Draft Preview
2004 NHL Entry Draft

Rick Charlton
June 22nd, 2004

It's one of the few downsides to success, the inevitable slide down the draft pole, the Calgary Flames disappearing into the depths of the NHL's annual auctioning of youth for the first time since the selection of Denis Gauthier 20th overall in 1995.

More ominous, although it has nothing to do with the reality of today, is Calgary's record of success when drafting in the area they'll select on Saturday, 19th overall, having wasted similar picks in years past on luminaries like Chris Biotti ,17th in 1985, George Pelawa 16th in 1986, Bryan Deasley 19th in 1987, Jason Muzzatti 21st in 1988, Niklas Sundblad 19th in 1991, Jesper Mattson 18th in 1993 and Chris Dingman 19th in 1994.

Of that Group of Seven, only Dingman has played any significant amount of time in the NHL, mostly as a fourth line ruffian.

Against that backdrop must lie an acknowledgement the Flames appear to have broadly improved their prospect base with some decent drafts in recent years and may well have snared the best player to come out of of last year's selections, Dion Phaneuf, although there is plenty that has to be seen before that declaration can be made.

Chief Amateur Scout Tod Button is the man who miraculously survived the purges in the Flames head office, his brother axed in favour of Darryl Sutter but the latter so impressed with the draft work of Button that he elected to keep him on in spite of the expectation he would be torched out of hand.

Both Sutter and Button appear to see eye to eye on many of the qualities that go into finding a quality NHL'er among the rough diamonds available in a typical draft year, speed, size, competitiveness and skill the requisites that have crossed over from the Craig Button regime to Sutter's.

The lower position in the order makes their job all that much more challenging, a difficulty that is also compounded by the fact this draft isn't particularly deep in many areas or is at least fairly evenly dispersed in talent after the top two or fiver uber-selections.

I don't see the Flames trading up to pick anyone at this point but could easily see them moving down although we'll stick with the 19th selection for our purposes and see Lauri Korpikoski of Finland, Kyle Chipchura of Prince Albert and Dave Bolland of London as their priority picks.

In my mind, Bolland wins out, losing the size argument but having the other three qualities of skill, competitiveness and quickness. Sutter likes big hearts and this guy certainly has one. It's also true that's Sutter's emphasis on size has more to do with wingers than centres, a bit of a variation from Craig Button's thoughts but enough of a wobble to put Bolland into the picture.

Arguing against Chipchura is a noticeable lack of wheels and the comparison to Manny Malhotra, a player who turned out to have exactly the stone hands his critics said he had.

Korpikoski is probably interesting to Sutter but his oft-stated preference for Canadian players and western Canadians if he can have them probably puts Korpiskoski on a lesser plaine than Bolland, as simplistic as that sounds.

This space has been correct in predicting the last three consecutive Flames first round selections but we'll have to admit, the further down the pole you go, the more variables come into play, the peculiar peccadillo's of the teams drafting in front of Calgary becoming all the more important.

But Bolland it is, a competitive centre who may still add an inch to get to that precious 6 foot level and hopefully add another 15 pounds or so before he dons a Flames jersery for good.

WHO IS LEAVING CALGARY - Denis Gauthier has been steadily moving down the Flames depth chart, not necessarily through fault of his own but rather via the inevitable rise of others more talented. At $1.4 million for his spot as a sixth defenceman and others more worthy demanding increases in pay this off season , the Flames could easily be seen parcelling Gauthier off on Saturday for prospects, picks or even another roster player.

One might have also add Toni Lydman to this list except it was Darry Sutter himself who signed Lydman to a three year deal for $1.7 million, $2.4 million and $2.5 million and its also true the Calgary coach has tended to play Lydman to exhaustion in spite of his occasional biting criticism. The coach and GM has a particular fascination with puck-moving defencemen and Lydman, while not top end in that regard, is probably far more important to Sutter than many might realize and certainly more important than Gauthier.

Then there is the twilight zone perspective, the inevitable jockeying for position ahead of a new CBA as teams get into uncharted territory in trying to shed contracts.

As an example, its probably a foregone conclusion the Flames have asked Roman Turek if he'll waive his no-trade clause and likely a given the enigmatic goaltender has given his acquiesence. Turek is now within a year of a $1 million buyout and the potential of a lengthy lockout wiping out at least part of his contract this year could make him fodder for a trade if you're willing to think beyond the dots and consider the potential of a sizeable but similarily short contract coming back, one team helping another to fill deficiencies at certain positions.

Possible in Turek's case, although not probable.

Calgary needs to dump some payroll, one way or the other, to allow for the inevitable boost to Miikka Kiprusoff's contract as well as a likely attempt to keep Chris Simon around and, dare I say it, probably a move to retain Craig Conroy as well in spite of the doom and gloom surrounding his name.

On that subject, it might be telling that Conroy and Sutter were scheduled to meet in the last week to see if they can come together on their expectations for a deal that would keep the unrestricted free agent in Calgary. If that meeting didn't pan out, then the squirrels in Sutter's head might be working the treadmill pretty hard at the draft, looking for a solution that not only drops payroll but also replaces some of the people he's going to be losing.

One of the more interesting scenario's out there is Dallas shopping Jason Arnott at the draft, a player they are likely to turn loose as an unrestricted free agent on July 1 when they refuse to extend him a qualifying offer on $3.85 million. On the surface, a trade for Arnott makes little sense for Calgary and even less if they're the team that would end up qualifying him. Unless Calgary can somehow move Turek off their books in the same deal, perhaps a three way trade involving a team looking for a short term upgrade in goaltending.

Laugh all you want but there will probably be quite a few of those strange types of scenarios popping up on Saturday and it could well be a very active draft on the trade front for a lot of teams with deals that might leave many scratching their heads.

Charlton's Top Ten

1) Alexander Ovechkin
2) Evgeni Malkin
3) Cam Barker
4) Al Montoya
5) Lauri Tukonen
6) Andrew Ladd
7) AJ Thelan
8) Ladislav Smid
9) Rotislav Olesz
10) Wojtek Wolski

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