CALGARY – It’s a pivotal month for the Calgary Flames.
General manager Jay Feaster has three first-round selections among his nine at the NHL entry draft June 30 in Newark, N.J.
According to capgeek.com, Calgary currently has about $19 million in cap space—$5.8 million more if goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff retires—to work with when unrestricted free agency opens July 5.
The Flames have not made the playoffs in four years, so there is considerable pressure on Feaster to maximize these opportunities and turn the team around.
“I don’t know that it’s feeling the pressure as much as it is recognizing the importance of it,” Feaster said Friday at Scotiabank Saddledome.
“The importance of this draft is not lost on the organization and it certainly isn’t lost on the management of the organization.”
Calgary has the tools and the motivation to be a mover and a shaker both at the draft and in free agency.
Other than the two teams currently involved in the Stanley Cup final, competition between NHL clubs moves off the ice into scouting and negotiations. It’s no less intense, says Feaster.
“There’s no question it’s big-time competition off the ice,” Feaster said. “Yes, as a franchise, we have to win.
“I feel very good about our preparedness level.”
Calgary has the No. 6 pick via the draft lottery as well as No. 22 and No. 28 from trading Jarome Iginla to Pittsburgh and Jay Bouwmeester to St. Louis this past season.
“We have had extensive conversations with teams about moving up into the top five in the draft,” Feaster said. “We at least know which teams are willing to do something and if they are, what it would take to do that, and also which teams are not willing to do that.
“The one thing I believe with the pick at six, we want to get a player who has the opportunity to come in here right now and compete for a job. We really like this draft. We think at 22 and 28, we’re going to be happy with the players who are still on the board.”
This will be Feaster’s third draft as GM of the Flames.
Calgary traded their 14th pick last year and dropped to No. 21 to gain a second-rounder. The Flames selected college centre Mark Jankowski in the first round and defenceman Patrick Sieloff at No. 42.
Calgary chose left-winger Sven Baertschi at No. 13 in 2011. Baertschi had three goals and seven assists in 20 games for the Flames and spent the rest of the lockout-shortened season with their AHL team in Abbotsford, B.C.
The Flames haven’t had multiple first-round picks since 1976, when the Flames took defenceman Dave Shand at No. 8 and forward Harold Phillipoff at No. 10
Calgary’s current needs are size and talent at centre, more size on their third defensive pairing, plus a shooting right-winger to replace Iginla, Feaster said.
“We have to get bigger and we have to get harder to play against,” the GM said.
Feaster fought the term “rebuild” as he traded away the team’s captain and top defenceman during the season. He joked Friday that via “therapy” he’s accepted that rebuilding is what Flames are doing.
His intention, however, is to make that process as short and as painless as possible.
“I don’t think there is a quick fix,” Feaster said. “We have to do a better job as an organization in drafting. We think that over the last three drafts or so, we’ve done a better job, but (there’s) not enough players that are pushing through right now. We have to a better job developing players. Once we draft them, we do the right things to develop them.
“We have to continue to add assets. We can’t keep trading away high draft picks and trying for that solution that gets us through and gets us to the playoffs at the expense of the foundation.”
Feaster hinted he’s willing to package current Flames into draft-day transactions.
“When you finish where we have the last three, four years, our list of untouchable players is relatively small,” he said. “No, I don’t want to go into who those untouchables are.”
Kiprusoff, 36, has yet to announce his intentions for next season. The Finnish goaltender didn’t waive his no-trade clause to join Iginla and Bouwmeester on the move.
Kiprusoff has one year remaining on a contract that pays him $1.5 million in salary, but counts $5.8 million against the 2013-14 cap of $64.3 million.
“I talked with him just this week,” Feaster said. “We’re going to continue to give him time. I think if we had to say ‘You have to make a decision today’ I’m not sure he’s ready to play right now.
“We’ve made sure he knows we’ll wait for him to be sure of what he wants to do.”
Feaster confirmed that defenceman Anton Babchuk and forward Roman Cervenka will play in the KHL next season. Both were eligible for unrestricted free agency.
Cervenka had 20 points in 44 games in his one season in Calgary. Babchuk played just seven games in his third season as a Flame.
Because of Calgary’s cap space, Feaster was confident he’ll be able to re-sign restricted free agent forward Mikael Backlund and defenceman T.J. Brodie and Chris Butler. Backlund and Butler have the right to arbitration.
Forwards Curtis Glencross and Alex Tanguay both suffered season-ending knee injuries in April and are now cleared to play, said Feaster.