Calgary Flames

The Dallas Stars should be a blueprint for Craig Conroy to follow for the Calgary Flames

When Jonathan Huberdeau, Mackenzie Weegar, and Nazem Kadri signed long-term with the Calgary Flames last summer it was immediately obvious all three contracts would eventually end up looking bad, but in a darker turn of events than anticipated, two of those three contracts are already looking like some of the worst contracts in the entire NHL.

But I offer you some solace Flames fans. For one of the teams that just played in the Western Conference Final also has two of the worst contracts in the NHL.

The Dallas Stars are a success case of retooling on the fly

Despite Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn having taking up a concerning amount of cap space, the Dallas Stars still made it to the Western Conference Final, and while it might seem ironic this is being published the morning after the Stars were eliminated I can assure you that this rendition of the Stars competition window has just truly taken its first steps.

Comparing the duos of bad contracts

To begin let’s compare the situations with both of these cap-guzzling duos.

Jonathan Huberdeau$10.5M (upcoming)
Nazem Kadri$7.0M
Tyler Seguin$9.85M
Jamie Benn$9.5M

Now it’s worth noting that these two duos aren’t total direct comparables on the ice, but considering the steep decline in production that Benn and Seguin have had since signing their jumbo deals I think the comparison is worth making.

So humour me some more and let us just quickly examine the disappointing average point totals of this merry band of millionaires since they started these contracts.

Benn has averaged 57 points since his contract started in 2016. His best season was 2018 where he totalled 79 points, and most recently this season featured a total resurgence with him notching 78 points in the regular season.

Seguin on the other hand has average 49.66 points since contract started in 2019. He had 50 points in both 2020 and 50 in 2023. It’s worth noting he only played in two games during the 2020–21 bubble season.

These Flames numbers should be taken with a bit of an asterisk since they’ve both only played with the team for one season, and technically Huberdeau’s new contract doesn’t start until July. In that one season though Kadri had 56 points, and Huberdeau had 55.

All of this is disappointing, and no one is carrying their weight the way they should be. But the fact Dallas has found success despite their awful contracts should be an inspiration for Craig Conroy to get creative and retool his team around a cheaper core.

How Dallas is good despite Benn and Seguin’s contracts

For Dallas their success really can be rooted back to one place. The 2017 NHL Draft. In that draft the Stars selected Miro Heiskanen (Pick #3), Jake Oettinger (Pick #26), and Jason Robertson (Pick #39).

They also drafted four others who haven’t really turned out as NHL players but those three players mentioned above are all now among the most elite NHL players and are the real core in Dallas alongside Roope Hintz who was drafted in 2015.

The 2017 draft happened the year following Benn’s new contract already became a bust. In his first season post extension his point totals dropped by 20. Stars fans at the time I’m sure were panicked by that as the team had only made the playoffs twice since losing the Conference Finals in 2008.

Yet the team was completely able to turn it around with this new group of young stars, and they’ve now made the playoffs four out of the last seven seasons since that draft. In that time they’ve made it to the Stanley Cup Final, Conference Finals, and Second Round with only one of their playoff runs ending in the first round.

This team is very young outside of Benn, Pavelski, and Seguin and should by all means be in playoff contention for a very long time. Heiskanen, Robertson, and Oettinger are all under 25.

The youth in Dallas has also been crucial to giving Benn and Seguin the chance to take on smaller roles where they found serious success within this team this past year.

And if you think the Stars are getting any older anytime soon you’d be wrong. Because next season they look primed to add the absolute stud Logan Stankoven who looks primed to haunt the poor drafting of the Calgary Flames for at least the next decade.

The Stars are set to be competitive for a long time coming, and they are doing it because they were able to completely reset their team in one single draft.

How the Flames can replicate the Stars’ formula

The luckiest thing that happened for the Flames in the last year is that this crucial moment in the franchise came when it did.

The Flames have the opportunity to make the 2023 NHL Draft their version of the Dallas Stars’ 2017 class.

The best players from this past season on the Flames all are set to become unrestricted free agents next season. This works out quite well for Calgary as almost all of their main trading chips right now are at their highest value. The Flames currently have one first-round pick, which is pretty valuable in a deep draft coming in at pick #16. But what the Flames need to do is sell the majority of their seven upcoming UFAs for a plethora of first- and second-round picks or other high-level prospects.

Lately the internet has been full of people discussing moving Elias Lindholm to Columbus for the third overall pick in the draft. This should be a move the Flames make even if Lindholm wants to re-sign. The Flames cannot handle another giant contract for someone in their 30s, and Leo Carlsson who is projected to be the #3 pick would be a true game-changer for the Flames akin to Robertson for the Stars.

Mikael Backlund and Tyler Toffoli also look like prime candidates to move as they both likely hit their peak this past season. They could both easily get the Flames at least a second-round pick, and in this draft that could land you someone truly great.

The same goes for Nikita Zadorov who was one of the few players that flourished in the Sutter system and will likely see a decline in his play next season. While he has said he loves Calgary, if some GM desperate for help behind the blue line is willing to give up a first-round pick for Zadorov, Conroy needs to take that deal.

Daniel Vladar should also be moved so that the Flames can start to utilize what will hopefully be their version of Jake Oettinger in Dustin Wolf.

Another turning point offseason in store for the Flames

Craig Conroy has said he wants his team to be younger, and the Dallas Stars are living proof that if a team goes younger even with aging expensive vets eating up a ton of cap success can still be had. It’s clear that the vast amounts of uncertainty surrounding the Flames without contracts can be turned in the team’s favour. While it’s not easy to see long-time Flames go off to other teams, this being Conroy’s first offseason will be critical to get things started on the right track.

This is not to say the team needs to be blown up and start the new season with all new faces, but Conroy needs to turn his words into action and a major part of that involves not losing players for nothing. With the long list of upcoming UFAs, it’s time for Conroy to hit the phones.

Back to top button