The Flames want to follow the 'Dallas model'. What does that actually look like?

‘Our goal is to turn it over as quickly as possible and move forward,’ said Flames GM Craig Conroy

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Craig Conroy is steadfast in his belief that the Calgary Flames don’t need to trade away everyone and tank for a No. 1 draft pick.

He’s been consistent in that assessment ever since he took over as the team’s general manager last spring.

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There are, of course, doubters out there who believe that a full-on rebuild is the only way that any NHL team can turn itself into a year-in and year-out contender.

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In the Dallas Stars, though, Conroy sees proof that there is another way.

“For us, we’re saying, ‘OK, look at that Dallas model,’ look at how they did it,” Conroy said Friday at his end-of-season media availability. “I guess that’s a retool. They made draft picks, they brought in players, they added a few veterans here and there and you look at that team and they’re in that win-now mode and they did it in a short amount of time.”

If the Stars are the model, what does that actually look like?

We’ll take a look at a couple of the standout features of the way they’re currently constructed in a second here, but the main thing to know is that since GM Jim Nill was hired in 2013, the Stars never intentionally bottomed out.

Great drafting is a big part of their success, but even when they were losing they maintained a core of veterans to help guide their younger players along and keep things competitive.

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The 2017 draft class accounts for some of why they finished the regular season this year with the second-best record in the entire NHL and will begin the playoffs with a home game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday night, but the season leading up to that draft still saw them employing the likes of Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp, as well as Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, both of whom were in their mid-20s at the time.

They weren’t intentionally bottoming out.

“You don’t want the team losing every night by 10 goals,” Conroy said. “Do they even get better? I don’t know, and then you see some teams that have been trying to get out of that trend for seven, eight, nine years. Our goal is to turn it over as quickly as possible and move forward.”

Since 2017, the Stars have gone to a Stanley Cup Final in 2020 and lost in the Western Conference Finals last year. They’re very much a contender this season, too.

So what are a couple things the Stars did right that the Flames might try to replicate?

  1. DON’T ABANDON YOUR CORE

We touched on this a little bit already, but when Nill took over he didn’t just tear the Stars down to the studs.

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There surely would have been takers for both Seguin and Benn, but he kept both guys and built around them. The Stars got younger through the draft, for sure, but when those prospects joined the NHL team they were coming into a squad with guys who were already established NHLers and knew how to actually win hockey games.

The Flames aren’t interested in trading away their entire core. They like the veteran pieces they’ve got in place and we saw what a guy like Nazem Kadri could do for young guys like Connor Zary and Martin Pospisil as they tried to find their feet as everyday NHLers.

Calgary Flames vs. Anaheim Ducks
Calgary Flames forward Nazem Kadri celebrates his goal against the Anaheim Ducks with defenceman MacKenzie Weegar (52) and forward Martin Pospisil at Honda Center in Anaheim on Friday, April 12, 2024. Photo by Kyusung Gong /The Associated Press

Because Conroy traded away so many veterans this year, it might look like the Flames were going down the path towards a full rebuild, but remember that every guy the Flames moved was set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and was unwilling to re-sign in Calgary.

The Flames have gotten younger, but like the Stars did in the mid-to-late 2010s, they’re not just trading away established NHLers for draft picks. Conroy was dealt a tough hand in his first year as GM and smartly recouped what he could for expiring contracts. That doesn’t mean there’s a big ‘For Sale’ sign outside the Flames locker room.

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  1. DRAFT REALLY, REALLY WELL

I mean, let’s start with the 2017 NHL Draft, because the Stars absolutely killed it.

With the third overall pick, they took Miro Heiskanen. At No. 26, they got Jake Oettinger. Then, with the eighth pick of Round 2, they took Jason Robertson.

That’s a No. 1 defenceman, a great starting goalie and a superstar first-line winger.

My friends, that’s the type of draft that can transform a franchise. Three all-stars added in one day. Amazing.

And that’s not all. Look at their roster in this year’s playoffs.

Wyatt Johnston was taken 23rd overall in 2021 and scored 32 goals this year.

Logan Stankoven went in the second round that same year, 47th overall, and has been a solid contributor down the stretch this season.

They got Thomas Harley with the 18th overall pick in 2019 and the 22-year-old blueliner had 47 points and was a plus-28 this season.

And it’s a little further back, but let’s not forget that Roope Hintz was taken with the 49th pick in 2015 by the Stars and has emerged as an elite two-way forward, too.

Dallas Stars' Jake Oettinger and Miro Heiskanen
Dallas Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger (29) gets slammed into by Seattle Kraken left wing Brandon Tanev (13) as he shoots in the second period of an NHL game on Saturday, April 13, 2024, in Dallas. Richard W. Rodriguez/AP Photo

That’s an A+ draft record, and the emergence of those young players has allowed the likes of Seguin and Benn to transition into more complementary roles. The Flames would love to be able to do something similar with guys like Kadri and Jonathan Huberdeau as they get older.

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It doesn’t take a genius to say that drafting is important, but the Flames learned the hard way that missing on picks can be painful when they took Emile Poirier and Morgan Klimchuk in the first round — as well as Sean Monahan — in 2013.

That Flames currently have four picks in the first two rounds of June’s draft. They’ve got nine in total and plenty more in the years ahead.

It’s obvious, but absolutely vital that they hit a few home runs with those picks.

  1. PATIENCE COUNTS

The Stars have done a nice job over the years of adding established veterans to supplement their core.

Guys like Corey Perry and Joe Pavelski have been brought in to provide leadership and experience and they pulled the trigger on a trade with the Flames this year that saw them add Chris Tanev.

They are, clearly, in win-now mode.

Dallas Stars, including former Flame Chris Tanev, celebrate a goal
Radek Faksa #12 of the Dallas Stars is congratulated by Chris Tanev #3, Ryan Suter #20, Sam Steel #18, and Craig Smith #15 after scoring a goal in the first period against the Edmonton Oilers at American Airlines Center on April 03, 2024 in Dallas, Texas. Sam Hodde/Getty Images

But it took them a while to get there and it wasn’t always a straight line. After making the Stanley Cup Finals in 2020, they missed the playoffs entirely in the strange COVID-affected season that followed and lost to the Flames in the first round in 2021-22.

But they stuck with the plan.

Nill was hired in 2013 and it wasn’t until 2023 that he won the Jim Gregory Award as the NHL’s best general manager.

The Flames want to turn things around quickly and see the Stars as proof that that’s possible, but even in Dallas, they didn’t turn themselves into a contender overnight.

A little patience is going to be required.

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X: @DannyAustin_9

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