The Calgary Flames’ 2023–24 season continues to go off the rails. The Flames played better last night than they did in some of their October games, but still fell to the Dallas Stars to a final score of 4–3. That brings their season record to 2–7–1.
I don’t think anyone could have imagined this but this rut is where the Flames find themselves. A few weeks ago, it was reported that Noah Hanifin was closing in on an extension with the Flames. Now, Eric Francis reported that all contract talks are paused, and the Flames might be taking a new approach.
It makes sense that the team would be looking for something different. With a start like this, every option has to be on the table. Fans across social media are starting to come around to the idea of a rebuild or a retool. It is clearly not working with this group. Since majority owner Murray Edwards was in attendance at the Heritage Classic, he has seen this version of team with his own eyes. He has probably heard the fans booing the Flames off the ice after their 3–0 loss to St. Louis last Thursday too.
It is time for a new direction. The Flames have consistently peddled in mediocrity for years. Fans are rightfully upset with the endless cycle. Whether it be a rebuild, a retool, or whatever they want to call it, there is likely going to be something coming. Some fans are concerned with a rebuild or retool direction due to the big contracts on the books for a long time. I want to present the Dallas Stars as an example of a team which pulled off a successful retool with big contracts on the books.
Dallas Stars completed an effective retool (with some luck)
The Dallas Stars have completely revamped themselves as an organization over the past seven years. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are still on their long-term contracts. Seguin makes $9.85M for four more years, and Benn makes $9.5M for this year and next. Their combined total is quite close to the combined total of Nazem Kadri and Jonathan Huberdeau at $7.0M and $10.5M, respectively. So, as Seguin and Benn continue to age, how have the Stars continued to have success?
In 2017, the Stars finished with a 34–37–11 record—good for 11th in the West. This placed them likely to pick eighth overall. Not a bottom-out by any means, but they got lucky with the draft lottery. They didn’t win the lotteries for the first or second overall picks, and then had a 6.4% chance to pick third overall. They got that third overall pick. The NHL has changed the lottery since then and only does lotteries for the first and second overall picks, due to the Avalanche falling from the team with the highest odds at first overall all the way to picking fourth. Bowen Byram is definitely a nice consolation prize for them, though.
In the 2017 NHL Draft, the Stars made the following picks; Miro Heiskanen at third overall, Jake Oettinger at 26th overall, and Jason Robertson at 39th overall. That is your number one defenceman, starting goaltender, and elite top-of-the-lineup player all in one draft. Crazy. Absolutely crazy. I wouldn’t expect the Flames to just magically pull a draft class like this. There’s really no way any team would expect a single draft year to have that kind of impact.
Drafting is incredibly important
I don’t think the Flames or any team could copy the 2017 NHL Draft that the Stars had. Hitting with three top-of-the-lineup players is a crazy feat. Two years prior, the Stars snagged Roope Hintz 49th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Draft picks are the most valuable bullet you can have in your chamber. But it’s only valuable if you make the right selection. The Stars definitely did that with the draft picks previously mentioned. The main point here is that before these draft picks, the Stars had mediocre talent that was paid like top-end star players.
How did they acquire real star talent to build around these overpaid players? They drafted high and made the later picks work as well. Undeniably, the Stars got lucky with winning one of the 2017 lotteries.
But, the Flames are in a good position to win a lottery as it is. If they can add extra at-bats and make the picks count, you could hit on a future star or two to build around the latter years of Huberdeau and Kadri.
The Flames aren’t going to win anything with their core as currently constructed. Time to retool or rebuild and try to add as many picks to their draft capital as possible. They are in a pretty good spot to do so with all three retention spots available, and Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev, Nikita Zadorov, Dillon Dube, and Dan Vladar as players that could potentially be moved.
It’s worth noting that Calgary is a small market team. Teams like Vegas have so much success because players want to go there. For Calgary, there is certainly a struggle with getting talent to come here. The only surefire way to get elite players in your city is through the draft. You aren’t going to magically get a 40-goal scorer in trade to pair with Huberdeau, as that scorer probably wouldn’t want to come here. If you draft that player, you can develop and have that player in their prime years.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire