Few in the southern part of Alberta have ever dreamed of seeing their team win the NHL draft lottery.
Not just because the Calgary Flames have never been that bad, but because their northern neighbours seem to have a lock on the system.
But what if?
What would it mean to the Flames if they were to parlay one of their shoddier seasons in franchise history into a shocking win in the Auston Matthews Sweepstakes?
Well, in some ways, it would be déjà vu for Sam Bennett.
No, he’s never won a lottery before.
But the Matthews addition would affect him more than any other Flames player and in a similar way to his Midget AAA season.
Four years ago, a then 15-year-old Bennett played on a stacked team that included longtime pal and teammate Connor McDavid. Bennett, who went on to play centre all three years of junior in Kingston and was drafted fourth overall to the Flames in 2014 as such, was only too happy to ride shotgun on the wing alongside the current Oilers superstar.
With Matthews coming in, Bennett could expect a similar fate, which could be hugely beneficial given how much he’s struggled up the middle in Calgary.
In 11 games this season as a faceoff man, Bennett has just three assists, proving the transition from wing to centre will likely be a lengthy work in progress.
However, with Matthews instantly slotting in as a second-line centre behind Sean Monahan, Bennett would be free to return to the wing where he went on a January tear that saw him score eight goals in five games.
If so, the Flames would have the firepower and flexibility to ice two formidable scoring lines. Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau would anchor the top trio while Matthews and Bennett cause headaches for teams hoping to match up against snipers.
The trade deadline departure of Jiri Hudler has made it painfully obvious the Flames lack skilled, top-six forwards.
Matthews instantly fills one of those spots and allows the Flames to pursue another playmaker this summer using their bevy of draft picks as ammunition.
Big difference being they’d have more money to spend on another top winger given a major top-six add like Matthews comes at the rookie maximum of under $1 million salary. That’s a huge benefit in today’s cap world as top-heavy teams simply can’t compete unless its fair-share of entry-level players are significant contributors.
It also gives the club more money to spend on a starting goalie, which is, by far, the franchise’s top priority this summer after eventually inking Gaudreau and Monahan to lengthy extensions.
Michael Frolik, who was signed to a five-year deal last summer for his versatility and ability to play a top-six role, has exhibited tremendous chemistry with Mikael Backlund of late, making it a tad harder to contemplate trading Backlund, whose stock has risen tremendously this season.
Should Backlund stick around and Matthews proves to be as dominant as he was leading the Swiss league this year as an 18-year-old, the Flames would finally have that all-important strength down the middle they haven’t had in decades.
Given how happy the Flames are with their budding centre-ice strength, the door would also be open for the boldest of moves, which would be to shop the first pick overall — namely to the Arizona Coyotes. As a former staffer, GM Brad Treliving has a tight relationship with ‘Yotes GM Don Maloney and knows how much the Franchise would crave having the Phoenix-raised product. Perhaps the Flames could swap their first pick for Arizona’s top pick and also acquire a top prospect or two — or maybe even Max Domi — in a deal.
It’d be something the Coyotes would have to consider.
Unlike other cities where Matthews could be a game-changer and become the face of the franchise, in Calgary he’d likely play second-fiddle to Gaudreau for years.
That’s not to say a team located in suddenly economically-challenged Calgary wouldn’t thrive on selling thousands of Matthews jerseys.
Even though the team is bracing for several season-ticket cancellations based entirely on the downturn created by the price of oil, there is still a list of 3,000 fans waiting for season tickets. He’d certainly have them hyped though, as an injection of talent like Matthews would undoubtedly put the rebuilding Flames back in the mix for a playoff spot after a one-year hiatus.
Dare to dream, Calgary. In terms of stockpiling draft lottery balls, you’re richer than you think.