Steinberg's Slant: Stick to your list
If you went out and bought an expensive suit or a really classy pair of shoes, you’re going to wear them, right? It wouldn’t make any sense to leave them in your closet the next time you need to dress to impress and elect to wear those ratty old things are you? Of course not, because that wouldn’t make any sense. Why would you spend the time and money to upgrade your wardrobe if you were just going to wear something else? It’s a simple analogy, but it applies perfectly to how the Calgary Flames are approaching this weekend’s NHL Entry Draft.
The Flames have spent countless hours over the last year scouting players from all reaches of North America and Europe, all to prepare themselves for the selections they’ll make in Pittsburgh on Friday and Saturday. All those eye witness accounts, all that research, and all that leg work is rolled up into a comprehensive list for Calgary to work off on the draft floor.
It’s a philosophy that seems simple in principle, but it’s a whole lot more difficult to stick to when faced with the high pressure reality of being on the clock. But if the Flames brain trust has spent as much time as they have in ranking the players, right down to the last attribute, why on earth would they deviate from the list they worked so hard to put together? Well, they won’t, at least according to General Manager Jay Feaster.
"I just don’t think that we can afford that luxury," Jay told me on Sportsnet 960 last week. "That luxury of ‘hey you know what, this is the guy, he’s on our list at nine and he’s still available at 14, but boy that guy at 16 is sexy, look at him, wow’.
"We can’t afford to take that guy at 16 and go past that guy at nine, or 11, we can’t do it. That’s part of that intellectual honesty, is that no matter how tempting it is, if that guy is that tempting, than he by gosh better be up there on our list, because if he’s down there and one of the guys ahead of him is still there, that’s who we’re going to draft."
That quote, said with conviction by Feaster, was something I was really encouraged to hear. It shows the Flames have total belief in the work put in by their draft staff, a staff that includes Director of Amateur Scouting Tod Button and Assistant General Manager John Weisbrod.
One year ago, with Weisbrod not yet in the fold, Calgary had to be as accountable as ever to their list, and it seems to have paid off. With the team deliberating heavily heading into Friday’s round one in St. Paul, Minnesota, Button made the call to elevate Portland Winterhawks sniper Sven Baertschi ahead of the player directly in front of him. It was the final change to Calgary’s list, and the Flames followed their rankings that night on the draft floor. Feaster is happy they did.
"As we go back now and analyze that draft, the player that we initially had ahead of Sven, if we’d taken him…that guy I think is going to play, and we all think he’s going to play, and I think he may be a very good NHL player.
"I don’t think he’s going to play as quickly as Sven, and he’s not going to be as dynamic a player as Sven. In my mind, for our franchise and what we needed, Sven Baertschi was the right guy. If we had been content to say ‘well you know what, they’re close, it’s okay’, we didn’t do that, and that’s why that’s the challenge to the guys this year."
By following their list, which includes hundreds of players to carry them through seven rounds of selections, Calgary made more than one good pick one year ago. Markus Granlund, Tyler Wotherspoon, Johnny Gaudreau, and Laurent Brossoit were selected with subsequent Flames picks, and were all selected following their set rankings.
"I get phone calls from other GM’s about Johnny Gaudreau," Feaster told me. "There are teams that, when we go to other buildings they kick themselves, ‘How did you know you had to do it in the fourth round? Jeez that Gaudreau is a good player’. You know, Johnny Gaudreau, that’s an organizational asset."
So when you get invited to that important event, you sure as heck are going to dress to the nines with the new threads you invested in, right? Well, when the Calgary Flames arrive to the NHL Entry Draft party on Friday night, they’re going to bring the list they invested a great deal of time and resources into. They stuck to that very same list one year ago, and doing so in Pittsburgh might just yield them similar positive results.