That the Calgary Flames have a tough road ahead of them is no secret. Good teams with a solid foundation don’t generally can their general managers, as the Flames did with Jay Feaster Thursday.
But Calgary president Brian Burke offered at least a measure of comfort in the press conference announcing that move (streamed live on the Flames’ official website). He said that the mess the Flames’ new GM will inherit is an easier one to fix than the one Burke faced when he took over.
Is he right? Let’s take a look at the Flames’ NHL depth chart and see how far it needs to come for the team to be a contender.
Here is the centre depth chart (minimum 10 games played), with the players ranked by average ice time:
There are two ways to look at this group.
There are no long-term commitments to bad players here and plenty of room for growth. Sean Monahan is on his entry-level deal, and both Joe Colborne and Mikael Backlund are still in their early 20s.
There’s more help coming on the way. Markus Granlund is having an exceptional rookie AHL campaign, and between him, Mark Jankowski, Max Reinhart, Corban Knight and others, there is a lot of raw material to work with.
The positives here are undeniable, but two big hurdles remain.
First, that’s a terrible NHL depth chart in the here and now. An equally serious problem, if Monahan doesn’t pan out as a championship-calibre first-line centre, Calgary will have to find one somewhere. That’s a daunting task.
What about on the wings?
The story here is similar to what it was at centre. Bad contracts have been kept to a minimum (only David Jones counts, with three years left at a $4.0 million cap hit), and veterans signed for real money are on expiring contracts.
Where it differs is in the amount of projectable players in or near the NHL. Sven Baertschi is 21 and the only guy with significant upward mobility on the roster. There is some help on the farm, and more on the way (players like John Gaudreau, Emile Poirier and Morgan Klimchuk, in particular), so the cupboards are reasonably stocked. But turning those people into difference-making NHL players is bound to be a time-consuming process.
As with centre, the current depth chart is nowhere near contending as things stand, and with the likely spring departure of Mike Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
The defensive corps is considerably more imposing:
The Flames lack a big name to go on the marquee, but the ensemble cast is pretty good. Because these are established players, the contracts are a little heftier, and in some cases (particularly Dennis Wideman and Shane O’Brien), those deals are a little troubling. But it’s a competent cast overall, and nobody is older than 30.
Brodie, at age 23, is probably the best bet to evolve into a special player. The Flames do have some prospects at this position but considerably fewer than they do up front.
In contrast to the defence, goaltending is a mess:
That’s a whole mess of sub-.900 save-percentage goalies in a .912 save-percentage league, which is just one of the many ways of saying that the Flames' current options are terrible. None of them are likely to ever be the answer in net; Berra’s the youngest and has posted mediocre numbers in Switzerland for years, while Ramo is 27 and in his fourth disappointing NHL season.
There are some decent prospects in the system—Joni Ortio has a 12-1-0 record and .923 save percentage for Abbotsford, and Jon Gillies is destroying college hockey—but this is a position that needs help.
The task now facing Burke and whomever he hires to take Feaster’s job is to take the positives the team offers—a competent defence corps, good young forwards, lots of money—and build on them until the Flames are a truly competitive team once again.
There isn’t much in the way of mess to clean up. There remains, however, a lot of work to do.