Do the Flames need to tank?

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:49 PM ET

Things got real bad for the Chicago Blackhawks before they climbed back to the top of the NHL this spring.

Snapping the longest championship drought at 49 years with a Stanley Cup victory this month, the Blackhawks passed to the Toronto Maple Leafs the title of longest losers.

While the Calgary Flames are nowhere near the Leafs’ 43 straight summers of disappointment, the question has to be asked: Do the Flames need to bottom out before getting back on track for a championship?

Recent history suggests titles come at a price — one that conflicts with Flames GM Darryl Sutter’s mantra of being competitive every season.

Being competitive means lower draft picks (or in the case of Friday’s opening round barring any deals this week, no first-rounders at all, or second rounder for that matter) when it comes to stocking up for the future at the NHL entry draft.

People once believed Cups could be bought.

But the last team to achieve that was the 1994 New York Rangers, who loaded up on former Edmonton Oilers to get the job done in the Big Apple.

Since the lockout, especially, it seems building through the draft is the best way to get it done.

But unless you’re the Detroit Red Wings, the only way to land surefire NHL prospects is to completely suck your way into a top-5 spot.

Highly touted picks Jonathan Toews (third overall in 2006) and Patrick Kane (first overall in 2007) led the Hawks to their first title in what seems like forever.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, who won it all in 2009 and were runners-up to the Red Wings the year before, had five straight years of picking in the top five at the draft before they rose back to prominence.

Marc-Andre Fleury (first overall in 2003), Evgeni Malkin (second overall in 2004), Sidney Crosby (first overall in 2005) and Jordan Staal (second overall in 2006) were all key players in the back-to-back Stanley Cup final appearances.

With 2003 first-round picks Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry leading the Anaheim Ducks to glory in 2007, and Cam Ward and Eric Staal guiding the Carolina Hurricanes to the 2006 championship, you have to wonder what it will take for the Flames to recapture the magic of a 1989 Stanley Cup victory.

Giving up first- and second-round picks to bring in a big name or two and attempt to make a run has proven to be just as big a gamble as trying to land a hot prospect in the latter part of the first round every year. It’s a young man’s game, and every year, upstarts like the Penguins and Blackhawks are proving it.

With a few promising offensive prospects in the cupboards, the Flames look like they’re capable of being competitive — at least in terms of challenging for a playoff spot — every season.

But if they want to add an impact player like Crosby, Malkin, Toews, Kane, either of the Staals, or what looks like the next sure thing in Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, the Flames have to change their philosophy and trade veterans for picks rather than the other way around.

Nobody is suggesting the Flames tank a season or two on purpose to gain higher picks.

It sure would be nice, though, if they’d do their best to hang onto the ones they’ve got.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca


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