Flames riding the bust

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

First, the good news.

The Calgary Flames have been strong enough annually to avoid having to pick too high in the NHL entry draft.

In 30 years, they’ve never selected higher than sixth overall.

Now for the bad news.

Outside of Al MacInnis and Gary Roberts, none of their first-round picks in the continuing crapshoot became stars.

Most were nothing more than pluggers and role players, with serviceable sidekicks Dan Quinn and Cory Stillman the only exceptions.

Stillman, though, didn’t make a splash in the league until pulling on another colour jersey.

Forming the last group of Flames drafted before the turn of the Millennium whose names may have been heard outside of the cities they played in are Trevor Kidd, Derek Morris and Denis Gauthier. And the only kid with significant star power taken since was traded away last season: The top pick from 2003 at ninth overall, Dion Phaneuf’s best years are sure to be played as captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Even giving drafted players from the past five years a pass based on an incomplete body of work so far, and a tragic exemption for the promising George Pelawa — who was killed in a car accident a couple of months after being selected 16th overall in 1986 — and it’s a striking 2-for-22 for the Flames in the first round. In baseball, that’s a .091 batting average. Enough to get you demoted to the minors quicker than you can say Rico Fata.

And it’s not just the current regime that has had trouble finding gems. Since the franchise made the move to Calgary before the 1980 draft, things have been spotty.

The organization’s first selection, Denis Cyr, never lived up to his potential and was dealt away in his second season. Five of their nine selections the next year never suited up for an NHL game. Luckily, they hit it big with Al MacInnis and Mike Vernon in that group.

They completely struck out in 1983, when 11 of 13 selections were never seen in the Flaming C — and their top pick from the second round, Dave Reierson, only managed to get into a pair of NHL contests in his brief career.

The ’90s didn’t get off to a great start, either, with the Flames picking goaltender Kidd 11th overall when they could have had future hall-of-famer Martin Brodeur.

Looking back, it’s easy to find hundreds of similar situations and poke holes in any team’s choices.

There are dozens of outright flops and hundreds of ‘wish-we-would-have-taken-him’ hindsights.

Hey, even the most impressive franchise the past two decades has a rather marginal first-round record in the same time period (the Detroit Red Wings have found many of their gems in the later rounds).

Current Flames director of scouting Tod Button and his staff can do all the research they want and watch a kid play a hundred times and still make a pick that doesn’t pan out.

There’s no bigger gamble in professional sports.

Coming away with more winners than losers is the ultimate goal.

“Over time, the best guys have produced the best,” Button said.

“There’s no fluke there.”

With some more promising selections the last few years, things may take a turn for the Flames.

But draft losses have been too common an occurrence for the franchise, which currently has just two of their own drafted players signed to one-way deals for next season.

And while there have been plenty of first-round busts across the board in the NHL — think Alexandre Daigle first-overall by the Ottawa Senators in 1993 or the Minnesota North Stars taking Brian Lawton atop the 1983 draft — a pair of Flames back-to-back No.-1 picks in the late ’90s often rank when individuals put together top-10 lists of biggest disappointments.

In fact, the only reason Rico Fata and Daniel Tkaczuk don’t receive more attention for their flops in the NHL is the fact they were drafted outside the top five.

Both were picked sixth overall by the Flames — Tkaczuk in 1997 and Fata in 1998 — the highest the organization has ever selected.

Starting strong in the AHL with the Saint John Flames, Tkaczuk was a member of the all-rookie team. But he couldn’t crack the NHL roster full-time and spent most of his second season in the minors, too

The Flames sent him to St. Louis in a package that brought Blues goaltender Roman Turek to Calgary the next year.

A speedy but inconsistent Fata disappointed early and spent most of his rookie year in the minors. His second season was even worse, and after his third pro campaign with the Baby Flames, he was waived and picked up by the New York Rangers.

He bounced from team to team in the NHL, playing mostly in the minors, before heading to Europe after the lockout.

Tkaczuk struggled with some concussion troubles and also wound up in Europe. Not exactly where you picture your highest ever picks playing a decade after drafting them.

But that’s the way things seem to swing for the Flames at the draft table.


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