked at as the next truly generational player to enter the NHL. He’s truly phenomenal and something for hockey fans from all around the NHL to be really excited about, no matter where he ends up playing.
You can’t put Bedard’s excellence lightly. In his first full WHL season this past year, he became the youngest player in the history of the WHL to hit the 50 goal mark. He also finished his first full season with an elite 100 points (51 goals, 49 assists). According to Quant Hockey the only other two 16-year-old players to hit the 100 point mark were Glenn Goodall (1986–87), and Ken Yaremchuk (1980–81).
In recent years the only first overall picks with a higher points per game rate than Bedard (1.63) from their 16-year-old CHL seasons were Sidney Crosby (2.29), John Tavares (2.00), and Connor McDavid (1.77)
Bedard is also only the seventh player ever to be given a spot on Team Canada’s world junior roster at the age of 16, joining Wayne Gretzky (1978), Eric Lindros (1989), Jason Spezza (2000), Jay Bouwmeester (2000), Sidney Crosby (2004) and Connor McDavid (2014).
While Bedard still has another year of junior hockey to play before he gets drafted, with each passing day it looks more and more likely that Bedard will be the next great thing to play on NHL ice.
Are the Flames even in a position to go for Bedard?
As it currently the stands the Flames roster is not in the right shape to try and join the Connor Bedard sweepstakes. While the loss of Gaudreau surely lessens the teams chances of winning the Stanley Cup, the top regular season team from the Pacific Division—and unfortunately the losers of the second round—are still very far from being the worst team in the league.
On July 12 prior to free agency, the Calgary Flames had the seventh highest odds to win the 2023 Stanley Cup, with odds at +1800.
Following free agency, Caesar’s sportsbook now still gives the Flames the tenth best odds to win the 2023 Stanley Cup, with odds at +2200.
While that is a somewhat significant drop, the Flames are still very much in the top half of the league, with better odds to win it all than 22 other teams. Caesar’s also still give the Flames the fifth best odds to win the Western Conference at +1000 odds, which certainly makes it look likely they will at least still make the playoffs.
The Flames also have truly atrocious draft lottery luck, which is something to consider just a little bit. Since the franchised moved to Calgary the Flames are one of only two teams in the entire NHL to have never picked in the top three picks of the NHL Draft, and their only company in that is the Vegas Golden Knights who have only been around for five seasons—four of which they made the playoffs in.
Who is already tanking?
With teams like Chicago, Arizona, and Philadelphia(?) clearly trying to tank as hard as possible to get the top odds for Bedard next season, and other teams like Seattle, Montreal, and New Jersey also not quite done with their rebuilds. The competition for being the worst team in the NHL next season is going to be quite tough.
One just needs to look at the divide between good and bad teams in the Eastern Conference last season to see how bad you really need to be to be in consideration for Bedard next summer. In the Atlantic division there was a 32-point difference between the wild card Bruins and lottery Sabres, and in the Metropolitan division there was a 16point difference between the wild card Capitals and the lottery Islanders.
While a number of the teams who were in the lottery last season do look better so far this offseason—namely Ottawa and Detroit—it’s still a long shot that the Flames could reach the lows of many other franchises in the league.
Is the Flames roster built to tank?
Currently it seems like Brad Treliving’s focus is re-signing the remaining elite talent the Flames still have the rights to: Matthew Tkachuk. While it’s not certain if Tkachuk will rejoin the team long-term now that Gaudreau is gone, if the Flames are able to keep their franchise winger and favourite for new captain, the Flames will be immediately taken out of consideration for Bedard.
Tkachuk’s decision will be the most important next step in deciding the future of the Flames, but even without Tkachuk it still seems very unlikely the Flames will be able to fall to the absolute bottom of the league.
The the Flames will still have Selke finalist Elias Lindholm, Vezina finalist Jacob Markstrom, Tyler Toffoli, Chris Tanev, and Andrew Mangiapane on the roster. This team was considered to be one of the deepest teams in the NHL last season, and while that’s great if you’re contending, it’s awful if you’re trying to quickly go from contending to tanking over a span of just a few short months. The Flames also missed their main opportunity to offload players during the NHL Draft where they could have moved them for valuable picks—something the Blackhawks were very clearly able to do.
Even if the Flames miss the playoffs like they did only a year ago in 2021, it’s very likely that the team would only get a pick in the 10–16 range like they did in 2021. The pick would have good odds of leading to a top prospect for the Flames, but it wouldn’t land them the ultimate prize in Connor Bedard.
It’s also worth pointing out that even if the team makes a couple of subtractions over the rest of the offseason, the 2022 Jack Adams Award winner Darryl Sutter is also still the coach of the Flames, and no matter who plays for him he’s gonna be wanting Ws.
Is it too late for the Flames to tank?
Essentially yes. Just like how Philadelphia was seemingly never in on Gaudreau, the Flames will not be in on tanking for Bedard. They missed their best opportunity to get rid of their great depth pieces during the NHL Draft, and still are looking to hopefully bring back Matthew Tkachuk long-term. With so many other teams already well on their way to losing a lot of games this season in hopes of Bedard, the Flames are still, as per usual, looking like a middle-of-the-pack to good or great team.
The rest of the offseason will reveal how they view themselves for the 2022–23 season, and just as they outshone expectations from last summer, there’s no telling just how high the Flames can fly.