The Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers finished first and second in the Pacific Division in 2021-22 and then faced off in the Battle of Alberta in the second round of the playoffs. I’d say that’s a pretty successful season for each of them.
This season, they each have a stronger team that should compete for the top spot in their division. But even though the two teams are built differently, they are bound for successful seasons. The Flames were built through trades and free agency, while the Oilers are rooted in strong drafting.
Flames’ Big Trades & Signings Shaped Team
Though the Flames had selected a few good players over the years, most of them have moved on. Instead, general manager Brad Treliving has resorted to making big trades and key signings to get the team where they are today. The players acquired through trade make up the entire top line (Jonathan Huberdeau, Elias Lindholm, and Tyler Toffoli), along with Milan Lucic, Noah Hanifin, MacKenzie Weegar, and Dan Vladar. That’s far more than the average team, and most of them are very important to the team’s success.
Nazem Kadri, Blake Coleman, and Jacob Markstrom lead the group as big free-agent signings the past couple of offseasons. The others are mostly fourth-liners or bottom-pairing defencemen besides Chris Tanev and Nikita Zadorov.
Poor drafting or uncontrollable situations have forced the Flames to build their team this way. This offseason, both Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau refused to re-sign, and, in terms of drafting, only Mikael Backlund remains of the team’s first-round picks from 2007 until now.
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The Flames have missed on seven first-round picks and traded two key ones recently; Tkachuk and Sean Monahan were dealt this offseason. The Flames have done better in the second round or later with five such players on the team right now. Treliving he’s done well drafting but has also been forced to make moves.
Oilers Built Team Through the First Round of the Draft
After years of failure, the Oilers have built their team through the draft (from “Prized Pedigree: Edmonton Oilers have the best draft pedigree of top NHL teams”, Edmonton Journal, Oct. 14, 2022). They have eight players (or nine when Philip Broberg is with the team) who were drafted in the first round, including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Darnell Nurse, Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Evan Bouchard, and Dylan Holloway, and at least half of them are critical to the team’s success.
Players drafted outside of the first round include Ryan Mcleod, Stuart Skinner, and Markus Niemelainen. Building through the draft is very important and not only has Ken Holland and the general managers before him typically hit on his first-rounders, but he has also been especially strong at finding gems in the later rounds. The expectation is that many of their prospects will either make their way onto the Oilers or be traded for assets.
When a team is in purgatory (not finishing well but not bad enough for a lottery pick), it becomes harder to attract free agents, especially when it’s not the warmest place to live and the tax situation isn’t great. Trades are an option when players are not willing to sign as free agents, but the Oilers have only one player on their team acquired via trade. Edmonton has also been fortunate with their free-agent signings – Evander Kane and Brett Kulak – who were signed to reasonable contracts with good term.
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The Flames haven’t been put in the best situation and yet have managed it well, while the Oilers continue to pump out home-grown talent to keep them competitive. Both strategies are different, but they seem to be working just fine for the Battle of Alberta.