Yesterday the Calgary Flames traded what was roundly considered their number one prospect for a handful of magic beans (Roman Horak and two second round picks). Many Calgary fans are now left wondering how an organization so lacking in high-end youngsters could so suddenly lose such a valuable commodity.
Tim Erixon (son of former NHLer Janne Erixon) was picked 23rd overall by the Flames in the 2009 draft. Since that time, his stock has risen in light of his performance for Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite league, where the 20-year old has patrolled the blueline since he was 18. The SEL is a high-end professional league and only elite teenagers can make the grade at that level. Erixon was a key cog for Skelleftea in the past season, frequently playing more than 20 minutes a night despite being one of the youngest skaters on the club. He also appeared in the recent World Championship, playing top four minutes for the silver-winning Swedes.
In short, Erixon is an NHL-ready rearguard with a reasonably high ceiling. Many pundits were penciling him into Calgary’s opening day roster. He was one of perhaps two or three prospects the club had who could reasonably challenge for an NHL job in the near future.
There was little public doubt that the Flames would be able to sign Erixon, even as the deadline to sign him (or forfeit his rights and see him re-enter the draft) loomed ever closer. Entry-level contracts are mostly formalities given how highly structured they are under the current CBA. Usually when a prospect isn’t inked, it’s because the team has doubts about his abilities or future.
According to an interview with Jay Feaster yesterday, though, the concerns were apparently Erixon’s. Pat Steinberg has a good overview of Feaster’s explanations here. What can be gleaned is the Flames problematic cap situation and league-high number of NTC’s were the main sticking points for a player who was uninterested in spending a year in the AHL. Add the organization’s reputation for not aggressively promoting youth and their recent struggles and it seems Erixon wasn’t… overly excited about the situation Calgary, regardless of whatever assurances Feaster and company could give him during negotiations.
In addition, According to this Swedish article today, playing for the New York Rangers is a dream come true for Erixon. “This is one of the greatest days of my life”, he says after signing with New York (assuming google translate isn’t lying to me). There is little doubt his fathers career and affinity for the city and Rangers organization were primary reasons for this.
As a result, Jay Feaster and the Flames were fighting a perfect storm of rotten circumstances (some self-inflicted): the player was unimpressed with the reputation and position of the organization heading into next year. His wish to play in New York ahead of other markets no doubt amplified his doubts. His lack of an ELC gave him and his agent leverage entering into the final few days of negotiations: the player could simply opt to re-enter the draft, granting the Flames little more than a compensatory second round pick. With the clock ticking and with that less than palatable result staring him in the face, Feaster was forced to trade Erixon to the one team in the league who could be certain to ink Erixon before time expired.
The antecedents to this outcome were obviously complicated and it’s difficult to point to one definite misstep or tragic flaw that led to the Flames losing their top prospect. That said, the optics for the reeling franchise and their fresh new general manager are incredibly poor: Erixon’s rejection seems to cement the Flames reputation league-wide as a team with rapidly diminishing options and a questionable future. The damage to Calgary’s organizational depth chart is significant, but the bigger issue may be the stigma this sort of very public and notable rebuff may inflict on the club going forward.