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Your! Call: Would you want your NHL team to rebuild?

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Shane McNeil, TSN.ca
1/13/2012 3:50:54 PM
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The trade that sent Michael Cammalleri to the Calgary Flames Thursday night came as a shock to the hockey world.

Not only was the timing conspicuous – a day after Cammalleri criticized the team – but it was surprising to see the Flames and Canadiens swing a talent-for-talent deal when both teams have spent the better part of the year outside the playoff picture in their respective conferences.

Jay Feaster confirmed his team's stance to TSN's Pierre Lebrun on Friday that he has no intentions of trading captain Jarome Iginla and that the team intends to make a run this season.

The Canadiens, too, signaled that they are not in a hurry yet to mount a full-scale rebuild by acquiring veteran Rene Bourque in the deal, despite sitting 12th in the Eastern Conference.

The stance taken by both sides raises an interesting question about the league's seven Canadian franchises and whether or not an NHL team can truly rebuild in a rabid Canadian market.

Certainly, the Edmonton Oilers have proven that it can happen. The team, having missed five consecutive postseasons, has preached patience to its fans and has shown flashes of a brilliant future thanks to early NHL success from elite prospects like Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

Aside from the Stanley Cup-contending Vancouver Canucks, the other teams seem to be a different story.

The Ottawa Senators looked on their way to a full rebuilding effort last season, jettisoning veterans like Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly and Jarkko Ruutu for draft picks and picking three times in the first round of the draft. However, the team also locked veteran Chris Phillips into a long-term deal and re-signed 30-year-old goaltender Craig Anderson to a four-year contract. This year, the team parted with highly-touted defender David Rundblad and a second-round draft pick for Coyotes forward Kyle Turris. Perhaps more retooling than blowing it all up and starting over again.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of two NHL franchises to have missed the playoffs every year since the 2004-05 lockout. While the team has been able to significantly improve its young core under Brian Burke, any notion of a true rebuilding project went out the door when top draft picks were peddled for Phil Kessel. While the team has performed well this season, the team never showed an appetite for a full-blown tear-it-down-and-start-again model like the Pittsburgh Penguins or Chicago Blackhawks.

The Winnipeg Jets are something of an unknown quantity as they re-establish their identity in Winnipeg. The team sits 10th in the Eastern Conference, but sits just five points out of the Southeast Division lead. The team also inherited a young Thrashers roster with recent high draft picks like Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian.

This brings us back to Thursday's trade partners.

The Canadiens have struggled this season and may be looking at its highest draft pick since selecting Carey Price fifth overall in 2005. The team already witnessed a mass exodus of established talent in 2009 with then-captain Saku Koivu and fan favourites Alex Kovalev and Mike Komisarek leaving as free agents.
They could have chosen a rebuilding project at that time around young talents like Carey Price and P.K. Subban, but instead immediately sunk money into one of the league's heftiest contracts in Scott Gomez and unrestricted free agents like Cammalleri and Brian Gionta.

Now the team has dumped Cammalleri in a lateral move for a 30-year-old forward with four years remaining on his deal. A player who has not even met Cammalleri's sub-standard point totals this season with 13 goals and three assists through 38 games.

The Flames, meanwhile, are counting on Cammalleri can regain his form from 2008-09 where he was a point-per-game player for the Flames. But the problems in Calgary are much graver than a one-forward fix. The team's core is aging with Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay all in their mid-30s. The team has missed the playoffs the past two seasons and has not won a playoff round since its run to the Final in 2004.

With the team sitting outside the playoffs once more this season, they could use some veteran players as trade pieces to bolster a prospect stable that boasts few elite names beyond Mikael Backlund Sven Baertschi.

For a team that almost single-handedly turned its fortunes in 1995 by dealing Joe Nieuwendyk to Dallas for a young Iginla, certainly the prospect of reaping a similar reward might eventually come to mind.

So what is it with Canadian NHL teams and the prospect of rebuilding?

Many have faced the prospect of starting from scratch, yet in recent history only one of the team's six (now seven) franchises has truly embraced the idea. Would you like to see your favourite Canadian team rebuild from the ground up? Or, is remaining competitive that important in the Canadian market?

As always, it's Your! Call.

Mike Cammalleri (Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
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