Calgary Flames

Flames Sunday Census: Should Calgary trade up, down, or keep their 16th overall pick?

The Calgary Flames are slotted to pick 16th overall in the upcoming 2023 NHL Draft. With extremely low odds to win the lottery, the Flames knew they’d be in this position as the best non-playoff team. The Flames made the decision to not sell at the trade deadline, not tank over March and April, and ultimately stayed focused on the playoffs until they were mathematically eliminated. As such, 16th overall was their destiny. Now, with the 2023 prospects making up an extremely deep pool of talent, should the Flames keep their pick or trade it to move up or down? We asked, you answered.

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What to do with the 16th overall pick

The Flames are still looking to hire a new general manager—something that’s likely going to be complete before the draft rolls around at the end of June. With under two months remaining, getting their GM sorted out is paramount as they will dictate the direction of the franchise for years to come. Whoever’s coming in will likely have their first major impact for Calgary be at the draft, which will be a heavy weight to bear on fresh shoulders.

With draft picks never being a certainty, the pressure to pick correctly in the first round will be even higher for a new GM. It could be that the team wants to get a better chance at making a home run selection, meaning trading up could be in the books, or they might feel the draft is deep enough that moving down a few positions to gain extra assets is worth it and allows the team to hedge their bets. Or they could just stick to 16th overall and tend to trading up or down in later rounds.

Sticking with what was dealt

The most popular option was to stick to drafting 16th overall. There will be plenty of great or even excellent prospects left on the board—especially in a draft pool like this year’s—so being patient and picking the best available player whoever they may be at 16th overall could be the best play.

With the deep draft comes a bit of a luxury for mid-round picks. The best of the best will be picked already within the first five picks, but the next batch of players can see teams making big reaches for surprising picks or good players suddenly falling down the draft board. Therefore by the time the middle of the first round comes, the best players available are a little less risky in that the ones that are left should be solid picks no matter what.

Whoever’s available for the Flames will be a great pick moving forward and a key addition to their prospect cupboard.

The case for trading up

The next most popular option—which didn’t trail by much—was to trade up. With the draft being as good as it is, some of the best players slotted to go early in the first round all have potential to be franchise players. Whoever lands closer to the middle of the first round may not have that same potential and Calgary could be in a position where trading up gives them a better shot of being competitive for years to come.

This is especially critical given that current Flames were less than eager about announcing their desire to stay in Calgary long-term. This includes the likes of Mikael Backlund, Elias Lindholm, among others. Both of these players are unrestricted free agents after 2023–24, so if they’re set on moving on, using them as capital at one of the deepest drafts of recent memory might be in the playbook for the incoming GM. There’s little to no loyalty that the new GM would have as the relationships would be far less developed than what the players had with Brad Treliving.

If the Flames are able to get a new GM in time as well as start tending to the new head coach, the direction they take during the draft could be much more defined and trading up for a player wouldn’t be unreasonable at all. If there are players unwilling to commit to the team, then it’s just doing what’s best for business.

The case for trading down

The alternative path the Flames can take is to trade down. This was the least popular option, but there might be some merit to doing so. Getting an extra pick or two might be worth it to the Flames right now as their prospect cupboard isn’t looking too good aside from a core of budding prospects. By the time the draft reaches the 16th overall pick, the Flames might reassess their position and make the call right on the draft floor.

If the Flames somehow make it to the draft without a GM or head coach, the status of the team and its current roster will be even more uncertain. In a worst case scenario where all UFAs walk both this year and next, the Flames will definitely need prospects under their control to become mainstays of the future, and the best way to do that might be to approach it as a volume game.

Of course, getting both the GM and head coach positions sorted before the draft will serve to get better answers from current players about their status and commitment to the team, but until that actually happens, it’s all a waiting game. The Flames simply don’t have a clear sense of direction and they don’t know who will be at the helm steering the team.

This uncertainty makes it extremely difficult to commit to anything as the long-term vision for the team will not be clear. The team simply does not know if they’re going to be losing two of their best centres by the time next summer rolls around and they might just have to use the draft to get more players back into the system.

The example of Backlund and Lindholm was only used because their both centres, but this goes beyond them as well. The Flames’ contracts are structured where a good number of contracts all expire next season. It gives them a chance to reset the team if needed, but it also comes with the risk of losing all their best players for nothing. Trading down in this draft is not just a strategy of hoping at least one pick will turn out to be a great NHL player, but it also serves as a way to make sure the Flames remain competitive no matter what their current players do.

Back to the drawing board

No one foresaw the Flames being in their current position. For two straight offseasons, they find themselves in unenviable spots. The next few weeks will be paramount for the team as it’ll set the tone for many years to come. The first order of business being the draft is just mere weeks away and the incoming GM will have to think fast and deeply understand the Flames in order to make the draft successful.

What do you think the Flames should do with their first-round pick? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @wincolumnCGY.

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